Gumby Brains and Bumper Stickers

I realize, that at 51 years old, I am one of the “older” parents of my 3 younger kids crowd. I also will note that after doing this parenting thing for 22 years now, I sometimes feel like an “old” parent. I’ve experience the tumultuous adolescent girl years for 2 of my kids already, and while we’ve all managed to live through them, there were a good number of rough patches to mow through. Now, 7 & 10 years later, I’m doing it again and it feels a LOT harder this time!

Each of my kids are very different and although I know that each child has to go through his or her stages in their own time, that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. I clearly remember the early days of parenting, reading through a plethora of books in my “supermom” effort to find the “expert” answers to all of my first child’s major hurdles. I eagerly employed my new knowledge of all of my child’s stages from “Your One-Year Old Child”, then “Your Two-Year Old”, etc., until I finally gave up or they ran out of books around age seven. By that point, I was armed with many great parenting tools and had moved onto “1,2,3, Magic,” much to my then 8-year-old daughter’s dismay. I will never forget her taking one look at the book and saying “You are not going to make me do that!” Apparently, the “magic” rumor had already circulated among her cohorts!

That same child is now living in Minnesota, taking a year off between college and grad school, so she’s in her “early 20’s” stage. She’s living the life of a young adult, rooming with several other college students in a college town, working at slightly more than minimum wage in a job that she will likely enjoy.

My next daughter is living it up in her second year at college, taking advantage of a wonderful education, playing on the ultimate frisbee team and enjoying her “college years” stage. She’s in no rush to hurry her stages along, which is great, and seems to be basking in the comfort and security that college life offers.

As a quick side note, I was the third of 4 girls in my family, all born within 5 years. My family’s photo albums were full of the 4 of us dressed in matching or complimentary attire, posed in a stair-step fashion of oldest to youngest. I ruined that tradition, when between 7th and 8th grade I sprouted about 5 inches and have towered over my sisters ever since. I remember that it was a pivotal year for me as I gained a much greater self-confidence about my body, liking the changes that being tall brought with it. When I was about 10 or 11, I overheard my mother saying to a friend, “there’s something special about a third child.” It made me feel special and I’ve held onto that feeling for a long time. Lately, I’ve started thinking that “special” meant a whole other thing! I was in a crazy time in my life, riddled with questions about sexuality, rebellious and wanting more independence, and resentful about the changes that were happening to my family. I’ve often wished she were alive so that I could ask her, “how did you make it through that time?”

So…meet my 3rd daughter who has hit seventh grade and is in that “tween” stage of caring about how she looks, what she wears as she attends school, goes to dances and plays on her soccer team. She now has access to most of what high-schoolers do since she is part of a small school that includes grades 7-12. While physically, she’s a tall girl and has an “older girl” look, emotionally she’s still 12 years old. Intellectually, she’s a very bright girl, does well in school, and has a promising future. Unfortunately, making good decisions and having common sense aren’t things that she will get naturally just by getting older…those things, as well as many more character traits, have to be learned.

To my friends, I’d call these the “lost years,” as she traverses the gap between an adolescent and an adult. She’s pretty much lost from us as she finds her way in the world of friends, the pressures of societal norms, exposure to the media and all of the messages she is bombarded with from music to fashion to boys, etc. She rarely responds loud enough for us to hear her, doesn’t like any overt displays of affection in public, and seizes any opportunity to criticize or tease her siblings about anything and everything!

To my wife, I call her a “gumby brain!” It doesn’t matter what I tell her I need her to do, she’ll forget it. Unless I threaten to take away her phone or computer, any requests are routinely “forgotten!” Gone are the days of outstretched arms when I come home with the big scream of “mommy’s home!” along with the cooking projects and fun trips to the park. Now, I have to knock and wait for her to get off her bed and unlock her door in order to not have to shout to her. I’ll admit it, I have texted her while in the house just to avoid that scene at her door. At least I get a response! When I ask if she wants to come to the park and ride her bike around with the other kids, I’m met with a shrug and a mumble of “not really.” I have the same requests every week for her to PLEASE PUT YOUR CLEAN CLOTHES AWAY AND YOUR DIRTY ONES IN THE HAMPER IF YOU WANT THEM WASHED! We rarely see her unless it’s feeding time, and I’ll spare you the details of the difficulty of getting her to go to bed at a reasonable hour and getting her up in the morning.

