Category Archives: teenagers

This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record

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This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record

I have zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies. They are the policy makers equivalent of the parent driving in 1975 with their head turned sideways with two finger tips of the left hand barely grazing the steering wheel, and the right arm swinging wildly towards the back seat of the car while screaming “I don’t care who started it, I’m going to stop it. Now don’t make me pull over!” Stupid, somewhat dangerous, short-sighted and completely lacking in justice.

A few days ago my son was targeted in PE class (you can’t call it gym anymore, people lose their mind over that). They were playing “touch” football, my son was tackled when the ball wasn’t anywhere near him. This might be considered horseplay if the perpetrator wasn’t a notorious jackass. He put one hand on my kid’s face and the other on his collar bone near his neck. My kid started to push back and cursed at the thug wannabe who started it. Technically my kid could get in trouble for standing up for himself, that’s f*cked.

My son was lucky. Although no one saw the physical altercation, the PE teacher totally had my son’s back.  He pretended not to hear the curse words my son surely yelled. Why? Because my kid is a good student who has never (not once) been in trouble at school. He’s in 8th grade so that says a lot about his character, luckily the teacher recognized this. The other kid is on the dirty dozen list at school. He’s been a troublemaker since 1st grade everyone knows this kid is trouble, everyone. These are the people that lawyer up when the school tries to rein in their unruly child. So this kid continues to terrorize the good kids and gets the occasional metaphoric slap on the wrist. What he really needs is a punch in the gut and a kick in the ass, metaphorically speaking of course…..my tongue is so far into my cheek right now.

The system is broken. This zero tolerance stuff is ineffective – why – because you need to consider the facts on a case by case basis. I’ve heard horror stories about kids making pretend guns using their index finger as the muzzle and their thumb as the hammer. Kindergartners  have gotten expelled for this, expelled. I’ve heard of middle school girls getting suspended for bringing Midol in to ease cramping. It’s ridiculous the pendulum has swung too far my friends. Time to bring common sense and her brother good judgement back to school. I really miss those two.

This sums it up nicely –

 

 

 

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Sober October #34

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Sober October #34

She knew I was home by the trail of vomit that started at the front door and lead to the bedroom where I slept had passed out. My mother, her fiance and my brother had been out all day. They did some family bonding outing that I had no interest in. Think vampires in sunlight enthusiasm, I did not want to go. I had better plans, with them gone for several hours, I could party.

Now the term “party” was pretty inconsistent. I didn’t have much money, a place to go or any kind of real plan but that did not deter me. I found some other bored teens to hang out with and we decided to find some trouble. So in our quest to “party” with no plan and no funds, we decided to hitch hike. Sad part is this wasn’t the first time we used this as a means to get high or drunk, it was “party roulette”. We never knew who would pick us up and what adventure awaited us. I cringe at the old memory, the sheer stupidity of it and the absolute lack of self-preservation. Pure insanity.

The details are a blur. They were a blur 34 years ago and they haven’t sharpened with the passing of time. I know I got drunk with strangers. I was in and out of a black out. I remember asking the driver to pull over so I could vomit. Somehow I stumbled up the steep wooden steps to our shabby apartment above the local hardware store. I don’t know how much time passed before my mother found me and insisted I was drunk.

I was a good liar then. I could think up shit on the spot like my life depended on it. I feigned the flu, a stomach bug, so many classmates had it. I convinced my mother’s fiance and my brother that was the case. Mom wasn’t having it. She took me to the Emergency Room to confirm her suspicions, I was busted.

My mother knew a thing or two about drunks, she was in the infancy stage of getting sober and it wasn’t her first attempt. I like to joke that my gene pool is polluted and it is, mostly with alcoholism and heart disease. At 15, I was pretty safe from heart disease but alcoholism doesn’t have a minimum age, that bastard.

Fast forward a few days and I was greeted with “you’re going to rehab” when I got home from school. I had 12 hours to say my good-byes and then I was off. I had no idea what to expect but I figured I could get some street cred from the experience. To say I was flippant is an understatement. I had no intention of getting sober. I was just doing time, garnering pages for my future memoir.

My mother drove me to the place which was a little more than an hour from where we lived. It was in Long Branch, New Jersey and was billed as an adolescent rehab, it formerly served as school for troubled boys. Part of it looked like an old house and part of it looked like a dorm. Guys and girls were separated by common rooms. There was a cafeteria in the basement with intake, detox and a nurses station on the second floor.

I remember getting asked a series of personal questions in the intake office. Based on some of the questions, I didn’t think I belonged. I mean I never lost a job or drove drunk (psst…still 15). I was focused on finding the “not me” which I later learned would be “not yet” if I continued on the path I was on. The place was only open about a month when I arrived, the smell of fresh paint still lingered in parts of the sprawling building.

