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I have helicopters hovering in and near my classroom everyday.  These choppers come in the form of parents and I call them, “Helicopter Parents.”  HP’s are parents who feel they must closely hover—or rather, smother—over every aspect of their child’s life.  These parents believe their child needs protecting and guiding from everything in the world, no matter how old their child gets. 

Every year, the Helicopter Parent starts out as my best asset in the middle school classroom.  She wants to help with the class parties, make copies for ME and bring in special treats for the class.  But that escalates to staying after the final morning bell to help the kids get organized, to showing up before the end of the day to help the children prepare to go home.  That’s right—help middle school students. 

If I leave her unattended, the helicopter parent tries to gossip with me about the naughty kid in the room and begins to "share" with other parents about this same child, explaining that she knows what is really going on at school! 

Oftentimes, she will try to befriend me, asking personal questions about my family, my hobbies and even how I like my coffee--as if becoming my friend will somehow help her child.  

It doesn’t.  It just makes me leary and causes me to draw strong boundaries around her. 

The Helicopter Parent wants her child to do well in school. When the child earns a grade the parent doesn’t like, the Helicopter Parent usually comes to the classroom at the end of the school day to “talk.”  She wears a nice big smile and asks if she can have a few minutes of my time.  Her saccharine-sweet politeness trips a signal in MY brain and suddenly I begin to hear chopper blades fwapping: Incoming! Incoming!!!  

“How in the world could my child possibly fail the Literature assignment?” she asks.  I let her know her child's paper was late, parts of it were plagiarized or not done according to the instructions given in class.  After several minutes of discussing her child’s paper, I realize she hasn't heard a word I've said.  I finally ask, “Since you are so unhappy with the grade your child has earned, what grade would you like me to give to her instead?” 

Of course, I'm being facetious.  But that fact goes right over her head and she answers by giving me a much higher letter grader than her child deserved.  

Some Helicopter Parents think their child is free from fault and bears no responsibility.  For instance, the winner of the Black Hawk Down Award for “Most Hovering Parent” goes to a single mom who didn’t believe the reports being sent home about her son.  You see, Billy*was receiving demerit and behavioral reports for bullying on the playground.  Mom refused to admit her child was capable of such behavior!  I tried to gently explain he was a different boy at school than what mom was experiencing at home. 

Mom would hear nothing of it. 

A couple of weeks later, I was supervising recess when I noticed someone creeping around the cars in the lot adjacent to the school’s playground.  This caught my attention, so I kept a close eye.  Then I noticed the person had crawled inside the dumpster corral to be closer to the children.  I was worried so I approached the corral.  Yes, Billy’s mother was hiding there spying on the playground.  She was just positive the other children were picking on Billy and wanted to see for herself so she could prove me wrong.  A few minutes later, Billy punched a classmate in the stomach—while mom watched. 

Because I am a parent, as well as I teacher, I know that being a parent is a tough job.  It’s hard to find a balance between being involved with your child’s life and being overly-involved.  But here are a few suggestions:

  • Be an active presence – your child (and his teacher) needs to know that you care and are interested in what they do.  However, they don’t need you to do it for them.
  • Responsibilities now make for responsible adults later – assigning tasks to your child and expecting him to accomplish them will teach him responsibility.  Whether it’s chores around the house or homework, every child needs to have a goal for which to strive.
  • Be an investigator – your child’s perception of what has transpired in any situation is affected by many things.  If your child comes home with a story that seems a bit unrealistic, check things out with the teacher before making a judgment.  Remember, there are two sides to every coin.
  • Give them wings – someday your fledgling will need to leave the nest -- more than likely it will feel too soon for you.  The more opportunities you can give your child to stand on his own two feet before he leaves the nest, will help him build the confidence needed to become an independent learner and adult.

 

Developing a working relationship of respect and trust with your child’s teacher just might make your job at home easier.


*Billy is not his real name. 

 Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Dec 13
I met a guy named Neil a couple weeks back.  He decorates people’s homes for the holidays and will do anything you want, create any theme—Victorian, Modern, Neo-classic.  For a price, he will create any image you’d like. He’ll bring in the greenery, the lights and sparkle, clean up after himself and even come back after the holidays to take it all down. 

It sounded great. Finally someone to take the burden of Christmas decorating off my shoulders. All the work, all the mess, all the hassle. Sometimes decorating takes the entire weekend and more often then not, I never feel I did a good enough job anyway. What I attempt never looks like the magazines.  

Neil was my chance to get it out of the way and done. Neil was my chance for perfection. 

We set an appointment. 

The day before Neil came over, I brought up from the basement my boxes of ornaments.  Neil wanted to look through them and see what might fit in the theme he would choose for me.  I took a minute to go through them and eliminate the ones that were ugly, broken and too old. 

When I opened the first box, there lying on top was a red Power Ranger Action figure ornament with its crooked legs and its right foot chewed flat. We gave it to Tommy when he was 4--when every waking hour was consumed with the Rangers and he told everyone he wanted to be the red Power Ranger when he grew up.  A few years ago, when we were decorating the tree, he turned his nose up at that ornament, putting it back in the box, refusing to let me put it up. But I did anyway—in the back, where he couldn’t see it. But I knew it was there, representing Tommy’s growth from Power Rangers to crushes on girls, long division and his driver's license. 

In that same box were six silver ball ornaments, one which was broken and wrapped loosely in wrinkled, yellowed tissue paper. It was the ornament I dropped when decorating the tree with my dad on that Christmas that turned out to be his last. He loved these ornaments that were his mother’s. Each year I’d complain that they looked too old fashioned, worn out and mottled, with so much of the silver coating lying loose on the bottom of each ornament. But every year he’d insist those silver balls would go on, as he told me the same story of walking to the 5 & Dime with his mother to buy them when he knew she couldn’t afford them. It was the middle of the Depression and his mom bought them because it meant a lot to him to have something hanging on the tree, he told me. 

“These ornaments and a tangerine in my stocking were the only presents I got that year,” my dad said. He told me it was his favorite memory and the best Christmas of his childhood. (The reason, I realized, there was a tangerine tucked in the bottom of my stocking every Christmas morning.) 

I still remember my dad’s expression when I dropped one of his precious ornaments and how he stopped me when I tried to throw the broken pieces away. He told me it was all right, but that we should keep it to remember our time together. As he wrapped it carefully in the tissue paper, he told me that even broken, the ornament still meant a lot to him. 

So I did keep it, moving it from his house to mine after he died, making sure I kept the pieces together, as though one missing fragment would take away a chunk of my memory—of him teaching me how to slow down long enough to appreciate the taste of fresh chocolate pudding and the nuances of Frank Sinatra’s voice. When families are fragmented and parents are gone, traditions, rituals and yes, even silver ornaments are markers that give us continuity when everything else might not make sense. 

This broken, silver ornament was our last Christmas together. Holding it, I realized this wouldn’t be the Christmas I handed over the decorating to someone else. I called Neil to cancel our appointment. 

When I was young, I spent a lot of time dreaming about how to get out of my house. I longed for a richer, more complex existence—with skyscrapers, corner coffee shops filled with people discussing heady topics and men in tortoiseshell glasses who read Henry James on the subway. At 18, I finally got my wish as I headed off to school and then a job in Washington, D.C. But ever since I slammed the door of childhood behind me, I’ve been trying to go back home again. 

And every Christmas, that’s exactly where I go. 

And Neil might not understand. 

 
Diana Keough is the mother of four boys and Co-Founder, Editor-In-Chief of ShareWIK.com.  



©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC.

I’ve had a rough day. I DESERVE this ice cream!”  “I can’t stop until all the food is gone.”  “I am a Stress Eater.”

 

How often do you eat for reasons that have little to do with actual physical hunger?  Have you ever gone on a diet because your life felt out of control?

 

It goes without saying that people with eating problems—from the under-weight teen to the overweight grandmother—are not good at reading their body’s signals.  At some point in their lives they lost touch with, or stopped trusting, the wisdom of their bodies.

 

Even many people without eating disorders struggle with this concept.  We view our bodies as The Problem, in need of sculpting, injecting, liposucking, starving and perfecting.  We seek diet gurus, appetite suppressants and surgeons to help us conquer our appetites. 

 

We don’t think it wise to listen to our guts.  The misconception is, “If I listen to my gut I will weigh 400 pounds!”  Well, listening to your gut means stopping when your gut is satisfied and not eating for emotional reasons.

 

Oh.  

 

An overweight Brigham Young professor, Steven Hawks, lost 50 pounds by eating intuitively.  His big secret?  He only ate when he was hungry, he ate what he truly craved (even if it was ice cream for dinner) and stopped when he was physiologically satisfied.  CNN’s Soledad O’Brian interviewed him, asking incredulously, “You mean you just eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full?  Wow.  That sounds REALLY hard!” 

 

So how can we implement the professor’s simple principles?  There are three steps:

 

1. Differentiating between physical and emotional hungers

The other day my 13-year-old stated, “I’m hungry!” Then he paused and added, “Actually, I’m not really hungry.  I’m bored!”   I was thrilled that he was able to make this subtle distinction. Boredom and stress are the most common reasons for mindless eating.  (I contend we could eliminate the obesity epidemic today if people stopped using food to cure boredom and stress.)  

 

So if your child asks for food but you suspect she’s not actually hungry, you might say something like, “Let’s think about this. Go down inside your body.  Is your TUMMY hungry or are you feeling something else?”  If she can’t answer right away, offer suggestions: “Are you bored?  Is there anything else you are feeling?”

 

2. OK, so you got to a non-hunger feeling.  Now what?

A lot of times just by naming the feeling, you can figure out what you (or your child) actually needs.  Sad?  You may need a good cry.  Angry? You may need to speak up.  Nervous?  See if you need to push through the fear or run the other way! 

Before you try to talk your kid out of a bad feeling (a natural instinct to make bad feelings go away) take a moment to empathize first: “Oh, that feels yucky” or “I can understand why you might feel that way.”  Sometimes that’s all that is needed to feel okay!  The better you are at responding to feelings directly, the less likely these feelings will be stuffed, avoided or numbed with food or dieting.  

 

3.  Dealing with Hunger/Fullness. 

Hunger is much easier to discern than Satisfied.  Some of us keep our tanks topped off all day long so we never actually feel hungry!  It’s OK to feel hunger before you eat; ever notice how much more delicious food tastes when you are hungry?  

Unfortunately many of us view “Satisfied” as a yellow light and don’t slam on the brakes until “Stuffed.”  We inhale our food so there isn’t time for Stomach to let Brain know that the food has arrived.   The smells, tastes, visual impact, social atmosphere, conversation, the TV, are all distractions.  Your brain’s happy-centers are all screaming, “Yee-Hah! Keep that pleasure a-comin’!”  Meanwhile, your belly is whispering in the tornado: “I’m good. You can stop now.”

Huh?  Did you hear something?

So become a Belly Whisperer.   Once you trust the system which has kept humans trim for millions of years, then you’ll have more faith in your kids’ tummies.  It may mean feeding them their big meal when they get off the bus or letting them have a snack before bed.  I realize this is a controversial approach.  Many of us have strong traditions about feeding our families: three meals a day; eat what the grown-ups eat; no snacking; something green at every meal; clean your plate before dessert; kitchen is closed after dinner.  I do not mean to imply that these rules lead to eating disorders.  But I am also a fan of flexibility: it’s okay to compromise if the old system doesn’t work for your child’s body.

  

So, Raise Your Right Hand and Repeat after Me:

 

M.O.D. Squad (moms of daughters) Principle #2:

 

I will encourage my child to honor the wisdom of her body by helping her differentiate the needs of her stomach from the needs of her heart. I will help her respect her body’s hunger and fullness signals and I will teach her through my words and deeds healthy, effective ways to cope with difficult feelings.

####

Disclaimer #1: These principles apply to Dads and sons as well.

Disclaimer #2: An eating disorder is not a choice.  It is a mental disorder caused by a complex combination of genetic, personality, familial, social and cultural influences.    #

To start a M.O.D. Squad group, visit www.MyEdin.org.



