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…
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.