Thursday, June 16, 2011

It's the Second One, Stupid!

So, in thinking about raising children these days, I have come to some interesting conclusions.  Please understand that I have no professional background or education in child rearing.  I am a mom.  I gave birth twice.  And both children are now in their twenties and normal, caring human beings raising their own families.  There was a time when I was pretty sure we would not be able to report this success. 

So what did I learn that I might be able to pass on to those of you who are still in the tunnel of darkness that covers the teen years?  (It is a tunnel.  It is dark in there.  And there is an end.) 

It's the second one, stupid! 

Let me explain.  The first child has an advantage.  Ours, a daughter, was born two and a half years before her brother came along.  I devoted myself to her as did my husband.  In fact, I was pretty sure that one child would be enough.  But my husband wanted to try for a son.  And my daughter joined in, asking constantly for a baby brother.  So I agreed...or well, lets say I think they outnumbered me and I woke up pregnant. 

Then the party began!  With one child, I was able to do most everything I had done before children.  I continued to sew and bake.  We packed a few extra diapers and went out to the lake.  We went to parties and she nodded off to sleep in my arms.  I would place her somewhere safe and stay at the party until we were ready to go home.  We would jostle her, turn her over, put her in a cold car, move her again to get her in her crib and still she would sleep through the night.  You know the type.  First babies.

But the second baby added a complex set of new problems.  First off, just logistically.  How to get two children PLUS groceries into our small pickup?  Should the play area be a second bedroom, or should both children sleep in the same space and play in the second place?  Are pink pajamas an absolute no-no for boys?  What if they are the only warm pair in the drawer that fit? 

Many, many small decisions.  But in looking back, those decisions made for the second child were never made only with the second child in mind.  It was about what was best for both of them.  This is such a slight difference, yet I have decided it was huge.  From the time child #2 arrived, my time, thoughts and energy were split between him and his sister.

So, why do I think this is important for you to think about now?  Fast forward fifteen years.  The first child is now in high school.  We have very carefully guided her to this point.  She is nearing the finish line.  Rarely in trouble, doing well in school, looking forward to applying to colleges.  She will be the first in either of our families to go directly to college after high school; the first to just go for her education without obstacles and struggle.  This is a huge accomplishment for both of our families.  And everyone is assuming her brother, who has been shadowing her all along, will soon also follow on to a bright future.  My intentions as his mother, were to get his sister up and over the hump - then directly focus all of my energy on finishing up with him to get him bridged over to the same success and happiness.  I was going to be 100% mom to him for those last few years of high school.  I was looking forward to it (well, except for the parts where I had already decided the value of the high school experience is way overrated).

And this was where I fell through on my plan.  You see, the second child was already in his most critical decision making phase of adolescence.  While I was trying to finish things off neatly with child #1,........ #2 was in crisis.  And he didn't wait for me to get to my great plan.  He assumed that I was showing how much I cared, right now, and with that information a part of him decided he was not as worthy as his sister.  And then he gave up his grades, his friends, his future and decided to play in alcohol and drugs.

Now, looking back....child #1 was already on her way before this point.  Even without her parents' holding her hand, she was going to make it.  Not without lumps and bumps, but her path was already chosen.  And the time I spent reassuring myself that she would indeed make it those last few laps was the EXACT time I should have been hoofing it with child #2 - doing the everyday teen raising work that is absolutely exhausting with very little love in return.  He needed us.  He was trying to wait his turn, but biologically, it was his time to decide what direction his life would take.  With no one watching, he thought he could play a while before deciding.  He had great parents, he knew that.  He could just play a while and we would circle back around for him soon.  But that's the thing about alcohol and drugs.  They're not really "a thing" to play with and then put away.   And that team is always recruiting.

He spent a decade recovering from drug use and all that surrounds it. Lost years of childhood and adolscence that can't be recovered.  Scars from physical and emotional wounds.  And he missed the direct link to higher education.  I'm not sure it will ever be his thing, but I'm also pretty sure that he eliminated it as an option before he gave himself permission to try it. 

So, my advice to parents everywhere is.....It's the second one.  Stop.  Assume the first child will be fine if they are about fourteen to sixteen and not in any real crisis.  If there were going to be problems there, you would already know in your heart.  If you are just fidgeting, fussing and wondering if there are problems you can resolve with child #1 - STOP.  Take notice.  Go directly to child #2 and see how much time and effort you can flood into the little window of time you have left to devote to their childhood.

As I say, I'm not an expert on anything except being a mom in my own family.  But, I swear, if I were to do it over again this is THE ONE THING I would change.  He deserved more from me.  I didn't see it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Really America? You're Going to Watch Combat Hospital (ABC) While My Soldier Is Still Over There?

