Kidnapping fears and realities

Not my baby.  Mine was even cuter.Before my eldest was born, a baby was kidnapped from the hospital where I would eventually deliver.  It was in the news every night.

A woman, dressed in scrubs, walked into the maternity ward, took a baby from its mother “to return it to the nursery,” and left the hospital with it.  It took months to find the child.

This was the incident that made the hospitals in our area enact strict procedures for visitors checking in and out of the maternity, constant badge checks of nurses and doctors, etc.  None of that allayed my fear that someone would snatch my child.

Before going to the hospital, I made my husband promise that he would Not Let The Baby Out of His Sight.  Ever.

He did not want to agree to this, but knew that I could not deal with one more fear, rational or not.

I hadn’t planned for a hospital birth, and was already terrified of the c-section which was required to get my son out (he was breech and quite literally stuck, having somehow hooked his foot under my pelvic bone).

So, as they were sewing up his wife, he reluctantly but dutifully left the room so our son would not be out of his sight.

When he walked into the recovery room, without my baby, before I could say a word, he exclaimed, “It’s okay.  Your mom is with him.  I told her not to let him out of her sight.”  She didn’t.

We made it out of the hospital several days later without ever having lost sight of our child, so, even if he had not been the only newborn in the building with bright red hair, we would have no doubt that, not only had he not been kidnapped, but that he had not been switched with another baby.

Fast forward about three years.  It was beginning to dawn on me that all mothers find their own children exceptionally beautiful, even the ones who the rest of the world can see are mistaken.

So when the mother of a preschool classmate asked, “Do you worry a lot about your children being kidnapped?” I tried to sound nonchalant, and lied, “I try to be cautious, but, no, I don’t obsess over it.”

It seemed the prudent thing to say, so her reply shocked me.  “If I were you, I would worry all the time.  Your sons are so beautiful.  They look exactly like the sort of children who kidnappers want.”

Yikes!  I had been right to worry those past three years!  My sons really were the ones who would be the most likely prey for kidnappers wanting to sell off healthy, beautiful toddlers.

As you may have guessed, my children never were kidnapped.  Whether that is because I remained hypervigilant or because they really weren’t exceptionally desirable targets we will never know.

Now, it all seems funny.  Good stories of a new mom, so in love with her children that she was convinced that any lurking kidnapper would, of course, prefer her sons to every other child on the playground.

The reality of kidnapping is very different.  One of my friends experienced it this week.

She and her eleven year old were taken at gunpoint, although she was released soon afterward.  You can read her story here.  I promise it has a happy ending.

Every movie a children’s movie?

My sister reminded me this week that Grease was the first movie she’d seen without an adult,  My mom dropped my brother, sister, and me off at the theater.  In June of 1978 that meant I was not quite eleven and she was a few months from turning seven.

Which led her to exclaim, “Who let’s a six year old watch that?” and reminisce about my mother’s look of shock when her tiny daughter danced and sang along to Greased Lightening.

Then I listed several more entirely inappropriate movies which I remember watching as a very young child.  Either my mother did not think about it at all, or she assumed that if the actors were clothed, we were clueless.

Even a naive child could not remain entirely clueless watching Natalie Wood steal her mom’s skeevy boyfriend in This Property is Condemned, and, unlike my sister, I knew full well that Gigi was being trained for prostitution.

Not that this is surprising.  I’ve told my husband for years that I never saw family tv as a child.  My mom only watched cop shows, variety shows, and MASH when I was little.  Quincy, Rockford Files, Starsky and Hutch, Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, those I remember.  The Waltons?  Never.

Not that it seems to have harmed either of us, but my sister and I both exercised more caution with our own children.  I wonder if her girls have even seen Gigi?


Anticipating Happiness

I am a big fan of happiness.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18A few years ago, I had to work hard to regain my sense of happiness, and during that time, I embraced this verse:

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It reminded me, again and again, that wanting to be happy is not selfish.

I do not believe that happiness is the purpose of life.  Nor do I believe it is a guarantee or a right.  I don’t believe that the pursuit of happiness is an excuse to put your own desires above the needs of others.  That would be selfish.

