Mamapedia National Voices
Mamapedia City Voices highlights the inside scoop on your city by selected writers, from up-and-coming mom bloggers to well-known mom experts.
by Miranda Gargasz
Photo by: iStock
I have a teenage son. He is all about his friends and girls and hanging out and talking on the phone and staying away from “YOU PEOPLE,” his term of endearment for his dad and I. Evidently, we’re not as cool as we think we More
My husband works at home most of the time, but does commute to a big tall building about twice a week to attend lots of important meetings and business lunches. For this excursion, he transforms into someone who shaves, carries an access More
“Come on, honey, we’ve got to leave for school now. ” It’s 8:00 a.m. and my middle son is dragging his feet again. He is always like this before school.
“I don’t feel good. I don’t know what’s wrong again, but I feel sick.” His eyes look into mine, and he seems baffled. It’s been ten days now that he’s complained, always a sudden onset in the morning right before school starts. I know I sometimes feel that way in the morning, so I try to fix him by suggesting another piece of toast. He was doing fine up until the time that I announced it was time to leave for school.
“Are you the same kind of sick?” I wonder, maybe nausea from the morning vitamin? “You missed all last week already, I don’t want you to have to make up more work.” I think how all the extra work will just make him fall more behind. I watch my 10 year old son up and run to the bathroom, where he vomits. He’s been vomiting for 15 days.
“Honey, you have to stay home again. You can’t go like this. I’ll call the doctor, and we’ll go in again.”
I’m stumped. This will be our third visit to the doctor this month, and it probably is a long standing flu. One without a fever and no aches or pains, but more than likely, a persistent bug.
I call and get an appointment for mid morning. We head to the clinic and the doctor sees us again for the third time in three weeks. But, this time, he asks me to wait outside his examination office so he can talk to my son alone. Now I’m the one that feels sick. What does the doctor sense that I’ve missed? My reaction is to ask why, but my son seems tense enough as it is. I know I’ll be right outside the door, if he needs me. I’ve never been asked to leave the office before, and it’s uncomfortable. I stand outside the door, worrying, perhaps a medical work ups need to be done, maybe blood work? I wait to find out while chewing on my fingernail.
The doctor opens the exam room door and asks me to come in. My son is sitting up on the examining table, looking down at his feet. My heart pounds. I can feel it in the air, they’ve talked about something. I feel light headed. My son has a funny look on his face, one I haven’t seen before, and I don’t like not recognizing it.
The doctor begins his discussion. I focus, hard on his face, so I can hear everything. He says, “Your son is under a great deal of stress,” I have to interrupt, “From me? What did I do? I’m sorry, what was I doing? Why didn’t you tell me, honey. Is it too hard to do your laundry alone? I can help…”
The doctor stops me, and asks quietly, to finish. “No, no, it’s not home. It’s a situation at school.” I breathe in hard. He turns to my son, “Why don’t you tell your mother what you told me.”
I hear a shrill buzz in my ears, and I am so afraid of what he is going to say. I feel queasy and hot.I put my hand over my mouth, and my son keeps looking down. He begins in a small voice, crackling from the weight of the position he’s in, “I don’t know why I get sick when it’s time to go to school.”
The doctor encourages him, “Go on…”
My son still doesn’t look up, “I just don’t want to go to school anymore. Not there.”
His doctor takes over, kindness in his voice, “Your son is getting teased daily. Some of it is bullying. I’m going to tell you something right now. He needs to be kept home for awhile until things settle down.”
I begin to cry. Hard, and a lot. I know a lot of things about myself and one thing I’ve always been sure of is what is happening in my children’s lives. But this? How could I have missed this? I am an aware mother. An aware mother. I keep repeating that in my head. I am an aware mother.
I fall into the chair behind me in disbelief.
Now, of course, I see it. The vomiting at the mention of school, the excuses to get picked up at noon with a stomachache, the full lunches coming home, never any food eaten. The weight loss I had been noticing. The quiet rides to and from school, without conversation. Never a birthday party invitation in the almost two years at the school. The standing alone at the playground at recess time when I’d pop in for a visit. The angry outbursts at home, along with the short fuse. The waking up at 3 a.m. telling me he just didn’t want to sleep anymore. All of these thoughts fill my head within seconds.
