Today’s podcast is titled “The deal with teenager” and is the first part of a two-part series on handling the delicate balance of privileges and responsibilities with our teenagers and young adults.
Parenting teenagers is like flying a kite: it’s all in the art of giving enough rope and maintaining tension. Should the kite ever land in a tree, would you rather be around to help your teen untangle the mess or leave them to figure it out? Some parents will say “Let them figure it out on their own, they have to learn eventually.”
I take the longer view on that one: my teenagers might figure it out by cutting all the strings and burning down the tree, leaving them with no kite and a burnt down neighbourhood; or I might help them figure out how they can climb the tree, untangle the strings and, should they have to cut it, do it in such a way as to preserve as much of the kite’s functionality as possible. Then hopefully they will have learned something about getting kites out of trees and will be better equipped to do it themselves the next time it happens.
I once met a parent who was looking for advice on handling a request for money from a young adult child. We got chatting about lending money to our kids. She said: “I only ever lend money to my children because I want to teach them the importance of paying back debts.” I said: “I’ll let the bank teach them the importance of paying back debts when they repossess their cars. As for me, I’ll teach them that their family always has their back.” We worry a lot about what we might teach our teenagers by helping them out of a hard spot; but there’s a whole wide world of people out there who don’t love them. Let the world teach them hard truths: you’re the only one who can teach them unconditional love and support. I wrote a blog post about that, you can read it h e r e.
As promised in the podcast, this is a picture of our Subaru after it took a pick-up in the teeth. For the whole story, you’ll have to listen to the podcast.
The podcast opens with an update on my blogging and the deal with teenagers — including how our car got smashed — start around the 8:30-minute-mark.
Thank you for listening and please come back for part 2.
Every once in a while I get invited to give a talk, sit on a panel or chair a board of directors and a request for a headshot inevitably follows. It always feels something less than professional to send my latest selfie but all the other pictures of me were taken my children and involve either my less flattering appendages, booze, or both.
A nagging little voice kept telling me that I should pay for professional headshots but an even less pleasant little voice always answered “It’s not like you’re paid for these gigs, right?” Why should I fork real money to be reminded how old and doughy I’m getting? When there are guitars to buy and live shows to attend?
And so the little voices stood at a standstill on my shoulder until I had to apply for a job using LinkedIn, making my profile selfie my first chance to make a good impression. Chastised, I booked an appointment with a fellow mom and local photographer and started planning my 5 minutes of glamour.
First, I would get a new outfit. Simple but classy, I had it all figured out: new skinny jeans, a loose-fitting linen tunic with some new jewelry and a new pair of sneakers. Then I would book the few hours before my headshots for a haircut and getting my nails done. My bangs are almost nose-length, it was necessary anyway, and my hair person could style it for me, a skill I was not blessed with at birth. It would be a headshot session doubling as a day of beautification and pampering, the perfect antidote to a sagging spirit. Monday would be clothes shopping day. Tuesday would be eyebrow threading and leg waxing. Wednesday was hair and pictures. Everything blissfully booked while my children were at school.
It all came crashing in a thundering mess on the Sunday evening when I got the photographer’s email reminder. “We’re looking forward to see you tomorrow, Monday June 12th for your session” … I had it all planned out on the WRONG DAY! Right date, wrong day. I had nothing to wear, an overgrown haircut and bushy eyebrows.
In a panic, I hit my oldest daughter’s closet for a dress, any dress. Unfortunately, my oldest daughter, while statuesque, doesn’t have the right curves at the right place. One does not simply carry 9 children to term and expect to fit in a dress from Sirens, even in a size 10. I grabbed some XL shape wear with the desperate energy of the moribund and almost died trying to get it off. Relieved that the jaws of life were not necessary to get me out it, I reluctantly accepted that I was too shapely for shapewear. I grabbed a simple black and white dress from Walmart that made me look as grumpy and unkempt as the Walmart in my small town but at least it covered the right parts and I could take it off without calling the fire department.
The little voice of insanity kept whispering in my ear that Monday morning would not be too late to go dress-shopping. Like a Home Depot ad suggesting “You can do it, we can help.” Like the Scotiabank’s “You’re richer than you think” So many reminders that stupidity could pay off, if only, NO STOP IT!!