I also know that life is full of grief and sorrow and times when joy seems impossible.  The Bible also tells us that there is a time for weeping and mourning.  “Sad things are sad,” I tell my children.  “Grieve over them.  Give yourself time to be sad.  Then remember to be happy again.”

When we’re ready to be happy, I believe that it is something we can cultivate, and that it is closely tied to a sense of gratitude.

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.  Robert Louis StevensonI agree with Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”  Moods are contagious, and I’d rather spread happiness.   I’d rather bring out the best in others than drain them or drag them down.  I don’t advocate being artificially chipper.  That’s not my personality, but I am quietly joyful and content.

In a greater sense, I have so much for which to be thankful, and delighting in life is the best way I have of expressing my gratitude to God.

Happiness isn’t always easy.  Sometimes, we slip into grumbling and focusing on the negative.  We develop patterns of behavior and thought that promote discontent.  It happens so subtly, that we often don’t notice until the habit has become engrained.  So when Middle Sage announced that they were going to devote July to assessing habits that might be interfering with happiness, I knew I wanted to follow along.

On Monday, the featured habit was Waiting for the Future.  When I took the initial assessment, this isn’t one I thought applied to me.  I am happy right now; I’m not waiting for something to change to be happy.  However, they included this quote, from Eckhart Tolle:

“Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. You don’t want what you’ve got, and you want what you haven’t got. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create inner conflict between your here and now, where you don’t want to be, and the projected future, where you want to be. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present.”

Am I doing this?  Yes.  What is that future I want?

An empty nest.

I love my children, but teens are not my thing.  I love them.  Usually, I like them.  Sometimes, I even enjoy them.  Mostly, I want them to grow up and move out.

There is a part of me that wanted to delete that, because I think it sounds harsh, but there it is.  I don’t find parenting a teen any more fun than I found being a teen.  I want my kids to grow up and move out, the same way that I spent my own teen years wanting to grow up and move out.  Then, I looked forward to independence.  Now, I look forward to being alone with my husband, who is my favorite person in the entire world.  I daydream about it, and in my dreams, we are Incredibly Happy.  Sometimes I shop online for our retirement home, the one that doesn’t have enough bedrooms for anyone to stay with us for more than a weekend, the one we’ll never buy because I really do want my children and future grandchildren to be comfortable staying for a week or two.

For the past couple days, I’ve been pondering this – this that I would have named anticipation, but which Tolle has named inner conflict.  Is it interfering with my happiness right now?

Would I enjoy my last teenager more if I wasn’t looking forward to her leaving me one day?  It seems like I should say yes, but I don’t think so.  I don’t think the eye-rolling would bother me less, or I’d have more patience with the know-it-all-sass.

I would not be more tolerant of the mess.  My younger son is here for the summer, for the longest visit since he moved away three years ago.  I forgot what a slob he is!  No, that’s not quite right.  I forgot how much I dislike living with a slob.  I miss him; I don’t miss living with him.

For me, anticipating an empty nest is more than escapism, although it is that.  It enables me to remember that this phase will only last a few more years.  It reminds me that I do miss my children when they move away.  It reminds me to not snap at every stomp and door slam, because this temperamental teen is not too many years away from being a young woman whose company I hope to enjoy.  When she visits my empty nest.

(Please, know that I do not believe, not even a smidge, that people who suffer from clinical depression are ungrateful or spiritually lacking or that depression is a personal failing or an improper response to God.  My desire for you is that you will find a treatment plan that works for you, one that enables you to regain both health and happiness.  If you would like me to pray specifically for you, I would be honored to do so.)

I don’t think of myself as this type of crazy mom, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

I should have listened to my husband.

He said we should leave at 6:30am.  I said there was no point in leaving that early because Tattered Cover doesn’t open until nine; I’d checked the website.

He said people would be lined up.  I said people are not going to line up that early in the morning to buy a book.

We left the house around 7:30, and we drove by to see if there was a line.  No line, so we went to the library so I could return a book.  Then back to park near the bookstore.

As we walk up, the sign on the door says it is open.  We go inside.  We see the line.

