Parenting is No Joke (Part 1): When Strangers Attack via Social Media

I suppose I chose to never again have a dull life the moment I chose to adopt three boys. What I had no choice about, though, is that my “age of parenting” is coinciding with the explosive “age of social media” in which there are no solid rules of engagement or etiquette.

An almost peaceful night was disrupted by a text from a neighbor reading “Check the Facebook group for our neighborhood.” And there it was – a short video of my middle son riding down the street, their friend coming off someone’s lawn and onto the street on a bike, and my youngest walking behind the bike. That was it. A seemingly benign video but their big sin was infringing on someone’s grass.

I have explained to the boys countless times that they need to turn off lights, pee only into the toilet bowl, and stay off other people’s lawns. Despite the continuous reprimands, we seem to be making nonexistent or very slow progress. But I expect that since they are 8 and 10 years old and behavior change is difficult even for mature adults.

However, I also expect that if my neighbors have trouble with my children, they should find the parent and address the situation. I never expected to be called out on social media with “parents are not raising children with respect of others” when this individual has never ever met me. She does not know how hard I work to instill respect. She doesn’t know how many times I yell, punish, and reprimand the boys. She does not know that I work tirelessly to help other parents in this most challenging work, that I’m committed to the philosophy that it takes a village to raise a child and that we should all be helping each other.

And she does not know that I showed the video and the post to my boys that night as we sat on the bed and had another heart-to-heart talk about respecting other people and their property. She does not know that I cried as I explained how their behavior was being blamed on my parenting. The boys apologized over and over again and the youngest hugged me tight and said, “But you are a good mom. You are the best mom.”

The post was removed by 7:30 the next morning, but the sting remained. When I moved, I was searching for a neighborhood in which the boys could thrive. I was looking for a “nice community” in which neighbors supported each other. And so far all of my interactions with neighbors had been phenomenal. I suppose there’s always that one house to avoid.

So I looked up her address (county websites are so helpful), baked fresh chocolate-chip zucchini bread (zucchini from my next door neighbor’s garden) and took my little Cavadoodle on a walk up to the “richer” part of the neighborhood. Ringing the door bell, I waited as the inside dogs quieted down as the door opened. “Hello,” I said, “I’m the mom of the boys who were so disturbing to you this week. I just wanted to apologize that they appeared disrespectful to you. I can assure you that I’ve spoken to them numerous times about respect and staying off people’s property unless they have permission, but they are still young and they are still learning. I asked them to write an apology card for you. My contact information is inside in case you should ever need to reach me. But I do worry that you put their photos up online without my permission. It’s just not safe.” Pretty sure my neighbor had absolutely no idea what to say. She babbled, shocked. “I never expected you to do all this…(babble, babble)… I can tell that you are raising them well with all this effort you went through.”

So let’s remember this, folks. Do not judge the woman down the street as being an awful parent because her kids played in your yard. Be glad that the kids are outside and getting exercise and that your neighborhood is safe enough for them to do that.

Do not vent your complaints on social media unless you have a purpose in creating a better world, like pressuring representatives to vote for health care or companies to take care of their employees better. Social media is not a forum for you to criticize your neighbors.

Teach your children that someone is always watching them, parents, neighbors, teachers, strangers and God Almighty. And it’s very possible that someone is taking photos or videos, so be good and be safe.

And for me, I keep reminding myself that parenting is no joke. But I’m doing the best that I can (usually 🙂 ) and have to put strangers’ inane comments in their rightful place (the trash can!).

(PS – The next morning, said lady drove past tooting her horn “happily” and waved. She’s now my Bestie, apparently.)

 

Love will Stay Stronger than Hate

The other week I took the boys to see a movie with my neighbor and her two children. The back of the minivan shook with glee. The popcorn flowed over laps and floors. The moms constantly “shushed” the giddy kids as the movie began. But eventually, the story compelled them to quiet down, punctuated every once in awhile with a great contagious giggle.

