Monday, June 7, 2021

A successful trip to the Gorge (unlike the one when I was a kid)

Lots of people have visited Red River Gorge (RRG). 

My parents attempted to take me, my brother, my cousin, my grandma, and my aunt many years ago when my brother and I were kids. 

We never made it.

Well, I guess technically we did make it because we drove around in the rain and fog on winding roads in the area that is called the Red River Gorge Geological Area.  

But we never saw an arch, a trail, a cave, a waterfall, or a big giant hole in the ground because my brother puked in the car (from said winding roads), and we all practically sat on my grandma's lap to avoid the puddle of stomach bile on the floor. 

That trip sucked, but boy-howdy was it memorable. 

When I started planning for a summer trip this year, I knew I didn't have the mental bandwidth to plan an out-of-state trip. Our governor has been very cautious about COVID, and some other governors acted like there hasn't been a pandemic going on for over a year, so I just didn't feel comfortable heading into some of the more bat-shit states. Plus, with my dad's health issues over the last 10 months, I didn't know what would be going on with him. I didn't want to be 10 hours away from home. 

Plus, we had a good time last year checking out several places in Kentucky that had been on my to-be-visited list: Cumberland Falls and Land Between the Lakes. 

I tend to not like to revisit the same places repeatedly, and RRG was someplace the kids had never been. I think maybe D and I had gone there while dating but that is seriously ancient history. And my childhood trip was a non-event. 

So we rented a house and took my parents, my MIL, my niece, and our crew and drove down. 

I think every family has a story or tradition of something they do or something one member does that everyone pokes fun of.

In my family of origin, it is my dad's notorious frugality. Now, I'm all about frugality, but I learned from my dad that paying for a halfway decent hotel or rental home is a very good idea. I'm not at all a big spender, but when you pay cheap, you often get cheap. 

In 1998, when D and I went to Las Vegas with my parents after we married, we stayed at what looked like a bordello. We could see the Bellagio, which was brand new, out our window. We looked longingly at the bells and whistles and newness of that hotel. 

In 1999, my brother, future SIL, our parents, and D and I went to Virginia Beach. My parents got the hotel. The pool didn't work at all and the hotel rooms smelled like someone sat in them each day smoking 3 packs of cigarettes. My parents STILL have not lived that hotel down. 

After that, my SIL and I have never allowed my parents to select the hotel or rental. 

In the family D and I have created, their story about us is that we pick the most remote, out of the way places to stay. Nearly every human who visits the Rocky Mountains stays in Estes Park. This was enough reason for me to rent a home clear on the other side of the Rockies. That side was just perfect for people like us who hate crowds and traffic. 

When we arrived at our RRG cabin, N (who drove with my MIL) commented on how we had to turn around 3 times because the roads didn't have roads signs so we weren't sure where we were going. She said, "This is so typical of them, picking the most isolated spot in the world." 

The weather was rainy quite a bit while we were there, but we still managed to find some dry(ish) times for quick hikes. Our hiking motto with G (who hates to hike) is also a perfect hiking motto when a 78-year-old who has had 4 surgeries in the last year is going too: easy and not long. 

I knew my dad was a tough old bird before this trip. He's had his colon removed, open-heart surgery, and the many surgeries with his cancer diagnosis from the last year. But I guess this RRG trip really brought it home to me when he hiked up the original Natural Bridge trail. It took him awhile and he had to stop to rest many times, but he made it up and back. He is not invincible, but he is the epitome of "As long as I can try, that's what I'm going to do." 

Four days away is about all we can handle with the kids being eager to return to our house and their friends and their devices. And truly, four days is all I can handle of coercing and listening them ask when they can return home. 

But those four days were pretty darn good.

Sky lift going up to Natural Bridge

Getting ready to walk through Fat Man's Misery. 


Angel Windows at RRG

Natural Bridge in background

Big honking native umbrella magnolias

The whole gang at Miguel's Pizza

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Fostering money management in kids

Lord knows, I don't have all the answers to how to raise kids mostly because each kid is different and what works for one doesn't work for the other two children I have. 

What I have learned is that you have to pay attention and find the incentive that your kid needs. 

Some of this "paying attention to incentives" comes from subbing. I had one boy who didn't want to clean up his area. He had papers on the floor and food wrappers. I tried encouraging and reminding until someone said there was a spider in the room and this particular child freaked out. 


I said, "You know, bugs really love messes. All those papers on the floor give them plenty of places to hide, and they love to eat the food residue that is on wrappers and on the food debris under your desk."