Dina Zeckhausen is a nationally-known psychologist who specializes in treating adults, teenagers and children with eating disorders and body image issues.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist and the author of the children's book, "Full Mouse, Empty Mouse: A Tale of Food and Feelings."  You can visit her on the web at dinazeckhausen.com and MyEdin.org.



More Dina Zeckhausen articles, click here.


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

Jan 03

 

I remember stomping around the kitchen when I was 8 or 9 years old, telling my mom I would never, ever understand boys.


“They’re weird,” I told her.  “And they do dumb things.”


Fast forward 40 years, and here I am—the mother of four boys, ages 13, 16, 19 and 22—standing in my own kitchen, still thinking boys are a bit weird.  I’m no longer stomping around but I have to admit I still don’t get ‘em most of the time.  


But I'm really, really trying. 


When my husband and I first married, I used to ask him dreamily, “Honey, what are you thinking?”


To which he’d reply, “Nothing.” 


That used to really tick me off. 


How could he just sit there and think, “Nothing?” I’d wonder.


But now that I’ve raised four boys from the ground up, I realize that boys and yes, men, too—are in fact, completely capable of thinking, “Nothing.” 


A man can sit swinging back and forth in a hammock, his wife nestled in his arms, thinking of nothing but what he’s doing right at that moment.  He’s not writing out a grocery list in his head, fixing everyone's problems, or noticing that the deck needs a good cleaning.

            

Men can drive their cars, mow the lawn, sweep their garages, watch a ballgame, and even fold the laundry without planning next week’s meals, redecorating the house, or trying to solve world peace.  

            

It’s amazing. Really.  

            

Finally figuring out my kids’ propensity toward “nothing” has helped me immensely when it comes to getting them to help around the house.  If I ask them to do one thing—like, “clean up your room”—it’ll get done.  But if I ask them to clean up their room AND put away their clean clothes, I’ll find them an hour later, stretched out on the unmade beds in their (still) messy rooms, lying on top of all those clean clothes I wanted them to put away. 


When I ask them, “What are you doing?” their answer is always, “Nothing.” 


And they’re not lying.


When my boys and their friends were younger, they couldn’t just jump on the trampoline.  It had to be a competition.


They competed for who jumped the highest, who was the most original, who landed on his feet best, who was able to stay on the longest.  You name it.  One of them had to be Alpha Dog, the Big Kahuna.  The Best.


Even taking turns was determined by taking off their socks, balling them up and hurling them as hard as possible at the current jumper’s face.  When two socks hit the jumper’s face at the same time, the winner is the one who hit him the hardest.


Of course, if your sock left a mark, you automatically won.  And they would win not just a turn but the awe and respect of all the other boys playing.


Inevitably, someone would get hit too hard in the face and tears would erupt.  Still, whenever I suggested they use a Nerf ball instead of their dirty socks, they would all look at me as if I’m the weird one.


But as fast as the tears started, they stopped.  By the time I was on the scene asking what happened, they’d tell me, “Nothing.”


And they’re completely serious.  Everyone had moved on, they’re all best friends again, and they’d already resumed throwing dirty socks at one another.  No grudges, no pouting, no rehashing and no passing around enough blame to last the rest of the day.


In my experience, boys can never leave any puddle undisturbed, any dirt pile unconquered, any toilet seat down, any rock unflung.  They must always be jabbing, poking, stabbing, punching, and teasing one another, as well as moving their lips and making some sort of nondescript noise during their every waking hour.


And whenever I ask, “What are you doing?” they always respond, “Nothing.”


And they’re not lying.


When they tell me, “Mom, you look so pretty,” that’s all they’re saying.  There are no games involved.  I don’t need to second-guess their motives or wonder what they’re really trying to say.  


When they say they do or don’t want to do something, they’re not being passive-aggressive.  They're saying, "Yes," or "No," because they truly don’t want to do or don't want to do it.  The only martyrdom they're familiar with is in the books they read.  


When my boys are telling me about their day, they look at me and talk.  And when they’re talking, I can tell they’re not thinking about something they’d rather be doing or replaying their favorite Xbox game over and over in their minds.


There’s so much about boys—and yes, men—I don’t get.  But I admit I could use a bit more “nothing” in my head every once in a while.


So now, whenever I talk to one of my boys, I try to focus on them.  I try to just enjoy the moment, their enthusiasm and expressions as they tell me about their day or something that’s on their mind. I’m not planning out their lives, thinking about when I can get them in for a haircut, or about what we’re having for dinner that night.  I’m listening.


They’ve taught me this.


Now whenever they ask me, “Mom, what’s up?  I’m getting better at answering, “Nothing.”


And I’m not lying.


 

Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com.


For more Diana Keough articles, click here.




©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Jan 15
When I was young-no older than 10-I remember thinking that all of time lay ahead of me. I don't know what I did with it, except wonder how I could speed it up, so I could get on with "real life," even though I had this feeling, even then, that real life was probably marked by its share of hazards. A part of me always hung back. I didn't like surprises and I certainly didn't see any value in taking unnecessary risks. 

My third son, Tommy, is a lot like that. 

A couple years ago, when he was 10, he was invited to a friend's house for a sleep-over and a chance to ride go-carts and play paint ball, he was thrilled. But within minutes, he was having second thoughts. 

"How fast do you think the cars go?" he asked me. I told him I wasn't sure. "But if they let 10 year olds like you ride them, I'm pretty sure they don't go THAT fast," I said. 

But then he began to worry about getting one of the fastest cars and if that happened, how would he slow it down? I assured him that that probably wouldn't happen. He then moved from apprehension of the go-carts to his fear of being hit by the paintballs. 

"It might really hurt, mom," he said. "What happens if it makes me feel like crying? In front of my friends?" 

I then told him about the first time I dove off the high board one summer. How I stood there for over an hour, looking down at the water below, my hands clutched in a tight fist over my head, my heart beating wildly as I tried to psyche myself into it. The kids waiting in line at the bottom of the diving board's ladder heckled me, cackling like a chicken and urging me to "Just dive already!" The lifeguards stood on one edge of the deep end, encouraging me that it wouldn't hurt, that I'd be alright and that all I had to do was fall and let gravity do the rest. 

"Did you finally dive?" my son asked. "Yep. And the lifeguards were right. It didn't hurt and I was totally fine afterwards. In fact, I did it again, right away, and wondered why it took me so long to get the nerve up to do it in the first place," I told him. 

I then shared what my dad used to ask me whenever I was facing something new and perhaps, from the limited viewpoint of my age at any time, really scary-like diving off the high board, changing jobs or asking for a raise: What's the worst thing that could happen? After that, my dad would ask, "Is this going to be that big of a deal 10 years from now? And when you look back at it, will you regret not even trying it? 

I then told my son, "Ten years from now you're not even going to remember the kid who invited you to the slumber party, but you might remember how glad you were that you got the nerve up to try the go-carts." I then added one of the only Chinese sayings I know: Go straight to the heart of danger and there you will find safety. 

This was some of my best stuff, I thought. 

But 60 seconds later, my story of bravery and all my great advice was totally forgotten as he returned to the subject of surviving the go-carts. I kept trying to push for a good time, while he continued to try to tell me, in so many words, that he was absolutely petrified. 

And finally, I saw him as I was, perched on the edge of that high dive-puny and trembling, praying I wouldn't die or make a fool out of myself. He was imagining himself in the middle of a racetrack, panicked, about to go into a death-spin that would crash him the guardrail. He'd be embarrassed and humiliated in front of his friends. He felt he might die. 

No amount of reasoning with him could get him to change his mind: He was not going. It was time for me to give up. 

"I just don't like to do things unless I know what's going to happen," he said, quietly. "I want to know things for sure. I want to know all about God and whether or you're going to get sick with cancer." And then he paused. "I want to know everything that's going to happen to me, too." 

How do you tell a 10-year old that part of growing up is learning how to live with not knowing-and that after a while, not knowing doesn't seem so bad. And even when bad things happen, you get through them and start to wonder if it's better, in fact, to not know everything. As I tried to explain all this, he looked at me trying to understand what in the world I was saying. 

I suppose it didn't make sense to someone only 10 years old whose entire life still remained to be seen. I kissed him good night, with a heavy sigh and a prayer that one day, he would understand all this. 

As I was closing his door, I heard him call my name once more. As I turned around, barely able to see him in the darkness, he said, "You're so lucky." 

"Lucky? What makes you say that, bud?" 

"Because you're a grown-up and you've already made it through all this stuff."

 

Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com.


For more Diana Keough articles, click here.


 
©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
Oct 10

Cynthia and I didn’t hit if off immediately when we met a ten years ago.  Although, at the time, I thought it was her fault. 

She’s glamorous—always so well put together, with her shoes matching her purse and something funky always added to make her outfit different, unusual, so Cynthia.  She’s articulate and passionately opinionated, punctuating her points of view with sweeping gestures and a marvelous throaty laugh that starts low, like an engine revving, and ends with her head thrown back, fourth gear engaged.  She challenges me.  She stimulates me.  She makes me laugh. 

She is also black.  Not negro, not colored, not Afro-American and not African-American.  She’s just black, she tells me.  She hates all that politically correct stuff.  Our friendship has been slow going.  Cynthia does hand out the title “friend” easily, or to many.  If you’re white, like I am, she immediately puts you on the back burner to simmer.  Trust is something she doesn’t let go of often, especially if you’re white. 

The first time I referred to her as “my friend,” she corrected me, telling me I don’t know anything about her.  When I responded, “What do you mean, Cynthia?  You’re just like one of us.”  She shot back, “No, I’m not.  I’m not anything like you,” and then proceeded to tell me I don’t know what it’s like for her, a black person, to grocery shop, go out for coffee, to try to fill your car with gas or to mail a package in this lily-white town where we both live.  Slowly, quietly, carefully, she begins to tell me why we’re different and why I can’t even begin to understand what it means to be black in America in this day and age.

She tells me about wandering for over an hour through a local furniture store, ready to purchase a complete set of furniture, armed with a purse full of cash, with nary a head bob of recognition from a sales person.  I’ve been to that store.  I can’t go two feet without someone stopping to ask me if they can help me.  They hound me to the point of being annoying.

At our local paint store she is always asked for a $25.00 deposit, as well as her credit card number, before being allowed to borrow a wallpaper book.  Me?  I’ve never been asked for anything but my name and phone number when borrowing anything from that store.

She tells me she has to constantly warn her sons to never, ever drive more than one mile over the speed limit, reminding them the police are just looking for a reason to pull them over.  Her boys know she’s right.

She tells me about the white women clutching their purses tighter and leaning away from her and her husband in an elevator taking them to their regular mezzanine level seats for the symphony.  This makes her particularly furious.

“They don’t know anything about my husband and they’re acting like he’s a thief and a sexual predator,” she tells me, the anger, the hurt, the weariness from it all coming through.

I’m incredulous and I stop her.

“No way!  There is no way this is happening to you!”  I tell her.  I thought this stuff only happened to a certain type of black—someone on the edge of society, the drug dealers and the punks, I tell her. Not law abiding, well-educated, well-dressed blacks that live in my community, right down the street from me.

When I tell her I don’t believe her, that I think she’s just being overly sensitive, that she’s just overacting, she looks down, get quiet and takes a deep breath.

“Diana.  All I’m saying is something’s are very clear.  And how many times would you say it would have to happen to become clear to you?  To register that it’s a problem?”  she asks me.

It became clear to me the first time we met for lunch.  Walking in together, the hostess looked only at me and asked, “Can I help you?”  Cynthia was completely overlooked, ignored, persona non grata.  And she’s hard to miss.  She's beautiful and glamorous.    

When we are out together getting coffee, buying bread, greeting cards, luncheon meat, shopping for jewelry she is invisible, while I am not, to people whose job it is to help both of us.  Instead of helping her, I notice they eye her suspiciously, watch her closely and try not to obvious about following her through their stores.  I wish I could say these were isolated incidents, but they’re not.  The more time we spend together, the more I notice.