There once was a group of Yeti’s who so feared continuing death and slaughter at the hands of man that they moved high up into the top of the mountains and created a layer of fog to hide the humans in the land below.

There once was a group of humans who believed that Yeti’s were so violent and dangerous that if they ever saw a Yeti, they would shoot to kill.

But, there also was once a Yeti named Migo who was so fascinated by the possibility of a “Small Foot” that he risked leaving his home to go see if these creatures really existed.

And, there once was a man named Percy who was so desperate for fame that he searched for the Yeti as a tool for popularity. But when his fellow men came out with guns and armor and shields to fight against the Yeti, Perry took a step forward in faith and solidarity. Standing together, Yeti and humans learned that they are more similar than they are different. They discovered that to dispel fear, they needed to begin to understand one another and to respect each other. They discovered that they did not need to live in fear, but could live in community.

Our world is filled with fear. We are so focused on how we are different from others, that we have become scared of those differences. We want to build up walls around us. We want to stick with “our own.” Instead of becoming more unified, the pressure is to become more polarized. More extreme. More scared.

And that fear leads to anger and anger leads to violence. Violence against those who are different. Violence against school children. Violence against anyone considered an “other.” Violence against the innocent. And this past week, that violence touched the lives of a peaceful community of people gathered for worship at the Tree of Life Synagogue in my former neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. In that moment, the lives of a Holocaust survivor, a physician, a couple, a grandfather, a dentist, a set of brothers, and other beloved family members were ended in a sea of blood. A sea of anger. A sea of fear.

As the days have crept on, as the funerals have taken place, as the songs have been sung at the vigils, as the community has marched and as the families have mourned, all of us have felt a deep, deep aching sadness that has called to our spirits. A deep despair that has tried to blacken our soul and nibble away at our hope. And each of us has had to reach out to our community of friends, family, neighbors and even strangers gathered around us to rekindle our flames.

Because when fear tries to sow hate and hate tries to capture our hope, we stand together to say “Absolutely not.” We raise our voices to say, “Love is and always shall be stronger than hate.”

When we take a step towards each other. When we learn about others and discover that they too are humans just like us. When we are willing to look into another’s eyes and see their fears and their hurts and their hope which is just the same as ours, then….then, we will learn to love others.

As I cleaned up around the house this morning, I heard The Little Guy upstairs reading to his brother, “Do not worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything.” When the current world wants us to worry about everything and everyone, we are reminded that God is bigger than that and loves us all.

So, together we kindle the hope.

Together, we maintain the love.

Together, we treat others as God’s Holy creation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repaired Windshield, Shattered Relationships: Another Weekend of Tears

The windshield was repaired this past week (review of that story), but I had to make a tough decision that I really didn’t want to. It was the second Friday in a row of kids crying and Mom crying. The second Friday of sobbing on the couch after the boys went to bed. The second week of cycling through shock and numbness and sadness and wondering why this parenting “gig” has to be so hard sometimes.

I had to let the sitter go. She’s been with our family for three years. She’s a part of our family and the kids are a part of hers. But around 3:30 on Friday afternoon I got a call from a friend who asked, “Where is your sitter? Or who is picking up the boys after school? I see the younger two playing here on the school playground, but I don’t see your sitter. I started to drive away with my kids then turned and came right back.” Asking her to stay there and keep an eye on my 7 and 9-year-old boys, I called the sitter. She left the boys at the playground (“there were other people there”) because Super Tall Guy really wanted to be taken home.

She left my boys.

In shock, I said, “You can’t leave the boys alone! Those kids are the most precious things in the world to me. What if one of them fell off the monkey-bars, split his head open and died….alone? What if someone walked by and took off with one of them? What if you got in an accident as you drove and then they are hanging out at the playground for hours wondering where you are?”

