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Photo by: Sharon Greenthal

The Best Thing I Ever Did for My Son

April 24, 2014

In about a month, my son will graduate from college. Since he’s my youngest, this means that my days as a “mom” who gives my kids their allowance, reminds them of doctor’s appointments, thank you notes, bank deposits, getting their cars washed, registering for classes, calling their grandmothers, ordering contact lenses, buying new underwear, and so many other things… those days are over.

There is no pop-up ad on the computer screen of life that tells you when to notice the important moments, nor is there a fast-forward or rewind button allowing you to plan ahead for what’s to come or go back and fix what’s happened. The gradual moment-to-moment events of our children’s lives ensure that change, when it comes, is not a shock to our systems like it could be if, Rip Van Winkle-like, we were to fall asleep when they were 12 and wake up when they turn 21. The permutations and twists and turns in our children’s (and our own) lives are what make each transition a little easier to understand, though sometimes emotionally difficult to bear.

Like with all children, raising my son was filled with moments that defined who he would become as a man. There he was at 18 months old, getting fitted for glasses to correct his lazy eye, wearing a patch to pre-school for a year. There he was at 5, starting kindergarten and meeting friends he still talks to every day. There he was at 8, walking to school alone for the first time. There he was at 14, hitting a triple in his last year playing little league baseball. There he was at 15, saying goodbye to the grandfather he loved so much. There he was at 17, starting on the varsity football team, when he was sidelined by a stress fracture to his femur, ending the best season of sports he’d ever had.

And here he is now, almost 22, almost graduated, with a job waiting for him that he loves and… well. Had you told me this would happen 4 years ago, when he started college, I might have had my doubts. Not that he wasn’t capable, or smart, or even motivated. He just didn’t seem to me to be fully formed yet – a little out of focus, if you will. I watched my little boy – all 6’1″ of him – walk into his dorm the day we dropped him off at school and I knew – I just knew – that it wasn’t going to be easy for him. I was right. The work was difficult, the social life was challenging, the hot, desert weather was oppressive. Just living on his own, in a dorm room with a roommate he despised – that was enough to worry any mother, right?

My husband and I tried to be two steps ahead of every possible dilemma that might come our son’s way, anxious to help smooth the bumpy road he traversed as a college freshman. We were still piloting that pesky helicopter that had been parked in our driveway all of his life.

Then, after he came home junior year to go to community college for a semester – and, making the best choice he’s ever made, decided to go back to the university he had left – my husband and I finally did something smart.

We left him alone.

Not that we weren’t there for him when he called. Not that we stopped worrying or thinking or wondering. Not that we ever stopped loving him fiercely. We just let him figure it out on his own. We finally decided to trust that he would make things work. And when we did that, he started to come into focus. It was as if a pair of binoculars were in front of my eyes and I had finally found the right setting. Or maybe he had.

What we must do for our older children – especially the ones who seem a little lost – is to learn to trust them, to believe in them, to encourage them to find their own way.

Let them figure out what’s going to make their lives come together, to bring clarity to their future. Let them stumble and make their own mistakes without rushing to fix things for them. Let them find the thing that they will feel as passionate about as we do about them. Let them grow up, grow away, grow strong.

The best thing we can do is to let them go.

Sharon Greenthal is a former stay-at-home mom, now empty-nester. She blogs at Empty House, Fill Mind and is a managing partner and editor-in-chief of Midlife Boulevard, the online magazine for midlife women. Find her on Twitter, or on Facebook. She lives in Orange County, CA with her husband and their perfect dog, Lambeau.

Photo by: iStock

Why Did My 9-Year-Old Have to See This?

April 23, 2014

While putting my daugther, Mia, to bed the other night, she told she had seen something “disturbing” and that she knew it was “inappropriate”.

“Okay”, I said, “what did you see?”_ (Simultaneously wondering what the heck might come out of her mouth). She spilled the beans. While she was playing at a friend’s house she and the girls were watching music videos on her friend’s iTouch. They were Miley Cyrus videos – “Wrecking Ball” – among others, to be specific. My daughter is NINE. She was with two other 9-year-olds, and the girl who owned the iTouch?? She was SEVEN!

Let me say I am very grateful she felt she could tell me, but it forced me to have a conversation I was NOT prepared for, and one we should not have had to have at the tender age of NINE for godssake!

How do you explain to a 9-year-old why someone she knew as a cute Disney star, on a show she used to love, now spins naked on a pretend ball and licks hammers?!?!

As I stumbled through the conversation, it also upset me to know that no matter how well I may have explained how adults have the right and the ability to choose how to express themselves creatively (whether the rest of us agree with it or not), I cannot take back the fact that she saw the stupid video at AGE NINE.

