Tag Archives: parenting

Sister, Sister

Change is coming in our house, but we’ve managed to blithely meander through most of the summer either too busy or too relaxed to think about it. But it crept in a little today.

This is one week when neither kid has a camp, a class, a veritable summer school self imposed by repeatedly ignoring spring deadlines (but I’m not bitter). We aren’t going anywhere, and no one is visiting. Just a week to chill together.

Chill. Like by eating lots of cold stuff packed with sugar.

Chill. Like by eating lots of cold stuff packed with sugar.

Excited by the prospect, 11yo Victoria tries to initiate activities with her older sister, but 15yo Violet wants to read, write music, text friends, and draw. Kinda solitary activities.

So Victoria finally says, tentatively, during lunch, “We could role play.”

And Violet says, calling out from her reading position on the couch, “Nah, I think I’m too old for that.”

Those of us still sitting at the table are silenced, and a gloom settles over the cold fried chicken.

We eat without speaking, deep in both nostalgia and clouded projections of the future. I don’t know what Victoria is thinking, but it feels like we’ve all taken a step that we can’t take back. “Role playing”—pretend games, living utterly in a fantasy world for days at a time, whatever you want to call it—was the basic stuff of my kids’ childhood, but especially Violet. There were times at the dinner table when she seemed literally unable to stop, to come back to Earth and be herself, whoever that was. I suspect that from ages 7 to 9 she spoke in a British accent more than half the time.

ABC -- Always Be in Character

ABC — Always Be in Character

If you Google around you’ll see that drama and pretend play are supposed to peak at about 5 years, but I’d say for Violet it was more like 12. I know what’s “normal” because her fantasy realms and invented characters and identities were so real to her I took to books and Dr. Internet to see if there was something wrong.

Though I also remembered that my little sister, possibly into the double digits, wanted to be a bunny when she grew up. Maybe it’s hereditary.

By age 14 it had cooled down, but it had definitely not gone away. Still, it’s a little harder to role play when your friends are 14. And now, it may be done. This seems normal and healthy to me—especially knowing it is all channeled into notebook upon notebook of character sketches and story ideas. And there’s always D & D. I can sigh and move on, but I notice Victoria across the table–nearly under the table–with a dark expression on her face.

We go outside to talk, and she starts to sob in her open, earnest way. Never one to hide her face or swallow tears, she lets her feelings gush forth like a fire hose. I brace for it, and she tells me that she knows that her older sister is only going to keep growing up and away. Three more years and she may be gone. She leans forward in the patio chair and tells me wide-eyed that she’s afraid she’s losing her sister.

One year ago: still not to old to go everywhere in partial costume

One year ago: still not too old to go everywhere in partial costume

I’m stuck. I can only tell her the truth. First, I didn’t grow up living with my siblings every day, so I can’t honestly say I know what she’s going through. But more than that, I can’t tell her she’s wrong. I tell her about adult friends of ours who remain very close to sisters and brothers, I tell her that siblings don’t have to see each other frequently or even talk frequently to stay one of the most important people in each other’s lives. I make the mistake of starting to say that I too feel sad when I think about my girls growing up, but this threatens to transform the mild weepiness I feel watching my girl cry into big, ugly, personal tears. I stop.

Thankfully, I don’t say what is on the tip of my tongue, which is, “You sure gotta lotta nerve, girl.” Victoria is the one leaving us first, after all, to go to school.

Girl with nerve -- Exhibit A

Girl with nerve — Exhibit A

We’ve been homeschooling for nine years. My first homeschooling blog, on homeschool blogger, is so old it’s disappeared. But my 11yo wants to try something new, admittedly in part because the 15yo is growing up and away. Homechool is less of a family venture than it used to be, and more of a solitary pursuit, and that’s a change that hasn’t been sitting well with my socially oriented girl.

We’re all mostly excited for her. To tell the truth, I’m mostly excited for me, too. Mostly, I am looking forward to giving a little TLC to my own work. Mostly, I’m happy to step back from the co-ops and playdates, despite the great people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made. And mostly I am not letting myself think too hard about the rest of it: the guilt over not sticking with it (we could always come back!), the worry that middle school is the worst time to dive in to classroom-based education, the suspicion that were she given to a more extraverted family she’d be a natural-born unschooler, the certainty that no public school language arts program could ever satisfy me.

Victoria, on the other hand, is already thinking about planning a dance and having a party for all the new friends she’s going to make. Like I said, she’s sure gotta lotta nerve. Good for her.

Our conversation ends with Victoria taking a deep breath and saying to herself confidently, “I know we’ll always be friends,” before going inside to slice more watermelon. She sighs and moves on, and I try to clear the sadness now shading my face as I follow her, always just a little further behind.

Oops, no, sorry. Changed my mind. We'll always be together just like this.

Oops, no, sorry. Changed my mind. We’ll always be together just like this.

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Filed under Homeschooling, raising girls

Welcome to the Foxhole

This New York magazine article by Jennifer Senior was making the rounds on Facebook this week.

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If you can’t bring yourself to read all seven pages, which you should, just know that there is interesting stuff about how stressful the teen years can be for parents. Like, how our perception of the difficulties of our children’s adolescence may have more–a lot more–to do with our own stress than it does with whatever they’re going through. And apparently–surprise!–it’s worse for mothers, and really worse for mothers of daughters. I guess mothers and teen daughters fight a lot.

