My youngest son is seven-years-old and he has made it his mission this year to find out what all those “bad” words are that he’s not supposed to say. When my daughter came to me last year and asked me about them, I knew she was just expressing her curiosity and was mature enough to take in the information and not then go out and use it. My son, on the other hand, would not think twice about immediately putting those words to use if he thought the other boys would think he was funny for using them. So, the approach I have taken with my son on this topic has been very different than the one I took with my daughter.
At least once a week, my son will come home and try to guess at what he’s determined one of those “bad” words to be. And I have decided to agree with him if he comes up with a word that is at least not as bad as what the actual word is. It typically goes like this: “I know what the “s” word is, mommy.” “Really, honey, what is it?” “It’s “stupid”.” “You’re right that’s the “s” word. Now I don’t like to hear you using that word.” Then he promptly dances around the house repeating it with glee, “Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.” After awhile, all of a sudden, he will stop and look at me and say, “That’s not really the “s” word is it?” “No, honey, it’s not, but it’s still not a nice word to say.” The day he decided the word was “sex”, and started singing, “sexy, sexy, sex”, I started questioning what the real “s” word was. Because the idea of him singing his new song on the bus to his friends, seemed to be just as bad as him writing the actual “s” word in marker on the back of a bus seat – like my peers used to do, way back when I was in school.
I have found when he comes upon a word that is not cringe-worthy, my first instinct is to drive it home, “Yes, that’s it. That’s definitely the word.” Which was the case when he decided the “f” word was “Fix”. I’m not sure where he got that from, but I was happy for him to go with that. That is until during the recent past holidays, when we were standing in line to get the kids photo taken with Santa and I tried to pat down my son’s hair before his close-up. My son fidgeted away and said, “Mommy, what are you doing?” I replied, “I’m just trying to fix your hair, sweetie.” With that, his mouth dropped open and his eyes got wide as he said in a whisper, “Mommy, you just said the “f” word in front of Santa.”
So, my son still doesn’t know what the “f” word and the “s” word are, and thank goodness he doesn’t even know to ask what the “c” word is, but I’m thinking the mature thing to do, on my part, is to sit him down and have a truthful conversation about what those words really are and why it’s not appropriate to then go and chant them on the bus. So, that’s what I’m thinking, doesn’t mean I’ve found the courage to do it yet though. But I better do it quick, cause I have a feeling if I don’t, one of his peers will beat me to it – and if that happens the song he comes up with might make “sexy, sexy, sex” sound like a nursery rhyme by comparison.
I was known as “the smart one” in my family. I was accepted early admission into Wellesley College, which was arguably more prestigious than the other schools my two brothers and four sisters went to. I went on to have a successful career in investment banking. So, you could say for the first three and a half decades of my life, my legacy was defined by my family’s title for me “the smart one”.
But then, when I was pregnant with my third child, I “retired”. With three children, one with special needs, it made the most sense to stay “retired”, and devote my full time to raising them. Though one would argue, it does take some intelligence to raise three children, I knew my legacy would no longer point to my being “the smart one”. There are many more mothers in the world than successful businesswomen, so to carve out a unique legacy going forward was going to be a little more difficult. The only upside is that the pool of people, who you are trying to impress with your legacy, is greatly diminished. In reality for the majority of us, once you’re a mother, the only people we really want to look back and have admire us, thirty, forty years from now, are our kids.
I believe it’s never too early to work on one’s legacy. When my kids look at me, whether today or in the future, I want them to be able to point to things I accomplished and to be proud they had me as their mother. Hopefully it’s a given that they see me as a good mom but, I would like them to have more to point to. The eldest were too young to remember me when I was a New York City career woman, so you can throw those 15 odd years out. There was the possibility that maybe they could have still viewed me as “the smart one”, that is until the schools decided to adopt what they call “new math”, which means I can’t even help them add three-digit numbers correctly. So, I needed to build up other areas of “greatness”. Creativity has always been a strong point of mine, so I decided to push forward in that direction.
To that end, here’s how I thought my legacy was shaping up. Let’s start off with I’m a good mother. But I also have created my own web blogs – the experience I share with my kids. I play the piano and the saxophone, filling the house with music, and even write original songs that I dedicate to my children. I throw the most imaginative home-grown birthday parties for them. I fill their weekends with innovative games to play that I create. I am a creative writer and have put photo ficitional-storybooks together for them. I turn the house into a wonderland at holiday times. I am also involved in their schools and have a large group of social friends. I try to stay active and involve the kids in my workouts. I’m thinking, for someone who can’t easily just point to a business role for my kids to define me by, I’m doing a good job in trying to be creative and unique in things my kids can point to that can be thought of as my legacy.
