Santa’s watching….

I bet he trained the NSA on techniques….

We did the Santa video with our kids last week, and I put in parameters for our younger kid to be “on the fence” of naughty/nice. Our older one as well, since I knew doing otherwise would blow up in my face like an overfertilized watermelon. But child the younger was so distraught and worked up over it. Panic ensued, and we had to talk him down off the ledge, because I could see the temptation to just say, “Screw it, I’m goin’ down in flames!!!” written all over his tongue. Actually, he may have truly said something to that effect.

Instead, we promised to check back in, and went over a list of stuff he could work on. His teacher last year did that on a monthly basis – let each kid pick something to work on, like handwriting, patience, raising hand before talking – and they’d get a reward if they managed to do it the whole month. Think about it – that’s about 20 days – the period experts claim it takes for new habits to get established. Pretty smart, that teacher.

I’m not that smart. I keep forgetting that there is a way to establish new routes and to extract the bad. Otherwise, I would have “called” on Santa a month ago. But maybe we’ll try that heading into the new year. Younger the kid is a very persistent and passionate child – note that I’m trying to use the positive outlook on those traits (we all know what their negatives look like). But I keep at him, trying to shape and polish him, as I tell him in the words of Louis CK, “I’m not raising you to be a kid the rest of your life.” It’s true.

We don’t want to have them grow up to behave as they do when they are 2, 6, or 13. We pound them into molds of our shaping to form them into adults. We screw up along the way, as do they, but the determination is to see them be happy, successful in whatever shape that takes, and to have a sense of doing right, as opposed to wrong. One need only watch a handful of episodes of Intervention to see what can go so horribly wrong. It isn’t a mistake that half the families involved end up doing some kind of therapy/rehab so that they can STOP the destructive patterns.

But let’s face it. Parenting is terrifying. You can do all the best things for your kid, and he’ll still grow up into whatever kind of person he is determined to be. You can be neglectful and hateful and produce a caring prodigy (though it’s obviously not the majority of the outcome for those cases). You can lavish attention and find your child moving across the planet to get away from you. It’s hard. Really hard.

But I’ll tell you what not to do, because I’ve seen it, and it’s ugly

– humiliate your kid in front of others, even family

– fail to respect that there is a sentient human brain in that small head that is fully capable of judging you and your actions

– fail to respect your child, period

– be completely erratic in behavior and discipline

– never tell your child that you love him/her

Just plain ugly. Had a massive example of that whole thing play out in front of us this weekend, and I’m still having trouble with it.

On the other end of parenting, I’m reading Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan – and I really admire her parents who, divorced and not precisely on speaking terms, managed to cobble together a truce in order to fight for their daughter’s life. In addition to that, there’s a textbook-style volume waiting for me to pierce the mysteries of Rapid Prompting Method , in order to see whether I can make sense of it and start to help my son get another handle on a way to communicate to us. It feels like I’m waiting for a semester to start with that one, but there’s no prof, just online forums. We can’t swing the course yet, so I’m hoping that the book will click and make sense….

Anyone have any big reading plans or projects for the holiday break?

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Lighting the fire

I’ve made mention in the past about having to adjust expectations – mine for what I hope and do – but also as regards my kids.

There are two of them, both boys, both smart, wild, mercurial…nothing like the fantasy children I might have envisioned at one point in my stupid youth. I know you did it too – even if you didn’t daydream about changing diapers, sleep deprivation, or maddening conversations with a legalist of an adolescent – you had in your head what you figured having a kid would be about.

Right, like sleepy Saturday mornings, lazing about with brioche french toast and edu-tainment: gentle cartoons with a message. Reality, more like…being woken at 5am by the television that you forgot to adjust before going to bed the night before…hearing cupboards creak open stealthily while your progeny hunt(s) for gummies…the inevitable whining, disagreements over what to watch, someone is hogging something….

No, back to fantasy land, you say to yourself as you unsuccessfully try to doze off, back to the twins Maria and Marcus, who prefer to study Mensa flash cards, walk the dog unasked, and bring you breakfast in bed.