I remember the first time I walked into the Day Room, “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash was playing. There were maybe a dozen residents there all between the ages 14 and 17. They came from a range of backgrounds and they all had way more experience than me. Most of them had been arrested for a variety of similar reasons and almost all came from broken families. It was misfit island for teens with a fairly structured daily schedule. We had job assignments, group therapy and some type of meeting, AA or NA. On Sundays a couple came in to bring us their version of Christianity.

The place was so new it was still working out the kinks. Kids were pairing up and couples could be seen holding hands in the Day Room. Most of the staff there were sober an average of 2.5 years and were deep into the zealot phase of recovery (that usually winds down sometime after the 5th year). I don’t know what qualifications they had beyond early sobriety. The counselors were more skilled and had some credentials.

I learned a lot in that place and much of it has followed me all these years. I remember reading the Twelve Steps of AA on a poster. Foolish girl, I thought I could get through a chunk of them just by reading them and giving them a moment’s thought. These steps provided a road map for living and I still abide by them.

THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. 

    Copyright  1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing (now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)
    All rights reserved.

 

I know there’s a lot of God stuff in those steps. Relax, it’s a God of your understanding, a Higher Power (HP). I have heard some interesting spins on HP over the years….some people have used their home AA/NA group as their Higher Power. I once heard someone speak that stated Jack Daniels was their Higher Power because it was stronger than them. Another friend chose Good-Orderly-Direction as their God. I stopped judging this stuff decades ago and life got a whole bunch simpler.

About three days into my stay something remarkable happened. I was in the bedroom that I shared with a roommate but I was alone. I can still see myself sitting there with my white jeans and favorite scarf, a beam of light shone in through the window closest to my bed, near where I was sitting. People call it a spiritual awakening, for me it was an awareness that changed my life forever. In that moment, I got a clear picture of the destructive path my life was on. I also got an intense soul deep understanding that it did not have to stay that way. In that powerful moment I felt the presence of something greater than me and I made a decision to get sober. I have been faithful to that decision for 34 years now.

This longevity of sobriety is somewhat rare. What’s really exotic is getting and staying sober at such a young age. I can only take partial credit for that. That loving, crazy and ever vigilant HP that watches over me has done most of the heavy lifting all these years. I have also met a thousand sober angels along the way. People that guided me through different phases of my life. The ones that told me the harsh truths but always with a solution or helpful suggestion. I’ve also met people that determined I could not possibly be an alcoholic because I got sober so young. I don’t try to win them over with stories of the stupid shit I did for my brief time using. I do remind myself of something I learned long ago in that rehab….”it isn’t how much or how long you drank that matters, it’s what happens when”. When I drank I always put myself in harm’s way, always.

If I can pinpoint one thing that has kept me sober it’s probably the realization that being sober is actually the easier, softer way. That probably sounds nuts to people who aren’t familiar with alcoholism but it’s the truth. If staying sober was harder than being drunk, I would have gotten drunk long ago. Down to my toes I believe that this is the best path for me and that’s why I’ve stayed on it so long.

 

 

 

 

Of Course, Me too.

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Of Course, Me too.

“Me too” is trending on social media right now. It’s a way for people (mostly women but not exclusively) to identify that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point. At the risk of sounding trendy, this is a tinder box of triggers for a lot of us.

Where to start…..early y’all I grew up in the 70’s when women were definitely not seen as equals. I was a kid – probably 5 the first time someone tried to get fresh with me. We were visiting a friend of my mother. It was a family but the guy and his offspring were overly sexual. I remember seeing boob mugs and a novelty lady parts on the guys desk. His son, a few years older than me, kept trying to get me naked. I was 5 years old. I refused to get naked for him despite his relentless requests.

Fast forward to me at 7 years old, living in New Jersey. There was a teen boy that lived by my babysitter. He got me to make out with him in a fort. What teen wants to make out with a 7 year old? He was definitely a predator in training. I remember him telling me how we would get married when I was 16. Even at 7, I knew he was full of shit.

Leap to my teen years and I wasn’t making great life choices. I had a brief stint with drugs and alcohol which lasted about 18 months. It was the early 80s and there were times when I was stupid enough to hitch hike, sometimes alone. One time in particular, the driver took me to a remote location. I knew I was in trouble and my teen brain was in overdrive. I liked to think I was cool but I was very inexperienced and afraid. I talked my way out of an assault by making up a story about a boyfriend in South River that had ties to the mob. I rattled of names of guys and streets that were completely fabricated. The driver must have believed me because things didn’t escalate. That was a really close call.