This kid cleaned up his area not because he wanted to please me (he did not care), but to avoid bugs. 

N and M are natural savers, while money in G's pockets burns figurative holes. 

I realized that I had to very deliberately talk about why he needs to save (because it causes me anxiety when he doesn't because it makes me worry he is going to grow up and live in my basement forever). 

I also had to put timelines on him until he can get better at putting timelines on himself and control his spending impulses. I have to incentivize saving because he doesn't have a natural tendency to want to do this. I'm hoping that after years and years and years he won't need me actually saying stuff to him but will have internalized it. 

He likes video games, so after he buys some, I don't let him buy for several months. However, if he is able to save up his money to a certain amount, he can then buy something. No saving=longer wait to buy another game. More saving=shorter wait. 

Since N now works a "real" part-time job, G and M are the primary neighborhood petsitters in their little business. They earn great money doing this. I have never given them an allowance, although this summer I am paying both boys for any chapter books they read ($5 per book).

G wants more money, and G isn't too interested in reading chapter books. I'm hoping payment for reading (which I've never done before) might be the incentive he needs. 

One of the issues D had with G saving up and spending his money was that he bought things that D thought were stupid. D said, "He doesn't even finish these games." 

My response was: "You buy a brand new iPhone every couple years and spend over $1,000 ON A PHONE which I think is stupid. You don't want someone telling you that you can or can't buy with money that is yours. Same applies to G."

The truth is I hate shopping so most everything that anyone buys I personally think is stupid.

But that's not the point.

The point is that the kids learn to save their money so they can buy without debt the stupid things they want. 

It is important that the kids know that mom and dad aren't going to buy them everything they want. If they want to drive, they pay the insurance and gas. If they want something beyond the basic food, shelter, clothing that we provide they can buy that stuff, too. We don't look at Christmas and birthdays as the time to get our children their heart's desires. 

My kids aren't perfect, but they have learned fairly well that no one can have everything they want the exact moment they want it. 

I try to remind them that when they see friends who have more than we have (and FFS, we have a lot), those kids have both moms and dads who work full-time. They are reminded that we don't know what those family's credit reports look like, how much retirement savings they have, how much overall debt they hold. We only see what they have; we don't know how they paid for it or if they paid for it or whether they'll be paying for it for a really long time. We don't know if the kids going to X,Y,Z college are in debt because of it. We don't know if these families pay outright for their cars or have loans they pay each month. My kids are reminded often that what they see is only half of the story (and that's generous). 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A delight (#11)

I took a very long pause on noticing delights; reality and the strange busyness of slowly going back to whatever passes for normal these days got in the way.

Today, though, was a bit delightful because N and I took a road trip that got me out of my house, out of my city, and also threw me all the way back to my teenage years.

We visited WKU which involved several (+)  hours in the car, some photos, a crap ton of walking, and lunch inside an actual restaurant since 1.) we are both fully vaccinated and 2.) it was 2 pm CST which means there were hardly any people inside. 

It was delightful to wander the campus which was beautiful with various pieces of public art on a day that I thought would rain but ended up being nice and breezy. 

It was delightful to feel like I was getting away (even though we came back the same day).

It was delightful (and maybe a little stressful) to talk to N about her ideas about what she wants and where she wants to go and what she might want to do with her life the next several years of her life. 

I was reminded of my own college visits and the decisions I made about where to go. Now me, 47-year-old me, happily medicated and well-versed in therapy me, would drop everything and go off to college away from my parents to explore and have fun. But the me of 30 years ago wouldn't and didn't. 

And N has to do what is right for her, the her she is now. Whatever that may be. 

We've still got one more college visit to do. 

The curmudgeon in me would normally hate to do this stuff but the travel-deprived-now-fully-vaccinated-me was ok with it. 

And that was a delight, too. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Please don't mistake my bitching for ungratefulness

It has taken me many years to realize that a person can bitch about things in their lives and become aggravated with the people and/or situations in their lives while still also recognizing that they are beyond fortunate in all the ways that really matter.

I don't know if F. Scott Fitzgerald actually said it or if it is just obvious, but intelligence, and dare I say wisdom, is being able to hold two diametrically opposed ideas in your head at the same time and still function. I didn't need to watch Pixar's Inside Out to know that maturity in one's emotional life comes from being sad and happy at the exact same time. Or how you can hate your child and love your child in the same moment. 

Black and white have always been gray. 

I have long been a Debbie Downer, a complainer. I can find 10 trillion things I don't like in the world. And sometimes people, especially those who don't know me well, think this means I'm just a whiner. Like I'm oblivious to how good I have it. 

