Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The #1 Challenge in Raising a Daughter

It's often said that it's easier to raise boys than girls. I guess that's true, though for me it's not about Abby herself, but rather her interaction with the world that makes having a daughter more challenging. I don't worry what people will think if Ian's shorts are too short. I'm not as concerned that someone will try to physically take advantage of Ian. I don't give much consideration as to whether Ian's "behavior" will cause people to talk, or whether others think he's a "bitch" for being smart, competitive and driven to succeed. These are real concerns for me with my daughter, however. And I would add to this list: society's definition of beauty.

No matter how confident we are, regardless of our level of self-esteem, at some point in our lives every single one of us has wondered whether we're good enough. I was at the pool this weekend, and as I walked the perimeter looking for an empty chair, I felt like I was on display. I was self-conscious about my less than perfectly toned thighs and I cursed the blemishes on my face. And when I found a chair and settled in, I looked at every other woman who walked by and tried to figure out whether I was more or less attractive than her. At the age of 13, I'm sure Abby already has compared herself to her peers, and if her self-confidence is what it should be, she's not concerned about how she measures up. But, unfortunately, someday she will be.

Though I stopped reading parenting books when the kids were little because they made me feel badly about my skills (the same reason I don't read Better Homes & Gardens, Self, or a single cooking magazine), the one thing I remember is that, as parents, the example we set is the number one influence on our children's lives. If we are committed to our faith, eating well and living a healthy lifestyle, our children are more likely to be similarly committed (maybe not as quickly as we'd like, but someday). If we demonstrate kindness, service to others and a strong work ethic, our children will likely do the same (or at least one of our children will pick up these traits). Naturally, the negatives apply here as well. If we put ourselves first in every way, judge others and allow ourselves to be consumed by bitterness and hate, we're raising kids who may do the same (unless they decide to be completely different because they are ashamed of us). If we have no use for reading and lifelong learning, exercising or spending money wisely, well, you get the picture. What I'm taking a long time to say is that a mom's self-image can have dramatic effects on her daughter(s). If I complain about my weight and my blemishes and I constantly compare myself to others, Abby may very likely follow suit. And let's face it, the last thing our daughters need is any help in feeling badly about themselves.

So why this topic now? Probably because I watched the whole season of American Idol and Jennifer Lopez is just depressing as hell at look at every week. And then there's Jennifer Aniston who reportedly wants to lose 10 pounds before her wedding, which is good news because her shape was starting to concern me. But then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Aussie mom Tara Brumfitt who has embraced the "reverse progress body movement," showing off her rock solid body builder physique "before" and her soft, beautiful, mommy figure "after." With her daughter as her motivation, Tara's working on a documentary called Embrace. “How will I teach my daughter to love her body?” she wrote on her website. “How am I going to encourage her to accept and love her body, when I am standing in front of her with a surgically enhanced body? What type of hypocrite or mother would I be?”

I had a friend recently confess that she considered breast implants, but when she thought of the message it would send her daughter, she decided against it. This was in sharp contrast to another friend who offered her physically fit, athletic 12-year-old daughter a reward if she lost some weight.

I don't generally say much about my weight in front of Abby, but where I increasingly have expressed frustration and insecurity is with the appearance of my face. From first time fever blisters and recent breakouts that take weeks to clear, to those obvious fine lines above my lips and the dark circles under my eyes, I know I'm growing older and I feel considerably less attractive. And this is obvious to Abby because I recently bought stock in Mary Kay cosmetics and am having their makeup and skin care solutions shipped directly to our house by the palate.

I used to be an all-natural kind of girl like my mom, who never wore anything on her face except lipstick, But now I'm using special facial cleanser and zit cream. I bought foundation powder. And just last week, I asked my Mary Kay rep to stop by and give me a makeup lesson. She showed up with a case larger than most of my pieces of luggage, and tried to sell me everything under the sun. Rather than just covering those dark circles, I really need their special heavy duty eye cream. If my blemishes aren't clearing up with the treatment she sold me, then I may need to wash with another Mary Kay product. She showed me numerous combinations of eye shadow colors, and lipsticks that I could brighten with a separate purchase of gloss. She left with my order for mascara (waterproof, of course), eye shadow, eye liner and blush/bronzer, but what was most interesting about this sales call visit was the rep's interaction with Abby, who sat at the table and judged whether what I was being pitched actually made a difference.

The Mary Kay rep tried to hook Abby like a drug dealer. "Ooh, I bet you'll like this eye shadow." Nope. Abby doesn't wear eye shadow. "Oh, how about these great lip pencils." Nope. Abby doesn't wear lip color. "This gloss would be fun, right?" Abby explained that she prefers the EOS lip balm. Mission Failed. That's my girl. You don't need makeup, my dear. Your natural beauty is undeniable. I can only hope that she will avoid painting her face simply because mom does, and as a teenager, it's important to avoid anything that makes you look like your mom.