When my daughter came home the other day and told me they were doing a project at school on family and that they had to come up with one thing for each family member that they felt most defined each of them, I was excited to hear what she picked for me from the many things I just listed above. For dad, she listed where he worked. For her brothers, she listed the past times that they liked the most. “So, honey, what did you put down for me? My web blogs? My creative parties? Music?”
“Mommy, for you, I put down that you like watching the soap opera “Days of Our Lives“.
That’s my legacy? I like to watch a soap opera. That’s what she chose to share with her class and her teacher and one day perhaps with my grandchildren? My mom, the soap opera watcher. Wow. The scary part is, one of the things I remember my mom the most for – is watching the soap opera “Days of Our Lives“. But my mom didn’t have 1000 channels to choose from like we do now. I watch other things. If the legacy I have been so hard at work on, was going to be debased into just “t.v. watching”, then how about the news, or even an innovative musical show like “Smash”? But a soap opera? Have I come no further, from the generation before me, than that?
Apparently, I have been too subtle with the building of my legacy and have left it up for any willy-nilly interpretation. Perhaps I should put a newsletter together for my family updating them on my current projects. Or put up posters around the house with my picture and the caption “Song Writer” underneath. I could even hand out business cards at dinner with the occupation “party planner” when their birthdays are coming up. And I am not beneath having a neon-lighted sign commissioned that I can hang on the door that blinks “Web Blogger Lives Here”.
But obviously the biggest change must be to eradicate this ridiculous notion that I’m just a soap opera watcher. To that end, the only solution is, I can no longer TIVO my soap opera and watch it in the evening – I’m going to need to watch that show real time – while the kids are at school. No need to leave anything up to needless interpretation…
When I started this blog, I was at that metaphorical “fork in the road”. My kids were in school full time, I knew I wanted to do something that would flex my creative and intellectual mind, but what was that elusive perfect pathway. I didn’t want to go back to work full-time, my kids are still relatively young, but I needed to give myself something that I could say I was accomplishing. So, what do you do when you come upon that fork? You know you want to go in some direction but you’re not sure which one.
My theory is to hang out in the intersection for a little while. You don’t want to idle there, though. You need to be active, keep revving your engines, get a feel for the road, an understanding of your options. If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to do, make a list of all the things you are interested in, then throw them out there and see what sticks. That’s what I did with this blog.
I liked the idea of designing a blog. I liked writing. I liked the psychological journey of self-discovery. I liked creating self-help workbooks. I liked using humor. I liked writing about the creative things I do with my kids. So, I put all of those things together within this blog. I then spent the last few months getting feedback on what resonated with my readers and tuning into what parts of this blog I liked doing the most and which area I thought I could turn into a viable pathway for myself. And that has turned out to be sharing my thoughts on how to raise a more creative child.
So, it’s always good to hang out in the intersection for awhile, but at some point, if you want to move forward, you need to narrow your road ahead and choose a path. You may find that once you’re down the road, the path you have selected isn’t quite right for you. That’s o.k., just turn around, go back to the intersection and choose something different, but you need to keep making active decisions and taking actions that keep moving you forward.
I will keep working on this blog because it is here where I will be able to share my business ideas as I move down my selected path, and I always have to have somewhere to share my daily-life rambles. However, I have also started on a new journey, my chosen path to help raise awareness on how important it is to help your child build their creative mind. In 2010, Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William & Mary shared the results of her study of 300,000 Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) scores of children and adults. She found that over the last two decades, as we’ve entered this new electronic age, the measure of creativity in our children has been spiraling downward. Kim says, “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant. It is the scores of younger children in America – from kindergarten through sixth grade – for whom the decline is most serious.”
The good news is that all children are born with some degree of creativity. When parents become educated about creativity, they can help their children preserve their natural inclination to it. Research has shown that creativity can be nourished and taught and that creativity training can have a strong effect. Real improvement doesn’t happen overnight, but when creativity is fostered through a child’s everyday process of home or school, brain function improves. It is to this end, that I created a new blog called “www.RAISECREATIVEKIDZ.com”. In that space, I will share more research on creativity in general, and supply ideas and activities to help you nourish your own children’s creativity.
This is the path I have chosen to explore. I hope you will visit me there, as well as, keep on coming here to this blog for my perspective on being a mom in general – the good, the bad, the funny, the sad – and maybe pick up a tip here or there to help you choose your own path.
http://www.raisecreativekidz.com Research shows children’s creativity is declining at an alarming rate. Luckily, as parents, there is much we can do.