Reality is that I grudgingly admit that I prefer the madness to Maria and Marcus, who are probably Children of the Corn anyway.

When our older son was diagnosed with autism back in 2004, we already knew that something was up. Nonetheless, I had been living in this fantasy of turning my brilliant child into a lover of books. I would read to him, I could see it so clearly, for hours we would read until he was spouting Newtonian theory and Yeatsian prose. Wrong!

That doesn’t happen under typical circumstances, much less his – I was a rookie parent in uncharted territory. But I’ll say t his until the day I die – the ONLY thing I was bummed about was that he wasn’t interested in books, aside from eating them. I did not grieve, or freak out about the diagnosis – and now I really try not to use the “D” where most people might in “ASD” – to me, it isn’t a “disorder” – it’s only a difference – and as a parent, I’m only trying to help build the bridge between us.

It’s been a while since that visit to UConn, with its assessment – it’s also been a while since I stopped buying books like a crazed seagull eyeing a beach full of coolers. We’re moving more thoughtfully, he and I. True, I have to keep reminding myself not to talk to him in certain ways…there are moments of frustration for all of us. We don’t have his assistive communication set up yet (his school is working on getting a device traveling back and forth), and so it’s a lot of guesswork about what is meaningful.

When it boiled down, though, and I really look at what he can do with schoolwork, he’s no different than his peers. There are subjects that bore the crap out of him. And he would rather throw a fit than have to deal with some of it. Hell, I was a kid who couldn’t stay focused long enough to ever do my homework, not until I started running. He has math down, loves the periodic table, outer space, cars, music…could not care less about English or Art, really.

But I started hearing that he would likely be able to take in anything I read to him, even if he couldn’t spit out answers to questions about it. And so I’ve changed expectations again. It didn’t take long to realize that he really, really, really dislikes fantasy and science fiction – in short, stuff that cannot be defined by the laws of the apparent – the realities and truths of the world we live in. Me, I love that stuff, and it’s hard, oh so hard that I can’t get him into Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Roald Dahl, to name but a few.

Maybe someday he’ll give all that a try, though.

I had read A Wrinkle In Time to him, and noted his impatience during the sojourn with the Mrs. W’s, other worlds, but it was inescapable when I tried the Lightning Thief. The rationale was that Charles Wallace and Percy Jackson were both boys who did not “fit” – and that he might find it cool to see them turn into heroes. He put his foot down about a chapter or two into Percy Jackson, though. “NO!”

Well, we’d read Blood on the River for school, about the Jamestown settlement. He’d gotten off on that. So I hunted for more like that. I found The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick, about a boy who tried to save his brother from fighting in the Civil War. Perhaps a little more wacky than he wanted, but it was piercing into the correct vein.

After that, it was Dangerous Waters – Gregory Mone’s Titanic adventure, and then Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. Chains, by the way, is really affecting – my kiddo got really upset when Isabel found herself being punished in a public square. I knew what he was thinking; so totally not fair. But here’s the thing – I think kids have to hear the unpleasantness of history, see the damage, the wages of war, the body counts – if we ever want better for the human race, we can’t whitewash the past.

We’re almost done with Number the Stars now, Lois Lowry’s masterpiece of Danish Resistance during WWII. Normally, we can get through about half an hour at a go, but last night, with Annemarie’s mother leading the Rosens to the boat, and then Annemarie needing to spirit the handkerchief to her uncle…we were going right along, and I could see him hanging onto every word, especially as the Nazi soldiers are rifling through her basket.

The sequel to Chains is waiting for the Christmas stocking, so after Number the Stars…I don’t know what we’ll read next yet. We have The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Speare), Sing Down the Moon (Scott O’Dell), and Attack of the Turtle (Drew Carlson), but I’ve noted a bunch in the bookstores that looked interesting as well….

