Thursday, July 9, 2015

Parenting a Teen...AKA When Shit Gets Real...

"ALL my friends at the pool wear bikinis."

This has been the start of many a conversation over the past several weeks. "I want a bikini" has become my 13-year-old's new mantra. This week I finally gave in, but not without some requirements.

I have nothing against bikinis in general. In fact, growing up the girls have mostly owned bikinis because they inherited their dad's long torso, and kids 1-piece swim wear is not made for thin, long bodied girls. Hell, if I didn't have so many personal insecurities about my poochy tummy and I'm 40 roll of back fat, I too would rather wear a bikini to the pool/lake. I have no problem with the concept a bikini, just the lack of affordable options when it comes to providing insured coverage of certain lady parts. String ties and tiny triangles of fabric have no place in a world of 13/14/15 year-old-boys in my opinion. And there seems to be PLENTY of 13/14/15 year old boys in my teen daughter's world. So, I agreed to a bikini as long as we could find one that did not have a plunge at the cleavage, and a strap design that would not allow for easy wardrobe malfunction. It took a bit of effort, but we were able to locate a couple of suits among Target's limited end of the summer selection that fit within the guidelines. One of those suits came home with us and is awaiting the return of summer temps for its first trip to the pool.

(Seriously, it's July and we're working on day 4 of temps in the 70s. Not that I'm complaining about our windows being wide open and the lack of need to have our AC on for the past few days, but it does not make for good pool going weather.)

One would think that my girls would know better than to use the "but all my friends are doing it" argument with me since my standard response is generally, "I am not their mother to make that choice for them."  My focus is on raising MY girls. On keeping them safe. On helping them to grow up to be responsible, respectable, thoughtful, caring, independent, positive members of society. They of course, well at least the teenage one, just want to fit in with their peers and aren't near as aware or concerned with the bigger picture. I have little time, interest, or patience for what's trendy among the "in" crowd. I was never very concerned as a teen myself, and sure as hell don't give a shit as an adult if I'm "fitting in" with the current trends. I'd rather spend my time and energy just being the best ME I can be.  But I know it's taken time and age for me to find that confidence in just being happy with being uniquely who I am. At 13, my oldest is just beginning the process and doesn't have the perspective that comes with age. AND no matter how much I try to share MY perspective with her, she's only going to fully understand her own gained through experience over time.

While I knew parenting a teen would mean making choices about clothes, boys, activities, curfews, etc, I was not as ready to navigate parenting in a age of constant digital connection and social media. I feel as if Scott and I have been very thoughtful about how we allow our girls to access the world through the many technologies to which they have access. I've done lots of reading on the issue of kids and technologies from both the "more is more" and "less is more" camps. I've also spent time educating myself on the importance of teaching our kids safe, responsible, and balanced digital habits, partially become it's something I cover with my students at school. We've taken a middle ground approach on allowing/limiting our girls' access to technologies, and I feel we are doing our best to help them understand the need for balance between their screen life and their off-screen life. It's not always easy when they see first hand how much time the people of their surrounding world spend looking at screens. I do honestly worry about how much LIFE our kids, and people in general, are missing out on because of our ease of access to electronic distractions.

Powerful, useful tools? Yes.

Potentially damaging to developing a healthy, happy, engaged relationship with the greater world around you? Yes.

It's hard to find a balance. Do I feel guilty for having a smart phone and social media accounts, and the amount of time I've spent engaged with those devices/accounts over the years? Yes. Have I learned valuable things about the greater world, connected with people whose relationships I value, and been entertained because of my devices and social media accounts? Yes. See, on-line/off-life life balance is even a hard thing to deal with as an adult.