It starts at the registers, wraps around the first floor, up the stairs, and to the back of the second floor.  We get in line.

I'll be number 356 in line for the book signing!  I can never claim to be sensible again.I always think of Denverites as late risers, but apparently they will get in line early to buy a Neil Gaiman book.  Not just a book.  A book that comes with a number for the signing next week.

My husband stood in line while I browsed.  This is kind of his thing.  He will stand in line for us at amusement parks, too, while we wander off to use bathrooms and generally lollygag about.

The line moved fairly quickly once they started selling books at 9:00am.

As we neared the register (I joined him in line once he made it through the second floor, down the stairs, and neared the register.), he left because our parking meter was about to expire.  So I had the privilege of buying the books and getting our book signing numbers.

We will be number 356 in line.

There is only seating for 300 in the room where Gaiman will be reading from The Ocean at the End of the Lane and answering written questions.  Fortunately, the number does not apply to the seating.  For that, we have to get in line again next week.  Which I’m sure we will.

As we drove home, I conceded that he’d been right, and that number 356 hardly seemed worth the effort.  Anything in the first 100 would have, but 356, not so much.  He replied with, “It’ll make a great birthday gift.”

Because we don’t go to this sort of effort for ourselves.  For ourselves, we check books out at the library.  We enjoy author talks, but we don’t sit in line all day for them.

But this is for our son.  Our beloved firstborn.  Who is an adult.  And a Gaiman fan.  And has a job that doesn’t really care about scheduling requests.

Visions of Cabbage Patch frenzy in my head, I said, “Did you ever think we’d be this kind of parents?”

He said, “That was obvious when you had us searching three states for Woody.”

Woody, early proof that we really were those kinds of parents.Now, that time, back in 1995, he should have listened to me.

We had acquired every one of the Burger King toys for Toy Story except Woody.  Woody!  The most important character of them all.

Our local Burger King, and the ones in neighboring towns did not have any.  I asked him to check the one in the World Trade Center, where he worked, reasoning that there weren’t many children in that area, so they’d have plenty of Happy Meal toys.

For a reason I never understood, he resisted this, suggesting that I call my mom and ask her to check Burger Kings near her.  I did; there weren’t any there, either.  In the meantime, he checked every Burger King he passed in NJ on his long commute to the city.

Finally, all other avenues exhausted, he went to the one at the WTC, and bought two Woodys.  They had tons of them.

The boys were happy, almost as happy as me.  Acquiring that complete set had become a heroic quest.

I wish I hadn’t given them to my niece and nephew when my sons no longer cared about them.  I should have put them in a trophy case, to remind myself that I really am that kind of mom.


Who Is Old Economy Steve?

My younger son sent me this link last week.  “I know it’s not all true,” he said, “but it does feel this way.”

As I told him, I can understand that it feels that way, but, no, it’s not all true.

I don't know anyone who got their dream job right our of college.I do not know anyone who paid off their student loans with their first paycheck.  I know a lot of people who had to delay buying houses because of their student loans.

Most of the people I knew did get jobs straight out of college.  That is true.  None of them were dream jobs.  They were decent entry level jobs; some were working towards a dream jobs, but they were not themselves Dream Jobs.

Actually, I worked year round at minimum wage to pay my tuition and rent.I worked minimum wage jobs throughout high school and college to pay my college tuition and rent.  Not summer jobs.  All year round.  Sometimes more than one part time minimum wage job.  Yes, tuition was cheaper then, about a third of what it is today.   Certainly not $400.

Gas was about a quarter of what it is today.  However, rents were not much different.  I know this because my son attends the same school I did.  When he told me what off campus housing was – it was barely higher than what I paid 25 years ago, when minimum wage was $3.55 an hour.

As I told my son these things, he said, “I get that, but I think the discouraging thing for my generation is that we’re the first ones who don’t expect to have a higher standard of living than our parents.  You and Dad did better than your parents, and they did better than theirs, but we won’t.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be proud of what you accomplished, but it’s discouraging to think that I won’t.”