See how easily it can happen? Idealism creeps back in…it’s exciting to figure out what he might find compelling and interesting. And I realize that it’s only my own limitations that held us back – I’m not going to cry over wasted time – but I’m not going to let more of it slip through our fingers.

year of the dragon

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And here we are, nearly at the end. Some people think the world will end soon, too. I hope not, because I don’t feel like spending the rest of eternity as a free-floating mass whose only thought is, “Why didn’t I finish my last book this way instead of that?” Or something like that. Actually, I’m sure I’d have bigger regrets to dwell on while my molecules slowly de-coalesce. What would your regrets be? Or, better question, what would the end of the world look like, in your opinion? 2012 (the movie), or just a sudden flash of light and fizzing like opening a champagne bottle with a sword…it could come in any form (if I believed in such things).

As of right now…I have written one book pretty much completely from the beginning (I had about 30 pages just sitting around in a word file for a couple years), edited it, allowed my close friends to read it and give me feedback…which wasn’t so much feedback as admiration. I’m reasonably certain that it was all sincere – okay, I know it was – but I’m still waiting for the boom to come falling off the mast of this otherwise seaworthy vessel. I have three “Loved It!” reviews sitting on amazon. So yes, like I said, I’m waiting for the “Meh,” reviews, or even the, “I find this book pedantic,” or “What the hell was she thinking?” or even, “I’m astonished by your crap,” reviews…yes, that’s me. I’m an expert at expecting to be disappointed.

From this comfortable bubble, I have plowed on, however. I got absolutely nothing done during summer break. Those are the days when my husband leaves for work saying, “Go with god.” As our boys are wide awake at 6am every day, and typically are full of far too much energy and mischief…I’m sure their father is laughing his way to work every day. Ok, he doesn’t do that, but maybe he does once in a while. Just as he imagines I sit around eating bonbons and doing things that he’d like to, ahem, see me doing.

As many of us who are willing to be honest will tell you, Mother’s Day is not in May, it’s whatever the first day of school is. That’s when I get back my workout schedule, and the ability to write. I’ll also be perfectly honest here – I don’t labor intensively to keep my kids healthy because I’m such a good mom, it’s because I don’t want them home more than necessary! Knock wood, we do manage to stay pretty healthy around here…. And because of all that hard work, I am in the home stretch of a massive rewrite.

This was a book that I literally dreamt up back in, oh, 1996. It took me until 2002 to finish writing something resembling a first draft (in reality, more like an 18th iteration…I kept going back before I was even done, to add and dither, and generally create more work for myself). Then, I entered it into this “contest”, it won the popular vote, and the real judges told me that it needed a “lot of work”. Well, no shit. As an amateur, I had no notion of how to fix the stupid thing, or so I thought. Instead, I tossed it aside and didn’t look at it for the next 5 years. Maybe more, I forget. In the meantime, I read, and read, and began to really pay attention to how other writers write. Just as you can watch a movie and see why it was: a blockbuster, a flop, a critical success, or a cult-fave in the making…you can easily detect these things in a book. Except for the whole 50 Shades thing…that defies logic.

I read good stuff, and I read some yawn stuff, and I thought back to stuff I’ve read before. For instance (my apologies to my younger son and to Mr. Lucas), if you want to have a lesson in how NOT to write dialogue, one need look no further than both the Star Wars screenplays and in Lucas’ collaborative series that was a sequel to Willow. I’ll apologize to the talented Chris Claremont as well, because I suspect he could do little to tell his co-writer that what they were writing was practically impossible to read. I mean, we *know* he can write….

Even the best writers stumble, obviously, and it can be pretty instructive to read those instances as well. I will admit that I prefer (as any sane person would) to read the really good stuff. I read the Hunger Games trilogy, Oscar Wilde, PG Wodehouse, all of Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Anansi Boys, Good Omens, Kate Atkinson…and many others, but that list covers the summer, if I remember correctly. Once I start writing again, I don’t tend to read.