So that's my two cents on how society's notion of beauty makes raising girls more difficult than parenting their brothers. I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Regrets? I've Had a Few, But a New Look Might Help

5/15/2014  The Regret

I love working at a university. On those all-too-infrequent days when I take the time to leave my office, I remember exactly what brought me here. It’s the students and the faculty, the old stone buildings, and the trees, lawns and brick-lined pathways. It’s the learning and discovery, energy and potential, and glimpses of an encouraging future built on a foundation of bright minds and willing spirits. (Damn, I should write marketing copy for this place…) This time of year can be tough for me, however. Partly because I catch spring fever just like the kids. Partly because the students have gone home, leaving it disappointingly quiet. But mostly it’s a somewhat difficult time because of graduation—a reminder of what a twit I was to pass on the opportunity to experience the pomp and circumstance.

I skipped both my grad and undergrad commencement ceremonies. The reason was the same on both occasions: I was ready to move on. Why waste time on some long, drawn-out tradition when my life was waiting somewhere else? Why? Because you'll never be with those people, in that place, on that occasion ever again, while life on the other hand, will keep moving you along ready or not. That's why you stay for your last semester of college even if you don't need the credits, and that's why you hang out even if your thesis is complete, and that's why you go through the ceremony. You know what they say about hindsight. 

I don't have a lot of regrets in life, but those I do have are almost all tied to being in a hurry for the "next thing" and failing to live in the moment. I'm certain this is also why I have a lousy memory. It's hard to remember those special times if you're too busy thinking about where you're going next. In high school, you looked forward to college. From college, grad school. From grad school, career. After you meet Mr. Right and fall in love and spend a few years waiting for him to propose, next comes marriage. And somewhere before the wedding you buy a house. Then after the wedding, if you're old school, you move into the house. As soon as the time comes when you're too tired to go out on a Friday night after work, you realize you may as well have children. Then you have children and you wonder what you were drinking thinking when you made that decision. So you cry yourself to sleep, praying that time moves this baby/toddler thing along before you go stark raving mad. And then suddenly those babies are teenagers and you're wondering how you got to this point so quickly. And you're thinking about their college application process and what you'll do with their rooms when they leave for school. Finally, the question becomes, do you move away and restart your life while they're still in college, or wait to see if they need a home to come back to when they can't find a job after you just spent $100K on their education.  And when can I officially retire?

It's crazy to think that my life is half over. That I've wasted so much time hurrying it along. But the good news is that I still have half of it to go (God willing) and I can learn from my mistakes. 

5/20/2014 On Second Thought...

One of our engineering PhDs being hooded at Commencement
Went to the College's Recognition Ceremony on Saturday. It was lovely and all, but I no longer feel badly about not having gone through my own graduation ceremonies. Too much sitting. I can't sit that long without something to read. After some reflection, I don't think it's that crap about "living in the moment" that makes me wish I had done the whole cap and gown thing. I think it was about the outfit. I want to wear the gown and that cool looking hood they give you when you earn your master's degree or doctorate. I may earn another degree while I'm at Villanova, just so I can wear the hood. Seems perfectly reasonable to me.

The more I think about it, there are a number of occupations I would consider solely for the clothes. I suppose I could go back to school to become a nurse or doctor (love the roomy, comfy scrubs and the clogs), church pastor (there are some pretty cool stoles out there) or soldier (dig the fatigues, could totally sneak up on people that way). And if all else fails, I can live in a fantasyland of my own creation where I would be a Disney princess for the awesome gowns and the great body that goes along with them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sweet 16

Today I became the mother of a 16-year-old. I realize you may question the accuracy of this statement given that I haven't hit 30 yet myself, but it's true. My son Ian is 16. The big question for me is "How did this happen?" I remember I couldn't wait for the first few years of motherhood to speed up. The baby and toddler years were not my best. Everyone told me that time would fly, but you really have no concept of just how true that is until your child is in high school and preparing to leave the nest in just a couple years.

Today's blog post is dedicated to Ian, who has humored me, frustrated me, impressed me, and driven me crazy. I am blessed beyond measure to call him my son.

16 Reasons to Love Ian
  1. He makes people laugh.
  2. He has a beautiful singing voice.
  3. He has an overwhelming passion for soccer, despite not being a player.
  4. He's a loyal friend.
  5. He's as quick-witted as anyone I know. The Tonight Show will be his someday.
  6. He's super smart.
  7. He looks adults in the eye when they make conversation with him.
  8. He teaches Sunday school to elementary-age kids who can't wait to see him.
  9. I've never known him to be mean.
  10. Shockingly, he doesn't mind hanging out with me. No, really!
  11. His friends' parents adore him.
  12. He's a total smart ass, without being disrespectful.
  13. He still gives hugs.
  14. He has only run away from home once, albeit in the snow wearing really good shoes. 
  15. He's the dictionary example of a "really good kid."
  16. He still tells me he loves me. 
This is when he started laying around.
The first time we saw that awesome smile. 

He still makes a mess when he eats, 15 years later.
Early gangsta days.
Abby's already trying to tell him what to do.
He's never eaten black licorice again
since learning it comes with a baby sister.