I want to protect her.  I want to go before her and make these ignorant sales people help her, pay attention to her, make them look her in the eye.  I want to stand at the doors of the great hall where the symphony plays, and hand out her and her husband’s resumes.  I want to shame someone, like I’ve been made aware of my own shame, ignorance and indifference.

She used to live in North Carolina, where she said it was much, much easier. Because there, at least she could tell who didn’t like her—they’d tell you to your face, she explains.  I understand that better now, living here in the South as I do.  Our contractor began my kitchen remodel weeks ahead of schedule because he quit the job before ours.  Why?  Because when he showed up with a black man on his crew, the woman of the house told the contractor "that man"--yes, she referred to him as "that man"--wasn't allowed in her home.  Instead of agreeing to her request, my contractor walked away from the job.  

Cynthia now lives in the Midwest, and she says it’s much harder.  White people aren’t as honest here, she says.  They pretend to like you, when in fact, they don’t.

I’m so sorry, I tell her.  But she doesn’t want an apology from me, or from anyone else. 

She just wants it to change.


Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com.    

Read other Diana Keough columns here.  


More Diana Keough articles, here. 


©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


Nov 07

I have been collecting addicts all my life … starting with my mother. 


But it wasn’t until I was over 40 that I learned what I needed to know about myself, the people I’ve loved, and the seemingly infinite kinds of addictions we face, simply because we are human.


When I was a little girl, my mother was diagnosed with a bone disease in her gums that was eventually treated successfully. However, in the aftermath of pain, her doctors prescribed morphine. This was the mid-60s, and having read much about the research and trials of drugs at the time, I don’t think family doctors were aware of the powerful hold that opiates have on “normal” people – that is, people who were not known drug abusers.  My mother quickly became addicted. Not in a made-for-TV-movie kind of way – no one at the time was even aware of her struggle; not even her. But over the years and looking back, she recalls it with a shudder.


After school, my brothers and sister and I knew to tip-toe into the hushed house through the back door. My mom would be sleeping deeply, escaping her pain.  I never once heard the word “addiction” or even “problem.” She was just my mom. It was what I knew, and I loved her.


As a teenager, my first real boyfriend was a high school golden boy. Sure, he drank beer every weekend, but back then, when the drinking age was 18, what senior football player didn’t? Still, there were signs even I couldn’t miss: the time he saw me driving with one of my guy friends and came to my house later that night – angry, drunk, he banged on my bedroom window so hard it smashed into a hundred pieces.

During a school homecoming pageant, he had had so much to drink that when he had to answer the obligatory “Mr. America” question, he mumbled something and swiped at the stand-up microphone so that it teetered dangerously on the edge … much like he did before stomping offstage.  

 

I dated him on and off for two years, never even considering his behavior a “problem.” It was high school; most people thought we were all just “typical teenagers.”  I loved him as only a girl can love a boy for the first time; I felt grown up when he brought me roses scented with apologies.


Throughout my late teens and 20s, I had at least four boyfriends who were (looking back) functioning alcoholics – some better-functioning than others. And yet I never saw their behavior as serious trouble or grounds for dismissal. Part of the reason is that I was happily enjoying my own version of partying. I drank at parties, danced at clubs, stayed up all night, too. It wasn’t unusual for people to start slurring their words, make fools of themselves, or even pass out.


That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned about those of us who choose addicts: We Don’t Notice. We’re just not that aware or self-actualized. I think back on some situations and wonder how in the world could I think that was normal?


When I was about 26, a boy I’d been dating for about six months told me he was going to an AA program in Colorado. I knew he drank too much, slept too late, worked too little. But at the time, I had no idea how much courage it took for him to enter rehab – and to tell me. I wished him good luck and he invited me to visit him a week after he finished the program.


And I did. I flew across the country never once even reading about the AA program or how it was likely to affect him. I expected him to be just as fun as he always was -- just without a drink in his hand.


Naïve? Definitely. But that is hardly a valid excuse. Immature? Unthinking?? More accurate, but still not excusable.  How could I have been so vacuous?


Once in Colorado, I saw quickly what a huge mistake I’d made in coming. He was angry, confused, and still going through withdrawal. It took two days of tears and confusion to call Delta and pay an exorbitant fee to fly home early. Even then, I didn’t stop to consider the nature of my boyfriend’s addiction or alcoholism. I just moved on to the next one.

And in fact, I married one. A brilliant love-starved man who had been trying to numb out his pain for more than half his life.


And finally, I began to learn. My first year of marriage was like going to grad school for enablers. I began to understand what part I played, and why being in a relationship with an addict felt like coming home. I learned that I loved more like a parent and less like a partner –an addict-magnet for sure. I also learned deep hurt and a loss of self I had never experienced before. Addicts’ energy can be all-consuming; they are narcissistic in a way that leaves little room for anyone or anything else. They are not selfish in a typical way, but in a way that says, “Nobody’s pain is as bad as mine. Nobody understands me; my problems are unique. I am fucked up beyond repair, and I don’t deserve love.”

And that is what makes me love them all the more. I was addicted to addicts! To the way their need made me feel. That is the quintessential enabler.


 My husband went into rehab just a few months after we separated after 13 years of marriage.  And I began my “doctorate” in learning. I went to family therapy, Nar-Anon groups (for families with loved ones who are addicted to drugs), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) support groups and meetings.  For the first time I was supportive of my husband without being co-dependent; I believed in him without needing to control the outcome.  I was no longer filled with fear.


But an addict who goes into rehab enters a new life. The leaders of AA suggest they not associate with old friends. They go to AA meetings every day, or several each day or night. They make new friends in the program, and their life becomes working the program. It may not be perfect, but it has the best record for rehab of any program out there.


I remember at one of the NA meetings, I was given a booklet of quotes from people who had been through the program. There is one I will never forget.  A wife of 20 years whose husband was in AA said, “It’s not surprising to me that so many marriages fail when one partner goes into rehab; what is surprising to me is that any of them makes it.”


My marriage didn’t make it, but my husband did. Is making it, I should say. It’s an ongoing endeavor.


Addicts are individuals. I only know what I know from my personal experiences. But I do know they are not “all bad” or “worthless.” They are, as are we all, deserving of our love and compassion.


Ginger Emas is a freelance business writer, the mother of a 14-year-old son, and the author of the hilarious and helpful book, “Back On Top: Fearless Dating After Divorce.” She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist, and has written for Skirt! magazine, More.com, Glamour.com, LovingYou.com and several other women-centric media.

 

For more Ginger Emas columns, click here 

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Nov 07

He  was always there, in the clay house just beyond the trees.  These were the trees of the forested field across the way from my grandmother’s house—we looked out upon them across Jerusalem Street.  Shrubs and wildflowers danced among the Lebanese cedars, oaks, and acacias.  He was always there, the old man, sweet as the oranges in his own tiny patch, with his kind eyes and lonesome smile.  It was 1961.

The thicket of trees across the street was a favorite haunt of Roni, Yossi, and me.  On carefree days, the Sabbath or during the hot, muggy summer vacation, we’d often visit “the forest” and play in between long shafts of sunlight.  We had no I-Pods, no cellular phones, no “Game Boys.”  Those things were years and years away.  We had each other, and the foliage of the Holy Land, and the feeling of being carefree and natural under the clouds.  The trees gave shade and made us feel safe and special.

One of our favorite pastimes was to visit the forest after a matinee at the little cinema not far away on Jabotinsky Street.  Almost always, we saw “Tarzan” movies—the exploits of the exotic and muscular “King of the Jungle” who flew through the jungles on vines, defeated alligators in the rivers, and always outsmarted the foreign and greedy hunters who came to Africa to kill wildlife and oppress the natives.  The Tarzan movies, starring Johnny Weissmuller, were subtitled in Hebrew but the dialogue hardly mattered anyway.  We just lived for Tarzan’s trademark yell, as he swung through the African tropics and brought justice to wildlife and innocent people.  Yossi was a specialist in mimicking the Tarzan howl.  He would climb a mighty oak and belt out the call, with his Russian accent.  We were happy and free, and we always knew of the nice neighbor who lived at the other end of the forest.

The sweet old man lived in a simple frame house that stood in a clearing, in between clumps of forest.  A dirt road wound its way from his home back to the main boulevard of Kfar-Saba.  He had no wife and lived alone.  The grown-ups spoke quietly about him, saying something about “the camps” and a daughter, and other things that we did not understand then.  When we saw him from a perch in the forest, we could sometimes see a strange tattoo of numbers on his forearm.  I asked my grandmother about that, but strangely, she simply replied:  “It’s not time to tell you yet.  But just be sure you are nice to him.”

I understand now, of course, that the old man who lived by himself in the forest house had survived something called the Holocaust—the mass murder of six million Jews in Europe during World War II.  But no one else in his family survived, apparently, and he had come to Israel.  Yossi’s parents were like that—they had escaped separately from Europe after the nightmare but met in Israel.  They both had lost all of their families and married in Kfar-Saba.  Sometimes, Yossi would say, “I’m the new Israel.”  But he wasn’t boasting.  He was really proud, and so was I.

The sweet old man always wore a beaten, wrinkled sun hat.  It seemed to be part of his body and it hung over the front of his brown and weathered face.  His eyes were like two little stars glowing under the funny sun hat.  The sweet old man had a few orange trees in the thicket, along the edge of the small field near his house.  He did have a radio in the house, and we would occasionally hear classical music playing, with a lot of static, and sometimes news programs in a strange language.

Yossi and I would, from time to time, climb into the orange trees that belonged to the sweet old man.  Like two friendly spies, we would seize one or two of the fruits and enjoy their juices.  Sometimes, if we could secure good footing, we would peel and eat the fruit perched in one of the trees, acting like Tarzan’s Jewish watchmen.  We would wait for the sweet old man to acknowledge our petty larceny.  This he did—with his bell.

The bell, attached to the clay dwelling, could not be seen from the orange trees.  It was located somewhere inside the house.  The sweet old man would ring the bell every time, just to let us know that he was aware we were enjoying his oranges.  Whenever the bell rang into the little forest, Yossi and I would clap sticky hands, and we would feel that everything in the world was just fine.

Sometimes, before we would return home, we saw the sweet old man walking across his small field, the funny sun hat perched upon his head.  He did not wave; the bell had already said hello.  Yossi, Roni and I never saw the sweet old man anywhere else in the village except around his field and his plain house. 

One afternoon, Yossi and I were sitting in the trees, sharing an orange, watching the old man’s house.  We had been there for a while but, strangely, had not heard the bell ring this time.  It was quiet, except for the muffled groaning of the Egged busses that came up and down the road just beyond the forest.  The air was thick with citrus smells, though laced with a bit of the exhaust fumes that found their way over from Weizmann Boulevard.  Yossi and looked at each other, feeling a certain emptiness, even dread.  “Do you think he died?”  Yossi whispered to me.  We were very concerned suddenly, and a little frightened.  We decided to creep up close to the sweet old man’s house.

Now we approached, squinting into the old man’s windows.  We peered into the main room.  “Look!” cried Yossi, in an excited gasp.  There, sitting on an ancient table, was the funny sun hat.  It was like a cat, asleep and peaceful.  Where was the old man?  We tiptoed around to the next window.

“There you are, you two little outlaws!”  The old man was laughing as he saw us from the inside.  He stood in his narrow kitchen, stirring something.  “Come in, come in,” he urged, laughing again.  “I have something for you.”

The sweet old man was stirring tea boiling in a small pot.  The tea bags, like our little world, were scented with orange.  On a large, round plate there sat a stack of peanut cookies.  “Look what I have for you two orange thieves who think I can’t see you!  Orange tea and cookies.  Drink, and be welcome in my house.”