So, when I started in on editing, I think I had a pretty good idea of what Really Good could look like. I’m not saying that I will come up with it on my own, but I can try. I am hoping to have Sleep up and live on amazon no later than year’s end. My friend, and all-around awesome lady Gail is designing the cover, as she did for my previous book. All I have to do is think of a good ending for the beginning of a series (which this is, just as the other book is – but that’s a separate series, just so you know!).

My goal for the blog right now is to post bi-monthly. We’re mid-month December. The next one will be right when I’m aiming to publish. I’ll work on the format for the blog at that time, but I welcome all….

And if you’re looking for a really great book for the winter break, I recommend Susan Henderson’s Up From The Blue. It’s her debut novel, and I do “know” her from interacting in her writing community over at LitPark for quite a few years now, but the book took me on an unexpected journey. I don’t always like contemporary lit, but this was like stepping through a time machine into my own past. It’s straightforward, elegant, unpretentious, and really a work that I can only aspire to. Her ability to evoke memory through small detail is…I can only compare it to Ellis Peters or

Tolkien (but a lot easier to read!). I hope you’ll take a moment and find a copy at your local store, or at the library!

How I earned my first 2 dollar bill….

I have to thank my husband’s auntie for this experience. She, of her own volition, got on the stick and asked whether she could use my short stories for a reading group in her retirement community. It slays me, really! I don’t know what I imagine, but it’s nice so far, and having a deadline looming overhead is keeping me moving a little bit.

Actually, if I’m being quite honest, reading critically for short story writing has turned out to be much more helpful than I’d guessed. First off, you don’t want to be a rambler if your narrative is supposed to be succinct by nature, so you start thinking about how to say everything in much smaller, more meaningful mouthfuls. When you write long, you get a little lax. I’ve used the running metaphor for writing before, and it still holds true. When I set out on an hour or more looooong run, I’m only worried about being able to make it for the return leg, so I take it easy, and coast, and delve off into fantasy or two. On the days I go fast and short, I have to remain in the moment, focus on form, and push myself. This is exactly how I am feeling as I move through short stories. A little bit of endorphin, a little panic, a glance at the clock every few moments, and eventually, I can see the end nearing. I’ll breathe when I’m done.

Through the auspices of this reading group, I’m expanding a story I mentioned before, based on someone I observed in our neighborhood. Instead of one tiny piece of his pie, I’m making the rest of it, into a village narrative. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m in the home stretch of the second in the series. I wish it had been easier and more quick, but holy hell, we got the mother of all snowstorms last week, and I’ve been on my own with our kids, with my husband overseas on business. To quote Metallica, “…frayed ends of sanity/hear them calling me….” Tonight was a particular challenge, with our younger child going apeshit several times. He’s always been high strung, a colicky personality to the bone, but tonight was a new level of freakout. It’s tough to get him ramped down from those moments – you tell him he’s got to chill and do some breathing, and he screams that he’s CALMED DOWN NOW!!!!!!! I have never met this kind of kid before…and it’s chemistry, too – his extra-extrovert to my sanguine (normally) introvert. We collide like matter and antimatter – and clusters of black holes are littered around us by day’s end. I love his passion, for the most part, but it might kill me.

And for my efforts, I have gotten a modest fee, and a genuine two dollar bill to frame and baffle my husband with when he arrives home. It’s not perzactly publication, but if I can get a little feedback, and a collection of stories to play around with, it’s well worth it.

To be continued…..

When brains go bad….

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [to Igor] Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?
Igor: [pause, then] No.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?
Igor: Then you won’t be angry?
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.
Igor: Abby Someone.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: [pause, then] Abby Normal?
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
(Young Frankenstein)

My mother likes to tell a story about a time, when I was a teenager, that she came in to wake me, and swears that I mumbled, “Brain and brain, what is brain?” Like Spock, my brain had apparently gone on the fritz. Or on the lam. I don’t remember saying any of it, and I don’t normally somnambu-vocalize, but I used to be one of those people who didn’t function in the morning. I’d be up, late at night, drinking coffee after coffee, feeling fine, and have no trouble going to sleep.