Young man's best friend.
You mean not every kid sees Jamie Moyer
when visiting Dad at work?
The first and only time
he considered playing football.
First time we discovered he looks great dressed up.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Freakin' Angel Friendship Finder [Beta version]

Last Monday, during my discovery of the "Fountain of Delight," my friend Kim announced that there was the possibility of someone new in her life. (Scandalous!) I don't recall the exact connections, but someone Kim knows suggested that she and so-and-so would really hit it off. Even though so-and-so lived in another city (D.C.?), she and Kim became Facebook acquaintances, and then, ironically enough, so-and-so just bought a house in our community. Kim is looking forward to the possibility of someone new joining our circle of friends. (So-and-so is a woman.) We're even considering waiving the membership fee and forgoing the initiation rites.

I don't know about you, but no matter how old I get, making new friends is still pretty exciting. Even more special than when we were little kids and could just walk up to someone and ask, "Do you want to be friends?" New friendships at our age have the advantage of being--for the most part--free of the drama we experienced as teens, and they don't hold the painful realities associated with college friends with whom we bond and then must part.

In the past six months or so, I have been blessed to add a few new friends to my list. And yes, I do keep a list in a little book in my nightstand. Just like my dad who regularly updates the list of people whom he likes enough to invite to his funeral. Or likes enough to give me permission to invite to his funeral, since he himself won't be able to do the asking.

In order to appear on my registry of friends, there are certain qualifications that one must possess. If you're wondering whether you're one of the chosen, this short quiz should give you a fairly good idea of where you stand:

Freakin' Angel Friendship Finder [Beta version]

  1. Do you think snark or sarcasm is "the devil's language?"
  2. Do you mind picking up the tab when your friends don't have cash on them?
  3. Are you easily embarrassed by a friend's particularly loud laughter, whether at a restaurant or in a movie theater?
  4. Is anything off limits in conversation with friends?
  5. Do you have a problem with sobbing phone calls at 2 a.m.?
  6. Can you easily sooth a friend's ego, assuring her, on an as-needed basis, that she's funny, smart, attractive and/or a good mom?
  7. Will you gladly trade outfits with your friends at a clothing swap?
  8. Are you okay with a friend who goes to bed before you've left their party? 
  9. Do you find those who speak truth to power to be refreshing in a world of sissies? 
  10. Would it be super cool to be written about in a friend's blog?
How to score your results:
  • If you answered "no" to the first five questions and "yes" to questions 6-10, we are soul mates.
  • If you answered "no" to at least three of the first five questions and "yes" to at least three of the last five questions, serious potential exists for a long-term relationship.
  • If you answered "no" to only one or two of the first five questions, and "yes" to just one or two of the last five questions, we can probably hang out, but we'll both be most comfortable socializing within a group. 
  • If you answered "yes" to questions 1-5 and "no" to questions 6-10, why are you even reading this blog? 
Don't let your quiz results deter you from trying to become my friend. Lots of attention and flattery can go a long way. I also find that it's easiest to become friends with women who have the same names as other women I'm friends with. I'm pleased to say that my newest friends -- Cathy, Aimee and Lisa -- have the exact same names as my college roommates! How great is that?

All kidding aside, this friendship stuff is serious business. Allow me to illustrate my point:

Rob and I have been talking about and looking forward to our 10-year plan, which involves some major life changes. In 10 years, the kids will be done with college (or I'll have cut them off financially), I'll no longer have to work at a university for tuition assistance, and Rob will have had enough of mediocre-at-best baseball seasons. Our 10-year plan has us moving south, somewhere close to the beach, where we'll simplify our lives with a refreshingly small piece of land that requires little to no maintenance since I'm the only one who does any yard work around here, dammit. Sounds great, right? The only possible glitch in our plans? My freakin' friends.

Frankly, I can't imagine life without them. And Facebook posts and the occasional text are not going to cut it. I need them close by so that when I have a free evening I can ask them to treat me to a margarita margaritas. I need to be able to count on their hugs, the sense of community I feel when I'm with them, and the clothing swaps. I wouldn't want to miss Karen's crab fest, New Year's Eve at the Mendell's, Cathie's Mardi Gras party, or Theresa's Labor Day get-together. And what would we do without the annual MacShimer bonfire? Just thinking about it makes me teary. But then again, my son would tell you that the sun coming up each day makes me teary. He's a smart ass.

As much as it pains me to think about moving on, for once in my life I'm going to try something new. I'm not going to move myself mentally or emotionally into the future. I'm going to enjoy every minute I spend with my wonderful friends, instead of wasting time worrying about what's next. I've missed out on a lot of good memories because my sights were always set on tomorrow.

Just one last thing. The Freakin' Angel Friendship Finder does not take into account ones material possessions. Please note that those individuals with a boat (who are willing to take me out on it) and/or a beach house (who are willing to invite me to it), are automatically added to the friend registry. With just the purchase of a boat or house, you too can ensure your place on the list!