The tea was warm and we blew it cool.  Yossi and I giggled with delight.  The sweet old man fed us the cookies; they were crunchy and delicious.  He was so gentle and even knew our names.  “Benny Kamin, I know your grandmother.  Yona is a nice woman who waves to me from her porch when I walk by.  I see you up there with her often, talking, reading, while she weaves those beautiful sweaters.  Yossi Kluner, I know your father who drives that big oil tanker.  Sometimes, when he gets home at night, you love to hop in and ride around the block with him before he finds a place to park that big thing.”

"Yossi’s father has let me ride in the truck, too!”  I chimed in.

“I know, I know.”  The sweet old man had a very special twinkle in his eyes, as he used his left hand to rub the area of his right arm that carried that awful tattoo from the concentration camp.

“We’re sorry to have eaten some of your oranges,” said Yossi.

“It’s okay!  Just leave me some for the market!  And come back every day.”

I asked him:  “Why didn’t you ring the bell today?”

“It was time to see how much you cared.”

 

Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination."  He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To find out more about Ben, go to: www.benkamin.com 

More Ben Kamin articles, click here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Nov 11

Fifteen years ago, I went to visit the maximum-security women’s prison in Gatesville, Texas.  My original motive was two-fold: As a journalist, I wanted to meet Karla Faye Tucker, who was on death row for murdering two people with a pick ax.  I was also there as a grieving daughter whose mother had recently died.  


My mom was involved in a group that spent time ministering to both the general population of inmates and inmates, like Karla, on death row. 

Karla and my mom had become very good friends and she couldn’t say enough nice things about her, describing her as a “kind, loving and spirit-filled Christian,” a description that made me laugh. 

 

When my mom began her visits to Karla, I made fun of her, considering the time she spent with Karla and the other inmates a complete waste of time.   When she tried to tell me that Karla and other inmates she spent time with had changed, I’d cut her off.    

        

“People like that don’t change,” I’d remind her.  And to make sure she wouldn’t say anymore about it, I’d call her a “do-gooder,” the ultimate insult in my family.   I felt all inmates, no matter their crime, deserved to rot.  As for Karla Faye Tucker and the other inmates on death row, I believed they couldn’t be executed fast enough.   I knew my mom shared these views because they happened to be the exact same views I overheard eavesdropping as a child on the long dinner table conversations that took place between my parents and their wide circle of friends.  Those who opposed the death penalty were nothing but a bunch of “do-gooders,” in her opinion. 


But something had dramatically changed my mom’s views on the death penalty and it happened down in Texas, after meeting Karla Faye Tucker and spending time with these female inmates. 

  

After my mom died in 1994, I had to find out what it was. 


What hit my mom coming through the prison gates for the first time hit me too. 


These women shared communal showers and their toilets are wide open.   A lack of privacy and being treated with no dignity is part of their punishment, I suppose.  Some dorms, house 72 women in one room, with beds lined up and stacked in cubicles.  Under each bed is a drawer that holds everything they are allowed.  The inmates who have families that haven’t disowned them, make out better than those who have no one.  Family members send breath mints, paper, pens and sometimes, a book, a Bible or a journal. 


Three fans hanging from the rafters push around hot, stale air that smells like sewage, sweat and too many bodies packed into too small a space.  The guards warn us the dorms stink because of recent flooding.  “Stink” is an understatement.  The rank smell crawls in and fills every pore.  I am dripping with sweat because of the heat.  


It’s one thing to say these women deserve to suffer for their crimes.  It is quite another to be there and see how they are treated. 


Quite often death row inmates are disciplined by being kept in cells 23 hours a day for sometimes, like it was for Francis, years at a time.  When we visit, we are allowed to sit five feet away from their cell door.  They are hungry for any human contact.  Many sleep most of the time for lack of anything else to do.

 

The first time I sat cross-legged on the floor of death row in front of one of these cells, I realized I was witnessing what happens when a person is made to literally rot to death from boredom, lack of human contact, and a lack of hope. 


It’s one thing to debate and pontificate this is exactly what these people deserve, like I had done all my life.  It’s another thing to see it actually taking place. 


The first time my mom met Karla and the other women on death row, she asked them if there was anything that could’ve prevented them from committing their heinous crimes. 


One inmate said that she had asked herself that same question over and over again and then proceeded to share with my mom the story of her “normal childhood.”  How her father had sexually abused her after her mother abandoned them; how her mother died in a car accident the year after she disappeared; how after being put in eight different foster homes she was put in a juvenile detention home at the age of 10.  


My mom was flabbergasted that this inmate considered her childhood “normal.” 

 

In listening to their stories, learning about their children, their mistakes and how one bad decision inevitably led to another, I realized these women were more like me, than not. 


Every year I go back to these same Texas prisons, I come away thinking how much we as a society have failed these women—and their families—long before most of them set foot in prison.  Most of these women would never tell you that though. 


I spend time with hundreds of women every year and contrary to what I used to believe, most do not walk away claiming they are innocent.  

Neither did Karla.  


But like so many of the women I’ve met, Karla changed so much from that angry, violent young woman she was when she murdered those two people.   After my first visit, I was hoping I would be able to tell the world that Karla and the rest of the inmates I met who were claiming they found God and changed, were nothing but a bunch of phonies.  Seeing the sincerity of their faith for myself took me completely by surprise and changed my mind about capital punishment, as it had my mom’s.

 

Karla was executed on February 4, 1998.  When she was executed, I lost a friend. 


Last year, as I was waiting to clear prison security, I overheard one of the guards mutter, “There goes one them do-gooders.”

    

I was going say something, but didn’t.  Being a “do-gooder” isn’t an insult anymore.


Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com

   

Read more Diana Keough articles, here. 

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Nov 21

It didn’t take long after our oldest daughter left for college before her brother took over her room. 

 

In fact, the debate over who was going to get her room started long before she left.  Her little sister campaigned, telling me I wouldn’t have to paint the room if she moved in – she’d be perfectly happy with the hot-pink walls.

 

But, despite extra points for cuteness, she never came close to scoring the coveted real estate.

 

Truth is, I couldn’t wait to separate our boys.  Because, say what you will about building character and learning to get along, my boys have shared a room their entire lives, and it’s been nothing but trouble.

 

I had no idea about this, because, growing up, I had one sister.   Boys were a mystery. 

 

When I was expecting our third child, people would ask if I wanted a girl or a boy.  I would tell them:  “My son would like a brother more than my daughter would like a sister.” 

 

Little did I know.

 

After the second son was born, the first prayed, “Help us be good buddies,” and I would think, “how sweet.”  Trust me — even at the tender age of three, he did not have anything “sweet” in mind. 

 

He needed someone to climb to the top bunk and reach precariously to the ceiling fan to place small objects on the blades, so he could then flip the “on” switch and launch said objects.

 

He also needed a punching bag.  I know, because when we purchased a punching bag for him for Christmas one year, he said, “This is great! Now I don’t have to use Joe.”

 

I’ve thought out loud how my boys are best friends, and best enemies.  “That’s the definition of brothers,” one father commented. 

 

I think he’s right.

 

I mean, when we moved to the farmette, they spent weeks together in the woods, constructing a home-away-from-home for themselves from cardboard boxes and scrap lumber.  And I remember the “unfortunate mishap” involving a sled and a tree, when my older son carried his brother all the way back to the house.

 

But then there were the times they locked each other in the chicken coop. 

 

For a while, my younger son was small enough to crawl out the hen’s door.  Of course, I knew immediately when he’d taken that escape route! (Yes, I made him strip to his skivvies when he did that!)  But it took awhile before I realized why my older son wouldn’t show up for dinner on occasion.  And little brother wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the fact that his brother was locked up with a bunch of fowl.

 

I’d always ask what in the world they were thinking.  And I always get the same response.

 

“I dunno.”

 

It’s their favorite answer.  Like they never think.  Which is ridiculous, because they’re always thinking. 

 

Some of my husband’s most ingenious moments occurred when he hatched plots to bedevil his brother. 

 

Once of his favorite antics was to wait in the hall, arms outstretched, when he heard his brother made a midnight trek to the bathroom.  After the inevitable sissy-scream, my husband would return silently back to bed and tell his brother to quit waking him up with his silly nightmares.  (“What a wimp.”)

 

I ask myself: why would anyone bother to get out of bed for something so ridiculous?  But I get the inkling this stuff is universal for males.  My boys had not even heard that story when they started scaring each other.  The younger was only two when he concocted the brilliant plot to wait under the bed and grab his brother’s ankles when he came in the room. 

 

We thought someone had been shot.

 

And the scaring is just part of the bigger plot to divide and conquer. 

 

When their big sister left, the first territory to conquer was her room.  Now that they all have their own interior space, they focus on who gets the front seat on the way to school.  

 

That’s right, they’re calling shotgun. 

 

Every morning. 

 

Because apparently the rules are, you can’t call it the night before. 

 

I don’t know all the rules to shot gun.  I’ve consulted the official shotgun rules website (http://www.shotgunrules.com), but let’s be honest:  who cares? I just want everyone in the car on time.  But the front seat is now their holy grail, and, as far as my boys are concerned, it’s worth a fist-fight to sit there for the 20 minutes it takes to transport them to school. 

 

At least when they get home, I can send them to their — separate — rooms.

 

Humor writer Hallie Bandy is the mother of four children and lives on a farmette in rural Kentucky--both of which provide more than enough fodder for her writing.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
 

 


More Hallie Bandy articles, click here.
  

 


©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010 

 

 

I have a saying I pull out at the beginning of every school year:  Crack kills!  And no, I’m not talking about drugs but to the “crack of cleavage”—something I see way too often on a daily basis. 
 
As the fashion trends for teenage girls change, I, as a teacher, keep hoping the new evolution will encourage full coverage for my students, thus lessening the amount of teaching time I must divert to being a fashion police.
 
Recently, the teenage clothing trend moved from midriff baring tops to tunic-styled tops with low necklines.  The idea behind this latest fashion swing is that girls should layer their tops with a camisole underneath.  Most camis are designed with a shelf bra, therefore they tend to lie rather low and off of the chest.  With absolutely no effort, an innocent bystander can be treated to a full frontal view of a young lady’s nubile bosom.  The layering of tops has zero effect on modesty other than giving a false sense of being covered up.
           
Take for instance, my dear 7th grader, Jo.  She is a bright, beautiful girl with a feisty personality.  She has decided that the tighter the pants and the lower her neckline, the more appealing she is.  It reached—or shall I say, “sank to”—epic proportions recently.  As the final morning bell rang, and I began to take roll, I turned to Jo to ask what she was eating for lunch and how she was getting home that day.  Much to my chagrin, I was unwittingly given a clear shot of her torso and chest from the neck down!  After roll call, I called Jo over to the door of the classroom. 
 
“Um, Jo, we have a problem here.  I have warned you several times that the cut of your shirts are too low, yet you continue to dress in a way that shows more than I, or anyone else, should see.”
“Well, what are you doing looking down there?” Jo fired back.
 
“Jo, your shirt is making it impossible to NOT look down there.  You will need to cover it up immediately or go home for the day,” I said.  After the requisite eye-roll and stomp, Jo opted to put on the ugly t-shirt I have on hand for just such an occasion.  It’s dark green with some orange and white writing on it that promotes our softball team.  Jo put it on and I haven’t seen her ‘crack’ since. 
 
A couple of days after this incident, I had the opportunity to talk to Jo’s mom.  I mentioned that Jo had to wear the ugly shirt because she was showing off “a little too much information.”  Jo’s mom replied, “I told her she was going to get in trouble one of these days.”  My unasked question was, “Then, why didn’t you make her put on appropriate clothing?”
 
I get frustrated when parents don’t take control of their own children.  Some parents seem to leave the job of parenting to the teachers.  Making appropriate clothing choices is just one of the areas I frequently find myself educating my female students in when it clearly is a matter that should be taken care of at home. 
 
I know parents with lively teens often have to pick their battles so not everything turns into World War III at home.  However, assuming the teacher has time to deal with parenting your child is unacceptable.  Teachers are more than willing to work cooperatively with parents to reinforce discipline measures parents are using at home.  In return, all I ask as a teacher is for you to reinforce the rules that are in place at school.
 