These days…at the age of 35 (and my darling hubby a little beyond that) we find ourselves obsessing over sleep, whether we had enough, whether we got the right kind, and what the hell was up with those LOONY dreams last night? Seriously. We’ve actually had conversations where we wondered whether our house was built on a temporal rift, an ancient burial ground, something that would explain some of the wacko dreams we seem to have in concert with each other. I do wonder whether science can provide an answer to why it is that we both dream heavily during the same night, even though, obviously, they’re different dreams. Other nights, we’re both out cold and can’t recall anything.

There are reasons to stay awake at night, certainly. Number one is that your kids are hopefully asleep (although I see an alarming number of my friends who have insomniac offspring – I feel for them…not fun!). And if  your kids are asleep, your house suddenly becomes the adult playground. All the off-color language starts flowing like Prohibition has just ended. We look at movies we’d never dare to with small people on the loose. And, of course, the other thing, which is supposed to only get better as we get older, right?

I mean, the thing is that, with your kids underfoot, you just try to have a conversation. You can’t. Kids have a set of directives, I have come to see, that when they see someone trying to talk on the phone or to someone, that’s when they suddenly need everything that they’ve been putting off for the whole day. I get the “I’m hungry, I’m bored, I want you to read a story, I need to suddenly paint a portrait because I’ve been studying Da Vinci’s techniques,” every single time I pick up the phone when my mother calls. Right now, I’m getting the, “I need you, I want you,” from the wrong party, if you know what I mean.

I know I can’t blame them for everything, including for why I might be overtired (they have their flaws, but they certainly sleep), but it has to be a contributing factor. I have moments when I know I had a conversation with someone about something but I will be damned if I can think who the heck I was talking to. I think also that having kid in your life, with the parental-ADD that comes in the package, means that you have to be a little more careful about trying to remember. I have moments when I am certain I had a conversation with someone, only to realize that I was playing out a potential conversation in my head, or that I dreamt it….

When I write, and am distracted, or affected by my memory gaps as I write ~ well, you can imagine how well that goes from time to time. There have been things I wrote, and went back to read, and found that none of it made sense, or that I was evidently under the influence of aliens or rampant hormones (that’s a whole book on its own!). Brain and brain…. Not all of it makes it out there for everyone to see, thank goodness, but some of it does. I’m coming to view this as part of the territory, that I will stray, “speak” out of turn, irritate, or upset the apple cart a bit. I don’t plan on sharing huge swathes of personal detail, but yes, it’s still possible to mess up and say something that doesn’t sit right with everyone.

As I can’t fully blame my kids (at least not for too many more years…they are learning how to read now), neither can I just blame it on a faulty noggin. Mine is faulty here and there. I know I don’t have total recall. How much use it not to see a photographic image of a page and everything on it, but only a fuzzy photo of the page, and roughly where the thing you’re trying to think of is on that page? Only a tiny bit of useful, I can tell you.

Our brains are the single biggest asset we have…. I have lost one grandparent to complications from Alzheimer’s for instance, and my father’s parents are both slipping into the ether of dementia, right in front of us. My other grandmother, whom I don’t get to see very often, is also affected. It terrifies me. Of the four of them, three are college graduates. They were all voracious readers. The only thing I can see that was a risk factor they all had in common: they never really participated in any kind of cardiovascular exercise. I hope that as I go along (and I do exercise for that reason), and Generation X ages, we all can escape this fate.

But in the here and now, I have to say that I probably am going to screw up and/or have brain farts with the best of them. At least I am not like a Sue Grafton, who writes her crime books, envisioning her ex-husband as the murder victim in each one. Or Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who seemed to have written self-destructive prophecies. Or the Eat, Pray, Love author, whose ex was unhappy enough abut her portrayal of him that he penned his own book, apparently in response. And one does wonder what Jane Austen’s contemporaries thought of her mocking them quite blatantly in her books. It seems to come with the territory, in a way that not much of the other aspects of the arts seems to. Nor, in fact, that much else in this world seems to. The written word has a power unmatched, probably because it does come from the mind, the seat of intellect, origin of emotion; it is the reason our hands, hearts, and mouths move. Perhaps it is necessary to recognize that power and submit to it a little, so that we can understand how much it can affect and alter our world.