I do not have the time, energy, or interest to keep up with all that's trendy in the online world of teens. Which usually means, even though I've tried to be proactive in teaching my daughters about responsible digital citizenship, I still find myself being reactive to their desire to get caught up in the latest tends. Today's example: the #dontjudgechallenge happening on a whole host of social media sites. While I do believe the original intent of the challenge, to combat the widespread practice of online body shaming, is a positive focus, I also strongly agree with the many news outlets such as Time and MTV News, that are reporting on the more negative message being sent by the challenge. I've watched just a few of the videos people have submitted with the challenge tag. While there's not really anything necessarily "wrong" with them, they all focus on nothing more than appearance. Not one of them celebrated a talent or quality of the individual(s) featured beyond outer appearance. It's like the old saying, "Don't judge a book by it's cover," only instead of opening the book to reveal the content contained between the 2 covers, the cover was just changed to be more attractive. The pages inside could contain amazing wonderment, or total crap, but apparently it doesn't matter as long as the book has a new, shiny cover. I wonder if those who have done the challenge have ever thought about how people who can't, or choose not to, un-make their appearance to fit into the narrow definition of beauty set by society feel about this challenge? Do they think those individuals are feeling less judged by the those posting videos?

Today I had to be the uncool, fun hater parent after my teen and her friend posted their own #dontjudgechallenge video to Instagram. I did not request her to take the video down, but I did share several news articles and responses to the challenge with her that she may not have considered when she make the decision to post her version of the challenge. Instagram is the only social media account we have consented to her using at this point in time. We've set some pretty strict rules for Lexi to follow to maintain access to the privilege of her account. We remind her often it is just that, a privilege, not a entitlement. Technically I manage the account and only I know the password for administrative purposes. That also means I can lock the account at any point and time should it be misused. Posting may only be original works that show Lexi's view of the world, meaning no re-posting of memes, which seems to be the main point of many of the accounts held by kids her age. The account must remain private and we have the ultimate authority when it comes to who follows her, and who she follows. She also understands that we may suggest that she removes a post that she feels appropriate that we may not.

See, we are fun haters. But behind all of that fun hating, we have what is best for her, in the bigger picture of life, in mind. Because when you choose to make a digital footprint, it becomes part of who you are in the eyes of the world. Forever! Online, just as in real day to day life, people DO judge. Generally speaking people won't verbally throw negative words and judgements at you in a face to face setting. Their instinct for self preservation helps to activate their verbal filter. Usually. On the flip side, we all know how uninhibited online trolls feel when it comes to sharing their thoughts. The filter that keeps negative thoughts from becoming spoken words seems to malfunction when the method of communication is written. And while as an adult I can let trollish comments made towards me go after the initial sting, I'm not sure teens possess the maturity necessary not to take every little nit-picky comment personally.

At the end of the day my hesitation to allow our beautiful, slim, just-turned-teen daughter to wear a bikini to the pool is no different than the restrictions we have for her use of digital communications and social networks. As much as I wish it were different, we live in a society that makes initial judgements and assumptions, based on appearances. It is my hope to help her understand how to best present herself in all aspects of her life, without stifling her own sense of self, so that people can get to know her for the beauty and talent she possesses beyond what can be seen with only one's eyes.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to the easy days of parenting of managing nap schedules and diaper rash. Parenting through the teen years is not for the faint of heart. People assure me will I will make it through to the other side. I'm holding you people to that promise!


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Crafting a Plan...

Over winter break I discovered, and then binge watched every episode available, a wonderful series on PBS called Craft in America. Some of the episodes I listened to while doing other tasks. Some of the episodes I watched fully engrossed, at times even on the verge of tears for the beauty and meaning the producers were able to capture. So many of the episodes I would, and probably will, watch again and again. I hear there is a companion book to the series. I image you know what that means.

(Takes a time out from writing to click over to Amazon. Places order.)

I did not grow up in a world that included a lot of fine art. I don't know that I ever stepped foot in an art gallery as a kid. Obviously if I did, it was not a significant enough experience to leave a lasting impression on my memories.  Even though my exposure has increased significantly in my adult years, I still don't always "get" fine art. I greatly appreciate the skill required for Monet to paint his beautiful landscapes, and the vision and faith in process it took Michelangelo to chip away at a block of marble to create the Statue of David. I respect how artists have used their medium through the centuries to not only create works of beauty, but to bravely convey a message or opinion that might not have been the popular views of their time. But I have to be honest, there are times I've walked through a gallery and wondered how the heck some pieces have earned a place next to the long standing greats in art history. It is in those moments I have to remind myself that art is quite possibly the purest form of free, individual expression, and then I move on to viewing something else that speaks to MY soul.