How could I not have known? How could I have not seen this and put the pieces together? How? I think because no one expects their child to be bullied.
We left the doctor’s office, some names in my hand that he had written on a slip of paper for further help if I needed. We went home, we rested. And I pulled him out of school that afternoon. We began homeschooling after a week of field trips, playing, quiet time and peace. We homeschooled for the rest of the year. He did well, and gained back six pounds within two months. He ate entire breakfasts, full lunches, and asked for dinner early. His vomiting immediately stopped. His insomnia, disappeared.
When I called the parents in the classroom to find out what they knew, most told me that their children had told them that my son was being bullied daily. Daily. It was hard not to burst into tears with every phone call where I heard that word. Why hadn’t anyone told me? Why hadn’t he told me?
He was taunted for his name, it’s unusual in the culture here. He was taunted for his ways. He is a quiet child, who does not participate in sports to the degree of other boys his age. He was taunted for being unusual, and not like the rest of the kids. He was taunted because he was different.
This happened seven years ago, and our son is completely healed now. He is doing so very well, and has found a group of friends who enjoy his company. He tells me often how much he likes his life.He’s forgotten what happened. I don’t like to bring it up, or talk about it. But I know, I still have to. Because I still think about it when I see the kids who were in his class at the time, in our small town, and their parents.
Seven years later, I remain grateful for an astute physician who recognized what I didn’t. I’ve had to forgive myself for that. I’m grateful I was able to keep him home, and be here to teach him. I’m grateful that this story has a happy ending.
But it makes me think what of a family, where a parent is not able to keep the child home and remove him from the caustic environment of bullying? What if there is no doctor to see what a parent misses? What if the bullying had been physical and he had been injured? What if the bullying had become something other than what we had? What if the bullying had been something that he could not have worked his way out of, the way we were able to? We had access to exceptional health care, we had access to my having a free schedule to be home. We are fortunate.
These are critical questions to ask. And both sides need to be involved; the ones being bullied, and the ones doing the bullying. We need to recognize the signs of being bullied and parents need to ask their children, “Are YOU doing any bullying?”
Bullying has to be talked about. I never thought to ask my son, “Are you okay at school?” Bullying can happen to any child, to any family – even when you think you would not be a target. Everyone is equally able to be a target and everyone is just as able to do the bullying.
Your child could be bullied, or be a bully. We need to ask both sides the questions now.
October is Bully Prevention Awarness Month. For more information visit www.stopbullying.gov.
Alexandra Rosas is a national storyteller and mother of three. She lives in a small town where she tries hard to go unnoticed. She fails miserably. You can follow her on Twitter or keep up with her blog, Good Day, Regular People.
I have a teenage son. He is all about his friends and girls and hanging out and talking on the phone and staying away from “YOU PEOPLE,” his term of endearment for his dad and I. Evidently, we’re not as cool as we think we are.
Lately, I’ve been feeling a more Mama Bear than normal. It all comes down to girls. I know I used to be one, but these modern girls… boy howdy! I have the desire to grab their jaws and force their mouths open just to prove that they have several rows of teeth because I’m convinced they are sharks. They certainly seem to be circling my precious baby and I sense blood in the water.
He plays things close to the vest. He never lets me in too far. I’m left to my own devices and have to embrace my inner “Secret Squirrel” to learn any facts going on in his life. It’s not too hard, if I’m being honest. He is a boy. Boys are LOUD by nature. I can usually get the gist of the current teenage drama while cleaning the bathroom as he talks on the phone in his room. (Yeah. My toilet sparkles. What of it?)
Photo Credit: Hanna Barbara
You see, I’ve discovered that there is at least one girl in his circle of friends who is playing games. She’s canceling plans without having the decency to call. She’s playing boys against one another. She’s using boys who like her simply BECAUSE they like her. She’s getting my hackles up, is what she’s doing.
I tried the diplomatic approach. I sat my teen down and had a little talk.
“Jimmy,” I said, “be careful. Some girls are not as nice as they seem.”
With all the doubt afforded a 14-year-old who is assured that I, an adult, knows absolutely nothing, he says, “Yes, mother.”
“I’m serious. There are some out there – and I am not insinuating that you know any – BUT there are some out there who will use a boy just because she knows he likes her.”