In other words, keep learning.

 

Surviving

We all grow up, eventually. If facebook has taught me one thing, it’s that the people we grow up around will all end up being ok with one another once we get over our hormones. The petty squabbles that you have with friends will fall away. The crushes, well, you’ll look back and wonder (in many cases) what you were thinking. If you’re like me, however, it’s a new journey in a) forgiving, b)letting go of old hurt, and c)trying to get out of old habits. I tend to worry a lot, I am always wondering if people think I’m…well, insert deepest fears here. I was one of those bullied kids, though I wonder if a lot of my peers from those days might not have thought so.

But let’s be honest: even as a child, I knew that the tormentors were acting out of their own pain. I could see it. Oh, sure, some of them were riding a bandwagon, or trying to get accepted by being nasty. Oh, and lest I forget, there was a culture of bullying that, to me, was fully supported by the teachers and administration in our city.

I’ve written about this before, but in light of recent events, I want to just lay out a couple of things for everyone who has kids now, especially for those who never experienced being treated the way that I was treated (and so many others who were as well).

You have to have some understanding of your child’s school, other than going for open houses and conferences. I make it a point to drop in whenever I have a concern, but in the town where we live, my fears are a lot less than they would have been where I grew up. From about day one of middle school, life started its downhill slide for me. I was in that stage of life during the rise of slam books, I was a gawky, shy kid with glasses and size 9 feet, a late bloomer for puberty. My parents were not really involved with school except for my dad to utilize his network of “spies” – to wit, his parishioners who worked at that school – so al he knew was whether I was “behaving” or not. He and my mom had no clue what was really starting to go on. And I was terrified to tell them. No, I don’t remember why. I just know that I felt like I couldn’t. Some of the teachers loved to openly mock the students who were not meeting expectations, something that had started for me back in grade school. Maybe they thought it would embarrass me into doing my homework – but that wasn’t going to help, I was classic ADD in a day before anyone understood it – but I think it pissed them off that I would score high on mastery tests and not be able to produce in class what they wanted. They also turned a blind eye to kids going after one another. In one case, a class I was in turned on a substitute teacher, and had her in tears. I was even egged one day, walking home from school, and when I finally got myself in front of the principal to lodge a complaint, he essentially told me that he felt it was my own fault.

Teach your child compassion, no matter what. Even through the worst of what was happening to me, I knew, as I said, that my abusers were in pain themselves. It’s hard to sell that to a kid who is getting threatened and broken down, but it’s crucial. It allowed me to forgive (even if I don’t forget). And it apparently comes through to the kids who are bullying. Some of my worst “enemies” in middle school found themselves in big trouble when a cheating ring was discovered. They’d picked the biggest dragon lady of a teacher in whose class to do it, too. I remember seeing them all lined up outside her room, one could almost hear a bell tolling, and one of the kids approached me. He had been pretty awful to me, even getting his younger sibling to mock me in the halls. He looked ill at that moment, though, and asked me what I thought he should do. I got that sick feeling, wondering why he was asking me of all people, but I told him to tell the truth. It couldn’t get any worse, and confessing might begin the getting better. Not that I was able to do it all the time, but I really thought it was the only option for his situation. I was telling him this, knowing that his father was probably more terrifiying to him than the teacher. For all I know, he got a beating for what he’d done. We understood each other in that moment, and I stopped hating him. I think I stopped hating anyone at that point, and decided to figure out a new way for myself to live. Not long after that, I think, was when I decided to take advantage of a program that allowed me to go to high school in a different town. I’m not sure what has happened to some of the kids who were so unhappy and so mean, but thanks to social media, I have “friended” a few of my middle school classmates and found that, indeed, we all grow up – not only that, that they thought differently of me than I might have imagined.