She arrived to pick them up as I communicated with the other mom again how I appreciated her taking care of my boys. I got home as soon as I could. I wrote out her weekly check and told the sitter it wasn’t going to work out anymore. She had done this once before a couple months ago. I had talked with her then. Then she had left the 7-year-old at the playground in our community once for a few minutes while she ran to the school to pick up the middle kid because “he was playing with the other kids and wouldn’t listen to me when I called him. What did you want me to do – go over there and drag him to the car?” Yes.

This time, I flipped out. I couldn’t bear the thought of my kids being in danger. She wasn’t intentionally hurting them. She just wasn’t thinking through the potential dangers. And she wasn’t assigning another adult to hold the responsibility of the kids in her absence. She loves the boys. She doesn’t want to make any of them angry or disappointed. Yes, I understand that, I said. But, their safety is first priority. Whether they are “happy” is a bit lower down the line of concern. And trying to protect the boys, mostly from their own rash decisions as well as from other people’s decisions, is a huge challenge as a parent.

Another huge challenge of parenting is managing your own emotions while also scaffolding those of your children. The role is complicated with multiple children who have different personalities, different types of emotional processing, and need different help with managing their emotions based on their developmental stage and individual abilities.

Super Tall Guy doesn’t care. “That was stupid,” he says and walks off. Mr. Ornery says, “Aw, that’s sad. What’s for dinner?” The Little Guy crawls into my arms, shaking as he sobs. I reassure him that we love the sitter, we’re still friends, we can still visit, but it’s Mommy’s job to always, always make sure my boys are safe.

In the past couple of days, the weight has just hung on me and the tears are easily present. The Little Guy asks about her often and before falling asleep the next day, he said to me, “But Mommy, everyone makes mistakes. Why can’t you give her another chance?”  Yes, I replied, we all make many mistakes every single day, but there are some big mistakes that are super important. Keeping you safe is super important.

And we cried together again.

 

 

 

 

Parenting: The Science/Art of Prediction

When the boys were young, the day care center parking lot drove me crazy. Young kids are short enough that drivers cannot see them when backing up and every time I picked up or dropped off, I worried that a kid would be hit by a car in reverse. The new video technology is helping but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Kids in parking lots still stress me. This past weekend, the younger two helped me go grocery shopping. They eagerly unloaded groceries from the coveted “car-driving” cart into the back of our van. Without thinking, I stepped to the side of the van to put the “don’t-want-it-smushed” bread into the front seat. Then I heard a man yelling. The car beside me had started backing up at the same time that The Little Guy had decided to move our cart backwards to take it to the corral. The man’s yells stopped the driver moments after she had already bumped into the cart and into my son. He was fine. He was protected by the cart and by his angels. But the woman was in tears and I was in disbelief. I had failed to be there. Failed to predict my son’s movements. Failed to predict the driver’s movements. Failed to protect from harm. Lifting up thanks as we drove away, I reviewed the situation with the boys trying to reinforce safety.

Parenting, it really boils down to one’s ability to predict. Science or art….hard to tell.

And this starts early, shortly after the mesmerizing awe of the newborn look and smell. Soon, the parent is desperately trying to predict the infant’s sleep cycle. If the baby falls asleep at 9:00 pm, do you predict he or she will wake up at 11:00 and therefore there’s no reason for you to get to sleep yet, or might the little cherub sleep until 1:00 am and you can delight in at least 2-3 hours of peaceful rest. After a night or two, or a year or two, you realize there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to a kids’ sleep cycle and you might as well give up trying to predict anything!

The toddler years are the nightmarish, desperate attempts at predicting the Tasmanian devil’s every movements. Is she too close to the steps and about to tumble down? Is he going to flush that Match Box car down the toilet or is he just happily driving it along the bathtub rim? Is she likely to choke on that piece of food? Is he going to bump his head on the glass table or duck just in time? Apparently at this age, unpredictability is the only predictable aspect of parenting.