It occurred to me today after interviewing a woman near my age with leukemia that I talk to a lot of people who have been through it. 

I've interviewed people whose children have terminal illnesses. I've interviewed people who have dealt with some kind of trauma (former sex workers, drug addicts, etc.). I've interviewed people who have suffered debilitating medical conditions or who themselves have terminal conditions. I've been in neonatal units and talked with parents whose children are struggling to live (pre-COVID). 

And when what you do to make a living means listening to people tell these often devastating stories, it makes you fundamentally understand the "there but for the grace of God" thing. 

What I know though is that even these individuals don't savor every moment in the way that movies make it out or the way people think they might. 

Being grateful doesn't mean thinking every single thing is perfect and wonderful and good. We have a name for that condition and it's called batshit nuts.

I personally think being grateful is much deeper and more involved that simply glossing over everything as if it is wonderful. Gratefulness is about looking frustration and aggravation and suckiness and pettiness clear in the eye as you bitch about it. And that doesn't happen out loud; that is an internalized process. 

You can bitch and be grateful AT THE EXACT SAME TIME. 

I can think my 13-year-old is a phenomenal asshole (which he often is) while at the same time knowing that he is smart and funny and that I'm so fortunate his issues are minor compared to so many other children's issues. I can be thankful that we have the ability to get consistent treatment for his issues. 

But being grateful doesn't mean he is not a royal PITA and that I don't have feelings of frustration.

Being grateful doesn't mean I feel less or should feel less. 

It means having feelings and stating feelings while deep down knowing that even in the midst of relatively NBD suckiness, things are still pretty ok. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Missing travel and Grumpy G

Our family will be going on a very low-key trip some two hours from our house this summer. It is all the logistics I can handle with only three of us fully COVID-vaccinated. 

As I was thinking about how much I really am looking forward to being away from home, it occurred to me how downright unpleasant many of our trips have been.

Not the entire trip, of course. 

But when you travel with kids, somebody is usually unhappy at least some of the time.

For us, our usually unhappy kid is the middle one. 

He is notorious for hating hiking (which D and I have always enjoyed). When I say hiking, I mean low-key hiking. We're not backpacking. We're not hiking tons of miles. 

Really, we just walk in the woods a little bit. 

I went down a bit of a rabbit hole to find as many photos as I could of G being grumpy on trips. One day these will be collected into a book for him. 

In this first pic, you would think we had drug the kids out all day at Disney. Nope. We have long been the kind of parents that religiously made our kids nap even when it interfered with whatever good time we were having. This was early in the day. G just wasn't having it. 

Here we were during a stop at a botanical garden on the way to somewhere. The evil-looking kid in the center is G. He seems unhappy. 

Mostly G is known for his "lying down in disgust" pose. 

He's done it in Michigan. 

And Kentucky. 

And Colorado.

And at Kennesaw National Battleground in Georgia. 

And those aren't the only such photos I have. 
I'm pretty sure we might get a new one on this summer's excursion. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

What does success mean?

N and I did her first of several college visits the other day, and it has made me think all kinds of things. 

She said something on the order of, "I don't want to be an adult," and I responded with something like, "I don't want to be an adult helping you become an adult." 

Mostly I meant paying for college, but I also mean just having to vicariously go through the ORDEAL.

Obviously, I love my kid and will support her, but MAN, there is so much angst and stress and ugh. And that rubs off on me and sends me down a rabbit hole of thinking. 

I'm ever closer to having to change my blog subtitle to "cognitive-behavioral therapy for a 50-something mother of three," but I still don't know "what I want to do with my life." 

I work part-time and don't make much money and that is by choice. 

Am I a success? 

Not by "the world's" standard. 

I'm not famous or wealthy. I don't hobnob with important people. I don't make decisions that have huge impact. I don't set policy. I won't be listed in history books. One hundred years from now there will be no one who knows I existed. 

One hundred years from now even most of the famous, wealthy, hobnobbing, decision-making people won't be remembered. 

When I was thinking about modern music (sometime after my daughter's boyfriend turned me on to this jewel of ridiculousness), it dawned on me that people say things about Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra being the "greatest." And I'm like, "WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC THAT PEOPLE MADE SOME 3,000 YEARS AGO?" How do we modern humans know that THAT music wasn't the greatest of all time?

Seventh grade social studies curriculum covers a wide swath of time, and I sometimes wonder about the short shrift that some of these civilizations get (if they get mentioned at all). 

My ultimate point is that one individual life doesn't matter much, and yet the paradox is that one individual life matters a ton. 