While the world of fine art may not have been a regular playground for me as a kid, I did have regular access to the art produced through the process of craft. Craft to me is not only beautiful, but tactile and functional. Fiber arts. Pottery. Wood arts. Metal work. Watching the artists talk about their processes and demonstrating their skill throughout the Craft in America series made me want to reach out and hold their pieces in my hands to feel the quality of their work and the spirit of their process. I'm a touchy, feely person. Craft to me is touchy, feely. Touching a handmade item immediately connects me to my experiences growing up of watching my mom create with fabric and her sewing machine. Of watching my grandma paint ceramics. Of looking the latest wooden creation built by my grandpa. Of snuggling under afghans that had been crocheted by various members of my extended family. Those items may never find a place in a gallery, but they were, and still are, beautiful and useful representations of the unique creativity inside each individual in my family who took the time to make for the sake of making, rather than buying.

With the turn of the calendar to 2015 comes a personal milestone. This is the year my age changes from a number that starts with a 3, to a number that starts with a 4. For whatever reason, that has been on my mind more than I care to admit over the past year. What do milestone birthdays do that to us? I'm sure there are studies out there to explain the psychology of it all. Whatever it is, facing 40 has me thinking not only about where my life has taken me over the past 40 years, but where I will choose to take my life over the next 40. One of the common themes that keeps jumping out at me is my love of learning through the process of craft, and my need to create simple, functional works that express my creativity.

I feel very blessed to have somewhat unexpectedly fallen into my work in public education. It has allowed me to contribute to my community, which is important for my ego; to teach, which is a passion of my soul; and to connect with others, which is something I struggle with if left to my own devices. That being said, this being my 4th year working in the public education system, I can honestly say it's a temporary gig for me. It's a work life I enjoy, but not one that I see myself settling into for the long haul remainder of my 20+ working years. It's been, and continues to be as other temporary professional gigs I had in the past have been, a useful experience that I feel is helping to guide me as I start to re-imagine the direction I would like to move my working life. I can't yet see a clear picture of what direction that is, even though I've had an idea forming and rolling around in my head for well over a year now, but I know the following will be true as I craft my next work life reality:
  • There will be opportunity for me to learn and create most days.
  • There will be opportunity for me to share my interests through teaching to individuals of all ages some days.
  • There will be opportunities for me to feed both my introverted side that desires to quietly hide away in my own space getting lost in learning and creating on my own, and the side of me that needs to feel part of a larger community that is making a difference in the world around me.
  • There will be an opportunity for me to generate usable income, not because it is something I personally hold as a high priority, but because it is a need of my family and a fact of living in a society that functions on the exchange of money for goods and services.
  • There will be the opportunity for me to set my own schedule, and a seamlessness that allows for my life to be my work, and my work to be an extension of my life.
The logistics of creating such a non-traditional work life always causes me reason to pause, to question the validity of attempting such a project. Often my practical side speaks much louder than my creative, dreamy side. I'm trying to not always let that be the case. I've been trying to remind myself that I once successfully crafted a less than traditional work life, and that even though I am no longer living that life, the fact is I did the work to make a dream a reality. And it was great. Spending time over winter break watching the Craft in America series seems almost like a little divine intervention. An aligning of the stars. Like the greater universe is trying to push me towards the start of the process of action that is required to eventually turn my day-dreamy thoughts into a new tangible reality. The fact is, nothing in life is a given. Traditional working lives are just as likely to take an unexpected direction at any given moment. One would think that the experiences Scott and I have had over the past 20 years would have been a good teacher of that fact. Having gotten to know people who have found a successful way to flourish in a life that includes a non-traditional work life also serves as good encouragement that it is possible to make dreams a reality. The inspiration of watching the many craft artists, from all walks of life, featured in the Craft in America series talk about their work and how it permeates the whole of their lives may just be what I needed to help me take my first steps in creating a life where I can live MY craft.

Thanks PBS! My mental wheels are turning...

~ peace