After venting to my husband and cooling off a bit, I called the girls’ mother – someone I consider a good friend of mine. I wanted to approach it in a way that did not sound accusatory, because the god’s honest truth is I cannot 100% guarantee that if the girls had been at our house they could not have watched it here. Mia doesn’t have her own electronic device or phone, for obvious reasons, but she does borrow her dad’s iPad and there is a computer in the family room which I don’t stand watch over 24/7.

So my intent was to let this mom know. I was pretty certain if she did know, she would not want her girls to watch such videos. I was right. However, she was a bit more cavalier than I about what she felt she might be able to do to change the situation.

But, that’s not my point. Because how she handles the electronics in her home, with her kids, is not my business. What IS my business is my own children.

Today, kids are exposed to so much information on a daily basis, and SO much of it is content we’d prefer them not to have to see. When I think about this situation, the essence of why I am so pissed is really about NOT having control over what my kids are exposed to!

After all, I can’t put Mia in a box until she’s twenty-one, right? Truth be told, I really don’t want to do that. But I also really don’t want to have to explain to her is why someone would choose to use her music talents in a self-indulgent, demeaning way. Especially when the young woman is capable of so much more than that.

Today’s technology makes it VERY, VERY challenging to parent in a way that allows our children to reap the benefits without suffering the consequences.

Curious… have you run into a similar situation with your kids? If so, how did you handle it?

Kimberly Muench, a married mother of five, has roots in Wisconsin and currently lives in Texas. Kimberly writes with passion about the things close to her heart: marriage, parenting, faith, and personal growth. You can read more on her blog, My Mother’s Footprints or follow her on Facebook.

Photo by: iStock

Trying Not to Hate Me

April 22, 2014

“Look at this,” I moan in disgust pinching a handful of stretch-marked, flabby skin from my mid-section. “Why do you even like me?” I ask J dejectedly, adding insult to injury as I place the value of my personhood on the perceived failings of my exterior.

“You had a baby,” he patiently soothes. “You are beautiful and wonderful, and a good Mommy.”

But I hear none of it. Too focused on the imperfections in the mirror. If I could just lose 20 pounds, then I’d be happy, I tell myself.

And I believe it.

I remember the first time my mom mentioned my weight to me. I was in 6th grade. She doesn’t remember, but I can vividly see us standing in the kitchen and my dad telling her she was silly, and that I looked great. A girl needs a dad like that.

It was silly, and that’s probably why my mom has forgotten the conversation. I was fit and healthy, and looking back now, just starting to add a few girlish curves. But I think it’s around that time that I started to realize my mom wasn’t happy with her body. After giving birth to my youngest brother – her third child – she’d struggled to lose the last 10 pounds of baby weight.

My mother was (and still is!) beautiful, vivacious and simply fabulous but I don’t think she always saw it. She was too focused on those 10 pounds.

And now, I’m repeating the cycle. So focused on my imperfections – so focused inwardly – that I sometimes miss out on the joy of just being me with the ones I love.

What would it look like for me to break the cycle before it reaches the next generation – to learn to appreciate my body so that I can teach Reagan to value hers? One thing I know, this change has to start now. Today. With me.

Steve Maraboli wrote, “There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.”

And so today, instead of focusing on the things my body isn’t and can’t do, I’m choosing to focus on the beauty of my body, the perfect imperfections. The stretch marks that grew as my body expanded to hold and nurture my precious baby. The round arms that offer comfort and hugs to family and friends in need. The pale legs that carry me out into the sunshine to work and make a difference in the world.

And as I focus on living a healthy lifestyle (because even as I learn to value my body, I want it to be healthier so I can do even more with it!), I want to teach my daughter to appreciate her own body and show her how to best take care of it.

Some days I will fail, but I pray that God will give me grace and help refocus my vision when it begins to settle on negative thoughts so that I can see myself the way he sees me.

Rachel Oliver is a thirty-something, mother to one, wife to one, dog-slave to two, Denver gal who likes laughing, cooking, consignment sales and diet Mountain Dew. She regularly writes for Hello, Darling and on her blog rachel + reagan. Follow her adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo by: iStock

A Husband on a Mission to Get the Groove Back

April 21, 2014

Somewhere along the line “us” became “all of us”. Somewhere along the line two became four. Somewhere along the line “date night” went MIA and our couple status was lost.

And then one night Stella got his groove back. I’m Stella in this case. Or maybe the wife and I are both Stella. From this point forth, Stella will be the code word for our couple status. We are Stella and we went in search of our lost groove.

I won’t lie. This has been a particularly brutal week. We made trips back and forth to San Francisco after a death in the family. We had a small car accident to deal with. Both our jobs are crazy right now. The holidays are here. “Stella’s groove” had long ago been stalled by repeated viewings of Disney’s “Frozen” and heated discussions about which family activity to do on any given day. We’ve been going through the motions of being parents, caregivers, workers, volunteers, oh, and somewhere down the list husband and wife. And then Stella got his groove back.

