I know how it happens, that little kid people have been buying gifts for over the years, and who used to jump up and down at a stuffed animal or fire truck or blocks or books, hits the double digits age. Adults know, from experience, that it is difficult to buy for teens and tweens, that they are probably chasing ever changing trends of which the non-parent is unaware, or that they have particular tastes that are as fiercely adhered to as some fundamental religions, “But I don’t like that. No one wears that.”
In the old days when adults got tired of trying to figure out what the kid will actually like an Aunt or Uncle would get one of those cool money cards and put cold hard cash in it for youngin’ to, “Buy yourself something.” No further instructions necessary. Now, when adults transition from giving the nicely wrapped and thoughtful shopped-for gifts, they skip the cash and pick up a gift card at the mall, or grocery store, or convenience store or almost anywhere these days, for a store that they’ve heard that teens like.
But I’m over it.
Here are the reasons why I will not give gift cards anymore, and why I will ask my loved ones not to give gift cards to my kids this holiday season.
Disclaimer: There may be some kids who do not have the issues I’m going to talk about below. My decision is based on what I’ve seen my kids and some of their friends do.
- They Don’t Use the Cards
The gift cards are sometimes not used for weeks, months, years, or not at all. Kids collect them, forget about them, take months to decide what to do with them, or lose them. Your hard earned money is doing nothing, except contributing to the bottom line of the store.
2. They Teach Kids to Spend Money Only at Expensive, Specialty Stores.
You are telling a kid that they must go into a certain store and buy something only from that store. And if they don’t have enough on their gift card, they have to find some way to make up the difference — Mom? This is all to buy a sweater that might cost $60.
Why, I ask you, are we encouraging kids — minors with no jobs — to buy a $60 sweater? Why are we normalizing it?
Because it benefits the stores.
It gets the kids in the stores where they play all the cool music (my sister calls it jeans-buying music) and then they want to come back. And, because many of these cards can be bought elsewhere, adults might not know that their $25 dollar gift card merely gives the kid a discount on a $60 sweater.
And even if the kids would consider buying elsewhere, where they might find the same or similar sweater for less — they can’t — because your gift card only allows them to go to the $60 sweater store.
So, if you want them to have a $60 sweater, buy it for them. You’ll be the favorite Aunt/Uncle and if they don’t like it, they can exchange it. But don’t get them used to buying it. Don’t let them feel entitled to it. Don’t normalize it.
3. Gift Cards to Discount Stores Aren’t Much Better
Giving them a card to a discount store doesn’t always help. See number 2, the kids have already been socialized that it’s cool to buy at the other stores. “I hate that [insert discount or department] store” and “I don’t like anything here” are words I’ve heard uttered when we are barely through the front doors. When a kid feels that way before even looking at the stuff I guarantee they won’t find anything there and your gift card will sit unused, see Number 1. Oddly enough, if I buy something from Marshall’s or TJMaxx and bring it home and put it in my closet, then it is suddenly wearable. They borrow it and I never see it again. (I have my own marketing tricks, thank you very much. . . heh heh heh). My girls are currently wearing two of my jackets — one from Kohls and another that I got from a Thrift store. But if they had a gift card to those stores it would sit unused.
The shopping experience at less expensive and more inclusive stores is quite different — there is merchandise not just for teens and gasp — they see people buying it that are not their age, or gender, or size, or their perceived economic group (teens tend to believe they are wealthy). They refuse to do it. The gift cards to the discount stores simple tell them that they aren’t allowed shop at their favorite stores, and that makes them angry.
My girls are sitting on Target and Old Navy cards that are almost a year old now.
4. It Normalizes Use of Plastic
I know, I know, we are in a paperless society. I use my credit, debit cards all the time. It’s convenient. But I’m grown. And I have other bills to pay and in every job I’ve ever had I got paid in money, not plastic. And if you look at any consumer debt article it will talk about people, largely Americans’, reliance on credit, specifically on credit cards to buy things they cannot afford.
Gift cards now look and feel just like credit cards. If that’s all your kid gets for birthdays or Christmas, he or she will start to normalize paying for things with plastic and without thinking about how much they spent, or what they are spending this money on. Instead, if they think at all, they ponder only,
“Do I have room on this card?”
Scary. This is not something kids should be conditioned to think.
When this kid is finally old enough to get a real credit card — and at stores they can get them at 18 years old, they have shopped for years with plastic without consequence. A recipe for disaster.
