Why grandkids rule

We got to visit this week with M and her three kids from Pensacola, as well as S and her batch from Tennessee, and we were lucky enough to hook up with some free time with D, my daughter in town and her family too, for a wonderful BBQ chicken dinner in the neighbor’s garage (thanks, neighbors!).

Even though M’s plans changed and I ended up missing part of the time she was here with court events, we got some real good time in. I felt like we had some conversations that were really meaningful–adult, woman to woman conversations about life and how we did things in our households and with our kids. She’s just graduated (finally! yay!) with her BA in education, particularly special ed–so she has some valid input for my three kids with special issues, and I appreciated what she had to say. As an experienced mom, I had some things to share with her about potential health issues her kids were having. It was all good.

But for grandkids, you can bend the rules and miss a bit of work–I took off two days, one to go to the Grove City outlet mall to satisfy Miss Chloe’s penchant for fashionable clothes at Justice, once Little Miss had shared a 40% coupon with her cousins. Interesting to have them here, while outside the store it was 40 degrees and raining, but buying clothing to wear in Florida where it was 90 degrees! Another factor that played in was their move to the Seattle area later this year–a real switch in weather, for sure.

The other day, we drove up to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center where we experienced the wind off Lake Erie (holy cow, it was cold!) as we climbed the tower to check out the roller coasters from nearby Waldameer. My sister works with the Pennsylvania Sea Grant in the building, so we got a VIP tour behind the scenes, where the kids fed earthworms to the fish in the experimental tanks and got to check out whole racks of dead things in jars and boxes. (Okay, okay, the praying mantises were cool…) Above is the new dinosaur exhibit, and the expressions on their faces, well, they define how we lasted the day.

The TREC has a great little kids’ space, with puppets and puzzles, and the little ones got a big kick out of them, especially the owl puppets whose heads turned around like that girl in The Exorcist.

  Altogether a lovely day, despite the cold temperatures. Perhaps a heads-up for M, who’s lived in Florida and Guam and all sorts of warm places, but is on her way to Washington state. A little adjustment,  but she’ll handle it like she handles everything: efficiently and minimalist. So what if we eat off paper plates for awhile? Clean-up is easy, huh?

Especially after the April we had, it was nice to reaffirm life once again with an onslaught of children and growing things. Thanks for coming, guys. It was a wonderful early gift for Mother’s Day.

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What fathers want

After dealing with the aftermath of several families’ dysfunction of late, I’ve noticed a certain pattern that shows that the old model is severely out of date. Sometimes when Dad is out doing what he feels is expected of him–providing for his family financially–Mom is just not living up to her side of the bargain.

And that’s not fair.

Take the example of a dad working twelve hour shifts a day driving a truck, picking up and dropping loads, even on the weekends, so he makes a steady income enough to pay all the bills in the household. What a man’s supposed to do, right? Or so the 1950s model would say.

But let’s remember the moms in that model–they were home, baking cookies, making sure the children had nutritious meals, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, running the errands, doing the grocery shopping. Taking good care of the children. The REST of the work.

That was the half they picked up as their part of the bargain. Dad, you work hard outside the home to bring home enough money so we can feed the children and keep them safe and warm; Mom, you put that money to work and devote yourself to carrying that task through.

But for a lot of stay at home mothers today, that’s just not how it works. While the fathers are at work, the moms are Facebooking all day.  How often does all that Farmville gardening feed your own kids, hmm? (At least the cases I’ve seen haven’t gone as wrong as this Korean couple, whose real life baby starved to death while they raised a perfect one online.)

Or maybe the moms are drinking all day to escape the children, while the children get into God knows what. Or maybe they’re watching TV all day while the laundry piles up till no one can walk through the bedrooms, and dirty dishes are a mountain in the sink.

Is that really what a hard-working father wants to find when he comes home?

What about the real damage that might not come out for a decade or more? The child neglected by the mother living a “better” life online or texting or partying with friends all day, so that he learns, even at the age of one or two, that the only way he’s going to get lunch is if he scavenges through the refrigerator for a hot dog, or leftovers, maybe, if she’d even cooked dinner the day before.  When he learns that he should steal or hoard food, because he doesn’t know when he’ll eat again (even if he’s now lived in a home for over ten years when he always has food to eat). When he learns to shift and lie and hide to avoid punishment because he knows soon her attention is diverted back to her games. When he learns that nothing is the same day to day, so the “rules” change constantly and he doesn’t have to do what he was told yesterday because now it’s today. When he finds that only his current impulse governs what he does, because he’s not accountable to anyone.

When a father is working a second shift job in construction, a third shift job at a convenience store, and most days of the week, stopping for another few hours in the morning to make donuts to get just a little more money, is this really what he should have to deal with?

It doesn’t seem fair. But it’s too late to undo it now.

Dads who worry about what’s happening at home probably have a good reason to. Please take the time to talk about your bargain and make sure everyone understands what’s expected of them. Take action. Before it’s too late for your children.

Issues of the Day

My friends, this is NOT the week to be a registered voter in the state of Pennsylvania.

The phone is ringing at least once a day with someone demanding to know if we understand their candidate’s position on the important issues of the day: Clinton’s a recorded message, Obama’s a live person (point: Obama).