I had actually suggested the wife and I should go out for drinks with some friends. This was a big first step. We got a babysitter. We left it open ended with the kids and the babysitter when we’d return. This was a big second step. The kids are master manipulaters of pouring on the guilt when we’re going out without them, but Stella put his foot down tonight. Sorry kids, enjoy Netflix and takeout and know mom and dad love you.

The wife dressed to the nines in a hot little black number. Can I say smokin’ hot? She was. The husband dressed slightly better than normal. The night didn’t even start untill after 9pm… already a Stella record of sorts. We started out at a rum and cigar lounge. We spent time with friends. We shared drinks with each other including a few we’ve never had before. We even shared a cigar, the aptly named “Romeo and Juliet” and lived it up big. Midnight approached but we weren’t ready to call it a night. Stella was just getting started. One couple called it quits. They don’t have kids yet so whatever… lightweights.

But We weren’t ready.

We grabbed the other couple and went bar hopping like college kids. By 2am we were loaded into LA’s greasy spoon diner called The Pantry enjoying an early morning breakfast with everyone else who was either nocturnal or drunk or looking to hide their sorrows in a side of hash and a heaping helping of toast. Not us. Stella was getting his groove back. We had more good conversation and some couple canoodling. We slipped home after about three in the morning and said goodnight to the babysitter (a family member who didn’t mind staying late and getting little or no pay in return). One kid leapt out of bed. We cut her off at the pass… screech… and gave her a goodnight kiss and a one way trip right back to her room. We quietly shut the door, we snuck into bed like new lovers, and Stella got his groove back. Stelllaaaaaa!

I don’t need to describe what happened next. Suffice it to say, it was 90-seconds of pure heaven (actual times may vary).

Somewhere along the line the wife and I have forgotten what it means to be a couple. I admit it. Stella had lost the groove. On one Saturday night in the middle of rum, cigars, hash and eggs we made a new commitment to each other to try and get at least two date nights a month. Stella is back baby! Now I need to keep him back.

The alarm rang at 7am and the kids came racing into our room. It was the best and sweetest and worst and most tiring wake up call ever. We’ll do the zombie walk of shame today and probably crash by 7pm tonight but who cares. Stella’s got his groove back.

Pete Wilgoren is an Emmy award winning journalist who writes about his often surprising, embarrassing, and educational experiences surrounded by a wife and two little girls. Find Dadmissions on Facebook and on his blog Dadmissions.

Photo by: iStock

How Do You Celebrate Easter When You're Grieving?

April 20, 2014

How do you celebrate new life in the midst of grieving?

For the past two years we have not truly celebrated Easter in our home. Half-heartedly, I fashioned baskets filled with candies and other treats. My husband took pictures of the kids wearing their Sunday best but I couldn’t bring myself to get into the Easter spirit.

Easter was the first holiday after I lost a son. It was just a month and a half after burying him. Was I supposed to be happy and cheerful; decorate my house with flowers and colored eggs in honor a holiday representing rebirth just after losing a child?

I felt like a hypocrite for even considering letting some joy into my life again.

Two years ago, in February, before I lost my son, I couldn’t wait for the trees to bloom. After, I sat trying to will the daffodils from breaking through the earth. And since, my world has been stuck in an eternal winter. And I have been content to dwell there. I don’t want to know about springtime, much less celebrate new life.

The bunny made his appearance the last two years, because I needed to do that for my other kids, but I just didn’t have it in me to cook a meal and entertain family. I can’t even remember if we went to Easter Mass? I would like to think we did, but honestly, I can’t remember.

There was no Easter ham two years ago. Instead, we ate at Red Lobster as I sat oblivious to the holiday trying to break through my icy exterior.

By the next Easter, I was newly pregnant with another. I had buried a second son, and was scared that my newest pregnancy would have a similar outcome. Running late, we missed Mass and wound up at Red Lobster for the second year in a row. Was this to be our new tradition? Secretly, I hoped not.

Truth is, last year I wanted Easter back. But could I bring myself to celebrate it again? I told myself that whether or not I was holding a baby this year, I would have to let Easter back into my life.

Today, I took a trip to the grocery store and bought everything I needed to prepare Easter dinner while holding and cherishing my newest baby, Linus. Because Easter is about hope, and finding away to move past the grief to celebrate life again.

Welcome back, Easter. I have missed you.

Jennifer Swartvagher is an author, freelance writer, social media specialist, and blogger. She is best known for her blog, Beyond The Crib, and its corresponding Facebook and Twitter pages. She is also a regular contributor to Today’s Mama and has been published in Mamalode and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine. Jennifer lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley with her husband and eight kids.

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