It’s good food for thought for any parent of teens, though especially trenchant for those of us homeschooling high school. Everything seems to matter so much now: this allegedly radical life choice we’ve made, doubted, defended, and doggedly (deludedly?) stuck with is about to stand trial. Did we really ruin our kids’ chance of getting into college? Did we ruin them, period?

I know lots of parents ask themselves these questions, but there’s an extra sense that you’re facing a moment of truth when you’ve made a non-mainstream choice, whatever it might be. That kind of pressure makes it hard to take that necessary step back and let go. (And if you don’t face that kind of self-doubt as a parent, please, keep it to yourself. Or no, maybe bottle it somehow and make millions.)

When my kids were little, I had a particular piece of parenting wisdom I liked to share with stressed out newbies. I got to use it again last weekend when a friend pointed me to a mom who was new to our local gifted group and who needed a sympathetic ear. It didn’t take long for our conversation to cover the “and then the teacher said . . .” and “who ever thought I’d be telling him not to . . .” and “people think I’m pushing but really I’m just trying to keep up” and all the other touchstones.

It would get boring hearing people recount them, they are so familiar, but then you look over and see that a mom or dad you just met has eyes shining with tears and hands reaching for yours while they say “You get it!”

After that moment of connection, I hate to disappoint, but I think I invariably do. I used to share information about this curriculum, that school, this psychologist, that support group, but my heart isn’t in it anymore. Much of the time that stuff, just like 1-2-3 Magic, and time outs, and chore charts, is busywork for parents. Yet it is necessary busywork for many of us. Which is why my best parenting advice has boiled down to this:

Do whatever feels right to you, because, generally speaking, child-rearing methods and philosophies are things that keep parents busy and preoccupied while kids figure things out on their own.

It was true for potty training, it’s been true for homeschooling, and it sure seems to be the key to keeping it together during the teen years. Find a way of parenting you feel good about, for yourself, and let that carry you along and keep you out of the kid’s way. Just like the sugar pill that cures your headache after a few hours of rest, miraculously, much of the time your brilliant parenting will bear fruit right about the time your kid grows out of whatever she’s going through.

Quoting researcher Laurence Steinberg, the New York mag article put it somewhat more pointedly:

“[A]dolescence is especially rough on parents who don’t have an outside interest, whether it’s a job they love or a hobby, to absorb their attention. It’s as if the child, by leaving center stage, redirects the spotlight onto the parent’s own life, exposing what’s fulfilling about it and what is not.”

Ouch! But yes, that too.

My friend (and brilliant advocate for gifted kids and parents) Stacia Taylor said it even more succinctly–and more convivially–when my oldest turned 13 and I was fearing the teen years:

“Welcome to the foxhole. We have wine and chocolate.”

As we navigate my oldest’s last few years of homeschooling–and anticipate my youngest’s arrival as an adolescent–that’s where you’ll find me. Whatever imaginary moments of truth lay out there can pass unnoticed. I’ll keep my head ducked, dodging bullets, keeping busy, covering my eyes when it gets too scary, passing out the libations, in good company. With any luck, whether or not we emerge victorious, we may come out to find young people who were worth not fighting for.

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Filed under education, gifted education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls

A Fresh Start

We “started school” this week, which was supposed to mean that we went back to a routine, but as it turned out I had planned a concert, an art museum tour, 2 dentist appointments, and a haircut for this week, in addition to piano lessons, physics one-on-one, the start of play rehearsals for Violet, a teen leadership event, book club, a sleepover, trying to put together the co-op schedule that keeps falling apart, and everyone’s schedule being messed up because the entire state shut down for two days for cold weather.

It might also have helped if I had done some basic things like dug my day planner out of the bag I haven’t opened for 2 weeks and located the next set of math books we were supposed to start. Or, you know, had any sort of plan.

We’ve had a reasonably pleasant week, nevertheless, but it was not the return to routine I was hoping for.

Still, the concert was even better than usual, and the tour was a terrific reintroduction to a modern art museum that may have traumatized Violet as a younger child. (Victoria said, as we drove away, “I think I may need to wait until I’m older to go to that museum again,” but we’ll just forget that part for now. You would never have known it from the way she interacted with the tour guide, in her little-adult way.)

We turned our attention to cleaning for the sleepover while the teen child was at rehearsal. I guess I hadn’t looked in her bedroom for a few days, because this is what I found.

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Irrespective of what photos of my own room might look like were I not expecting a photo session, this set me off on a barrage of angry thoughts, imagining what I would say when she got home, fuming over how I would have to make her clean up in addition to the other tasks she had left until after five hours of rehearsal, aggravated by her inattention to simple things like putting clothes in the laundry basket instead of 3 feet away from the laundry basket, on the floor.

Luckily, though, I couldn’t say any of those things because she wasn’t there. And sure enough, after the adrenaline surge of frustration passed, I felt a lot of sympathy for her. She had several responsibilities to fulfill this week, not much time at home, and it wasn’t about to get better for the next few days. I have been trying a new thing, when feeling like my teen is about to make me insane and say something I regret — I just go over and hug her without saying anything. This works surprisingly well.

So I tried doing the equivalent in her room. It took me about 15 minutes.

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This violates my parenting superego, which tells me that she will never learn to do things for herself if I help her when things are hard. But when I imagine what I would do if I walked into any room — any situation — and found that someone had taken it out of its chaotic state for me specifically so that I wouldn’t have to, I think I would have to sit down and weep with gratitude. I think knowing someone cared enough to notice that I was overwhelmed would change everything, at least for that day.

Maybe it’s not quite the same when you’re 14. But maybe it’s not all that different either.

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Filed under homeschooling high school, raising girls