Tonight my daughter is making some of her key calls.  Every couple of weeks she makes calls to about twenty wives whose husbands serve in the same unit as her husband.  The 116th from Fort Riley is now serving in southern Afghanistan, with their center located near Kandahar.  Most of the guys are out in remote locations with no water and very limited access to phone lines or internet.  They are working directly with small towns to try and build up security for families very similar to my own.  They've been there a while and they aren't going to get to come home anytime soon.

The wives are doing the best they can, raising children, trying to maintain family ties with their own and their spouses families, dealing with illnesses, checking accounts, lawns that need mowed and broken washing machines.  And they worry.  Because any day could bring news that no one wants to hear.  They find comfort in each other because no one else can truely understand what its like to live this day after day. 

America seems to be focused on their jobless rates and sagging stock values.  Although these are important to me also, (I lost my job over a year ago too), I am more concerned that America work hard on getting these soldiers back home.  Until these issues are resolved, military families have no chance of every having any sort of normal life in the future.  Deployment after deployment isn't a way to hold together a marriage.  They will never make it together to the life stage where they worry about their savings and retirement accounts.

Now, I must deal with COMBAT HOSPITAL premiering on ABC on June 21st.  Really?  Couldn't there be another topic that might entertain you while you distract yourself from the war that is a ghost in my home everyday?  The injured soldiers portrayed in the series are there today.  They could be someone I know.  Their injury or trauma could be something that my son-in-law will carry with him as an invisable wound the rest of his life as he tries to be a good husband and father. 

Really, aren't there other things you could entertain yourself with?  Don't you feel like you might be treading on the privacy and dignity of those who volunteered to go and fight for you?

Slippery Slope Fallacy #9 - Old Rules are Good Rules

This is another installment on my fashion journey.  At 52 years old I discovered that I disliked nearly everything in my closet.  I took about a year to notice those feelings and begin breaking old habits.   An added bonus was that I was able to bust up one area of my life that had become full of clutter; my closet.  This is Fallacy #9 that I discovered I had accepted as true: 

9) Old rules are good rules: No long sleeves under short sleeves. The goal is always to make your hips appear smaller. No exposed cleavage. Your jewelry must match. Certain colors work together - stay in color families. No teenager stuff. No cutesey stuff. No cheap stuff. Coordinate your closet. Buy items together that you intend to wear together. Vintage means old; it means out of style. Never wear cheap jewelry. Save your new stuff for special occasions. Round tummies can't wear belts. Dress for the position you hope to be in one day, not the one you are in currently. You must have the best watch you can afford. If you haven't worn it in a year, you probably never will. Every woman has to have a LBD. Invest in a black suit. Never put anything away that has been worn without washing it. Sleeveless is for summer. Short sleeves are for summer. Long sleeves are for winter.

It took me almost the full year to realize this script was running in my mind 24/7.  Every time I entered my closet it was playing.  If I was out running errands, it was playing.  And if I went shopping for clothing it was blaring at top volume.  I thought I just didn't have enough of these tips memorized yet.  Each one I came across I added to the script. 

It was so flawed with bad advice!  And advice that contradicted itself even!  Two basic facts about my human physical body were not accounted for in the script.  I am an inverted V shape.  We account for only about 10% of women in the U.S.  Most advice for women's fashion is written assuming that your problem areas are your hips and rear.  And that you wish you had a bustline to balance out the extra width in the hips.  I am built exactly opposite!  The last thing I want to emphasize is my bustline.  So instead of having fun with the hipline designs that I was one of the few women who could wear - I was beating myself up trying to look as slim as possible at the hip and then only making the bustline more impossible to work with. 

And black, camel, tan and gray are all colors that make me feel and look like a stern, cranky old maid with bags under her eyes.  The day I cleaned them out of my closet, I immediately felt lighter and happier.  It was actually kind of weird to think that just the process of pulling them out could cause an emotional response.    I wrote about it here:

This list of fashion advice was like a giant flowchart where I checked off "yes" and "no" until I ended up in exactly one of two squares each day - black, boring, mass produced, expensive and expendable - or - worthless.  Either way I felt unhappy, depressed, disconnected, and old. 

Now I make it a priority to break as many of these rules as possible!   Notice.  Choose.  Act.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Slippery Slope Fallacy #8 - Free T-Shirts

8) Free t-shirts: Everyone wears them, everyone seems to love them. Cool people who volunteer or have hobbies are always wearing one advertising their latest conquest. Collect them and make them work for your summer casual wardrobe.

This one was difficult for me to accept.  Everyone has these, right?  They are as much a part of the American uniform as jeans and sweats.  I had two drawers of them plus a stack on the closet shelf.  Sometimes I wore them to sleep in.  Sometimes to work in the yard or mop floors.  Otherwise they sat in neatly organized stacks.  And I continued to come home with new ones as I worked in youth organizations and received them free at events.

One day, I loaded them all up and delivered them to the thrift store. 

I kept three.

So these are the reasons I made the decision, finally....

1)  They have crew necklines.  Terrible for busty girls.