Every year, we take our children to a local Junior League fundraiser called “The Enchanted Forest”. They get the same Santa Clause to come each year and the kids always prepare what one thing they are going to ask Santa for when they see him. Usually Santa smiles and tells them if they are good he will try really hard to get them what they want, as long as they promise not to be disappointed if he’s not able to get them that particular gift. But this year, it didn’t quite flow like that. There was a moment. It was right after my daughter said she would like an iPad Mini. Santa shot me a look – frankly, a very judgmental look. Did I just see that? I was busy videotaping so maybe I was mistaken. But this morning, as I downloaded the video onto my computer, I watched it and waited… Sure enough, right after the iPad Mini wish, there it was… the look. I took a picture of the video on my screen. Do you see it? That is at the exact moment. If that isn’t a “what type of spoiled children have you raised” type of look, I don’t know what is. And this coming from Santa. He then proceeded to ask her, “And what would you do with an iPad Mini?” Really, Santa? That’s the most extravagant request you’ve ever received? I know little girls since the dawn of time have been asking you for ponies. Do you know how much a pony costs to buy and house and maintain? A lot more than an iPad Mini, I would hazard a guess.
What’s more, considering you see all the children when they’re sleeping and when they’re awake, and you know when they’ve been bad or good, so how is it possible you missed the conversation I had with my daughter when that particular gift-wish idea came up? Were the elves misbehaving? Did they get into the egg nog a month too early? Or were you busy playing on your own iPad, updating your Facebook Page Status: “Counting down the days ’til Christmas. Busy up here in the North Pole. Always stressful this time of year, even more so with that last round of elf lay-offs.”
Well, whatever you were busy with, let me take a moment to explain what really went down since you apparently missed it. My boys were excitedly getting dressed, talking to each other about what they were going to ask you for, but my daughter was looking forlorn and not joining in. I asked her if she was excited about seeing you and she said that she really wasn’t. She is almost nine, so I thought maybe your magic was wearing off a little for her. So, I asked her to explain what she was feeling. She then said that she was having trouble thinking of what to ask for, because she felt she had everything. Does that sound like a spoiled little girl who believes she deserves the latest and greatest? Huh, Santa? Does it? No, it doesn’t. She is grateful for what she has and is thankful anytime she receives anything. This is someone who, perhaps, despite my best efforts to spoil her, for some reason, manages to stay grounded. So, I suggested to her, having already thought about what I would like to see on her list, that she ask Santa for an iPad Mini. My idea. Not hers. She even questioned me, thinking it might be a little too much to ask Santa for. Perhaps she knows you, Santa, better than I. Even as she stood in line waiting to go up to see you, she told me later that she was feeling uneasy about asking you for that. So, no, Santa, I don’t think I’ve raised spoiled children.
So, when you squeeze down that chimney this year, and expectantly go in search of that plateful of Sugar Cookies we always leave for you, don’t be surprised to see Oatmeal Raisin instead. Maybe then you’ll be more careful with your looks and try harder not to judge a child by their wish list. Good thing I didn’t tell you what’s on mine – believe me, you would rather be bringing me a pony.
You may have been wondering where I have been for the last two weeks. Well, I’ve been in the dark. Hurricane Sandy wiped out so many huge trees and utility poles that it has taken just shy of two weeks to have my power restored. And I have to say, it nearly broke me. I know others lost their entire homes, or even loved ones, in the storm so I really can’t complain – but I’m going to be a little self-indulgent for a moment.
We have a small generator but due to the electrical configuration of our house, we weren’t able to just hook it up to our electric box. So, we had to pick and choose small things to plug directly into it. We could only plug in one small space heater so we had to pick which room we were going to live out of. Our master bedroom is on the first floor so we chose that one. All five of us and a fish, one bedroom, wall-to-wall mattresses, for thirteen days. We slept in that room. We ate in that room. We played in that room. We did crafts in that room. We got ready for school in that room. The kids watched mommy slowly unravel in that room.
It wasn’t even so much the inconvenience of it all. It was more that one moment we were planning for Halloween and the next moment we’re about a week away from Thanksgiving. I feel like I was in a time warp. One that I couldn’t control. And the way our electric company handled things, there was no communication. No matter how many phone calls you made, it made no difference. And the hard part for me is I don’t like when I’m not in control and I have no plan. If at the outset, someone told me that I was going to be without power for two weeks and that the kids would be out of school for a week but back to school the second week, then I could have had a plan. Maybe we would have left the house and gone to stay with someone. But from the moment the power went out, each day we questioned what the next would bring. Maybe we’ll get power back tomorrow, maybe mid-week, maybe by the weekend, maybe by the following Wednesday at eleven o’clock at night like the automated ConEd service said, or maybe not until the end of the second weekend. There’s no way to plan for that or even to wrap your head around it.