Fortunately I stopped drinking and using drugs at the age of 15. I got sent to an adolescent rehab which was a fairly new concept in 1983. Ten months later, I was in a sexual relationship with the man who was previously my counselor in rehab. I have tried to convince myself that this was consensual. It was in some ways but it wasn’t a level playing field. He was 32, I was 16. If a 32 year old man shows any interest in my daughter when she is 16, there will be hell to pay.

When I started working, harassment was just another thing you had to deal with on the job. I was a cashier at a grocery store for several years in my late teens. One older man in the dairy department insisted on hugging all of the girls and then he would make comments about their breast size. I hated this and mentioned it to management. The hugging stopped but I was looked at as a trouble maker from that point on. “Oh, it’s no big deal, he’s just old and likes hugs” my co-workers would say. “Really” I would retort, “he just commented on your cup size.”

I worked for a large corporation in the early 90s. I was good at my job and got consistent promotions. I was there about 4 years when one of my former managers heard that I had ended a relationship. The next day a box from Victoria’s Secret was on my desk. It contained two camisole nightgowns with matching robes and two pairs of thigh high stockings. It cost a small fortune and instantly made me feel uncomfortable. This man was no longer my manager and we rarely spoke. And if that wasn’t enough, his wife worked for the same company. So I handled it in a way that would leave him some dignity. I thanked him for the gift and said “I’m sure you only meant this as a friendly gesture but it makes me uncomfortable”. I requested that he take it back, he refused and I let it drop. By this point, I had learned the importance of deescalation.

I remember going to a sober get together with male acquaintances that said they would not give me a ride home unless I blew them. I started walking and they eventually caught up with me to give me a ride but I didn’t feel safe. Even sober, I could not escape creeps. There was one man in particular that would go to the same weekly AA meeting as me, he harassed me every time he saw me. Every. Single. Time. The kicker was that he sponsored my sponsor’s husband. She had a fit when she witnessed his behavior one night. She had not idea he treated me that way. To me he was just another asshole that I tried to ignore. It didn’t even cross my mind to tell her about it.

I will say these things don’t happen with the frequency they once did. I’ve been married for 15 years and I am self-employed. I’d like to think the world is starting to change but it is more likely that I have aged out of the target zone. Now my focus is preparing my children for the situations they may encounter. Time to make “me too” the exception instead of the norm, it’s beyond time.

 

 

My Boring Life….

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My Boring Life….

I’m bringing boring back. Too much crazy sh*t happening in the world, makes me want to cover my ears and scream “I can’t hear you!” Since people get twitchy when you cover your ears and scream in public, I’ll settle for a blog post. Here is a glimpse into my glamorous life folks, hope you have popcorn.

6am wake up so I can be a human alarm clock for my 12 year old daughter. Why do I do this well she wouldn’t get up otherwise so there’s that. Also, we don’t allow our kids to have their phones, the modern alarm of choice, in their room overnight and I’m too cheap and lazy to buy a stand alone alarm clock. I greet my grumpy tween and go back to bed for another blissful 30 minutes.

I manage to get the kids to the bus stop on time go back home. I don’t have to leave until 10:30ish for a client visit so I spend a few hours preparing for a fund-raising event scheduled for this weekend. I’m tracking down the people who haven’t paid yet to make sure they haven’t decided to ditch at the last minute. We have a wait list so it would be nice to get those people in if we can. I do a few promos on FB, some modifications to the donor sheet and a delivery of an auction item. Now it’s time to go to the job I get paid to do.

My visit today is to a 79 year old woman and her 88 year old husband. The woman, Helen, has mild dementia and her husband, Ralph, stays in bed most of the time. I am the entertainment. I am the social call for a lonely woman who struggles with depression. My goal each visit is to get her to eat and to stimulate her mind through some social activity or puzzles of some sort. I make her laugh through the inconvenient hardships of old age. She has a hate-hate relationship with her Depends which is something we talk about at length. She sometimes uses Vaseline or Desitin to relieve the chaffing the elastic causes at the leg openings. A couple of weeks ago she tried to put toothpaste on her nether regions. She’s in pain from a lifetime accumulation of injuries, aches and pains. The body wears out and it’s tough to witness. It’s worse when the brain goes along for the descent.

Most days it takes a solid hour to get my friend fed and dressed. Once we do that my goal is to propel her out the door and into the lobby. The community they live in has a front lobby that includes table shuffleboard. We like to play while eavesdropping on whatever is happening while we are there.