Is that too much to ask?




Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here. 

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

 

Nov 22

In my family, Thanksgiving is not only a time for reflection but also a time for forgiveness.  

It hasn’t always been that way.  

Before my mom died, she made my five siblings and me promise we’d get together for Thanksgiving after she was gone. 
 
“Promise me,” she asked. “Promise me that no matter what, you’ll always get together for Thanksgiving.”    In turn, we all promised to do what she asked.  Our vow seemed to settle her down and bring her peace.  How strange that of all the things she wanted was to know that we’d continue the tradition of getting together as a family, without her. 
 
Maybe she was recalling what had happened after her mother died, how viciously she and her siblings fought over the estate, how nasty they talked to one another.  My siblings and I grew up hearing them fight while hiding in the next room, pledging to one another that we’d never be like them.
 
When mom took her last breath, years had gone by without hearing the voice of several of her brothers and she couldn’t remember what they had fought about.  It was something, I know, she regretted.
 
“Promise me,” my mom asked again. 
 
When she died, my siblings and I behaved just like she hoped we wouldn’t, dividing her things with increasing tension, saying harsh words on the way out of the door.  At the time, it seemed ok—we lived in separate states, existing among friends, units unto ourselves, not acknowledging what was missing or left behind.        
 
When that first Thanksgiving after my mom’s death rolled around, one of my brothers offered his home and one by one, the rest of us reluctantly said we’d be there. 
 
After all, we had made a promise.  
 
“I really don’t want to do this!  It’s such a long drive, the kids are so little,” I told my husband, already making excuses.  “What a drag to travel so far just to have dinner with a bunch of people I don’t want to see anyway.” 
 
“You promised,” he reminded me.    
 
That year, the hugs at the door were forced and the small talk, nerve wracking.   The football games were a welcome distraction since it meant we really didn’t have to talk to one another.
 
That year, my little sister and I had a huge blowout that ended in slammed doors.  We both swore we’d never talk again. 
 
And we didn’t.  For a whole year.  Until Thanksgiving.  I had made a promise to be there and so had she. 
 
Once again, forced “Hello’s,” along with obligatory hugs and lots of small talk.   “Great haircut.  Have you lost weight?  How’s the job?”  I wasn’t too interested in the answers, but at least we weren’t fighting.   
 
As we stood in my kitchen preparing dinner, all of us chopping onions, dicing celery and peeling potatoes, the conversation grew less stilted as we settled into the scraping rhythm of the vegetable peeler.  My little sister and I began reminiscing about playing “Barbies” under the ping-pong table, Trick or Treating as Raggedy Ann and Andy, of her seeking safety in my bed during a thunderstorm.  We laughed about listening to Supertramp in the basement and about the mirror on top of the stairs where she had watched me get ready for the prom.   
 
“I wanted to be like you, you know,” she told me. 
 
As the pile of potato peels grew I couldn’t help but notice how alike our hands were—our fingernails, the veins on top and even the way we grasped the peeler.  When I looked up to tell her this, she was already asking, “Can you believe how similar our hands are?” 
 
“No, I can’t,” I answered, both of us smiling.  It was all the 
“I’m sorry,” either of us could muster, but enough for us to be more thankful for one another than not.  It helped to be reminded we have a lot more in common than not.  
 
Last month, while lunching with a friend, I complained to her about the latest drama going on in the lives of some of my siblings. This friend, who is twice divorced, has no children, no siblings and recently lost her mother and father looked right at me and said,  “At least you have a family.”   
 
As my siblings and their families sit around the table this year, keeping the promise we made to my mom almost two decades ago, we are mindful of missing both my father, mother and of the fact that we almost lost our oldest brother in January of this year.  All six of us are getting older and who knows how many more Thanksgivings we have to spend together. 
 
We still fight and I’m embarrassed to admit that some of us still let weeks and sometimes, months go by without speaking.  But when Thanksgiving rolls around, one of us offers our home and the rest of us show up.  Disagreements get worked out, the differences in our personalities disappear, walls come down and oftentimes, before the potatoes are mashed and the table is set, all is forgiven.  When we ask, “How are you?” we’re actually interested in hearing the answer and good-bye hugs made at the door bring tears.
 
When the long holiday weekend is over, I know another year will go by until I see some of them again.  And more than likely, throughout the year we’re apart, there will be disagreements between us.  But when Thanksgiving rolls around, we’ll get in our cars, hug at the door, make dinner together and stay up way too late catching up and giggling. 
 
And once again, I’ll be reminded that these people, with whom I share memories, eye color, voice inflection and expressions, have more in common with me than not.
 
And for that, I am thankful.
  
Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com
   
Read more Diana Keough articles, here
 
©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

Nov 22

They say that grieving is a lonely process, and if you’re grieving the death of a loved one, you may feel all alone with your feelings. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are support groups that you can join in your community and online, and people there who will understand what you’re going through.


I recently found that to be true, when I participated in a bereavement group through the Hospice of the Western Reserve (http://www.hospicewr.org/), after my Mom died. Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of support groups and often encourage coaching clients to do the same. That’s because there is something comforting about being in the company of people who are traveling a similar path. There is an unspoken understanding, an invisible bond.


In any case, this wonderful bereavement group was a sanctuary away from the bustle of everyday life, a place where it was OK to be where we were at in our healing process, where no one judged us for our tears or our anger or our sense of relief. Groups like these are quite a gift in our crazy busy culture, which is all about hurrying up and getting “over” our grief.


It was a comfort to be embraced by this circle of new friends, where no one asked “aren’t you over that yet?” or told me “you should feel grateful that your mother is finally at peace.” It was a place where we could share our stories and our ways of coping or choose, instead, to rest in our silence. It was also a comfortable venue to learn about the process of grief, and test drive different tools to help us heal.


I tell you all this, in case you, too, are grieving a loss. Because, whether you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, job loss, or the decline of your health, you don’t have to go it alone.  If you need a little help, consider joining a bereavement group or a job club or a support group for people dealing with serious diseases such as cancer or diabetes.


And never forget that reaching out for help is strength, not a weakness!


So how about YOU? How have support groups helped you? I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please leave a comment here on ShareWIK.com.


Are you dealing with a challenging life transition? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at http://www.ellen-brown.com to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

 

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach, based in Cleveland, OH, and a regular columnist on ShareWIK.com.  Visit her website at http://ellen-brown.com.  

 

For more Ellen Brown columns, click here.

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 

Dec 05

It’s not something you receive, like a text message, or a certified letter, at, say 10:07 AM on a Tuesday.  It’s a creeping, incremental awareness, a ghostly, ghastly series of howls and whispers and missed opportunities; vicious mistakes this one and that one and you yourself made four months, six years, even 30 years ago; a pile of resentments and seriously psychotic errors committed by people that were thrown together by biology and fate and who now, sadly, tragically, dynamically, are at clinical war with each other.

 

Privacy issues will prevail here, obviously, but when a man is 57, albeit happy in his own personal life and career work, creative, and yet still finds that the primary source of any stress remains his birth family and its surviving members—that’s dysfunction, that’s old, and that’s tiring.  One of the overriding commonalities of this, as one sips red wine and commiserates at dinner parties with other aging baby boomers amid their own “sandwich generation” stories and grievances and umbrage (and the occasional tender narratives that make most of us envious), is how universal this is.  Everybody seems to have a sister or a brother they can barely even discuss, though they do with unbridled vehemence and hurt and dismay.  Sibling estrangement, and/or disenchantment with a parent are well-known to me, and so deeply set into my physiology that they are part of the chemistry of my spleen.  They are nonetheless better accepted than constantly rationalized; even the early Bible overflows with such accounts and, true to life, none are ever fully resolved.

 

    In varying degrees, no one is fully guilty and no one is sweetly innocent in these sad, sometimes biblical conflicts that are attendant to the DNA’s of assorted family groups.  Parenting skills are not necessarily parceled out to people just because they are parents; favoritism, vengefulness, and a litany of insecurities are transferred from one era to the next and a new generation of children suffer grievously as they become adults and parents having inherited the reassignment of a lot of anxieties and neuroses.  The early and sudden death of a parent, as was the case in my family, exacerbates the complexities and sharpens the edges; woe unto the countless families who really were not prepared or equipped to deal with such a calamity.

 

A real symptom of family dysfunction is the invariable declarations of “I won’t do such-and-such until so-and-so apologizes to me!”  Now, apology is an act of grace and dignity in human life that is often in order but is surely best received when self-initiated.  Legislated as a conditional statute among historically bickering family members already laboring under years of aberrational thinking, suspicions, and jealousies, it serves only to raise the temperature and deepen feelings of guilt and inadequacy. 

 

I hope I’m doing okay with my own children and stepchildren.  Safe to say that nobody is owing anybody an apology and we travel together well and we all enjoy talking, board games, the movies, a spontaneous meal out, keeping a bit of distance from one another’s business, and nobody can even recall the last time somebody was screaming or slamming doors from one generation to the next.  We're not perfect, but we're not percolating, either.

 

Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination."  He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To find out more about Ben, go to: www.benkamin.com 

More Ben Kamin articles, click here

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC


At this moment, my hands are shaking and I can’t catch my breath.  It’s all I can do to hit the proper keys on the keyboard. Adrenaline is coursing through my veins, and the ‘precipitating event’ was nearly an hour ago.

 

What was the experience that shook me to my core, you ask?  It was an encounter with my teenage daughter. 

 

Now this 16-year-old is genuinely a good kid.  We often describe her as the “punk-girl-next-door.”  She is smart, loving, and fiercely loyal.  Like most kids – yes, even teenagers – she really wants to please and do the ‘right’ thing.

 

Sometimes, though, its like she backs herself up against a wall, and she’s gonna come out swinging (not literally), no matter what happens.

 

Sound familiar?  We all have those moments when our kids, spouses, co-workers – or, heaven forbid, even ourselves – lose touch with reality for a moment and shift into pure “reactivity” mode. (What to do when we’re the ones out of control is important, but the subject of another blog.)

 

The challenge here is to figure out what to do when we’re witnessing a scene from the “Exorcist” in our own lives.  How do we meet that irrational energy without actively helping the situation to escalate out of control?

 

There is a simple answer, with two parts, neither of which is easy. 

 

First, we must embrace the fundamental principle that other people’s mood management is about them, not about us.  Second, we must choose to keep the focus on the other person without taking that behavior personally.  As I said:  maybe simple, but not easy!

 

Here’s what happened.  My daughter stood at the bottom of the stairs, demanding explanation and trying to negotiate.  I stood in the doorway to the family room, standing firm, and (very) tightly clenching my hands into fists by my side.  She raised another objection.  I took another deep breath.  She insisted things were different.  I walked out of view for a moment, took another breath, and pressed my palms really tightly together (they couldn’t get any tighter!).

 

This went on for what seemed like an hour, but in reality was probably only about 7 minutes.  At some point – I honestly don’t know exactly how – we reached a moment of pause.  I seized that moment to end the conflict. After all, the original content had long since disappeared in the passion of the encounter. Continuing it would have served no one.

 

So the adrenaline rush I’m experiencing didn’t come from yelling or arguing, pleading or demanding.  The intensity came from listening, staying (mostly) calm, trying above all to keep my cool.  OMG, I feel like I’m ready to explode!

 

Now I know there are John Rosemond followers out there who would challenge my exercise in patience (did I mention how hard my hands were pressed?).  Controlling types would have me insist, draw the gauntlet, and walk away.  And I did – sorta. 

 

I walked away from shifting the focus of the encounter from her to me. My daughter’s inability to control her frustration – her reactivity in the moment – had nothing to do with me.  It was her challenge, and I feel for her.  Instead of muddying the waters in the heat of things by shifting the issue (“how dare she defy me!”), I kept the attention on her and the issue at hand.