Only a twentysomething could say this so earnestly.  I know because his father once believed it, too, when he was twentysomething.

When my husband was applying for the especially low (less than 10%!) interest rate loan available to low income, first time home buyers in 1989, he told me, sorrowfully, that he’d never earn as much as my dad.  He truly felt bad about it, as if he was letting me down.

He was comparing his earnings at 25 with my dad’s earnings at 56.  He was looking at the house my dad bought when he was in his forties, and not thinking about the fact that at 25, my dad was an undergraduate who was happy to no longer be working in a box factory.

We've owned four houses.  We've made money on one, lost it on three.Just like my son is looking at us, in our forties, and not thinking about the years my husband’s income barely covered the mortgage.

(That was a different house, with an interest rate that adjusted up every year at a steeper rate than the slim cost of living adjustments to our paycheck.  We lost money on it, too.  House prices don’t always go up.)

I also told my son that he was wrong about us.  Compared to our parents, we didn’t accomplish much.  My parents and my husband’s parents, they are the ones who deserve the kudos for upward mobility.

My grandparents were small town poor, coal miners.  My husband’s grandparents were inner city working (or not working) poor.  Our parents lifted themselves into the middle class, moved to Suburbia, and raised their children to work hard and value an education.

My husband and I?  We didn’t increase our socio-economic status a bit.  Yes, my husband wears a white collar where his dad wore blue.  However, our standard of living is about the same as that of our parents.  We raised our children to work hard and value an education, too.

I suspect that my son, the one who is worried about his future, will remain part of the middle class, despite what he hears from Old Economy Steve.   One day, I think he’ll even have a child who looks at him and thinks, “I’ll never do as well as my dad.”

Now I get it, Dad.

I obsessively turn off lights when I leave a room.
I know love can be expressed through auto maintenance.
I consider a shower lasting longer than ten minutes extravagant.
I think neighborliness includes a decently kept yard.
I always put my shoes away.

This is my father’s heritage in me.  None of this have I successfully imparted in my own children, despite years of effort.

There were times he must have felt like I was a lost cause, too.  There were times, I know, when he looked at his children and thought, “How stupid can you be?”

Like the time he handed me cash as he told me, “Go to Sears and buy a new battery for you car.”

I was in college, blissfully unaware that I needed a new battery.  Not one for unnecessary spending, I trusted that if he said I needed one, I did.

As soon as I could, I went to Sears and bought the battery.

On my next visit home, he looked under the hood of my car and, clearly irritated, said, “I thought I told you to buy a new battery.”

Dad, I get it now.

How stupid could I be?

“I did.  It’s in the trunk.”

The look on his face.  Incredulous.  How stupid could his daughter be?  Has she really been driving around with the battery in her trunk for months?

Yes, yes I had, and as soon as I saw the look on his face, I realized this had been a mistake.

Then the grin, amusement over riding anger and annoyance, as he told me that I was supposed to get it installed; it was included in the price.

“Oh.  I thought it was like the oil changes.  Something you liked to do yourself.”

“No,” he shook his head.  “Go back to Sears and get your battery installed.”

How stupid could I be?  I was less embarrassed by the laughing guys at Sears Automotive when I returned to ask them to please install the battery than I was by that look on my own father’s face.

Fast forward twenty five years.

My fifteen year old daughter, staring at me, sighs the dramatic sighs of the bored.  More than once.  Glancing out the window at the patio nearly over-run with grass and weeds, I respond, “I thought you were told to weed the patio this summer?”

She snaps, “I’ll get to it by the end of the summer!”

I look at her, incredulous.  How stupid can my daughter be?  Could she really think we meant “by the end of the summer?”

“It doesn’t work like that,” I say.  “The aim is to pull all the weeds out now, so we can use the patio during the summer.  Then it’s only a small job to keep up with it when new weeds grow.”  I try not to laugh as I see the look on her face change.  The mortification of having misunderstood something so obvious.

I miss you, Dad.  Your granddaughter might be, like her mother, slow on the uptake, but she is an excellent gardener.  You would have liked her.

I am taking part in a Blog Hop.  For more memories of fathers and daughters by Generation Fabulous, click here.