Image result for pictures table shuffleboard

Last Friday things got interesting when one of the residents went rogue and wandered off. Lorna is about 93 and walks fairly slowly with the help of a walker. Somehow she managed to slip by the front desk and get an impressive distance from the place. We were witnesses to the “chase” and subsequent capture. Then when I left, Helen and Lorna chatted about it.

After my visit I made a beeline for home, I like to be there when my kids get off the bus. Today it was just my son as my daughter had an activity. At about this time I got a text from the hubs….no words just this –

IMG_4074

That’s his subtle way of asking me to buy something for him. I replied with detailed instructions on how to open the canister and proper gum chewing etiquette. No reply, sigh.

Soon after that request I get a call from my mother. She was supposed to have cataract surgery today but it got cancelled because some family member of the surgeon had the nerve to die. That’s pretty much how she spun it. In 13 minutes she covered a lot of ground mostly how overwhelmed she is and how she wants to move. I bought the house she is currently living in because for 8 years she bitched non-stop about the last place…..and so it goes.

I rush out to get kid number two from her afternoon activity and I have about 50 minutes to make dinner and catch up on email. Badda Bing Badda Boom I make dinner. Freakin’ magic I tell you. I never know what I’m going to make until it dawns on me that it is my job…..someone has to make dinner, oh that’s right, I’m that someone. I usually don’t have a plan and somehow it works out. Tonight was pan sauteed lemon chicken in a white wine reduction (yes I made it sound fancy – I basically threw sh*t in a pan) with green beans. It was pretty good, a solid 6. They can’t all be 10s.

Then I started to load the dishwasher from the sink backlog. As I was doing this task my phone rang so I asked my daughter to answer it. She she went into a complete panic….like the phone was made of Plutonium (Pu, how appropriate)….she did a total half ass job with the conversation. So for half an hour, my husband and I took turns calling her pretending to be looking for ourselves so she could practice. She hates me a little and said “maaaahum” the way that 12 year old girls do.

Time to take the oldest to soccer practice. Drop him off at the field and go home to feed 3/4’s of the family the meal that I dreamed up 20 minutes ago. I set a plate aside for my son so no one eats his portion. In the blink of an eye I’m back in the car to fetch the boy. I go to the practice field where I dropped him off at 5:30 and he isn’t there, neither is his team. I scan the field, recalling the shirt he wore to practice. I just bought it this weekend so it’s fresh in my mind. It’s a heathered blue, with gray tints, it has a pocket left side of the chest and a thin line of white around the sleeves and the waist, gray shorts. I keep scanning, there are 5 boys on the field, none of them familiar.

I call a friend, her son practices at the same park during the same time for a different team. She picks up her phone and warns me that I’m on speaker phone (because I am the friend you must warn) her son didn’t go to practice. I tell her I’ll update her later, I have to go and manage one “sh*t” and an apology as I end the call. I drive to another field at the park, wrong kids, not our coach. I call my husband, he instantly starts screaming about our son not taking his phone. I remained calm said he left his phone behind because he needed to charge it. I decide to circle the park another time and get off the phone with my husband because his panic won’t help me now.

I drive slow, wondering if practice ended early. Would someone offer him a ride? He wouldn’t take it. I know my kid unless it is my close friend whose kid skipped practice, he won’t get in a car. He knows I’m coming to get him at 7pm he will wait. I consider the pavilion and the play ground. Without a phone he could have lost track of time and decided to wait it out there. I glance in that direction, bunch of littles and their parents.

I decide that I will circle the park one more time, slowly and deliberately because I can not bear the thought of my kid gone. I can’t. I can’t imagine how parents of missing children get through 10 minutes let alone hours, days, months and years. It would consume me. I have to place these thoughts on the back burner as I look for my son with heightened concentration.

I see that new H & M shirt that I just bought on Saturday. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him and I park the car and exhale. I call my husband and text my friend and the world begins to spin once again. A few minutes later he comes to the car. He knows I was worried. He apologizes and tells me it wasn’t his idea to switch fields. Because that’s the kind of kid he is and I am so grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

Alternate Universe

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Alternate Universe

I’ve managed to create this nice little alternate universe for myself via my blog. I have a handful of in the flesh friends that know about it, but not many. My blog followers, select few that you are, have come here like a gift from the blogosphere (that’s a legit word). I get a slight tingle when I see a new country highlighted in the WordPress stats. Today someone from Japan read one of my posts. No idea how or why they got here but isn’t that cool? I’m in Pennsylvania, typing away and someone in Japan just wandered in. It’s fascinating to me probably because at my age, I can still remember when none of this was possible.