Frankly, I have never been so happy we really gave up watching local networks in favor of cable. Even the TODAY show is crammed full of political ads, none as vicious as we may have seen in years past, thank the Powers that Be. For some 20 minutes in the morning, the only local news we see is inundated with campaign rhetoric. Most of it is in the non-controversial vein, i.e., do you want to keep your job, stop abuse, get medical care, protect freedom, etc. Well heck yeah, that sounds good. (Except maybe the job part.) As a general rule, people working? GOOD. Health? Good. Protecting kids–GOOD.

But somehow those people’s “issues of the day” are not my “issues of the day.” My issues are much smaller, closer to home, like trying to convince my Aspie boy that even if he remembers what the teacher said, that he should still take notes in math class. Because she said to. The world does NOT revolve around you, dear. When you go to junior high next year, you can’t just get up and wander around the class because you feel like it. And the worst of all, what the school psychologist kept bringing up at our last meeting: Hormones. But I’m just not going to think about that now. Call me Scarlett.

Or fighting to expand therapies for my daughter so she can learn to use language in a world centered around verbal and written communication. Or keeping up with 8-10 loads of laundry a week while making all the children’s appointments, dealing with educational issues, cooking, cleaning, etc., oh and having a mostly full-time job. I sympathize with those of you who are also dealing with this or any one of the other experiences you all share every day. Or dealing with the small inequities in the legal system that subvert justice for my individual clients.

So those folks on the commercials will have to forgive me if I don’t really focus on those broad brush strokes. Not much I can do about them, to my mind. I’m not even convinced that any of these candidates can do much, in this clogged-up bureaucratic government we’ve inherited. These little issues, I can maybe solve. It’s that saying that’s posted everywhere about how a hundred years from now, the things you own might not matter, but the changes you’ve made in a child’s life might mean everything. I’ve got to concentrate on that, at work and at home.

I admire and encourage those who have the interest and energy to keep up with the political arena, particularly in the area of autism. The woman who comes most to mind is Cindy Waeltermann of Autismlink. I’m on her mailing list and get editorials and calls to action regularly. But other blogs I read regularly show me people are paying attention, like this and this and many others. I just find it hard to get fired up about any of that when I’m dealing with perseveration and hypervigilance and doctors and therapy and meetings and SpongeBob. Again.

That’s a real shame, because here we have the first viable female candidate in American history, something for which I would have been firing off rockets about 20 years ago when I left law school, my feminism in full flight. I was always sure I’d be out there campaigning and flag-waving when that happened. But this one, she just doesn’t move me. Not just because of the canned phone appeals, either.

We also have a young, idealistic candidate, who would normally have been someone I could get behind and respect– but he just doesn’t click, either. But I’m glad he does click with young people, because they need to learn how valuable the right to vote is, and get out and use it.

Then there’s the other one.

I’ll be in the voting booth on April 22, with my kids, because we always take them along to show them how important it is to exercise their rights. Baby steps. But as Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Lao Tzu also said this: Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. This is the reason for the new button in my sidebar, “How Rich are You?” which I learned about at Alvinology. I discovered today that even though our family struggles each month financially to stay on top of things, that by this scale I am in the top five percent of the world, income-wise. That’s mind-boggling. So, test it out. Maybe we can discover that we are all, in many ways, much richer than we think.

What is the REAL meaning of success?

None of my children want to follow in my footsteps and go to law school.

I’m thrilled.

I chose law as a second career, working first for several years as a journalist. I often got frustrated that writing about a problem didn’t seem like enough, that I had to DO something about it. My friend and mentor Joe Tomassi encouraged me to apply to law school at the University of Miami, and I did, thinking a single mother of two had no shot at acceptance.

But I got in.

Surprised, I applied for financial aid and housing, sure those wouldn’t come through. But they did too. Suddenly I had an apartment on campus, day care handy and a new bike to get to and from class. It was a sign. What else was I to do? I went to law school.

My fellow n00bs at law school were abuzz with questions. What if you knew your client was guilty? Could you defend him? Would you take on a lawsuit against the government? What if your client lies? Don’t you think my shiny new MBA will help my career?

We were all naive. Everything that first semester was black and white. What we learned by the time we left, three years later, was that the true color of everything is gray.

I can now walk into a courtroom with a mother OR a father, working OR stay at home, medicated OR unmedicated, convicted OR not convicted, and make an argument why he/she should or shouldn’t have custody of children. The law supports any of the arguments. You pays your money, you takes your chances. Since I work in a small town, sometimes I end up before the same judge in the same week talking out of both sides of my mouth. It makes me uncomfortable; but he understands how it is.

Fifty years ago, life was more black and white. People adhered to behavioral standards and when a lawyer had to argue middle ground, it wasn’t so slimy-feeling. These days behavior is much more gray. Take for example, the mother and daughter who found it appropriate to lie about a dead soldier father to win tickets to a Hannah Montana show. There the woman was, on the Today Show with her lawyer by her side, explaining how it was okay to do this “in the spirit of Christmas.”

Please.

I’d rather let my children keep their black and white world a little longer, leave law school for those with less attachment to truth and justice. They’ll be happier in the long run.