On the morning of the photo shoot, I concluded that the only way to avoid a desperate attempt at dress shopping and hair cutting would be to go to the gym. I could shower and dress at the gym with only minutes to spare for make-up, which should discourage any delusions of grandeur but the most humble slapping of foundation and mascara. On my way out the door to drive the children to school I grabbed a curling iron, a flask of tinted moisturizer and my daughters’ mascara; threw the Walmart dress on top of my gym bag and attacked the day with a significant lump in my throat. The day of pampering and beautification had become just another fight with chaos.
After my workout and shower, my hair was kinked in its usual pony tail shape and I knew I couldn’t beat it so I might as well join it. I arranged my hair in a high pony tail and tried to curl some of it behind my back. I didn’t even know how to turn-on the contraption but maybe I could use it backwards with my arms extended on the wrong side of my head, the one without eyes. Once I found the “on” button, I let the device heat on a ziplock bag of bobby pins. I curled molten plastic into my hair repeatedly before cluing-in, combed it out over the next five days. So far so good.
Undeterred, I whipped my daughters’ new mascara out of my bag. My daughters, while genetically-related to me, have a gift for make-up. It’s a form of artistic expression. See for yourselves.
If your main consideration when choosing mascara is “can this brush maim me permanently?” you shouldn’t borrow it from my daughters: they’ve been using it without poking their eyes out since grade 1. This was my reflection as I beheld the sickle-shaped, black-paint laden, rigid object I was about to take dangerously close to my eyes.
I emerged from the gym’s change room with a “this is my normal face” attitude, hoping that no one had seen me wipe melted ziplock off my curling iron, and stepped into the car for a mad drive across town. I knocked on Sara’s door taking my first breath since breakfast and greeted her with an executive summary of my confusion and the effort exerted to get my butt into her studio. She laughed and said “On the other hand, this is exactly what you look like in real life. Sometimes I meet people at business events and I don’t recognize them from their headshots.”
She’s right isn’t she? I don’t wear make-up because it bugs me. I don’t have nice clothes because I hate shopping. I’d rather spend my time writing, playing music and answering emails about parenting struggles and victories. I’m not at an age and stage where I can look polished and be a decent human being at the same time. Every morning, I choose being present and un-rushed to being properly dressed and styled because being-both-level has not been unlocked yet. This is who I am.
And this is exactly what I look like.
I got pregnant with my first child at 21, during the summer following my first year of law-school. I remember walking to the pharmacy in a daze. The pharmacy ran pregnancy tests for $7. That was half the price of the home pregnancy kits!! I soon understood why anyone would prefer paying the extra $7 to get a pregnancy result in the privacy of their bathroom. The pharmacist said: “It’s positive.” I said: “Positive means I’m not pregnant right?” But I knew. I had seen my busty profile in the window of the pharmacy walking-in. I knew for sure.
Despite a few tell-all signs of pregnancy, I had visited a walk-in clinic a few weeks earlier asking for a throat swab. I thought I had strep throat because I was craving popsicles and I was always on the verge of throwing up. I told the doctor: “I have cramps, my periods are 2 weeks late, I’m nauseous all the time. Could this be strep throat?” So he did what any doctor with a clue about the birds and the bees would do: he took a throat swab. That test was negative.
As I was walking out of the pharmacy, I was counting the months on my fingers to see if I could finish my second year of law school. I was due April 17th, during exam week. Well, it wasn’t that bad I thought, I’ll be able to finish my year and write my exams.
I went through my second year of law school pregnant. I was sick as a dog. I have two vivid memories of doing law school pregnant: one where I am uncomfortable, sitting in the lecture hall’s plastic chairs. My regular pants are getting too small. They are riding up my legs and digging into my waist. This is after Christmas, I am almost 20 weeks pregnant and thinking I will either buy pregnancy clothes or kill someone. In the other memory, I am wriggling my way across an entire row of plastic chairs during a lecture on civil proof to go throw-up. I made it.