There seems to be nothing that we do or say that’s of interest to her unless it’s about her or her activities, and everything that she needs bought or cooked or completed for an assignment seems to always come at the 11th hour! And, a recent surge of text messaging (and hell yes, I look at my phone bill often to see her usage), has caused us to take her phone at night for charging in our room!

Now I know, that anyone else who is a parent or even those who aren’t, can identify with what I’m saying. Sure, this too will pass. It’s a stage and she’ll move through it. Soon she’ll enter the real high schooler stage where the true pressures of being a student athlete/band geek will set in. She’ll get a boyfriend(alas, we’ll be dealing with that for the first time!), she’ll start thinking about college, and then it starts over with our next girl(and boy, but he’s a whole other story)!

As for our 9 year-old, soon to be double-digit twins, they are imaginative, musical, and sporty kids who keep us hopping and the house humming with constant singing and instruments, yelling and chasing. Life is good for them. Not much to worry about, not going hungry, clean clothes, loving parents, and totally oblivious to most of what keeps their lives moving along.

Remember when you were a kid, and an adult would say “oh my goodness, you have grown so much since the last time I saw you!” People do that to my kids all the time. I do it myself frequently to other people’s kids who I haven’t seen in ages and am astonished that they’ve continued to grow and change when I wasn’t looking! As if somehow time would stand still. I do believe that change is good, and it’s a good thing I’m a Gemini because change is my middle name!

Yet, as we reach adulthood, and continue to evolve, to move from teenage years to young adult, we think we’re immortal and time seems to stand still for a while. That “baby face” that people told me I had at 22 hasn’t exactly hitched a ride into my 30’s, 40’s & now 50’s, and, the wrinkles that shocked me when I first noticed them in my 30’s, I can barely see without twisting my glasses on my face to see out of the reading part of my progressive lenses. And don’t even get me started on the random hairs that sprout from areas on my face that I can’t see without a bright light and magnifying mirror! Yet, no one comments on these stages we go through once we get past 30!

It’s no wonder that as we get older we forget things more. Yesterday when I was driving my 3 youngest and one of their friends, my 9 year-old daughter started asking her older sister, “do you remember that time we were at the (and I wasn’t really listening to where)…” and went on to recount some past funny situation. “How do you remember things like that?” said her older sister?

“Because she doesn’t have much else in her brain she needs to remember!” I said, sarcastically.

Kids don’t, really. Sure, as they get older their brains fill up, but if I can’t remember every single one of my kids’ birth weights or the exact time they were born, that doesn’t mean I’m ready for the Alzheimer’s ward. I remember that Murphy Brown was on the TV when I had my first pregnancy(second child) , so there! How many of you even remember Murphy Brown! I don’t need to remember phone numbers anymore, as long as I can remember who I’m calling, and I set up every appointment to alert me on my iphone twice before it happens! If there’s something special in the future that I really can’t forget, and a phone alert won’t do, I can send an email to myself into the future and it will arrive on any date I set it to send!

My wife is at her own stage which seems to have moved from “caring for the kids,” to “caring for others who are ill or dying.” She’s moved from caring for her mom (until 2008) to her sister (last week), with her dad throughout that time, and then who knows what. It’s a “big Catholic family” side-effect, that although the good times are great, there are a lot of relatives, so the bad times can be plentiful.

I think that my stage in life now is mainly maintenance, yet I haven’t given up on any growth. I don’t want to lose anything mentally, physically (OK, maybe a few pounds), and any gains are just bonuses! I would certainly like a better job that is more meaningful and rewarding and that utilizes my skills best, but I’m happy to just be working when there are so many unemployed skilled workers. I have plenty of hopes and dreams that I plan to accomplish and I know that things will fall in place when it’s time. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and I’m open to the Universe for whatever is in my future.

My motto comes from a bumper sticker I saw once…it said, “Life is change, growth is optional. Choose wisely!”

(quote attributed to Karen Kaiser Clark)

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