For those of us over 30 (OK well over if you’re going to get particular about it) doesn’t it blow your mind how much technology has changed in the past 20 years. How much more will change in the next 20 years? I suspect we will have autonomous flying cars, artificial intelligence that can learn beyond human capability and a staggering unemployment issue and oh yes, Mars isn’t off the table – thanks Elon Musk.

What are we losing with all of this technological advancement? Do we have to lose something, is that required? I don’t know but I have observed a some things that concern me – instant gratification, loss of privacy and a lack of creativity and freedom.

I have two kids a tween and a teen. They have reasonable restrictions on device time. There are no devices allowed in their bedroom at night. For one kid it wouldn’t even be an issue as he doesn’t care at all. My daughter, on the other hand,would be up all night on Instagram, chatting with friends, making bad musically videos and would be busy not sleeping.

The ability to text, tweet, post and communicate instantaneously has helped to create a generation that expects instant gratification. Midlifers, remember when we would call our best friend in 5th grade on the corded phone on a table or attached to the wall? The phone was always located in some public space in your house and you had to push down on buttons or worse, stick your finger in the circle of the corresponding numbers to spin the phone wheel and call? And, gasp, sometimes no one answered or the phone was busy so you had to try to call them again later and move on with your 10 year old life. Kids don’t do that today. They rarely have to wait more than a few minutes to hear back from a friend and if they don’t hear back immediately, a bit of panic sets in. It’s kind of crazy.

I remember being bored plenty as a kid and I would go outside or write in a journal. We had to make up our own games to pass the time and if we were lucky we got some local kids to join in. We played spontaneously and we figured stuff out. You didn’t like everyone and everyone didn’t like you but you could usually make it work long enough for some variation of tag or cops and robbers. I don’t see that much where we live, sure it happens but it’s special when it does because it isn’t the norm. The usual here is organized activities and sports.

Kids aren’t off the leash much either these days. We need to know where they are all the time because there are bad people out there (and no sh*t, there really are bad people out there). Hell there are sneakers with tracking devices in them now….it’s kind of like Little Johnny is on house arrest or maybe block arrest. Their expectations for privacy are at the bare minimum. They don’t want you to walk in on them while they’re getting changed but most anticipate some level of monitoring of their electronic activities. Late 70’s and early 80’s kids wouldn’t stand for that. We kept our stuff private and if someone read our journal there was hell to pay. Our parents didn’t know where we were half the time and we couldn’t be tracked with a Find My Phone app. If they asked where we were we would either tell them or make up something that sounded reasonable. It was kind of awesome.

Here’s a little something to make you laugh, courtesy of YouTube

 

 

 

Gasping for Air

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Gasping for Air

What does a writer do when they feel too vulnerable to write? It’s OK I’ll just wait over here until the universe can send me an answer….still waiting……….waiting some more. Well the universe doesn’t seem to be getting back to me so I guess I’ll have to take the steering wheel, again.

I feel like the world has gone fahking mad. How did we get here? The terrorists attacks, the society of rage that seems to be festering all around us……Donald Trump. It feels like one big WTF moment that has gone viral well beyond it’s 15 minutes of fame. So there’s that.

On a personal level I have been watching my kids struggle with tween/teen issues. I feel like my heart resides outside my body in two distinct and always moving places…..and it can be assaulted at any time, unprovoked. I guess that’s how it is when you have kids, forever vulnerable. I don’t think this is a phase we will transition through….sure the teen years will pass, but I will always be vulnerable to their pain, assuming I’m aware of it.

My kids tell me a lot, maybe too much. I’d rather know what’s going on, at least for now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that in the future. My husband thinks I coddle. I disagree. I think I have created a mostly safe place for our children to come to when they need to talk. I say mostly safe because sometimes I suck at this parenting thing. Catch me at 11pm on any given night and I am not at my best and neither are they. Yet that seems to be the time when they want to get close and tell me their fears, their sadness, their pain and of course their joys and dreams as well. It’s a mixed bag but lately the mix is leaning heavy on fears and sadness and it’s weighing us all down.

Raising humans is hard. I mean think about it you are shaping a person into their pre-adult self….enormous fahking responsibility. And I know this…..I’ve been doing the parent thing for over 13 years now…it’s just sometimes that weight just smacks you in the face when you were taking a moment to look the other way. Blind sided, unprepared caught unaware, gasping for air. That’s how it feels right now.

Bomb Squad Mom

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Bomb Squad Mom

It’s that delightful time of year again. Everyone has mentally checked out of school but we have to send the kids anyway because, rules. It happens every year sometime between spring break and whenever the weather gets nice, kids lose their minds. All of them, even the nice compliant kids. The school cafeteria takes on a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all of the important dates and forms in a flurry of end of the year activities.

