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Monthly Archives: October 2015

What to Expect When…or Parenting 101

UnknownBack in the day, a quarter century ago, my friends and I were all reading “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” like students cramming for the end of a 9-month semester final. We studied it, highlighted and underlined it, and compared notes about it ad nauseam. By the time we arrived at the L & D wing of the hospital, our nurseries were furnished with crib bumpers, safety outlet covers, and diaper genies. We’d abstained from liquor and cigarettes for the previous 8 months, at least, and we were determined to deliver our babies naturally and breastfeed them as long as possible. (That worked better for some than others of us.) We were confident, albeit slightly nervous, new moms who felt empowered by this bible of pregnancy advice. What eventuality could possibly occur for which we hadn’t anticipated and prepared? Luckily for us, we all had fairly routine pregnancies and delivered fat and happy Gerber-type babies. But then they started growing up. Unfortunately, there were no books in the “What to Expect” series to address many of the eventualities of child rearing. The following is a list of  books for which I’ve searched in vain, since putting that initial guidebook back on the shelf for good:

What to Expect When…

Your Child Goes Through Puberty, (or, if applicable, the next one in its place),  You Go Through Menopause While Your Child Goes Through Puberty

Your Child Starts Dating (to include chapters on social media usage)

Your Child is Learning to Drive/Studying for the SAT/Applying for College (a 3-part series)

Your Child Graduates College/Looks for Jobs/Moves Home (another triple pack)

Your Child Is Engaged

Your Child is Expecting (to include direction on how to share your grandchild with another set of grandparents)

(I haven’t actually looked for those last two as they haven’t been needed yet, but as the mother of three daughters, I imagine I will be tirelessly seeking those titles, as well.)

Why is there a lone guidebook for one of the happiest, most carefree times of your life? Pregnancy, when you’re doted on by your husband, and friends throw parties for you? When your doctor makes you feel like you’re the most important little mama in the whole world, and his nurse gives you a goodie bag? When everything is small and cute and pink or blue and very soft? When you say you’re not feeling well and everyone tells you to put your feet up and rushes to bring you a cup of decaffeinated herbal tea? Oh, I realize I’m idealizing those long ago days, but seriously. Why not a book with helpful outlines for dealing with the pit in your stomach, the worries that wake you in the middle of the night, the pain you feel when your child has a rough time at school or on a sports team or with friends or eventually, at work?

Excuse me while I have an Aha! moment. I know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life! I will step up and author all of the above-referenced books. Wait. That may not take long. The first chapter of each would begin, “Expect the Unexpected. Take a deep breath before speaking. Pray. A lot. Wine and yoga can also be helpful, in moderation, of course.” The end.

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Some Girls

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Unknown-1 (1)I’ve been mentoring a young girl, who was initially terrified of me, for two years. As we begin Year 3 together, she’s in the seventh grade and wants me to meet her in the cafeteria and sit at the table with her and her friends. I have enjoyed these weekly lunchtime visits in her junior high school cafeteria immensely. Yes, it’s loud, but it is fun to sit in the midst of 12- and 13-year old girls and just listen. I certainly wasn’t welcome to do that with my own daughters, nor would I have wanted to. These weekly visits have proven certain things I believed to be true, as well as taught me many things of which I was not aware.

Although this particular school district is located in an affluent incorporated city, and is considered a prominent school district, there are many children who are far from “privileged.” In fact, twenty percent of its students are considered “economically disadvantaged.”  I was matched with a girl who lives in a Section 8 apartment with between seven and ten other people, depending on which extended family members move in and out. She sleeps on a couch with her sister in the den. Her mother works for “someone on t.v.,” and sometimes takes her and her sisters to her job to swim or for extravagant Halloween parties. She takes the bus to school early so that she can eat a free breakfast provided by the district. She just turned 12 and seems very happy with her life.  I’ve gotten to know four or five other girls who sit at her lunch table, as they’ve all eaten together since they started at the junior high school. One girl has a penchant for ketchup and fills up a divider of her lunch tray with it whether the meal is chicken nuggets or pizza. Another brings her lunch daily but eats only the goldfish and fruit roll-ups that her mother packs. A third leaves her lunch on the table and buys two bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos everyday. Let’s just say nutrition isn’t high on this table’s list of priorities. One of the girls is black, three are Hispanic, and one is white. The white student seems out of place, not because of her race, but because she has a monogrammed backpack, a fancy iPhone with a cool case, and t-shirts with the name of her camp or her sister’s sorority letters on it. She’s the only one who goes on vacation during the summers and at spring break. The other girls wear faded t-shirts, torn jeans, and one never goes without a stained hoodie, even if it’s 95 degrees outside. One thing they all have in common is that they’re struggling with their studies. They share stories of how poorly they’re doing in school. Some are failing, some are being moved around to different teachers, some are staying after school as punishment for not turning in homework or missing a test. I’ve determined that these girls all sit together because they make bad grades. They also appear a little younger than their years and seem very innocent. They don’t seem bothered that other girls at other tables in the cafeteria are wearing some of the latest styles, with perfectly coiffed hair, football pins and ribbons, laughing together and ignoring them completely.

Today one of the girls at our table kept interrupting the others, trying to tell me something. I asked her to wait her turn to speak, then followed up to see what was on her mind. “Tell me your story,” I said. “It’s not a story,” she answered. “It’s about me. No matter how hard I try, I can’t make good grades. I’m failing all my classes and I don’t know what to do.” The other girls continued chomping on their unhealthy choices, while my heart sank. “Have you talked to your teacher?” I asked. She just hung her head and looked at the uneaten food on her tray. Then the other girls began chiming in, “I have no grade under 100 right now,” or “I have all A’s & B’s,” or “I had to be held back in first grade.” One giggled and said, “I got a 20 on my Social Studies test.” I told them I had an idea. “Why don’t you girls bring your lunch to a quiet place and once a week I’ll help you with your homework?” They all started giggling as if this was a preposterous plan, and said, “Nah. My grades are ok.” The bell rang and they were dismissed to the track to spend time outside before their next class. The failing-her-classes-girl hung back. Turning to leave, I found her lingering behind me. “If I get my Science book, can you help me?” “Sure,” I said with false enthusiasm, worried that Science was never my subject. We went to the library together and she pulled out a worksheet about the differences between plant and animal cells. It took me a bit to get up to speed, but she and I worked on it together and felt darn good about it afterwards. “You are so smart,” I said. “I think you’re good at Science.” She blushed and the bell rang. “Thank you,” she called as she walked back to class and looked over her shoulder and smiled at me. I left feeling happy, yet profoundly sad. Some girls sit unnoticed, right next to us or behind us, in need of our attention, an encouraging word, a little support. Let’s look out for them.