Then I went to my husband, Jim.
“She’s doing it.” I said pacing the floor.
“She who? And what is she doing?” he said, clicking away on some zombie game on the computer.
“Oh, you KNOW who. She’s messing with my baby.”
“Miranda, calm down. This is normal teenage bullshit. It’ll pass.”
Astounded at his cavalier attitude, I stopped and planted my hands firmly on my hips, “HOW can you sit there and say it will pass? She’s going to hurt him! I can see it coming a mile away!”
“Yes. And it’s a tough lesson he has to learn. Let him. Stay out of it.”
With a huff (because I know he’s right), I sat on the couch and leafed through a magazine.
Jimmy came downstairs and began complaining that his knee was hurting. I called the doctor and made an appointment since this was the third time he’d complained and I wasn’t sure it was nothing.
I carted him off to his appointment and I was quiet, trying my hardest to let him have his space, to reign in Mama Bear and Secret Squirrel.
When the doctor examined him she said it was likely just growing pains. Jimmy is a pretty tall kid for his age and it seems he’s just getting taller faster.
“It’s all right,” she said. “Girls like tall boys.”
I just wanted to crawl under the exam table until…
“But, listen here, young man. Girls are sharks and don’t you forget it. They will hurt you the first chance they get. Don’t believe them when they say they’re on the pill. Don’t believe them when they say they are virgins and you won’t get anything from them. This body is YOURS. Your mom worked hard to make it, you take extra good care of it.”
He blushed, smiled and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m serious. They tried that crap with my son and I told him for years to watch out. The last thing you need is a case of the cooties that won’t EVER go away, or a baby you can’t afford, or a broken heart that you don’t want. Use your head out there.”
He blushed again and nodded.
As he went to the truck without me, I lagged behind. Once he was out of ear shot I said, “Thank you so much for saying that!”
“Oh, don’t worry. I tell every boy who comes through here the same thing. I modify it a bit for the girls, but they get their version, too. I know they don’t listen to moms and dads.”
Then I did something I never do. I hugged her. I also backed off my toilet scrubbing for a whole week after that.
And now there’s three new girls on the scene…
I’m feeling the need for a Morocco Mole of my own. Who can keep track of all these sharks?
Miranda Gargasz is a writer from a small suburb outside Cleveland, Ohio. She is a contributor at What the Flicka? and The Huffington Post. In February of 2014, she published her first collection of essays entitled ‘Lemonade and Holy Stuff’. You can read more on her Blog, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
My husband works at home most of the time, but does commute to a big tall building about twice a week to attend lots of important meetings and business lunches. For this excursion, he transforms into someone who shaves, carries an access badge, and wears a button down shirt — freshly pressed by me of course. (Alright, I put it in the dryer on high, with a wet wash cloth, after having left it damp and wrinkling for 3 days.)
He goes off into the world of adults and does whatever he does to bring home the bacon.
This is great, because I like bacon and I need bacon to fuel my Target and Kohl’s binges. Hey, Mossimo and Sonoma tops don’t come cheap, (or at least they don’t when purchased with great frequency, and in concert with crap loads of contact lens solution, gummy vitamins, Us Weekly’s, and other essentials we go through like animals).
When my husband returns from his bacon-ating, it often takes a while for him to transition from Corporate Guy back to Husband/Dad. You’d think the hour commute home would be enough, but the conversion usually takes longer than that. I’ve encountered Corporate Guy at the door many a night, only to have to remind him of his whereabouts, and of what ISN’T the proper way to speak in my domain. Corporate Guy is very receptive, but often speaks before his transition is fully complete.
On one occasion, he actually spoke these words: “Our trash process is ad hoc. We need a new one”. Number one, don’t use terms like ‘ad hoc’ after 5pm. Number two, don’t assume I know what ad hoc means, or will change my ‘trash process’ accordingly. Finally, do not, under any circumstances, use the word ‘We‘ when suggesting that ‘I‘ do something. This is the equivalent of my dr. telling me ‘We’re going to need an injection.”. Oh yeah? You go first.