The home routines also take a nose dive. I double dog dare you to tell me you are as vigilant in May as you are in September…..I’m looking at you parents. I am a tiger Mom in the fall by late spring I’m more indoor declawed house cat. Bed time slips from 8:30 to 9 to 9:30 to – hey kids turn the lights off when you go to bed Momma needs her ZZZZZZs. Kidding those buggers still want me to tuck them in.

The later bed time makes the morning routine oh so pleasant though. My morning wake ups are met with grunts and groans and I know at least one of my kids fought the urge to through a stuffie at me this morning. My daughter is the tough one at the moment. She is a typical tween girl and is perhaps ever so slightly mentally unstable at times. The mood swings are of biblical proportion. One minute she wants to cuddle and the next minute is all exorcist 360 degree head spin.

During these times I feel like I am on the Mom Bomb Squad. I have a set time period in which to get her out the door and on to the bus preferably without an explosion. 19 1/2 more days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teachable Moments

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Teachable Moments

For those who are not familiar….teachable moments tend to be awful and necessary. They also like to present themselves at inconvenient times and mostly in public places usually when you are exhausted or at least exasperated. My husband and I are raising two kids; a nearly 13 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. If you haven’t raised humans up to the tween phase let’s just say things get interesting. My number one goal in parenting is to raise kind, productive people that contribute to society in a positive way. I’m not hoping to get a sports scholarship, ivy league acceptance or even perfect hair….I just don’t want to raise assholes.

My kids are opposites in some ways. My son wants to stay a kid. So much so that I had to break the news to him about Santa Claus a few months ago. For the past two years I’d been leaving hints in bits of conversation like scattered bread crumbs, hoping he would ask for more. I leaned heavy on the “traditions” aspect of Christmas and would often say things like, different families have different traditions. We would discuss this regarding Santa and the Elf on the Shelf. I even suggested…scratch that….flat out told him…..”Do NOT talk about Santa at school.” The point is the hints were there, I left them scattered about to ease the transition. He didn’t bite, not even a nibble.

This Christmas Eve he had the “Santa Tracker” on his Ipod and made intermittent announcements about where Santa was in his one night gift giving world tour. I made a mental note to squash Santa on December 26th. Of course that day came and went and I finally had to make myself tell him the last day of winter break. It was hard. I waited until we were alone and I looked him in the eye and decided to ask “Do you really believe in Santa?” I saw sadness and fear in his eyes and I knew I was about to take away a piece of his childhood. It killed me to tell him but he’s in middle school if word got out, the mob would descend on him like vultures on a fresh carcass. I was gentle and direct when I told him something to the effect of……..there isn’t one Santa, there are many Santas – moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends….there isn’t one man dropping off presents all over the world. Santa is the idea of giving without expectation, it’s a tradition and a fairy tale rolled into a beautiful message of giving. We both cried a little and hugged. A few minutes later I asked him if he had any questions or if he wanted to talk about it. His only response was “I don’t believe you”. True story.

Now for the girl….ahhh tween girl drama is brutal. We have already experienced frenemies and flat out bullies. At times I think my daughter has been a bit of a bully and I called her on it immediately. I tell her constantly about the importance of not talking smack about people and treating everyone the way you want to be treated. I monitor her Instagram and I am shocked at some of the conversations that take place.

My kids have limited access to electronic devices. Half an hour during the week and an hour on weekends and holidays. They are not permitted to have their Ipods in their rooms at night. This past Valentine’s Day there was a conversation with several girls on Instagram and two girls were pondering where my daughter was since she wasn’t responding. One girl suggested she was dead, another suggested she was pregnant. Yes you read that right and these girls were 10. Do you think their parents monitor their Instagram? Doubtful.

My daughter has not yet found her tribe. She floats between different groups of girls and has some close friends. She does not have a best friend at the moment and she is trying to make me her best friend. This is achingly sweet, but let’s be honest I can’t be her BFF, I have to discipline her. She is very emotional right now and requires a lot of one on one time and I am juggling the chainsaws and kittens the best I can. Yesterday was a disaster.

We set time aside to go shopping in a mall. Let me just state this for the record – I hate to shop, especially at malls but this is my girl so I make time for it. We stopped at a friend’s house on the way which took longer than expected and as a result we had less time to shop. She had about 10 items on her list of things she wanted to do and we had time for maybe 7. When I told her it was time to go, a tear slid down her cheek and I got the instant whinny rebuttal from her. I felt a lava like rage boiling in my gut and I insisted that we had to go.