I made arrangements with the Dean to write my exams after my due-date. I thought that writing exams 3 weeks postpartum would be better than 40 weeks pregnant (pro-tip: it’s not). On my last day of classes, I took the bus back home and someone asked me: “When are you due?” I said “Next week.” That evening, I went to the hospital in labour. My daughter was born with the sunrise the next morning.
What would I say to the young woman finding herself pregnant in the middle of her university education? First, you can do it. It won’t be easy but you can do it. Don’t expect understanding, a red carpet or a special parking pass. You will be facing harsh judgement coming from your peers, your teachers and the administration. Few people will give you favours unless they have to by statute or regulation. Remember those who go the extra mile for you: someday, you will extend the same generosity to someone else.
You are pregnant now, soon you will deliver. Delivering a child will give you a sense of perspective, a new understanding of what truly matters. Being a mother will empower you. This feeling of empowerment will seep through every aspect of your life and give thrust to your studies as you face the challenges at hand. You will take that Queenship of the Universe with you back to University and beat the crap out of your degree.
You will face harsh and underserved judgement. Some people think that getting knocked-up is never an accident, that you should have known better. Some people will not know what to say in the face of an unplanned pregnancy. Many people will look at you with a mix of contempt and pity and ask: “You’re not keeping it are you?” as if you would be announcing a pregnancy you were about to end. Some women, and that’s what took me the longest time to accept and understand, will be angry at you. They will shun you for putting a face on something they thought was impossible. In hindsight, I have accepted that these women were suffering more than I was. But it was so hurtful at the time, feeling like pregnancy made me a leper, an uncool, an outcast. Know that this will not last. For the community of cool that you are losing, there is an equally sleep-deprived — if less fashionable — community of parents ready to embrace you.
You will come out smarter on the other side. You will be working harder when it’s no longer just your ass on the line. You think you will have less time with a baby on your hip but don’t underestimate the time it takes your peers to manage their social life. Motherhood will focus you and give you a new appreciation for what matters: both in small and in big things. You will focus on the essential and perform with surgical precision. You will start your end-term papers as soon as you get the course outline and write 2 pages a day until it’s done. End-term all-nighter cramming sessions are a thing of the past. You will work around it and discover a better, more mature way. Baby will force you to take breaks, sometimes entire days off, and your brain will thank you in your report card.
You and your priorities will change. Don’t sweat the student stuff. I wasted so much mental energy worrying about my inability to take part in moot-court competitions, out-of-town placements, student exchanges and fancy articling jobs in the best Montreal firms. In the end, I graduated with no desire to join the law firm rat race. I oriented my career on a different path. And that’s ok.
Try not to get caught-up in the latest baby gear must-have and other parenting fads. They are costly and unnecessary. A baby’s needs are simple: babies need care and affection. Breastfeed, sleep in the same room, buy a second-hand stroller and a good baby carrier. At some point you will need a second-hand high chair. Financially-speaking, I was fortunate to have a boyfriend-now-husband who had a stable job as a junior military officer: our income was small but reliable and my parents were taking care of my tuition. It will be difficult enough to make ends meet without trying to keep-up with the older, richer, Joneses.
Finally, don’t get angry if academia doesn’t give you any freebies. Just deal. Be a honey badger. The workplace won’t give you any freebies, so you might as well get used to it early.
This week’s podcast is a hodge-podge of topics, from why I went with crowdfunding as opposed to advertising to support my website and podcast, where my novel is at and how we can keep our dreams and fears in check.
0:00:00 to 0:08:00 – Why I’m using crowdfunding as opposed to ad revenues to support my website and podcast.
0:08:00 to 0:30:31 – My novel: what it’s about, where it’s at and my current struggles
0:30:31 to 0:33:41 – On the blog: what I’m currently writing.
0:33:40 to 0:46:02 – Keeping our dreams alive even when they don’t make sense
0:46:02 to 0:51:00 – Fear as a measure of the importance of our projects
0:51:00 to 1:05:05 – Confidence in ourselves as a gift to others
In this podcast, I share my thoughts on my failed Kickstarter campaign, my writing workshop in New-York City, meeting Seth Godin and not expecting my creative work to pay-off. You can find the podcast show notes and links to stuff I talk about in the podcast show notes by clicking on the earphones.