2) Most all of them are in men's sizing which means to get them around my bust they need to be too big everywhere else.  Hanging shoulders, odd-length sleeves, wide under the arms, and long hems that can't really be tucked in and can't really be left out. 

3)  Most are of 100% cotton or a cotton blend.  Cheap, cheap fabrics.  This is why organizations can give them away.  Underpaid workers in other countries crank these out by the thousands.  Your local screenprinting place is buying them for around $2 each and that includes the costs incurred in shipping them across the ocean and distributing them through the U.S marketers who need their percentage too.  

4)  Invariably, the best place to put the message of the shirt is on the left boob, or across both boobs front and center.  Just the place I want puzzled strangers trying to pick out letters to make a word. 

5)  The colors of the shirt are chosen for a multitude of reasons and absolutely none of those reasons includes human skin tones or hair coloring. 

After I donated all of my t-shirts, I did find one reason I should have kept a few more.  One of the bloggers (I'm sorry I can't remember who) rolls them up and uses a rubber band to hold them in shape so that they will slip into her boots for off-season storage.  

Now that is a great reason to volunteer and receive a free t-shirt! 

Slippery Slope Fallacy #7 - Clearance Sweaters

7) End of the aisle sweaters: After the holidays, clearance racks have an abundance of sweaters.  Why buy an expensive one? Pick one up for $4 the next time you're buying groceries at Walmart. 

I can't tell you how many of these have slipped through my life. Sweaters should be easy, right? I bought them in many, many colors and many weights over the years. I bought ones that were thick cable knit, ones with beautiful swooping mock necks, pink fuzzy tunic sweaters, long sweater coats.

The result was always the same.  If they were on top of the stack in my closet, I might have worn them once or twice before passing them on to goodwill.   They had a better chance of ending up left somewhere as I was constantly trying to get out of them before the day was over.  Every spring I would find a couple of crates of sweaters that never even were opened during the winter.  And then I would store them away to try again. 

I felt for several years that I wasn't happy with my collection because I didn't have expensive cashmere ones in the basic neutrals. Then with a better job I invested in a few. And never wore them either.

Many, many women are successful with following the advice of purchasing high quality turtlenecks or crewneck sweaters in those colors that can be mixed with anything......taupe, camel, white, black. I would suggest that if you are strawberry shaped (the inverted V shape) it just will not work. The high neckline leaves you with the giant uniboob look no matter how much you try and make it blend in.    Jackets might help, but you still have the silhouette problem plus one more layer of bulk. 

And if you are a bright and animated kind of woman, those drab neutrals around your face just suck the life out of you! Especially since sweater fabric is muted and soft, absorbing light. And if the sweater is of a thick weave, it might as well be a straight jacket to women who hate heavy clothes. 

Now, when I shop for sweaters (which is mostly at consignment and thrift stores), this is my checklist:

Fabric: I have finally learned that my first item on my sweater checklist is fabric content. The higher it is in natural fibers the more I will wear it. These fibers breathe and change as the temperature changes. So you don't immediately overheat when you step into a building. No matter the weather (which changes hourly in Kansas) you can usually get through the entire day with your sweater still intact if it is of natural fibers.

Cut: The second thing on my sweater checklist now days is cut. No more turtlenecks, crewnecks, cowl necks or really low v-necks. All of these create the uni-boob look for me. The best cut for me is a button up cardigan in a very light weight fabric. I find that I wear them over camisoles, over blouses and t-shirts, and even alone buttoned up as if they were a blouse.

Texture: No cable knit design that swoops in at the neckline, swoops out at the boobs, and then swoops back in at the waist. No thick knit to lay bulkily across my curves. Smooth, small textures work for me. Easy to layer, easy to pull my coat on and off over.

Color: Darker shades are better up against my face. Pastels wash me out. Camels, tans and blacks all make me look old and sullen. Because of these new guidelines, I now have two different green cardigans that are getting alot of wear. I never thought green was a color I could wear. But the "alive" type greens with brightness actually work out great.   Until I got rid of the "basic neutrals" the fashion industry was selling me, I wasn't able to see that this shade of green works as a great basic neutral for me. 

Only three more installments on my series about my own slippery slope journey to frumpiness! 

Slippery Slope Fallacy #6 - Dollar Store Tights and Socks

This is another in my series about my slippery slope to frumpiness.  At 52 years old, I realized I had entirely given up on ever feeling happy about my body or my clothing choices.  I methodically visited the regular mid-priced stores that cater to my demographic and laid down my credit card.  And I was miserable! 

These are a few of the points I now realize had sucked me under, slowly creeping into my lifestyle without me noticing.  Once I noticed, I had the ability to choose a different course of action! 

6) Dollar store tights and socks: 

This was my entire collection of socks when I finally "got it"!
This was quite a revelation!  That I could pay $10 for a pair of socks and then really, really enjoy more than $10 worth of use from them.  I wrote about it here