You have to learn how to manage money before you learn how to manage debt. Gift cards train kids to manage plastic.
Notably, people who have debt or spending problems are often encouraged to use cash exclusively even just as an exercise for a defined amount of time. This is so that they see where their money goes and it is obvious when it’s gone. I’ve also heard that people tend to spend less and more thoughtfully when they use cash and have to see it dwindle away. I think teens should be encouraged to spend with cash, just like the credit-challenged — so they have a visual of their spending habits — and limitations.
5. Gift Cards Discourage Saving
When you give that store gift card, the kid is unable to put money away for a rainy day, or plan to work to add to it in order to buy that big ticket item that is so important to him/her but that is only sold at a different store, or available on Craigslist or eBay.
In this sad economy the kid might only make a penny in interest if the money sits in a bank. But the gift cards? They make nothing at all and some even lose their value over time. And, again, see Number 1. They might sit unused or lost.
6. Gift Cards Take Away Spending Ability and Decisions
If the kid has gotten a handful of great store gift cards at Christmas and then their friends call them and ask if they want to go to the movies, or out to eat or — gag me — Starbucks — (again, the prices and marketing of Starbucks to people without jobs is a topic for another post), this kid has no money to do so. Then it’s all, “Mom, can I have $20?” while they are sitting on $200 worth of gift cards. Whether or not Mom or Dad pony up the money, the kid can’t pay his or her own way.
So what happens is, kids believe they are entitled to use or hoard their gift cards on speciality items of their choice and without regard to price, but all other expenses they incur are the obligation of parents.
Or, more importantly, the kid is not able to designate it for use toward a wonderful experience they hope to do — something small like being able to go to a game and buy food at the snack bar with friends or something big, like saving for that trip to Italy that is offered at the school. And, they can’t donate to charity or use any part of it to buy a gift for someone else.
Sure, if they received an actual gift they couldn’t put it in the bank, but they wouldn’t be told to shop without thought, either.
7. Visa/Mastercard Gift Cards Aren’t Much Better Either
See number 1 (they often aren’t used). See Number 4 (kids are encouraged to buy things with a credit card). See Number 5, they can’t save it, See number 6, though it gives them more spending decisions, they still can’t use it at a fair, or to buy something they are selling at school as a fundraiser or at a snack bar, and they probably can’t decide to use the money to pay for something themselves — like their prom tickets.
Plus, you’ve paid a fee of $4 or $5 dollars that goes to the company. This is for the privilege of giving a gift of plastic to a kid. Wouldn’t you rather give the full $30 to the kid rather than a $25 gift card plus a $4 surcharge to the company?
8. Giving Cash is Not Tacky
There are times when giving cash is a no-no — to a date, to a judge, to a addict. But to a kid? It’s perfectly okay. As I said in the beginning, this was the norm for years — Uncle Ben would hand out money envelopes. Grandpa would sneak a kid a $10. But that changed. I believe it was just a marketing thing. The stores want us to think we shouldn’t do it, and that the kids would rather get a $25 gift card to a store than $25 in cash. But see 1 and 2, that benefits the stores. When we have been convinced that giving cash is bad, but giving a gift card for the same amount is somehow better, we have directed business right where they want it — in their store. And, with their jeans-buying music and slick ads with gorgeous, young, thin models, they have created a loyalty to that store. If we gave cash, the kid could shop whereever he or she wants — even unwisely, or save, or use it for spending money.
9. Giving a Gift Card to a Store That Is Beyond Their Parents’ Means Can Cause Problems
Think about that. Using extremes, say you give a kid a gift card to a Luis Vuitton store. He/she buys some beautiful leather expensive thing. Loves the store, the service, how special he/she felt going in, the looks of approval when he/she carries the real LV bag. You’ve now trained a kid to only want real designer items, that may cost as much as her parents car and mortgage payments combined. But the kid doesn’t appreciate how much the thing costs, and when they need a new backpack or wallet, they aren’t going to want to go to Target or Marshalls, because they’ve now been trained, socialized to buy new designer items in specialty stores. This, even though they have no job and they are items that their parents could not or would not buy for them — or even for themselves.
It works the same with the $60 sweater from the trendy store. Let the kids save, combine cash they have received as a gift or earned babysitting and buy that sweater if they so choose, but don’t make them buy it, don’t train them to buy it, especially if it’s something their parents cannot afford. Teaching them that it is perfectly normal to to buy a $60 sweater when her parents can’t afford such items, or who have debt problems of their own, is kind of unfair. The next time the kid needs a new shirt, they will only want to shop at the designer stores, and it’s the parents that have to say no.