I won’t lie it was ugly and I wish I conducted myself differently. My initial fear was that I was raising a self entitled spoiled brat and that is oh so unacceptable. I told her we needed to leave and I walked at a very fast pace. She was a wreck. I did not yell but the anger was coming off of me like steam, it was palpable. She was crying before we got in the car.

My tone of voice and body language made it clear that I was angry and I wasn’t good at listening to why she was upset in the first few moments. I came to my own conclusion that my daughter was being a spoiled brat. That probably wasn’t entirely fair but it wasn’t completely off the mark either. So I stepped on to my soap box and told her how I will not tolerate a spoiled entitled child. I explained that I wanted her to focus on kindness, a work ethic, academics and not on shiny pretty things we get at the mall.

Then I droned on in a way that has made kids eyes roll for centuries. I told her that when I grew up, the only clothes I got were hand me downs from my cousins. In addition, I got one new outfit that my Nana would buy me in early September before school started each year. Then I realized that this conversation was taking a toll on her and I reminded my daughter that she is funny, smart and kind to animals and people and that I liked those things about her. I told her that I worried that she was too concerned about designer labels and material things…. Geezus it was just too much to put on 11 year old shoulders.

At the end of the day we were both calm and discussed better strategies for our next outing. We have determined that a prioritized list will help us stay on track and help us better focus our time. We both apologized to each other and ended the night with our usual tuck in – saying prayers, reviewing the best parts of the weekend, making plans before the final I love you for the night. So many teachable moments this weekend and sometimes it’s hard to keep my own brand of crazy out of the mix. My own childhood haunts me and I know it echos into my present parenting abilities. So as the teachable moments keep coming, I need to remind myself to stay teachable. Parenting is hard.

 

 

 

The Family From Hell

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The Family From Hell

I am angry and sad, disgusted, grateful and happy. So what led me to be this twitching mass of emotions? My past. Old wounds long ago scabbed over and faded are suddenly brought to light. Burning sun on Mercury light. Yesterday I unearthed a message that was buried in the not yet friends message folder in Facebook. It was waiting there for three weeks.

It was from a lovely women living in another continent who stumbled upon my humble blog. She was enthusiastic in her message to me, a total stranger, because we shared a common teenage horror. We were each sent to “The Family” in Long Eddy NY in 1984 when we were 15 years old. We were not there at the same time but our experiences had some unfortunate overlap.

I have written about “The Family” before in some of my posts which describe my first year of sobriety. Here’s where they come in to play in my story if you are so inclined,  https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/05/02/1-out-of-37-part-4/  it was a horrible place to say the least and not something I think about often. Of course now that it has been revisited, I find myself in investigative mode and the stuff under the rocks is pretty gross. Think contender for Dante’s 10th circle of hell and you’d be getting warmer, much warmer.

Tony Argiros and his wife Betty ran “The Family” when I was there  in January of 1984.I’m not sure how long they were in the group home/work farm business at that point but I found some testimonials that go back to 1979. I suppose they tweaked their sadistic craft over the course of several years and decided that they were so fabulous at wrecking lives that they ought to expand their services.

My new online friend informed me that Tony and Betty Argiros founded The Family Foundation School in Hancock, NY. According to Wikipedia The Family Foundation School was established in 1984. In googling the school’s name I came across a website http://www.thefamilyschooltruth.com/Home.html whose sole purpose was to get the place shut down. They sought testimonials from alumni, parents and staff. After a 5 year battle, they were successful and ultimately the place shut down. The Family Foundation School, later known as the Allynwood Academy closed in 2014.

Sadly, in the time that they were open, hundreds, if not thousands of lives were forever altered. I’ll toss a bone Tony’s way and suggest that perhaps a handful of kids were helped along the way. And I say that knowing the ends do not always justify the means. Based on the testimonials that I read, the school shared some common traits with it’s precursor group home “The Family”.

Both places had a strict blackout period during which residents could not even communicate with their parents. Pro tip, if a place says your kid can’t talk to you for 3 months, that’s a red flag. They shared a focus on breaking down the individual.  They did this by removing all personal belongings, providing unfamiliar clothes, cutting hair in a severe manner and horrid meal times where staff and residents would select targets for humiliation and degradation. With the added bonus of sleep deprivation and physical labor to the point of exhaustion.I honestly don’t know how some of these kids made it, some where there 3 or 4 years. To top it off many of the alumni complained they never finished school due to excessive punishment or manual labor. It was supposed to be a school….shouldn’t the academics come first?