I've read and taught The Great Gatsby enough times to feel pretty sure that anyone with an ounce of sense should reconsider whatever they think "The American Dream" is. 

Even if you don't buy into the world's standard of success, it is a weight that hangs around your neck all the time. It is a voice that reminds you that maybe you aren't doing what you should be doing. Maybe you're not achieving the dream that someone other than you set for you? 

It takes making a conscious effort every day to redefine success in a way that makes sense to you.

Today, I subbed with a class of first graders. When they had library, the librarian read them this book, and they repeated the words after her. 

What a Wonderful World by George David Weiss - Used (Good) - 0689800878 by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing |

At the end of the day, I showed the kids a video of Louis Armstrong in 1967 singing the song. They were mesmerized. And I taught them a new "oat" word--moat--which one of the boys drew at the end of the day and showed me. 

I felt like a pretty damn successful substitute teacher today. 

I've spent years putting most of my attention and energy into my children. That has earned me zero pay and mostly intense headaches (and maybe at times a short-lived penchant for too much wine). Success, if there is such a thing in parenting, will come years and years from now. 

Maybe success is putting all your energy into something you believe in?

Maybe success is devoting attention to something you truly love doing?

Maybe success is dabbling in lots of things and becoming adept in different areas?

Maybe success is having integrity and being the type of person that people know they can trust?

Maybe success is as unique as each individual person who has ever graced this earth?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Butting my nose into other's business OR saying what needs to be said

All it takes is one Google search of my daughter's school and the word "dress code" to see my name blasted all over the internet. 

If anyone can tell you that one event posted on social media can change how others perceive you and have impacts on your life, it is me. 

At the time, I spoke out because it was the right thing to do. I didn't say shitty things about the principal or the school. I didn't cuss anyone. I maintained my dignity and integrity while pointing out that what the school did was wrong.

But I was in mid-40s so my pre-frontal lobe is totally done developing. 

And there was fall-out for me. The number of times I was called to substitute teach at the school after that was ZERO. I picked up jobs there that were canceled. My assumption is that they didn't want me in the building. To them, I wasn't to be trusted. 

I doubt I would have felt any differently had I been in their shoes. 

But enough about my experience. 

I get that teenagers are going to say stupid things on social media. 

(Background: A student on another team at my daughter's school posted a not-great comment about a local school that included a picture of members of the team. A parent from that other school told me about it. I emailed the team my daughter is on because some of the girls in the picture play on both teams. It was a notice that 1.) Something on social media had been shared with me and 2.) Be careful what you post on social media (because talking smack about other schools is childish and reflects poorly on your school and coach...WHICH IT DOES.) And maybe be careful about who you take pics with because some of them post stupid stuff.)

But as a 1.) person committed to integrity and a believe that social media should be civil if nothing else and 2) a parent of a teenager at that school and 3.) a parent member of the SBDM council for the school, it is my responsibility to remind students (any of them) what is expected of them while they are in their school uniform. 

The teacher in me came out a little bit, ok.

It is my responsibility to remind them (and parents) that conversations need to continually happen about 1.) who you pick for your friends and 2.) that your friends may post stupid shit that makes you look bad simply because they posted a picture of you with their asinine comment. 

(I KNOW about logical fallacies, including guilt by association. I may not agree with it, but it is part of how the world works. I don't make the rules.)

And to be perfectly honest, this kind of behavior simply burns me up to the core. I HATE bad sportsmanship, and it may be one of the reasons why I despise sports in general. If you see too much of it, and you don't love sports enough to forgive it, it sort of ruins it all for you. 

I didn't go looking for this problem; my kid isn't even on this team. This problem was brought to my attention (and subsequently brought to my daughter's attention). And, unfortunately, I'm a "if I see something, I say something" kind of person because I recognized some of the girls as being teammates of my kid. I know some of their parents, and I like to think that if I would be angry to see my kid's picture on a post like that, they would too. 

I ended up having two people (full grown adults) say something along the lines of "Well, the other team was doing X,Y and Z." To which I responded, "Just because the other kids or other team does stupid stuff doesn't mean our school and our students stoop to that level." 

I don't have many lines in the sand, but this is one of them. 

So did I overstep? 


Did my email cause the coach more grief? 


Did I further my reputation as somebody who says shit no one likes to hear and is a bitch?

Almost certainly. 

Would I do it again?

Yes. Because it isn't a bad thing to remind young people with undeveloped pre-front cortexes that social media can follow them around and cause an awful lot of stress in their lives (even if they never intended it.)