If you want to give an expensive, special present, please just buy the gift. Don’t gift the “shopping experience” that the parent cannot sustain.
10. A Word about Victoria’s Secret
Yes, the catalog has clothes. And some clothes are in stores. And they have very nice $60 bras that go on sale twice a year. And they have cute underwear and $75 bottles of perfume and also have the $10 lip gloss, and key chains, and body spray, etc. But unless you are comfortable with a 12 year old girl combing through panty bins looking through bejewelled thongs, crotchless or furred panties alongside grown ass women and sometimes men, you might want to skip sending a kid to that store. One of my daughters got a Victoria’s Secret Gift Card and I told her to to wait until the sale to use it. When she saw all the people digging through the bins of panties (all types of panties thrown in together — the regular ones and the sex clothes) she said, “This makes me uncomfortable,” and left the store. We ended up quickly buying perfume just to use the gift card. Of course, I have other daughters who got used to buying in there with their gift cards and don’t want to even look anywhere else. Sigh.
Call me old fashioned, but I think that when a woman is at a point in life when she needs or wants to buy sexy lingerie, she should be old enough to pay for it herself, not with a gift card from Uncle Bob.
In addition, somehow, the brilliant marketing people at Victoria’s Secret have convinced teen girls that paying twice as much for a T-shirt or sweatshirt that says PINK than they would for a T-shirt or sweatshirt that says literally anything else is perfectly normal.
Perhaps as adults, we shouldn’t encourage that.
I’ve decided that if I’m going to purchase an expensive sweatshirt or hoodie for my kids, it will be one with a college name or their high school spiritwear. The girls really like them also, and the inflated price is at least going to a good cause. Plus the girls are advertising something meaningful, rather than simply the word “PINK,” a brand for Victoria’s Secret.
Just to be clear . . .
I don’t mean to sound preachy, this is from experience. I’m frustrated.
I’m so tired of my kids not appreciating the cost of items, or their gifts, that a splurge is a splurge or special gift, not an entitlement, and that if someone thought enough of them to give them a gift card, they should use it. I’m tired of my kids complaining that they don’t have any clothes or money and asking me to buy them something, yet refusing to use their Target, Old Navy, or Macy’s Gift Cards because they don’t like those stores. I’m tired of the Christmas lists that simply list stores that the kids like to shop in but that I can’t afford. If they got cash they could still shop in those stores with cash, or window shop and choose to buy elsewhere.
Or, have actual presents to open on Christmas morning.
Just Me With . . . cold hard cash, but not enough.
And by way of full disclosure, I think all but one of my bras are from Victoria’s Secret. And I have one purple shirt that says, PINK, inexplicably. But I’m grown and know how to shop for sales, and, in past years have used gift cards to purchase my goodies. About two years ago I asked my family not to give them to me anymore. And I no longer wear the PINK tee. I do, however, wear t-shirts with my son’s college name on it and the names of my daughters’ championship sports teams.
“The computer won’t wauk.”
The teen-aged girl, whom her mother affectionately refers to as “The Quirky One” among her online friends, led with this. Years of school provided speech therapy had almost eradicated her “speech impairment” — so much so that sometimes she possessed an aristocratic lilt, sounding almost British. Other times, that pesky and slightly out of reach interior “r” sound, reportedly often the last of the identified “impairments” to be corrected, makes a surprise appearance. When it does, suddenly this teen girl, a young woman in training who wears women’s size thirteen shoes, sounds just like a little girl.
The computer won’t wauk.
She simply stared at her mom, who had just returned from getting coffee and who was planning to sit and just read. The other kids were on a visit with their dad, The Quirky One had missed this visit in order to attend to her cat sitting job, for which she was paid well . The Quirky One had been misdiagnosed for years — was it depression? Was it some kind of learning disability we can’t identify? It’s not dyslexia? No? Her reading is behind yet her comprehension is very high. She’s frustrated with the books she can read easily so she started writing her own, or at least she starts to, along with short stories and poems. But something is, has been, wrong — or just — off.
Now, finally there was a diagnosis that made sense, The Quirky One is on the Autism Spectrum –sounds so pretty in the abstract — like the diagnosis should come with a colorful painting or butterflies — but it’s so, so complicated. This diagnosis explained why the girl would often announce distressing news in the same manner that another child would simply state his or her age. “She does not read social cues,” is how it is described. But to an outsider it looks like laziness or limited mental capacity or lack of empathy. It’s none of those. It’s just the way she is, Roxanne thought, but with the right therapy, thank goodness, she’s gotten so much better — and happier.