You feel like you have a sigh of relief as they enter into the school-age years. Now they can dress themselves, feed themselves, sort-of toilet themselves, and sometimes even entertain themselves for practically an hour (if some electronic device is involved!). You start to feel smug and almost have empathy when you see the bedraggled parents of toddlers chasing kids down the grocery aisle. But then you rapidly realize that there’s a whole new level of prediction which is further complicated by trying to predict interactions with and influences of other children as well. “I’m sorry your friend just blocked you from Minecraft chat. It wouldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you just blew up his carefully constructed building, would it?”

It’s a brain-spinning nightmare, really. The more experience you have with kids, the more adept you get at this game of parenting prediction, but really there is no level of perfection that any parent could ever attain. My life is full of little moments of failing to predict kid behavior (scribbles on walls, broken TV sets, holes in the bedroom doors, plumbing emergencies for toy extraction) interspersed with near constant mental energy trying to predict larger and more consequential situations.

For example, currently I’m trying to predict the likelihood that a guy who goes by the name James will continue to use my address as a meet-up point for people trying to sell electronics on an app. When they arrive, he approaches and then runs off with their item. Within minutes, he has it up on the app for sale. The local police seem unconcerned and apathetic. My neighbors seem to consider it “interesting.” Property management seems to be pondering what to do. I seem to be the one stressed that victims will eventually get fed up with “James” and come storm my townhome. The question is, will I and the boys be home then?

So, here’s my conclusion. There’s no way we as parents or as humans could possibly predict everything that would befall our kids or us. We get better with each experience, we rely on family and friends to lend advice, we pray and we hope, and that’s the best we can do.

For now, I’ll predict that my boys are going to be really excited about an upcoming surprise and that the first winter snow that is falling tonight. That’s about as much as I can predict. And that’s good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Warnings about “Tricky People” Don’t Stick with My Kids

When I haven’t blogged for a few weeks, it’s a pretty good sign that my brain is full. Lately it’s been full of miscellaneous Internal Medicine board recertification facts that will now slowly fade from the brain after the tortuous 8 hour exam. Thus the brain is clear to start fussing about other things.

For example, I’m starting to get that restless “time to move” feeling. We have been in a small townhome for almost two years and my need to stretch is tugging on me. More importantly, my concern about the neighborhood is growing steadily greater.

This week we had the “tricky adult” talk. Not the “this could happen” talk, but the “this did happen” talk. I talk to my boys about tricky adults and being safe pretty frequently. I also tell them to lift the toilet seat and to ask before sneaking a treat pretty frequently too, but that hasn’t gotten me very far. I know I’m going to go hoarse with the “stop whistling in the car” admonition. They don’t listen.

A sense of dread always comes over me when a particular father in the neighborhood approaches my door. He’s a nice guy and usually it’s about some skirmish his boys and mine are having. Sometimes it’s about who was swearing first. Sometimes it’s about the boys not sharing. This afternoon it was a question about whether I knew a man in a townhome a few doors down. “I’ve met him once,” I replied. “He’s the boyfriend of a mom I know from kid basketball and baseball.”

“Well, I just saw him give the boys candy in exchange for a hug,” he responded.

Boom.

Red Flag number one for grooming behavior of a sexual predator. Every warning signal going off in my body. Every Mama Bear siren firing. I calmly asked the boys to hand the candy over to me as they bounced home a few seconds later, lollipops hanging from their lips. I asked them to stay away from the house and we would talk later.

As we sat in the car before picking up the older boys for karate, I patiently explained the concept of “tricky people” again. How someone might ask you for a hug for candy, but the person is using candy to trick you. They might nicely do it two or three times. On time number four, they might say that the candy is inside the house or the car and please come inside to get some. I said to the boys, “Has Mr. V ever asked you for a hug? Has Mr. A ever asked you for a hug?” referring to the fathers of friends of ours in the neighborhood. “No,” they both replied. Good men do not ask children for a hug. You are not to hug someone that you don’t really know and never someone who is giving you candy to get a hug.