While pacing in the kitchen after a long day of hard work, Corporate Guy might recently have said, “Here’s a 40 page print out on how to select mattresses. You can read this as research before we buy a new mattress”. At the time, I might have simultaneously been washing dishes, refilling a sippy cup, checking my email, and suggesting alternatives to saying ‘Hell Yeah!” to my 4 year old. Corporate Guy might then have suggested I read it on the way to his parents house this weekend instead, replacing the People magazine I have been waiting to luxuriate with. He may then have apologized for suggesting such a thing, and instead suggested that we have a meeting to read through it together after the kids go to bed. I might politely have suggested in return, that 2 twin mattresses might be the direction we should go in, should this conversation continue any further.
Another Corporate Guy slip that lands him in my stew pot multiple times a week is, “How can we change the process and fix that?” It seems innocent enough, but it sends my head spinning around repeatedly with death rays shooting from my eyes every time. One recent example was me complaining about the constant interruptions I was dealing with. Cue Corporate Guy: “How can we change the process and fix that?”. The only way to fix it, is to Ebay you and the children, and I’m pretty sure my seller rating might take a massive hit for that. I’m hearing you assign me a thinking task, and someone will most likely interrupt me before I can complete… what was I saying?
And finally, perhaps the one that ruffles my petticoats the most. Corporate Guy often starts sentences with, “You know what your problem is?”. Readers, don’t give your husband an empathy slap for me just yet. Corporate Guy’s tone when he says it is less, “You know what your problem is you stupid idiot?” and more, “You are going to be so happy that I figured it out for you!”. I expect that this comes from a job where he is rewarded for figuring out the source of problems on a daily basis. The problem is, that when he says it to me, the answer is either A) Yes, I already know what my problem is, but the first rule of mom’s problems is that we don’t TALK about mom’s problems, OR B) I don’t know what my problem is, therefore it is undetectable to humans, and any further analysis on your part will result in a drastic reduction in mattress sharing privileges.
Maybe some day there will be a decompression chamber he can go through when coming from the office to home. Until then, I’m forming an ad hoc committee to look into the matter.
Susan blogs at Pecked To Death By Chickens, her humor blog, though occasionally she’ll author a poignant post revealing her soft underbelly (a euphemism AND a literal description). Susan also helps other bloggers get featured on the websites they aspire to, via her blog resource site Beyond Your Blog. You can find Susan wandering aimlessly on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
“You’re so pretty,” she says.
I am typing into my broken-down Android, letting my husband know I am still at the clinic with my mother. We are waiting for blood work, and then we need to schedule an appointment with a social worker to help us navigate the corruption at her assisted living facility. My mother has dropped more than 15 pounds in three weeks. It’s time to throw in our cards and get some new ones.
I look up, feeling as cracked and ancient as my Android. I laugh out loud. My mother’s casual comment about how I look strikes me as hilarious. I think about the toddler waiting for me at home, and the hours my husband needs to take off from work to watch her, and the hours he will be working into the night to make up for it, and how I feel I have aged about 20 years in the space of two from stress. I keep waiting for the gray hair. As yet, I have been spared this. Perhaps it is waiting for my forties.
“Mom, it doesn’t matter how people look.”
“It does matter.”
I look over at my bird-like mother. She has been through a lot in the last few years. She survived a massive brain bleed and got out of an I.C.U bed to perform a ballet barre class three days after the doctors told us she would never speak or walk again. She knows her social security number and the recipe for lentil soup that my great grandmother taught her when she was a teenager. She can’t tell you what happened a minute ago or where she is, but within that bird frame there is a glimmer. A light is on in at least one front window.
My mom learned early that pretty matters. Remember that lyric from A Chorus Line: “Different is nice but it sure isn’t pretty, pretty is what it’s about?” My grandmother etched this idea into my mother’s brain, and years of working in television wrote over those lines with a Sharpie. When my mother was on I, Spy, she played a seductress. Then they called her to play another one a year later. Her legs were voted the best on Broadway when she was the lead dancer in How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying.) My mother had a lot of boyfriends. I have many of the old love letters she saved, neatly spread in archived family materials. Letters from boyfriends at Princeton. Can you imagine? It’s straight out of A.R. Gurney.