A rose, or a daughter, by any name…

What's in a name?  Would you allow your child to change theirs?Last week, I was talking to a friend about our children’s names.  Like me, she adopted older children.  I asked if she’d changed their names.

Like me, she’d only changed middle names.

I didn’t easily come to that decision myself.  I really wanted to name my own child, from scratch.  New life – new language – new name?  Just plain possessiveness?  The sheer fun of choosing names?  Yes, yes, and yes.

I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I read pros and cons, all written by adoptive parents, certain they’d chosen correctly, or at least not incorrectly.  I wanted to read something from the perspective of an older adoptee, but did not find anything.

Then, I remembered Patty Duke.  I’d read an article about her once, decades ago, where she spoke about how traumatic it had been to have her name changed for the stage, as if her identity had been stolen from her.

How much more traumatic could it be for a child whose life has already been so out of control and full of loss and change?

I kept the given name, and chose a middle name for my daughter.

Nine years later, my daughter would like to change it.  She chose to go by her middle name several years ago, and if everyone would call her by this name, she would not be pushing for a legal name change.  However, they don’t.

A rose, or a daughter, by any other name...Imagine you are from a foreign land, and your name is Karen.

In your homeland, this is a soft name, pronounced Kah-rin, with a slightly rolled R.  You move to America, and everyone calls you Care-en.  It’s spelled the same, but it’s not your name.  You tell people how to say your name, but many still call you Care-en.

Now imagine that your name is Karen (Kah-rin)  Elizabeth, and you ask your teachers to call you Elizabeth.  They call you Care-en.  You explain that your name is pronounced Kah-rin, but prefer to use Elizabeth.  They call you Care-en all year.

The first year in public school, she began mentioning that she wished I’d done her names the other way around.  I told her I wished I had, too, but explained my reasoning for not.

The second year, she began saying that she’d like to change her name.  I told her that it’s easy and free to do when you get married, if you still want to do it then.

Recently, she asked could we please do it now?  We’re starting the process this summer.

Unfortunately, it won’t be legal when school starts in August, so she will begin high school as Care-in.

Is hindsight 20/20?

If I had it to do over again, would I change her name from the start?

A rose, or a daughter, by any name...As tempting as it is to think that it would have been easier to change my daughter’s name nine years ago, I don’t know that it would have been easier for her.

I think she would have accepted it at the time, but would she have resented it later?  Would she now, as a fifteen year old, or later, as a 30 year old, wish to reclaim a heritage and identity which was stripped away?  How can I know?

I do know that now, it is her decision, one that I think she is capable of making for herself.

Have you ever thought about changing your name?
Would you allow your child to change theirs?

A lesson from my mother: Letting Go

“It's come at last", she thought, "the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.” ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Over the years, I quickly dismissed most of the advice my mother gave me.  She wasn’t witty or wise.  She expressed her worries and regrets as criticisms and directives for living a life that didn’t interest me.

Occasionally, her advice would be both annoying and comical, as when she spent the first week of my son’s life trying to convince me that if I did not tape his ear against his head it would, “stick out funny the rest of his life.”  It didn’t.

Mostly, though, her advice was forgettable.

What I learned from my mother – both good and bad – I learned by her example.

It’s intimidating to think about, but being a parent means having everything you say and do scrutinized by your children.  With their spouses one day, they’ll be analyzing it all, peppering their conversations with “We’ll never do that.”

When I began my motherhood journey, my list of I won’t was considerably longer than the list of ways in which I wished to emulate my mother.

Over the past twenty three years of parenting, though, my sympathy for my mother has grown.

Grown don't mean a nothing to a mother.  A child is a child.  They get bigger, older, but grown?  What's that supposed to mean?  Toni Morrison, BelovedIt wasn’t the years of parenting toddlers or young children that softened me, nor the endurance trials of the teenaged years.

My parenting style never came to resemble my mother’s, and she never stopped giving me unwanted advice.

Unsolicited Advice became part of a new list of Things Not to Do to Adult Children, most of which fell under the resolution Let My Children Lead their Own Lives.