Later that night I chatted with a couple friends…..and then I made a police report. According to my neighbor who witnessed the event and spoke with the police the next day, the man denied touching the boys (of course) and stated that a bowl of candy is always available to anyone (news to me). The district attorney didn’t think there was enough evidence to continue the case, and the family in question is apparently moving out to a new home in a few days anyway (thank goodness). But in my mind, a relatively unknown man has touched my young children without my permission and when I wasn’t present.

My Mommy-heart worries for the three young children of the woman in that relationship. My Mommy-heart worries that for all of my warnings and admonitions my boys remain so easily seduced by sugar. My Mommy-heart worries that I won’t always be there or another caring parent won’t always be a witness and provide a safe extraction. And yet my Mommy-heart is thankful that the boys were not hurt, that it is an important story for us to keep telling and learning from, and that the community is watching out for each other. Parents are in this together.

Have We Watered Down “Friends”?

A friend from high school stopped by a couple weeks ago. We haven’t seen each other in about 20 years, but our reunion hug was long and deep. A true friend. Which made me wonder about the friends my kids are developing?

I really thought about it when my mom returned from the parent-teacher association meeting recently about online safety.

“How was it?” I asked later that day.

“Scary,” she replied. Huh, I thought, that’s the same response my neighbor had when I asked her.

And they are right. It is scary. We know that children are being exposed to photos and information that is not appropriate. We know that our children are revealing too much personal information about themselves. We know that the number of child predators online is beyond comprehension (about half a million predators online every day). We know that at least 20% of all kids experience cyberbullying. We know that about 70% of all kids will “accept” a friend invitation whether or not they know the person.

Then it hit me. Do children these days actually know what a friend is? In my generation, a friend was someone you spent time with, someone that you enjoyed, someone with whom you did activities or sat beside and watched the clouds roll by. A friend was a human being in your physical social context. You have talked to your friend. You have shaken hands or hugged your friend. In those days, you knew your friend’s number and you talked to them.

Today, my children have had “friends” since they were a few months old in day care. Every other child in their class was a “friend.” “Good morning, friends.” “Play nice with your friends.” “Let’s open up our books, friends.” As they entered elementary school, the concept of all peers as friends continued to persist.

My question is, have we watered down the concept of friends to the extent that children assume everyone in their peer group is a friend. Thus, it makes sense to them that they might have hundreds of “friends” in an online space because “friends” are not necessarily people you know, but defined by someone else.

I asked my ten-year-old how many friends he has. His reply was “I have tons of friends. A whole bunch.” To me, though, he essentially has only one friend that he texts and plays Minecraft with and visits his home. The others are classmates and school peers.

So I’ve begun defining for him as he enters the online world that the only “friends” he is to have online are those that he also has a “real life” connection to. People he can touch. People he has spoken to and spent time with. People he actually knows.

It’s a scary world out there (even for me with viruses, hackers, identity theft and more a constant threat). Part of keeping kids safe is helping them navigate their social, electronic and digital experiences (I’m even contemplating using an “online contract“). And part of that is helping them identify and cultivate true “friends.”

(And I used to think parenting was easy….)

Building Wings

I walked away.

I might have peeked back, to be honest.

But I walked away.

My nod was the signal. I passed the middle child off.

What’s your name dude?

~Gavin.

Thanks for saying hi to my guy.

~I rode with him before.

They circled the course again, getting good air.

On deck, Gavin called Mr. Ornery’s name. He lined his bike up with the riders and sat.

A new tribe.

I walked away.

There is growth.  There is learning to be done.

Pump. Jump. Spin.

Confidence. Persistence. Technique.

That part is not my job.

My job is to let the little boy find his wings.

My job is to find the safe space and walk away.

My job…. is to hold myself in check and be able to walk away.