 

Recognizing that she was not in a rational place, how could I best support her?  She needed to do what I asked – not because I asked, but because she had given her word and needed to learn to hold herself to it.  When I got clear on why it was important –that it was about her learning, not about my need for compliance – everything shifted for me!

 

As long as she was showing me respect – albeit defiance – I chose to make a distinction: her difficulty managing frustration is not the same thing as disrespecting me.  This choice allowed her to regain her dignity when we found that blessed pause (yes, even teens deserve their dignity).

 

Is it hurtful that my child didn’t show me direct respect by following a clear direction?  Sure it was. But when I think about it, she had apologized for screaming in the thick of things, and reigned it in a notch.  Pretty good, actually, given how riled up she was feeling. 

 

Understand, I am no saint. We’ve had some pretty major rows that I hold myself responsible for escalating. In the past, whenever I’ve taken her defiance personally, it has always added another layer, replacing the issue at hand with a new distraction.  This time, I took a different approach – and it was significantly more effective.

 

Later, I talked to her about how I felt.  At another time she’ll be able to see how that could be seen as disrespectful.  And it will have a greater impact – remember, she’s really a good kid who wants to do well, and genuinely loves and respects her mother.

 

We all know people who are hot-headed, impulsive, or have a hard time handling frustration.  When we recognize that as THEIR challenge, and refuse to take it personally, it goes a long way to maintaining our relationships.  Most of the time, they don’t mean to be hurtful.  In fact, they’re not enjoying it, either. 

 

Fifteen minutes after the ‘event,’ my daughter and I sit next to each other in the car. As she reaches over to hug me good-bye (told you she is a good kid!), she cries softly and says she’s sorry.   I assure her it’s okay – she handled things better than in the past, and I handled things better, too.  In fact, I realize aloud, we did great!  And I told her just that.

 

So here’s What I Know Now:

 

1.    **Maintaining calm under the most trying of circumstances is a first step to curbing the escalation of someone else’s reactivity.


2.    **Not taking things personally is a critical second step. 


3.    **Keeping attention on the issue at hand helps a lot.


4.    **Waiting until a calmer time to address the outburst is more effective.


5.    **And finally, and perhaps most critical, celebrate the little successes and catch yourself  'being good."

 

This add-on lesson is key: in communication and relationships, the goal isn’t perfection, it’s improvement.

 

Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a Life, Leadership and Executive Coach and the founder of Touchstone Coaching.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.

 

Read more articles by Elaine Taylor-Klaus here.

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Jan 02

Oprah Winfrey’s first name is actually a spelling mistake made by a birthing nurse in deep Mississippi in 1954.  The child, born into abject poverty and a dysfunctional family situation, was named for the biblical character, Orpah—sister-in-law of Ruth, the consummate convert to Judaism, and a maternal ancestor, according to Christianity, of Jesus.  But our Oprah, the ultimate American media icon and true philanthropist, the racial precursor of Barack Obama, is perfectly suited to be herself—even if her name, her credo, and her soul don’t line up in letters.

 

Last year, in yet another stirring and admirable personal drama, Ms. Winfrey went very public with her latest weight gain.  She even authorized a cover photo for her magazine, O, showing the 200+ pound Oprah gazing painfully at her earlier svelte and flat-stomached self from several years ago.  She made several printed, Internet, and televised statements decrying her failure and vowing to return to her slimmer self.  She has inspired many to deal more scrupulously with the maddening crucible of weight control and our vast insecurities.

 

There is hardly a more pervasive and spiritually-challenging struggle in American life, our vanities and narcissism notwithstanding, than the struggle that so many of us—particularly women—are constantly afflicted with than our weight and physical appearance.  This is not to say that there aren’t an extraordinary number of fat men in the US.  It is to say that men are not held to the excruciating, even callous standards that the media, the fashion world, food industry, the gossip culture, and, yes, men impose on women. 

 

Men can indulge and look like roly-poly caricatures, and—their metabolic and cardiovascular systems aside—still not be humiliated at work, in a store, or even on television.

 

In making her confessional so public and bold (a continuing tradition that speaks to Oprah Winfrey’s disarming honesty and self-revelation), this remarkable woman has again proven that she is one of the most spiritually-centered and mentally healthy women or men in this country.

 

Oprah Winfrey, the child of unmarried and reckless parents, rose from destitution and a tormented youth to become the most powerful and influential woman in television and, according to Forbes Magazine, the world's most highly paid entertainer. Though primarily recognized as a talk show hostess, Winfrey also produces and occasionally acts in television movies and feature films that are invariably value-redemptive.  But her greatest wealth is the moral currency she brings to the American social scene—with her candor, convictions, and unrelenting commitment to self-improvement.  Even as she glitters, we still see the vulnerable and abused child from Mississippi who overcame exploitation, racism, stereotyping in terms of skin color and body shape, and is now our de facto cultural prime minister.

 

In an America brimming dangerously with anorexia, teenage suicide, blatant chauvinism, a saturation of antidepressants, a sea of vanity, and viral greed, Oprah Winfrey has never been afraid to name symptoms and advocate cures.  This standard she has now again applied objectively to herself and I say, God bless her.

 

Ben Kamin is one of America's best known rabbis, a multicultural spiritualist, NYT Op-ed contributor and author of seven books, including his latest, "NOTHING LIKE SUNSHINE: A Story in the Aftermath of the MLK Assassination."  He is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. To find out more about Ben, go to: www.benkamin.com 

More Ben Kamin articles, click here

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC

Persimmons, Asian pears, pomegranates and clementines…the turn of the New Year is a terrific time to introduce into your diet new and yummy foods that are good for you.  Enough with too many holiday cookies, glasses of eggnog and fruit cakes! Make eating healthier part of your new year’s resolution – doing so can help you shed unwanted winter weight and can provide vital nutrients your body needs to ward off colds and flu.

 

Rather than sticking with your standard fruit and vegetable routine, how about trying something new? Winter fruits and vegetables are so beautiful and chock full of wonderful nutrients that are the perfect antidote to the overindulgence of the holidays. 


Pomegranate skins are brilliant shades of reds and pinks; persimmons are varying shades of orange; and dates are a rich velvety brown. Using these in your winter dishes can add color and texture to your food – along with vitamins and fiber. Pomegranates and persimmons are loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber, all ingredients that are needed to ward off the pesky colds going around this winter. Dates are fat-free and cholesterol free, and are rich in non-heme iron (the kind of iron found in plants, not animals), potassium, fiber and B vitamins.

 

There are countless lush, beautiful fruits and vegetables that I could discuss, but instead, I encourage you to break out of your comfort zone and try at least one new fruit or vegetable per week. Spend some time wandering through the produce department of a grocery store and pick something whose color or texture speaks to you. Maybe it’s a bunch of dark green kale, a box of bright clementines, or rich yellow-gold Asian pear.  If your grocery store is limited in its produce offerings, search out a local farmers market. Many cities host farmers markets in the winter months and their offerings can be more varied than a traditional supermarket.


So, if possible, try to incorporate some of these delicious and colorful foods into your diet as part of your overall New Year's strategy. 


Your body will thank you.

 

Dr. Elizabeth Ricanati is the mother of three children and founding medical director of The Cleveland Clinic's LifeStyle 180 program.  She is a regular columnist for ShareWIK.com 

 

More Dr. Elizabeth Ricanati articles, click here

 

 ©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010

Jan 02

This time of year, you can’t get out of the “What’s your new year’s resolution?” conversation.  Judging from television commercials and web ads, losing weight is at the top of many people’s lists. 

 

My new year’s resolutions used to be quests that would turn me into a Martha Stewart protégé.  A really skinny one.  Who was also in good shape.

 

But no more. 

 

It’s not a bad thing to establish new eating and exercise habits.  But, like so many others, my tendency to overeat and skip the daily exercise regimen is usually due to incessant issues of stress and lack of time. 

 

So, I decided made reducing stress and making more time for myself part of my goals for the year.

 

In other words, I avoid things that annoy me and/or waste my time.

 

It started a few years ago, when I decided I would not go to WalMart after Thanksgiving.  This accomplished both goals: more time, less stress.  Because WalMart is a cultural center in our community.  I can’t enter that windowless cement-block cavern without meeting someone I know – which leads to a conversation that wasn’t in the schedule — and buying numerous items I didn’t know I needed.  


I never left that place in a good mood.

 

No more.  My six-week experiment went so well, I never turned back.  It’s been years since I stepped foot inside a WalMart.

 

But why stop there?

 

I quit beating myself up for not keeping up with my Grandmother’s standards of housekeeping.  (They were higher than Martha’s.)  That means I ignore cobwebs until I have time to dust. 

 

I don’t answer my kids’ dumb questions anymore, either.  If they ask where the milk is, I just let them answer the question on their own in the pregnant silence. 

 

I leave a little early in the morning to avoid the morning carpool congestion at my kids’ schools.  They don’t necessarily enjoy getting out of bed five minutes early; it’s their gift to me.

 

If I trip over toys or shoes left out, I place them in the “you’ll have to buy this back” basket.

 

And if anyone asks why, I tell them: I’m avoiding things that annoy me or waste my time.

 

It’s the best diet I’ve ever been on.

 

Humor writer Hallie Bandy is the mother of four children and lives on a farmette in rural Kentucky--both of which provide more than enough fodder for her writing.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist.
 

 


More Hallie Bandy articles, click here.
  

 


©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC  

 

On my way to school a few days before Christmas, my neighborhood lane was filled with cars on their way to work and school.  The temperature was about 5º at 7:20 a.m. I noticed from a block away that a little girl seemed to be stuck to a street sign.
 
She had literally attached her entire tongue to the pole.  With flailing arms and a wailing voice she desperately tried to signal for help. 

Her bus driver stopped, opened the door, closed the door and drove on.

I blinked a couple times because I couldn’t believe what I just witnessed.  Yes, her bus driver LEFT THAT LITTLE GIRL, WHO WAS CLEARLY IN DISTRESS, ALONE AND DROVE OFF!!!!! 

I immediately turned the corner and ran out of the car to help her, feeling confident that someone else would join in on the rescue.  I only had a small amount of water in my car which proved inadequate to release her.   After telling her my name and explaining that I was a teacher at the school down the block, I promised I would not leave her stranded but had to run to the corner gas station to purchase more water.  I thought, “Surely someone else will be with her upon my return.” 

No such luck! 

It took over 12 ounces of warm water to release her tongue from the pole.  With a bloody mouth and frozen tears she willingly climbed into my car as I drove her down the block to her home.  Her father was out on the sidewalk and was shocked to see us both there.

I live in a small, historical town of homogenous folks.  The community comes out in force for every parade, every street dance, and for every fundraiser for a family or cause in need.  Why then was no one able to pull over and help this child on a bitter morning when she so clearly needed their help?  Do we only help our neighbor when it is convenient to us?  Are we only willing to get involved as long as we have been able to preplan?  A large part of my love for my town died that day.  

When I finally got to school, I called the school bus company president.  I had hoped for an admission from him that his driver should have responded better.  Instead, I got a bunch of excuses that included, “If the driver were to exit the bus and the brake lines failed, then we would have a bus full of children rolling down the street out of control.”

Are you kidding me?  Every new driver learns at 15 ½ years of age that you turn the wheels of the vehicle against the curb to prevent such a mishap. 

The school bus company president continued by saying there is a state law preventing the driver from exiting the bus when children are on board.  I find this hard to believe as some drivers must assist disabled students on and off the bus.  Excuses, excuses.  Does this mean that no matter the circumstance, a school bus driver will not assist one of his riders if she be in need and is not actually on the bus? 

I told the school bus president that that bus driver could’ve obeyed the law, stayed on his bus but radioed for the police—anyone, to come help that little girl.  He also should’ve waited until help arrived.

By chance, I ran into the girl’s father the next day at the grocery store.  I reintroduced myself and asked how she was doing.  He said that her tongue was fine but she did have a cut on her upper lip.  He told me that she spent a better part of the day and night randomly crying.