Between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, we would turn the generator off in order to conserve gas. There really wasn’t much sleeping on my part. I had to worry about my eldest son who I usually don’t like him even having a blanket at night because he has trouble with sleep apnea anyway and then he finds a way of wrapping his head in the blanket and I’m terrified he’s not going to be able to breathe. So, I was on constant blanket patrol – making sure the kids didn’t kick the blankets off and freeze, while at the same time not have them burrow too far underneath them. And then if anyone woke up with a need to use the bathroom, I had to be ready with a flashlight, as well as to warm up the toilet seat with layers of paper because it was freezing in there and my eldest son has an aversion to things that feel too cold. A few nights into it, my son got sick and I had to wake up my husband to hurry and turn the generator back on because I couldn’t see anything and I needed to take care of him. So, to say the least, I was on edge, on edge for thirteen days.
There were two highlights for me though. One, was how, once again, my children showed me how resilient they are. As mommy was becoming a shivering mess, shaking my head, and mumbling to myself, my kids were having a great time with their camp-out/sleep over, where they didn’t have to take showers, and got to eat take-out everyday. The other highlight was a local community parent networking site on Facebook. It really was what saved me from going over the edge. Where no real information was forthcoming from our electrical company or our town officials, this network of parents was like being part of a stake-out. “Con-Ed crew spotted on Hardscrabble.” “Copy that. In pursuit of crew.” “Hey, Momma Smith, this is Papa Jones what’s the 10-20 on the crew up on 133?” “No sight of them. Think they saw the mess and cleared straight out. We’re keeping the area under surveillance, though.” “You have the donuts, just in case?” “Roger that, donuts and hot coffee. We’ll deliver the package as soon as we see them set up shop.” “Wait a second. Crew in site. I repeat, crew in site. All moms in vicinity please ready yourselves. We need a round-the-clock onslaught of food delivery. Coffee and donuts are covered, but we’ll need a delivery of pizza at noon, and cookies and hot cider to follow. We can not let this crew get away. This is go-time people. Keep that food coming.”
Somehow, what a town, whose residents include New York’s Governor Cuomo and former President of the United States Bill Clinton, couldn’t do for me, a band of rogue parents did. This group of moms and dads made me feel empowered. They were literally my lifeline. I knew which streets were still without power. I knew where the crews were working. I knew what gas stations still had gas. I knew what delis were open where I could find food for my kids to eat. I knew which laundromats to go to. I knew that I needed to tell my husband to add oil to the generator. I knew what roads were impassable. And most importantly, I knew I wasn’t in this myself and I knew I wasn’t the only one losing my mind and I knew I wasn’t powerless – I was part of a rabble-rousing group, who tried to break into meetings at the town hall, and made phone calls to the CEO of ConEdison and our State’s Representatives. There was even talk about taking the funds raised for the high school turf field, and suggesting to use it to bury our electric wires so that we didn’t go through this Armageddon again – yes, turf field funds – I know, kick-ass stuff.
And I would be remiss not to mention the out-of-state Pike electrical crews. The one that worked on our road was from Central Florida. They were sleeping in a semi-trailer, as the hotel ConEd wanted to put them up in was two hours away. They were also ill-prepared for our snowstorm and many didn’t have gloves or boots, so neighbors supplemented their supplies where they could. They had traveled many hours to get here to help out, missing out on Halloween with their own kids. And though it must have gotten old after awhile, they were always very appreciative when they received yet another box of donuts from residents.
So, now that my lights are finally back on, I still feel like I’m walking around in shock. What just happened? The town is still a mess with huge trees down all over people’s properties, including my own. My house is a wreck, which I’m still confused about since we only spent time in one room but with freezers to clean out and dishes in the sink and piles of batteries and random blankets and flashlights and the toy box that got dumped out, and then of course the boxes and closets that were strewn about in search of winter clothes I wasn’t prepared for because of the Nor’easter that came through, there’s still a lot of clean up to do. But with Thanksgiving on the horizon, for once I’ll have room in the refrigerator for all the food for the feast since we had to throw everything else out, and I will certainly be ready with my list of what I’m thankful for: for lights, for heat, for hot water, for a sound roof over my head, for the safety and love of my family, for every neighbor that offered me a hot shower (did my hair look that bad?), and for a community, which I’m still relatively new to, that helped me in more ways than they can imagine. And as I drove around the town today doing my usual errands, I saw one lonely orange utility safety cone by the side of the road, with “Pike” written on the side in black marker. It must have been left behind. Those out-of-state workers may be gone but they will never be forgotten. I had half a mind to pick it up and use it as the center piece for my Thanksgiving table this year with a candle stuck in it – it would be very fitting, and it doesn’t hurt that it would go with the color scheme of my holiday decor.