Monday, April 13, 2015

A Penny Pinched is A Penny Saved

I used to think I had one kid who was a reader and one who was a non-reader. My oldest, like me, has always been content to sit beside a pile of books for hours if left to himself. From the time he was a toddler, he'd sit devouring story after story, regardless of subject. He's gotten more discerning as he's aged, but reading is still a favorite pastime. In contrast, my younger son loved to be read *to* when he was little. Once he learned to read, though, he'd only be caught with a book if it was a homework assignment. Even then, reading seemed like a chore.

But I recently learned something about Ben and books. It's not that he doesn't like books; he's  just more selective of what he's willing to spend time reading. If it's funny, he's hooked. If the topic is one he loves, that's a definite selling point. And if he loves the subject *and* the book is funny? Good luck getting him to the dinner table. 

To help us get to this point, I've been taking my kids to the library since they were infants. First it was for the mommy-and-baby programs. When they got older, there were kids' programs, then teen clubs. But no matter how I got them there, we'd always, always bring home books. It's how we explored lots of different genres, authors and topics without forcing dad to build more bookshelves or breaking the bank. When it comes to books, a library card is a kid's first credit card. You want to take out ten books? No problem! You too? Just put it on the card.

This weekend, I glimpsed how this philosophy may have backfired, at least with Ben. I'm the type of person who will hear about a book, borrow it from the library and, if I love it and know I'll re-read it over and over, buy my own copy. Ben, however, seems to have a greater love of saving money than of owning great books. He recently discovered a series at the library. He read and laughed through the first two books, but the third wasn't available. Since he has accumulated several gift cards for Amazon.com, I suggested he buy all three books, as well as the next series by the same author, on the same topic. That way he could read them all, then read them again and again whenever he wanted. 

"But Mom, I can get them for free at the library."

"Yes, but if you use your gift cards and buy them, you can re-read them all whenever you want."

"I know but... I don't think I want to do that." 

He couldn't quite articulate his struggle. Did he love the books? Yes. Does he have plenty of gift cards? Yes. So what's the problem?

Ben loves money, even representations of money. Gift cards, coins from other countries, pretend credit cards, he loves it all. In fact, I think he loves it so much that to exchange it for something else, even if it's books that he know he'll enjoy, is just too hard.

At first I felt bad that he wasn't taking advantage of this opportunity to own some books he'd really love. But then I realized, that's what *I* like to do. The kid has a sense for the value of money, and a great understanding of the benefits of the public library. Considering both will take him far in life, I didn't push him to buy the books. It's his money and his decision on how to spend it. I've done my job and taught him these lessons. So why contradict myself when he's happy?

I couldn't think of a good reason either. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Parting Is So Sweet. (Sorry)

When my kids were little, I couldn't imagine life without them. Sure, I could (and often did) imagine going to the bathroom without them, but those were more temporary breaks that all mothers of young ones need from time to time.

But now that they are getting older, I actually can (and often do) imagine life without them. At least, daily life. And I admit I kind of like it. But now I'm starting to wonder if I should keep that to myself.

This week, a few friends' kids went away on trips and their parents mentioned how much they missed them. And here I sat, not musing about where my son is and what he's doing, but excited to be spring cleaning and making piles of things to donate. I admit I felt a bit down when I passed his empty room around bedtime, but it passed when I went downstairs and gazed longingly at the piles of stuff I want to get rid of but can't until the kids are gone.

Is this just a gosh-this-endless-winter-is-almost-over-I-feel-like-simplifying fantasy? I admit for weeks I've had a need for open windows and springtime air, light, warmth and a clutter-free home. After being trapped in the house with kids for days on end, week after week throughout the last few months, sunshine and quiet and time with my honey are at the top of my must-have list now. So when my oldest left for an educational tour abroad and my youngest headed for a day-long outing with friends, was it just cabin fever that made me do a happy dance? For six whole hours, I pretended we were empty nesters and IT FELT GREAT.