“She hasn’t been crying because she’s hurt or scared, she is crying because the driver just left her standing there,” her father said. 

Everyday, millions of children board buses to travel to school.  Your taxes pay for the privilege of riding the bus, that is, if you live outside of a one mile radius of the school.  If not, your child must either walk, or pay an additional cost to ride.  Either way, you are paying. 

I wonder if you are getting your money’s worth? 

My own children are no longer in need of bus service, but I remember watching my youngest enter the bus and feeling sure that he would be safe.  After hearing stories of the things that occurred on the bus, I started driving him myself and continued that for ten years until he could drive himself and his sister.

I am not here to attack school bus drivers but I do want parents to be aware of potential pitfalls involved in riding the school bus.  No matter how old your children are, they are always in need of a parent to watch over them, protect and help them navigate this great big world they live in.  And when our children ride the school bus, the only parent there is often the bus driver. 

We would like to think that they are safe in their schools and on the school buses but we can never be 100% sure.


Margaret Andersen is the mother of three teenagers and is a middle school teacher somewhere in the Midwest.  She is a regular ShareWIK.com columnist. For more Margaret Anderson articles, click here.  

 



©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC
 

 

 

Jan 17

As a mother of four boys, I often hear, “Oh, you must have your hands full with four boys.”

 

Hands full?  It’s my ears that are full, listening to guffaws and giggles after the mention of male private parts and inappropriate bodily noises.   Not to mention the flabbergasting things I have to say to keep them from killing themselves, someone else and/or each other.

 

In one day, I’ve scolded, “A light bulb will not cook the creepy crawlers,” and, “Of course the dog’s invisible fence collar will work when it’s around your brother’s neck!”

 

When I saw my third son, who was then 5-years old, holding a garbage bag over his head , getting ready to jump over the top edge of our (very high) tree fort, I quickly yelled, “STOP! A garbage bag is a terrible parachute!” 

 

Unfortunately, I knew that because his older brothers had tried the same thing when they were around that age.

 

One son seemed to be particularly fascinated with sticking things in other people’s ears.  After one such incident which required a trip to the principal’s office for my son and a trip to the ER for his friend, out of my mouth flew, “Why did you think that was a good idea?” 

 

“Because I wanted to see if it would come out his other ear,” he said, seemingly perplexed I could ask such a stupid question.   A month or so later, I had to ask this same son, “Why didn’t you see if the Legos would come through your digestive tract first, instead of making your little brother eat them?” 

 

On another trip to the hospital ER, I had to ask of my youngest son, “Why did you think wearing Superman underpants would enable you to fly off of the top bunk?”

 

Saying this stuff defies logic and makes you feel as crazy after it comes out of your mouth as the behavior that solicited it. 

 

Many-a-dinner has been interrupted with flatulence.  I tried to put a curb on it by requiring them to put money into my “Swine Fine Bucket” every time they “slipped.”  That is, until I overheard one of them bragging about being the most flatulent at the dinner table. 

 

That night we discussed setting higher goals.

 

I remember the moment they added the word “booger” to their repertoire, substituting the phrase, “you know what,” for “booger,” so as not to get a rise out of me.

 

“You know what is on the window, you know what is on the chair, you know what is on the table, you know what is in my hair,” my oldest sang with glee, making his younger brothers collapse to the floor in laughter.

 

I didn’t want to, but the situation actually called for me to say, “Ok boys, let’s not discuss or sing about boogers anymore!” 

 

I’ve admonished, “Don’t smear peanut butter on the dog; don’t use the Spaghetti-O sauce to write your name on the counter” and, “Fuss all you want, you’re NOT having ketchup on your cereal.”  I’ve also said, “Please do not eat your sleeve,” Do not use your sleeve to wipe your nose,” and “Stop chewing holes in your shirt collar.”

 

Answers to questions about whether or not they washed their hands before eating were cut off prematurely with, “And having the dog lick them doesn’t count!” 

 

Dirt used to be one of my boys’ favorite collections, which never bothered me until my second son tried to plant flowers and vegetables in his pockets—not forgetting that seeds need plenty of water to grow and a few earthworms probably would help, too.  After my washing machine clogged with and, dirt and seeds, flooding both the laundry room and the basement, a new rule was laid down: No more gardening in your pants. 

 

I’ve had to beg all of my kids, at one time or another, to stop biting the dog, stop licking the dog, stop eating the dog’s food and to stop drinking the poor dog’s water. 

 

I have also been forced to say, “Don’t paint on your brother,” “Your brother didn’t need a haircut today,” “Quit eating the soap,” and “What did you think was inside this pillow?” 

 

After one particular long day of begging, bargaining, pleading and cajoling, I was really looking forward to a long, solitary soak in my tub.  As I sank down in the bubbles, I landed on something sharp and gritty.  Pulling a fistful of very sandy, very dirty army men from the bottom made me realize I’d have to start the next day with yet another edict: No more building bunkers for their army men in my bathtub.

 

My boys are now 23, 20, 17 and 14.  The messes they make now are bigger and tend to cost more to clean up.  Bodily noises still crack them up, they still can’t keep their hands off of each other and they never want to wear coats, even when it’s snowing outside.  And though my oldest lives on his own and the rest are relatively self-sufficient, I still can’t believe some of the stuff I have to say to correct them.  

 

Take this morning, for instance.  I had to ask the two youngest to stop jumping and tapping both hands on top of the doorframe every time they walked into the kitchen.   Every doorframe in my house is thick with fingerprints.    

 

And then, minutes later, my second son, who was running late for church, took his bowl of instant oatmeal in the car and actually wanted to carry it into church with him to finish eating.     

 

That’s right.  I actually had to say…   

 

Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com
   


 

Read more Diana Keough articles, here. 
 

 

©2010 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

 

Jun 05
At the end of March, I was asked to speak at the TEDx event put on by Creative Coast and taking place in Savannah, Georgia.  The theme of this year's event was "Inspiring Innovation."  

We were given some guidelines, like "no selling from stage," "don't toot your own horn," and encouragement to challenge our audience and make them think.  

Immediately, I knew I would talk about the power of personal story--that story that lives inside each of us that we try to hide or somehow reveal every time we interact with someone.   

The video below tells the backstory of what gave birth to the idea of ShareWIK.com.  

I would love to hear your comments.  And please share if you feel someone else would benefit from watching this.  




Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com.



For more Diana Keough articles, click here.


 

Other articles by Diana Keough:  The top 5 sites to check out if your child has autism;  Losing My Lisa;  Seasonal Allergies: Southern Discomfort;  7 Tips to Beat Depression After Divorce;  Are Kids Addicted to Web Porn?;  Web Master: There’s Nothing Parents Can Do To Stop Internet Porn;  Female Facial Hair: Not By The Hair of Our Chinny-Chin Chins;  Pushing My Third Son Out of the Nest Using Some Of My Best Wisdom;  Four Sons Later, I've Learned Nothing;  Arrhythmia: Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT)The Encouragement Box;  The Meaning of Nostalgia: Trying to Find My Way Home Again;  New Site, New Name, New Vibe

 

 

©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2011

Sep 12

I don’t shop at WalMart.  I can give you a host of reasons, but it probably all boils down to the fact that I don’t like buying my underwear and groceries at the same place.

 

Trouble is, it’s so darn convenient to pick up that six-pack of cotton briefs.  The packaging certainly makes you think that the product meets the minimum fashion and comfort requirements.  And, it’s right there.   Ready to throw in the cart, along with the other necessities of life, like school supplies and chocolate.

 

Shopping for good underwear requires a more focused expedition.  And, let’s face it: when life gets busy, underwear shopping inevitably ends up on the bottom of the to-do list. While the wrong shoes can create a fashion nightmare — or worse yet, shin splints or ingrown toenails — uncomfortable underwear can be tolerated if you manage to stay in the same position for an extended length of time.  And, while you’ll likely get a sideways glance if you wear the wrong dress to an uppity party, no one checks to see if you have the latest in underwear fashion. 

 

But I’ve found out:  that’s what friends are for.

 

Awhile back, a friend spent a few days at a mutual friend’s house.  Apparently, the hostess’s well-intentioned offer to do some laundry revealed a shocking secret:  our friend had succumbed to impulse buying at her local Mart.  Yes, she owned — and obviously wore — granny briefs. 

 

The revelation was followed by incessant teasing and giggling, and then a guided tour of the Bloomingdale’s foundations department, where some very fine DKNY panties were purchased — as a gift. 

 

Because, friends don’t let friends wear granny pants.

 

Perhaps I should have taken heed to the implied warning, and packed a little more carefully when I went to visit the same friend.  While I can honestly say I didn’t have any granny pants, I have to admit, it had been awhile since I’d taken the time to shop.  Inevitably, the kind offer to do some laundry revealed a few tattered undergarments, and, not long after, I found myself browsing the lingerie department with my friend.  As it happened, my daughter was along, which just compounded the embarrassment. 

 

At their insistence, and against all my preconceived ideas, I agreed to try a new-to-me style of underwear.  I honestly couldn’t understand how the store could charge what that tiny piece of fabric cost, but my daughter and friend both insisted nothing is more comfortable. 

 

I brought home the new skivvies and, throwing every tightly wound notion of propriety out the window, tried them on.  I had no idea how comfortable thongs actually are.  Really.

 

How do you adequately thank a friend for buying you a thong?  This was not on my mother’s list of “Nice Things to Do for a Friend.”   Or maybe it was, and she just didn’t let me in on the secret.

 

Along life’s journey, we get so busy, we resort to the easiest solutions — a six-pack of underwear on our way from the produce aisle to frozen foods.  A good friend will remind us: comfort matters, and taking care of personal details is a good thing.

 

Last week, my daughter went shopping for a friend of hers who is headed off to college.  She called me from the mall.  “I bought her a really cute thong,” she told me, giggling. 

 

She knows how to be a friend.


Humor writer, Hallie Bandy, is the mother of four children and lives on a farmette in rural Kentucky--both of which provide more than enough fodder for her writing.  She is a regularShareWIK.com columnist.

 

More Hallie Bandy articles, click here.





©ShareWIK Media Group, LLC 2010


Dec 19

It wasn’t your usual family gathering.  My mom had summoned all six of her children home at Christmas so she could go from room to room, assigning each of us her possessions. 

 

She was dying of a terminal illness, already a year into her death march.  One down, three to go, it turned out. 

 

“I think this will look nice in your front hall,” she said to one of my older brothers, her hand resting on a chest of drawers.  And so it went, on and on.  A macabre ritual demanded by our well-organized matriarch, able to square off against Death in the realm of the mundane, but unable to face the broken and stressed out relationships looking right back at her.

 

“And I don’t want any fighting about any of this after I’m gone,” she said. 

 

This was my mom at her finest: in control of both her possessions and our fragile feelings.  We were her obedient children once more, as well as contestants in her game show of random kindness. 

 

I didn’t want her stuff, but then again, I did.  For that was the yardstick of her love: she gave to her favorites, her favorite things. I was a little girl, again, and I hated her for making me feel that way.  All I wanted was to hear her tell me how much she loved me.  But a family heirloom covered in dust, broken and tucked into the back of her closet would have to suffice.  It was the only love she knew how to give me. 

 

When all of her earthly possessions were dispensed, she told us there was one more thing.

 

“I want you all to know,” she began slowly. “That when I feel the end of my life is near, and while I’m still able, I’m going to take my own life.”

 

She sat looking at us, with her hands folded tightly and placed demurely off to the side of her lap.  Her spine was rigid and straight against the back of the chair; her chin was raised high, her legs crossed at the ankles.  She had orchestrated this moment and I could tell it was playing out exactly as planned.  She had declared her intentions, trying to extend a hand of control upon a disease already so out of control.  And now, she sat there, quietly, triumphantly, almost daring us to stop her or even object.  And then she went on, saying something about how much our family’s been through and wanting to spare herself from a death without dignity.  She said something else about it being her right.  I tried to protest, but you didn’t change my mom’s mind once it was made up.  No, she just bulldozed her way through yours.