Keeping that resolution has been a learning process, the one that has greatly increased my sympathy for my mom.

Watching my mother be the parent to an adult who was sometimes struggling, I could see her pain.  Watching her learn – slowly – to swallow her words, to – eventually – not swoop in to rescue, and to – finally – be quietly supportive when I knew she wanted to scream and cry.

It took a long time, but after nearly fifty years of parenting, amazingly, she let go.  Not every problem was her problem to solve.  Not every mistake was hers to point out and correct.  Not every circumstance required her advise.

I doubt she feels this way, but in my eyes, these last few have been her finest years of parenting.

Letting go is probably the hardest lesson she learned, and the one she taught the best.

Just in time, too, because I already have adult children whom I, at times, want to swoop down and rescue.  Ones who need to figure out life on their own.  Ones for whom I am praying earnestly.  Ones who probably wish I gave a little less unsolicited advice.


This post is part of a Generation Fabulous Blog Hop. Would you like to read more of the lessons we’ve learned from our mothers?  Click here.

What’s that word for big and beautiful?

One day my baby stood in front of a mirror, frowned, and said, “I am a fat little boy.”

“You’re not fat!  You’re chubby!”  I responded, instantly projecting my own body image issues on my adorable three year old.

Through narrowed eyes, he looked at me, daring me to disagree, “That just means I’m the cute kind of fat.”

I scooped him up, gave him a dozen kisses on that sweet spot of his neck that always made him laugh and said, “Emphasis on the cute.”

I told him that he was the perfect size, exactly the size God made him to be, and he was healthy and handsome and, most important, loved.  He outgrew the chubbiness, but not the cuteness.

Nearly twenty years later, chubby is still our family word for “the cute kind of fat.”

I wish society had a word for that concept, too, the idea that a person, or a feature, could be larger than average and attractive at the same time.  Neither skinny nor its opposite fat convey beauty, but thin does.  We have no companion for thin, no word that denotes a larger vision of health and beauty.

Over the past couple days, I’ve seen this Dove campaign about beauty posted dozens of times.  If you haven’t seen it, take a look.

The emphasis here isn’t on weight, but listen to the words the women use to describe themselves.  “My mom told me I had a big jaw.”  “A fat, rounder face.”  “A pretty big forehead.”

Unless we’re talking about breasts, big is always a negative.  We don’t want big chins, noses, foreheads, arms, or feet.  Okay, big eyes – we want big eyes, like a Disney princess.  Big eyes, big breasts, everything else small, that’s our ideal.  That sounds like pornographic anime doesn’t it?

Ew.  I wish I hadn’t thought of that.


Words matter.  Casual remarks can sting for years, and they don’t have to be directed at us.  A childhood spent hearing negative remarks about fat people doesn’t generally result in someone who feels beautiful if she puts on a few extra pounds.

The words used to describe us become the way we define ourselves.

I didn’t grow up with words like chubby, or assurances that I was the perfect size.  I was called sturdy.  Amazonian.  Big.

Big.  Mostly, I was big.  Was I?

I was tall.  Very tall compared to my mother’s family, men and boys included.  I was also taller than my older brother for most of our childhood, which delighted neither of us.

I wanted to be small.  Petite girls were cute in a way I knew I never could be.  I was big; big and cute don’t go together.

Big is the ugly stepsister cutting off her own toes to cram her foot into a tiny glass slipper.  Petite dances all night with the prince and lives happily ever after.

I’m an adult now.  I want to think I’m past all that.  I carefully choose words for my daughter, knowing they’ll replay in her head for years to come.

When she tells me she hates being short, I point out how much easier it is for her to find clothes and shoes that fit, how much closer she is to the average woman’s height, how perfectly proportioned, how beautiful and healthy she is, exactly the size God created her to be.

I tell her that every woman I know wishes she were different in some way, even the most beautiful women in the world.  I tell her I always wished I wasn’t so tall (I’m careful to say tall, not big).

My husband walks by and grins, “But then I wouldn’t have noticed you.”

My prince.

Words.  They matter.  Choose them wisely.