My mother never felt pretty, though. She talked a good game. She told me how important it was to appreciate one’s sex appeal, how grateful one should be to have it, how much easier it made life. It doesn’t seem that it made my mother’s life any easier. Anyway, she never really believed she was attractive. She told me that whenever the camera moved in for a closeup she would try to widen her jaw to make it more photogenic. Her life was marred by a sense of inadequacy, both inside and out.
I spent a lot of years knowing two things with certainty. One, that my mother got the terrible idea that beauty is the most important tool a woman could have from her twisted mother, and two, that I had to shake off her obsession with guarding this highly subjective attribute above all else.
When I had a daughter, I became sure of a third thing: I would NEVER allow her to feel that her looks were something that were anything but an extension of all else that was gorgeous about a person, and about her, specifically. You cannot separate a person’s beauty from her charm and humor and grace and intelligence. It’s all a jumble, and one day, when someone falls in love with her and she with him (or her) that person will find her an exquisite beauty for all these reasons mixed up together.
I arrive home after seven. It is after eight by the time I step out of the shower. It takes many hours for my child to wind down. She has so much to tell me about her day, she wants to know why her grandmother took so much of her mother’s time today and why she couldn’t be with me for it. She is full of questions and longing and very much needing of extra cuddles.
I get her to sleep by eleven o’clock. We rock to one of the old tunes she used to relax to when she was a colicky newborn. I carry her from the couch to the bed and lay her down. A light from the alleyway shines onto her face, like artificial moonlight in a play, dancing past our curtains.
I whisper to my husband, who can hear me on the monitor. “Come here!” I say.
My tired husband leaves his writing desk to join me at the bedside. “What is it?” He whispers.
“She’s so beautiful. I don’t mean the whole package. I mean her face. She is so beautiful, isn’t she? She takes my breath away.”
I gave in. I think my child is beautiful and would be even if she weren’t remarkable in so many other ways.
And then I realize it: all mothers think so.
My mother told me I was pretty all my life because she never would have thought otherwise. She was my mother. She didn’t insist I was pretty because she was unhealthily obsessed with looks. She thought so because I was her daughter. And I am pretty sure parents of sons think the same about the faces of their offspring.
My sister and I were the most beautiful girls in the world to my mother. And so it has been since time began. Whether or not I think it is healthy to tell my daughter so, I will now recognize my right as a mother to think she is the most beautiful creature ever to have walked on two legs. I just might do it in private.
Leslie Kendall Dye is an actor living in New York City. She was a nanny for a decade before having a child of her own, who is now nearly three. She writes (of course!) at her blog Hungry Little Animal.
Because there are several of you who have asked, ‘What’s the story behind your kid who doesn’t look anything like the rest of you?’ I made a phone call, asked permission, and am now laying it ALL out there.
The short answer to the question, “How To Adopt a Child Without Going to Court" is by omission: when the birth parent doesn’t give a shit.
Okay- short story long:
Growing up, our kids had many friends. We had the kind of home where all the kids congregated – plenty of food, plenty of room, always something going on, adults who were interested in them, etc.
Ben and I knew all of them, some better than others. It didn’t matter. A friend was a friend was a friend blahblahblah, unless I caught you smoking pot- and then you were out.
One day our son Chase came through the door with a young man I knew, bashful and polite, but he wasn’t one of the ‘regulars’. They were both stunned and dazed.
He sent his friend upstairs with a, “I’ll meet you up there in a minute.” Then he turned to me and said, ”Mom, we have a problem.”
Oh Jesus. My favorite sentence.
“Tyler’s sister has just committed suicide. She was found hanging from her bathroom door and his parents are out of town. He doesn’t know what to do.”
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know? Maybe at a hospital?”
“Okay. I’m going up to talk to him.”
“Tyler? May I come in?”
A small, “yes.”
“What’s happened? Can you tell me?”
“My sister’s killed herself.”
“What have you been told? Who called you? Where are your parents?”
“I just saw my stepbrother. He told me. He found her just a little while ago. I was with Chase at the gas station. I can’t breath.”
“Where are your parents?”
“In Utah. “They’re picking up my other step sister from an Outward Bound program where they sent her because she was in their way.”
“When are they expected home?”
“I don’t know. They never told me.”
“Who’s taking care of you and all the other kids? Who’s the adult at the house?”
“We have a full-time housekeeper. She’s there. She cooks too. And drives us to school.”