Today marks the launch of my long-awaited website Fearless Family Life.The vagaries of life in a large family tend to stretch every possible timeline beyond recognition but I also suffered from an uncomfortable want of knowing where to take this train.
Over the last year, I have had countless opportunities to reflect on the direction I wanted to move in. At first, I did what most business-minded writers would do and looked at popular parenting blogs. Parenting seems to be as divided as politics, from the more liberal “it’s ok to suck, you have it so hard” to the more conservative “parenting is a war to be won”. In between lies the world of listicles: 10 reasons why your toddler is a jerk and Why good moms start drinking before 9. As an educated woman with both a love for my children and a struggle to be the best person I can be, I found these messages confusing and wholly uninspiring.
The truth is that parenting is hard but we are all stronger than we think. Whether we started our journey from a position of strength or a position of weakness, whatever our challenges are, we can always push ourselves a little farther. Strength builds in increments: fearless family life is about taking the next step on our parenting journey, from wherever we currently are.
In family life, our fears are too often born of our own judgment. We love to read about overcoming mommy-guilt but women are crumbling under the weight of their own expectations. Being fearless is refusing to be guided by our fear of inadequacy. It’s about challenging ourselves without judgment.
Fearless Family Life is my gift of encouragement to you. It’s here to tell you that you can do this. It’s here to share the most important lesson I learned in 20 years of family life: that you love your children better than anyone. Fearless Family Life is about allowing yourself to be guided by love rather than fear, by hope rather than shame. It’s about stepping into the world of possibilities and looking up to where you are going instead of down and around on everyone else’s journey.
Imagine that you and your family are in a boat. You can work together to get somewhere or you can work against each other and sink. Whatever you decide, you’re in this together.
In the pantry, a jar sits on a shelve, lonely and unused. Its bright red colour livens the mess of spices and aromatics standing at attention in a practical array. Bird’s Eye chili peppers, dried to a dusty crisp, artifacts of a summer’s past.
We had planned a large garden, tilled long and narrow mounds on which we planted gourds, lettuces and root vegetables, our knowledge of gardening inversely proportional to our enthusiasm. Seeds of hot peppers thrown on the edge of a row of romaine lettuce testified to our inexperience. They should have been sprouted indoors while the deep brown earth laid dormant under a crust of snow and ice.
Shortly after laying our cornucopia underground, we had seen our own little buds sprouting deep inside the warm comfort of the womb. Twins. Bed rest. Our garden was left to fend for itself as we fought the forces of chaos on the home front. Within a few weeks in July weeds choked everything but the sturdiest squashes, potatoes, and zucchinis. “No wonder that’s what the pioneers ate,” I thought as I laid hatching. The spring rains gorged the edible plants as well as the weeds, the summer sun ripened them. The children picked what could be salvaged and eaten raw and the twin buds rested and grew. Summer lingered into September, then exceptionally into October and the weeds got more luscious. The twin buds matured and bloomed and I was released to the garden just in time to harvest a late crop of red hot chili peppers before fall threw its blanket of frost, smothering weeds and herbs alike. I strung the peppers on a thread with a sewing needle and hung them to dry in a south-facing window, letting the summer rain evaporate from the taunt red flesh.
Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer, the sequence of a year. The peppers adorned our window for a year, long dried but too hot to complement our family’s dishes. Some were rehydrated with boiling water, cooked with oil and garlic and made into chili garlic sauce following Margaret’s authentic Malaysian recipe. We used it by the drop, careful not to breathe deeply while the jar was open.
The house and the garden wrapped their weight around our necks like a boat anchor, dragging our family into a wake of debt and fear. When we decided to sell our house to pay off all our debts the peppers were duly packed into a glass jar, wrapped in packing paper, and moved to our new landing, a relic of the dreams we left behind as we looked up and ahead. The peppers remained untouched as we welcomed our ninth child and moved again when we made our home in the highlands.
Here they live, a vibrant reminder of a summer past when we learned the wisdom of letting things grow as they must.