Teach moral courage. Another not so easy sell, because this one means standing up and making noise when we see something that’s not right. I was friends with every type of person through all my school years. It never mattered to me whether someone had a “disability” or was different – I looked for good-hearted, funny people to be around. After a while, it became obvious that I had to speak up and tell someone to shut it when they were being cruel. But that was only after I felt empowered to do so. A big part of that came from my high school principal, an amazing man who told me that I was allowed to feel safe at school. He was serious about it, and knew that I was a good kid who needed an ally. He gave me my life back at that moment. I would really beg of school administrations to decide to be bulldogs for their kids, and tell those kids that they are allowed to feel safe. It was my first time feeling like anyone had my back, and I cannot express enough how much things changed for me after that. When I started as a freshman, I was in basic level classes, getting by with C’s, still picked on, unhappy, alone. By the time I graduated, I was in honors and AP classes, making honor roll, captain of the track team, maybe not belle of the ball, but much happier (stupid hormones and teenage angst aside!).

Be honest with your kids. If you were bullied, you’ll probably share that. I say lay it all out, even the stuff that is embarrassing to you still. I will tell my kids that I got egged, had pennies and gum thrown at me, the names that I was called, that one girl told me she would kill me…and I’ll talk about how I handled it (not well at times – I did try to run away, after all). But if you were one of the mean kids, yeah, maybe that’s not so easyto confess. But you should. If you feel bad about how you acted at that age, say so. And say why you think you acted like that. You don’t really want your kids repeating that behavior, I know you don’t. here’s obviously more of a zero tolerance policy, and more of a huge reactionary mentality after these situations have spiraled into tragedy, but don’t wait. Sit down now with your kids and talk. “Do you get picked on?” and “Are you ever mean to other kids?” It’s as good a place to start as any. I try to stress to my younger son (our older one is autistic, and we deal with that differently) that kids are sometimes going to be mean and angry. They’re going to say things because they hurt inside (like his one friend who kept saying mean things to him – this boy’s dad had lost his job, and they had just bought a house – you do the math), or they’re scared, or they’re just doing what other kids do to try and be liked more. Not everybody will like you. That’s ok. It’s more important to like yourself, because that shines through, and people are attracted to that.

I admit that I still have trouble socially – but my family was more about making fun of one another than teaching how to laugh at ourselves – at looking for someone to blame and pointing out others’ mistakes, rather than taking the blame and admitting that we’d screwed up. Teach your kids how to laugh at themselves. I can’t stress that enough. I wish I was more able to do that. I’m still learning that skill at 35. Let your kids screw up, and then talk to them about what might be learned, and how to avoid it next time. We’re too much in the way these days as parents, as far as mistakes go. We’re there to catch them before they fall, but not to teach the lesson that might have been learned. Our younger son was roughhousing with my husband, and knocked his little noggin into daddy’s eye socket not that long ago. It resulted in a black eye for my husband (who had to put up with all sorts of cracks from his coworkers), but also in several lessons for both of them. For our little guy, he learned that we can unintentionally hurt people we love, that his head is as hard as granite, and that it’s ok to get ribbed about beating up daddy. My husband learned that people think he secretly goes off to do UFC fights. And that he’s not as thick-skinned as he wants to be.

The biggest thing to repeat is the refrain I keep hearing now, “It gets better.” It does. It really does. Life is so much broader than middle or high school. You might have to put your head down and bulldoze to get through some of it, especially if  you want to get out and be any kind of success, but someday, after the caps have been tossed in the air, we all walk out into the real world. And your time will come where you will have kids, or maybe you’ll be a mentor to a child in your life, and you must try to be honest, have courage, and teach a child the same. We can survive, we have made it through the terror tunnel of teenage years for eons. Believe me: I lived through it, and so can you.