“Why don’t you stay here, with us, until this all settles out. Okay?”
And so I found out that Tyler was part of a blended family- except the blender had very dull blades.
His birth-mother died of an accidental drug overdose when he was just shy of eight, and his stepmother’s first husband died of something that she sued over and won a wrongful death claim leaving her a very rich woman. Tyler’s stepmother came to the marriage with three young kids (two girls and a boy) controlling the purse strings, and his father with three young boys- and the backbone of a slug.
All through that week, we both waited for a call from his parents. Nothing. I chalked it up to shock, but still… Several days later, Tyler told us that his stepsister’s funeral was scheduled for the coming Saturday.
“Did your Dad finally call?” I asked.
“No. I found out at school from some kids.”
I called his family house and was told (by the housekeeper?) that neither parent was taking calls. I told her I had Tyler with me. She said, “that’s nice.” then hung up.
Ben, I, and our two children, took Tyler, standing with him, to the wake. His stepmother was so drugged she could barely speak. Tyler told me that was the way she always was — stoned on prescription meds. His father just bobbed his head up and down, with a stupid grin on his face (was he high too?) when I introduced myself and told him that Tyler had been with us, and asked if he would call me to discuss ‘matters’.
I never received that phone call- ever.
Little by little Tyler, a senior in High School, told me what is was like to live in his home. I’ll just say, here, that it was not a happy home and I’m being g-e-n-e-r-o-u-s.
Over the next several weeks, with no contact from his family, I was encouraged, by my friends and family, to call Tyler’s father and stepmother. But I decided not to: I wanted to see just how long, and to what degree, they were willing to abandon him. And they were VERY willing (several months of ‘willing’).
With High School graduation upon him, I decided it was time for a showdown conversation with his father.
“Hello. Mr. Smith? My name is Cheryl. You’re son has been living with my family for the past several months. I think it’s time we talk.”
“Oh. Sorry, I’ve been really busy lately. Could we talk tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? I’m sorry I thought you said ‘tomorrow’. No. We will talk today at 4pm, here, at my house, and if you don’t show-up I will be at your home, pounding on the door and roasting weenies in your driveway, so it’s going to be today, Mr. Smith. Am I clear?”
“I’ll be there.”
“I have a big mouth, Mr. Smith. You don’t want me using it in our small town. Start being smart.”
Next up: the fam… I told them all, including my husband, to stay away that day so I could have my chat with Mr. Smith. Ben doesn’t like conflict and I thought it best he not be there to witness what was about to go down.
He showed up, Tyler’s father, and we had a talk, or maybe I should say ‘_I_ had a talk’.
He attempted to garner my sympathy by telling me he had recently been diagnosed with cancer. I said I didn’t give a shit. I really did.
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about your health. We are only talking about the son you have failed to contact for over five months. The one who not only lost his mother, but has now lost his beloved stepsister. The son you and your wife have on all sorts of unnecessary medication. The kid who can’t get up in the morning without his pill, and can’t go to sleep at night without ‘his helper’. We are not talking about you. We are not talking about me. We are talking about him. And if you think because you have a ‘law’ degree you can manipulate this conversation you will find yourself sadly underestimating me.”
What I did give a SHIT about was: 1) his son’s stability, 2) his son’s collage education, and 3) him having anything more whatsoever to do with his son because he was a sniveling tripe of a little man with no business being a father and didn’t deserve any of his children, but I could only save one.
We agreed on a financial arrangement for Tyler’s college fund (no other monetary compensation was offered or requested), and he was on his way- never to be heard from again.
Never. To be. Heard from. Again.
That was 12 years ago. Our entire family has taken him in as one of their own – all the weddings, the picnics, the holidays. The whole kaboodle.
Tyler graduated from college, did a ‘find myself’ moment in Colorado, and later found his way to New Orleans, after Ben and I relocated here. He now lives down the street.
There have been ups-n-downs, like any young man finding his way. But he will find himself. And he can always come home. Because WE are the blended family now… and I keep my small appliances in tiptop shape.
Cheryl chronicles life at Royal Balls, wearing really expensive ruby slippers, while trotting the globe, and gardening naked at midnight- because she can. Join her at A Pleasant House to celebrate the elegance of decay at Midlife! You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.