Imagine if Jim Jones opened a school except there’s no Kool-Aid. Just a steady barrage of soul shattering punishments, isolation and humiliation. The founders loosely based the school on a 12 step program and inserted their own brand of insane diabolical fundamentalist values. The result was disastrous.

Read the words of the alumni testimonials. Visualize for yourself what these teenagers endured, some for several years. I only spent a month or so during my incarceration at the family farm and in that time I ran away twice. I was successful the second time. Others tried to runaway from the school or the farm. One kid was killed by an 18 wheeler in his desperate attempt to flee the farm. Many attempts were made at the school and at one point they used search and rescue dogs to retrieve the escapees. Another student killed himself by jumping off a second story balcony. During my time I fantasized about breaking a leg just to go to the hospital. I even had a failed attempt at burning the place down. I understand their pain and I want to tell their stories.

Today I spoke with another survivor, she lived at The Family Foundation School for 993 days. I can only imagine what she endured there. It would likely include a daily barrage of yelling, demeaning confrontations, sexual misconduct and/or abuse, violent physical altercations, forced to eat foods that may cause an allergic reaction or be against religious beliefs, squalor, back breaking physical labor and punishments for imagined misdemeanors. Oh and by the way a  large chunk of students that attended this pay as you go private “therapeutic school”, never even earned their High School Diploma. Many students spent so much time in some form of punishment – for example, being wrapped in a blanket with duct tape around it, sometimes for days while they soiled themselves, sitting in a corner staring at a wall for endless hours because you wouldn’t say you were an alcoholic or admit to some horrendous deed that your house leader insists you did (even when you didn’t). I’ve read the testimonies of the alumni and it is heartbreaking.

My new friend keeps a memorial page for the alumni of the FFS that have passed away. She just posted condolences for #85. That is the 85th known alumni to die. This school was opened for approximately 30 years and the oldest alumni would be under 50 years old. I’m not sure how many teens went through the school in the time it was open but that seems like a lot of deaths. Sadly, a high percentage of these people have passed away from suicide. I’m sure others have died from complications of drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the students had no prior alcohol or drug use before they got to FFS and when they got out they found it nearly impossible to blend into the real world, many started to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Please keep this mind if you know someone looking for a school setting for a “troubled teen”. There are so many organizations that currently exist that are every bit as horrible as FFS. They are scattered across the country as therapeutic schools or teen wilderness programs. I realize that there are many troubled teens that need help….I implore you to do a thorough search when considering these residential situations. It is not enough to read reviews on the facility or agency website. You need to do your own search with county and state agencies, see if there are complaints, seek out alumni that have nothing to lose from being candid. Insist on being able to communicate with your loved one on a consistent basis with some level of privacy. Trust your instincts, if the place seems off, don’t risk it, keep searching.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep On Truckin’……….Part 9

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Keep On Truckin’……….Part 9

So in 1983 my world imploded just the tiniest bit. We had been living in the same town in central NJ for about 5 years. Some years were better than others but it was the longest stretch I had lived anywhere in my 15 years so it felt like home. I lived there with my mother and twin brother.

A little background, mom was a drunk until she got sober for good in August of 1982. That is pretty much when I started to drink and “experiment” with drugs. Fortunately for me, I had limited means so it was mostly some pot and an occasional pill. I am pretty sure I would have tried anything put in front of me. We called that a garbage head in the 80’s. I was quite reckless and I put myself in harm’s way on a regular basis. Traded in my long term friends for a sketchier variety that wanted to meander along with me on my path of self destruction.

How did the once good girl suddenly find her self so misguided? Escape. I just wanted to escape from the life I was in. As a young girl I remember looking at the most popular girl in the class and I wondered….what is it like to be Kim? Back then I was a judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover kind of gal and my cover was torn, tattered with some coffee stains and a cigarette burn or two. Kim had a flawless, shiny, smells like a new car cover going on…..I wondered what that was like.

In addition to having the family from hell I also had a fairly long “awkward stage” that’s the stage when the kid is fairly ugly for a few years and everyone hopes it’s temporary. So I basically went from being the buck-toothed scrawny girl to braces straightened teeth, kind of pretty and overly made up. It wasn’t a magnificent transition but it was enough to get the boys to notice me. The ones who made fun of me the year before suddenly wanted to “hang out”. I was insecure enough to not tell them to fuck off. If only I had a time machine…….

So this is where my childhood ends. The story, my story continues in another series titled…..(insert drum roll here) “1 in 37……..”. That series describes my first year of recovery. Spoiler alert I have been sober since 1983. Don’t let that stop you from reading…….some crazy shit happened that first year (and trust me, I know crazy, we’re like besties….smh).

https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/04/28/1-out-of-37-part-1/