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids and I love spending time with them. But being an individual myself, with passions and drive and goals, I really, really like not having to think about their needs sometimes. Remember when you could eat a bowl of cereal for dinner if you wanted because you were working on a chapter or some edits and you just didn't want to stop and cook? I miss that. Remember when you could stay up until two or three a.m. to finish a great book because you didn't have to get up in the morning and drive someone somewhere or pack their lunch or make sure they ate breakfast and brushed their teeth? I miss that too.

I miss being an individual. Not that I miss it more than I love my kids. But when I get a glimpse of a life that is my own, it's a great reminder to keep encouraging my kids to build lives that are their own, to pursue their passions and figure out what they want. When they go off on adventures and are comfortable exploring the world, they are trying out their wings while at the same time looking forward to coming home and telling us all about it. It means we're doing our job as parents, and that they see themselves as individuals too, separate from us. It also shows me they're confident in making decisions without me standing there "in case they need me" as I did when they were younger.

I owe this budding independence to my husband, one of a family of three boys. I was drawn to his self-sufficient nature. But for years I also fought him as he insisted I back off and stop doing everything for the kids. I knew they needed to learn how to do things themselves, but it had also been my job for so long, I didn't know how to stop doing it. But I did. I let go, consciously, little by little, and they stepped up. Not only did it teach them how to do for themselves, it reminded me how great it is to watch them learn to do things without me.

Of course it proved my husband was right. Not that I'd ever tell him so. Well, maybe I will when the kids are grown and gone. Then, I won't just tell him, I'll thank him.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How Writing Saved Me

I go into every new venture with a sunny outlook. Change is good, learning opportunities even better. Of course, there will always be challenges; that's how we grow. But I don't fear change.

I sort of backed into writing as a career choice. Over the years, I'd worked jobs ranging from administrative to retail, customer service to tech support, and gained something from each experience. But I didn't love any of them.

So I welcomed motherhood as yet another positive change. While I was on maternity leave, a dear friend suggested I start a blog on his computer server. This was over fifteen years ago, when "blog" was a relatively new and unknown term.

"But what will I write about?" I asked. After all, I was home with a newborn, rocking and singing and feeding him all day, doing laundry and catching cat naps while he slept. There wasn't much of interest going on.

"Write about motherhood," he said. This from a single, techie guy who knew about as much about mothering as I did at that point.

"Well," I reasoned, "my parents are the only ones who'll read it anyway. I guess I'll write about my baby and how he's growing."

And so it began. I wrote every day, and it quickly came to feel like a personal success amid the constant drudgery and sleep-deprivation. Like a shower but more satisfying. My far-flung parents, as first-time grandparents, thrilled at the daily news, and I admit it made me a more attentive mother. I had to really think about what to write each day. Then something strange happened: I began to write not just what Jacob was learning about his world, but what I was learning about myself.

Fast forward six years. Our house now held a grade-schooler and a special needs toddler who confounded me at every turn. He didn't sleep. He hardly ate. He cried all the time. He just never seemed happy, no matter what I did. The only thing that kept me from crying all the time too, was writing.

I wrote to puzzle out what was happening, what I was doing and what I would try instead. I wrote about how hard it was every day, all day long. I wrote about feeling like a terrible mother who was failing my child, and about how much I loved him, even though I had yet to understand him. And when I finally realized I couldn't meet the challenge of understanding him, I switched gears. My new challenge to myself was to find the humor in each mystifying situation.

So as he grew, I laughed. I wrote about the things he did and what was funny about them because, of all the reactions I could have, I decided that was the best. No tears. Instead, laughing made life tolerable, manageable. As I got stronger, so did my writing. Ben gave me more material for my blog over the first five years of his life than I'd had in all the decades I'd lived before that. The challenges kept me writing, and the writing helped me cope.

Now that my boys are older, I use writing to set goals for myself. Articles, blog posts and, this year, a novel. With all it's helped me survive and accomplish over the years, writing is the best job I've had alongside my other, more important job of being a mom. It's evolved as I have, and helped me create a tangible record of my relationships with my sons.

But above all, writing was something I could count on during all the years when nothing was certain. Because I never knew what to expect, I relied on writing. And in the end, writing is what saved me.