 

After I returned to my own home in another state, I tried to go back to my daily routine but found myself startled every time the phone rang, anticipating the news that my mom was dead.  But as the weeks tumbled into months, it was my mom calling, telling me only that she was taking another trip, going back to school, planting her vegetable garden, repotting her geraniums, lunching with friends or simply calling to say “hi.”

 

“Just checking in,” she’d say whenever I’d answer, launching into all the happenings of her day, including another doctor’s visit, where she learned a new pain was caused by her advancing disease.  During many of these phone calls, she’d be somber and reflective, as she talked about her burgeoning personal faith, her hopefulness in seeing my children again, or how good the sun felt on her skin, that she said, “felt so cold all the time now.”

 

She seemed to be experiencing life with a new richness—thrilled with the simple and content in her acceptance of the inevitable.  As her horizons narrowed to only the view outside her bedroom window, there was no complaining for the opportunities lost, only thankfulness for the gift of another sunrise, and the sound of my voice.  The physical pain she had feared so much, was controlled with medication and never came close to the emotional agony she twisted in prior to her terminal diagnosis.

 

“Life is such a precious gift from God,” she told me.  “Don’t waste your life or any of the time that God gives to you.  Promise me that, okay?” 

 

We battled for so long, both of us feeling completely justified, and so full of pride and self-righteousness.  The deadline of her death launched her on a soul trip and in taking me along, we were able to call a truce, leaving me to mourn what could have been, not the torment of what was.

 

In the hospice, as she lay gasping for breath, holding my hand, looking right into my eyes, she said, “This is the sickest I’ve been isn’t it?” 

 

I held her hand and thanked her for being the best mom she knew how to be.  I thanked her for so many long talks and hugs and for not killing herself. 

 

She smiled and squeezed my hand back with all her might as she struggled to say, “I would’ve missed out on so much.”

 

Diana Keough is a Pulitzer- Prize nominated journalist, the mother of four sons and CEO, co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com
   


 

Read more Diana Keough articles, here. 
 

 

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

Dec 19

Last week, during the process of doing a “hard reset” on my cell phone, I was asked to answer the following security question by the customer service rep:  What’s my favorite food?  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what I had given as my answer when I had first registered this phone.

 

“Try steak,” I told him.       

 

That wasn’t it. 

 

“Meat?”  Nope.  “Dark chocolate?  Nope.  Neither was Italian food, red wine or mushrooms.  I couldn’t narrow it down because frankly, I don’t really have one favorite.    

 

Take breakfast.  Some mornings I crave Rice Chex.  Other mornings, I just have to have scrambled eggs.  Sometimes I’m not hungry.    

 

I felt like I stepped right into that scene from “Runaway Bride,” when Richard Gere is pointing out to Julia Roberts’ character that her choice of “favorite” eggs in the morning changed to match whatever her fiancé du jour preferred.  And because her preference was swayed so easily by others, Gere said, she couldn’t possible know who she really was.     

 

Now, I’m as much of a sucker for chick flicks as the next girl, but I have a problem with that scene because changing your mind from eggs Benedict to over-easy is superficial and just a preference.   Most of us want a little variety.  And preferences are bound to change over time and have little, if anything, to do with knowing who you are.   

 

Knowing who you are has to do with your value system, those principles on which you won’t compromise:  honesty, integrity, character and love. 

 

This whole concept of “knowing who I was” was something I thought a lot about while I watched both parents die, four years apart, in the early 90s.  My parents were well known in our community for their work in church, politics and in multiple charitable organizations.  My mom, a beautiful socialite; my dad a partner in a prestigious law firm.  Together, they traveled the world.  And though they looked good, no one knew what very different people they were inside of our home.

 

My mom had a mean streak and explosive temper that sometimes erupted in beatings.  She was extremely critical and many of her comments bordered on cruel.   Most mornings, we didn’t know what mood of hers would greet us. 

 

My dad, who was married to my mother for 40 years and fathered six children, lived a double life for 27 years, hanging out in gay bars and keeping boyfriends in apartments.  Ultimately, he infected himself and my mother with AIDS.  

 

They both blamed the other for their misery.

 

The sicker my parents became, the less able they were to do what they were known for in our community.  Near the end of their lives, they were physically unrecognizable. They couldn’t walk, could barely speak and were completely exposed and vulnerable.  Gone was their ability to pretend that what they owned, what they did, where they traveled, how they looked or even, what they preferred to eat for breakfast, defined who they were.     

 

And as I sat beside them both on their death beds, all I could think was:  what a waste of a life.  To live a life so filled with lies, leaving behind so much pain and heartache.  A few of my siblings wanted nothing to do with my dad; a few couldn’t bear to be with either one of them as they died.  And as my parents each drew their last breaths, the reality of the havoc they had wrought played out in fractured relationships left behind and ensuing years I, and my siblings, spent piecing together our emotional brokenness.    

 

In the hospice where my mom spent her last days, I talked to other people whose dying parent lay in a nearby room.  It surprised me how many confided what lousy fathers their dads were; or how distant; or how he left their mother for a younger woman, breaking up their family.  Like me, they knew a different man (or woman) than the world outside knew.  Often family members could hardly stand to be in the same room with the person dying—they’d visit once, and I’d never see them again.  It was heartbreaking to watch so many of the people ultimately die alone. 

 

I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t want to have to go through the process of dying to be stripped bare and find out who I was and what really mattered.  I wanted to stop pretending, right then and there, that I was something I wasn’t based merely on whims and petty preferences.  I wanted to make decisions based on how I’d feel five years later. I wanted to live authentically, letting go of ego and demanding to have my own needs met, choosing instead to live instead based on doing what was right. 

 

Am I a writer?  Yes.  Am I a mother of four sons?  Yes.  Do I like to cook, work out, read and hang out with my family?  Yes.  But when all is said and done, what kind of human being do I truly want to be?     

 

Whether we realize it or not, most of us live our lives based on an “unseen observer,” that person we want to impress, please and hear say, “I’m proud of you.”  For some it’s God; for others it’s our father, boss, neighbor, spouse or our children.  

 

With my parents gone, who was I going to live for, try to impress and please?  What kind of person was I going to be when no one is watching?  What was that going to be based on?   

 

In a workshop at a women’s retreat I attended shortly after my mom died, I was handed a ball of clay and instructed to make a sculpture that portrayed who I thought I was in God’s eyes.  After sitting there stumped for a very long time, I began to mold my clay into a pitcher, making the opening and its spout just about the same size.  I am no artist, but what I was trying to convey is that I wanted to open myself up as far as possible to allow God to pour Himself into me which would allow me to be filled up so full that I could pour myself into and serve others. 

 

The other day, my friend Henna told me about meeting a woman at an ashram whose eyes emanated so much love that it made her weep.  Henna, who left behind a six-figure corporate salary to coach women in business, said ever since that experience, she’s wanted to be the kind of person whose eyes made others feel loved and accepted.  She wanted to live a life of meaning, to make an impact on others’ lives. 

 

I do, too.   

 

Deciding who I am and what type of person I want to be is something that occurs every moment of every day with every decision I make.  Am I going to lie or tell the truth?  Am I going to lose my temper or hold my tongue?  Am I going to be kind or rude? Am I going to cheat on taxes or not?  What kind of person am I when no one is looking?  Am I going to live a life of secrets or with nothing to hide? 

 

As I watched my mom gasp for air in her last moments of life, I knew I really wanted to be the same person inside my house, interacting with my children and husband, as I was with work colleagues, my friends and people in the community. 

 

I am embarrassed to admit how often I fail at this.  But as singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan says, “When I fail, I get up and turn back toward the goal as though my life depended on it.”

 

Indeed.  My life—my authentic life—depends on it. 

 

Diana Keough is a Pulitzer- Prize nominated journalist, the mother of four sons and CEO, co-founder and editor-in-chief of ShareWIK.com
   


 

Read more Diana Keough articles, here. 
 

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC   

Feb 02

I swear they heard us coming, those grocery store employees, and felt helpless to protect themselves against the onslaught of “hungry-family-of-six-passing-through-on-way-home-from-church.”  We had trouble written all over us, and we didn’t disappoint.


I just wanted to pick up a few things for lunch, really.  A little of this, a little of that.  A quick stop, I promised my four boys.  They respond with the cacophony of loud, whiny protestations that echo in the grocery store’s foyer, making us the center of attention before we’re officially in the store.


After wrestling my 2-year old into the grocery cart seat, I’m so thankful for the belt that will keep him in one place, legally.  I have to beat the other three boys off the cart while they climb all over each other jockeying for the “chosen boys to sit in cart” position, yanking on each other’s shirts.  One of them must’ve missed Tommy’s shirt and grabbed his pants instead, ‘cause there he is, his little white bum exposed to the entire produce section.  For a split second, there’s blessedly rare silence, as we all realize Tommy's standing there mooning the cantaloupe.


“You made me naked,” Tommy yells, cranking back his arm and planting a fist firmly in the gut of one of his older brothers, who responds in kind.  We’ve made our usual grand entrance, and I still haven’t put a single thing in my cart.  In fact, I’m beginning to forget what I needed besides a vacation.


“Twinkle, twinkle little star,” my littlest one sings as loud as he can, breaking the rhythm only to scream out the name of things he recognizes on the store’s shelves as they whiz by him.  I know we have exactly 30 seconds before recognition turn to temper tantrum, so I start giving out, “Please go get” assignments to the older guys, two of whom are trying to take swipes at each other, while the other one informs me about all the things he just can’t live without.


“What was that all about?’” my husband asks, peeking around a corner, arms loaded with stuff I’m pretty sure we don’t need.


“It’s over, hon. You can pretend you’re with us again,” I suggest, but instead he dumps the junk and goes in search of more, leaving me alone with my little crooner. 


A sweet, kind-looking older woman notices my cherubic-faced singing angel and says, “Oh, isn’t he darling?”  To which he responds with a rippingly loud Austin Powers-accented, “Yeaaaaaaaaah babeeeeeeeey!”  The color drains from her face, as she backs away with a shocked and horrified expression.  I’m not sure if she’s going to throw up or what, but I’m fairly certain she’s listening to my blubbering vows that I would never, ever, in a million years, let my two-year-old watch a movie like that.


“In fact, I’ve never seen that movie either, really, I swear.  Ya gotta believe me, please,” I cry to her retreating back, praying she won’t report me to the authorities.


“Jesus wuvs me dis I know,” he begins to warble.


“Oh, nice try,” I tell him, trying to find room in the cart to place the first item actually on my list.  But the thing is heaped so high with enough calorie-loaded, sugar-packed, neon-colored and artificially sweetened stuff to make even the Easter Bunny sick and I still don’t know what we’re going to have for lunch.


When I meet up with everyone at the checkout, the two middle boys are still swinging at each other.  Only now, they’re arguing about which of the superheroes wear blue tights, while my husband tries to balance yet another bag of chips on top of the hundred boxes of dry cereal.


“All boys, huh?” the woman in front of me ask, holding the hands of her two wide-eyed, apprehensive little girls who are mesmerized by the constant motion of my tussling little bear cubs.  I was about to tell her how blessed I feel to have all these boys when my “little blessings” start threatening to depants Tommy again.  Amid Tommy’s shrieks and pleas for mercy, all I can do is croak back, “Yeah, all boys.”


Two hundred dollars later we’re outta there as the door closes behind us and the employees, as well as the remaining customers, heave a collective sigh of relief, I’m certain.


“Any ideas for lunch?” my husband asks on the way to the car.


“Yeah.  How ‘bout some chips and dry cereal?” 


Diana Keough is a Pulitzer- Prize nominated journalist, the mother of four sons and CEO,Editor-in-Chief of ShareWIK.com. 
   


 

Read more Diana Keough articles, here. 
 

 

©2012 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC    

©2011 ShareWIK Media Group, LLC. All rights reserved. ShareWIK does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information, please read our Additional Information, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

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