Roxanne had learned to expect these dead-pan announcements over the years. Now that she understood the cause of these and other odd behaviors, she was learning how to deal with it.
The computer won’t wauk.
Ahh, Roxanne thought. This explains why The Quirky One had perched in front of the desktop watching Anime when she returned from feeding the cats. The laptop was out of commission. The Quirky One just stared at her mother, expressionless, waiting for a response. Defeated, Roxanne forgot about her coffee and postponed her reading plans. She walked over to the laptop and turned it off. Then, after waiting the required 30 seconds, she turned it back on, practicing the well-worn ritual of the computer-repair-challenged. She was met only with a blank, black screen. She clicked random keys: Enter, Esc, Space Bar, and Enter again. Then she sighed, turned the useless device off again, closed it and walked away, without saying a word, except in her head, “I can’t deal with this now.”
The laptop was only three months old. School would resume in just over a month and a half.
Don’t get upset now. Just read your book, she told herself.
So Roxanne did what she had planned to do before The Quirky One announced that the recent $700 purchase had failed them. She would read, a novel.
Roxanne hadn’t been reading much in recent months, at least not novels, but she’d found a book that did what books are supposed to do — make her forget everything else. Previously she’d been nursing a popular comic novel that everyone else seemed to love, but she couldn’t quite finish. Then the realization, actually a reminder, “I’m not a student. I don’t have to finish it if I don’t want to.” So when buying books for the kids, Roxanne decided, not without the requisite guilt for spending $14.99 on herself, to buy a book.
It did help her forget. Wasn’t it just four days ago when one of the other kids, The Anxious One, having just been told to carry her phone in a purse or wallet at the pool, dropped said eighteen day old phone, shattering the screen?
It was four days after the return date, insurance doesn’t cover physical damage to the phone. And now . . .
The computer won’t wauk.
It still echoed in her mind. What now? A visit to the computer store? A diagnostic test that will cost $80 in order to decide what it will actually cost to fix the computer? And the phone?
Roxanne couldn’t help it, but thoughts of her ex-husband and his new family crept into her mind. His new kids are little and presumably cute and do not require computers or phones . . . yet. Oh, his time will come, if this marriage lasts. But then again if this marriage lasts he won’t be doing it alone the second time around. Then Roxanne had thoughts of her children as babies, remembering the smiles, the hysterical cries and the smiles again a few minutes later. Back then, if their toys broke, it didn’t matter. She could hide them, replace them, or distract the child with another shiny object or a song. The good old days were filled with bodily fluid control and clean up, tantrums and no sleep whatsoever. The good old days, when providing for and educating a child did not require a $700 purchase, though she knew she’d spent much more than that in diapers alone. But the diapers did what they were supposed to do, and she didn’t have to spend $700 at one time– only to have them fail. The good old days — when she could teach the alphabet by singing it, could provide a hug, a song, a breast or two, and simply hold her babies, shifting weight from one foot to the other.
Back then, Roxanne thought, I could do what they needed, and they would smile back. Though the Quirky One never smiled as much as her twin, Roxanne remembered. She often seemed like she was deep in thought. Still, she could make them all smile. She taught them things. They were so cute and everybody said so. “Oh they’re still cute now,” Roxanne thought, “but that’s frankly a little scary in a teen girl.”
“Back then, they needed me. Now, they still need me, just as much, but they also need a $700 computer they treat like a recyclable magazine and they need phones with two-year contracts that they carry like a balls when running through a parking lot. And they complain that their friends all have smart phones? I don’t think so. Not happening.”
With these thoughts running through her mind, the worries, the fears, frustration and jealousy . . . the tears almost came, right behind the bitterness.
But instead of crying, instead of attempting to fix the computer or finding someone who could, instead of interrogating The Quirky One on who and how the computer had last been used, Roxanne grabbed her book and sat down, outside. The Quirky One hates the outdoors, or more precisely, she hates bugs and sun and heat and fresh air, to name a few. Consequently, the outdoors is where Roxanne knew she could be alone. The Quirky One still had use of the desktop computer, after all.
Roxanne opened her book — an actual book that required no battery life, no “on” button, and no screen. The book would work.
So Roxanne read . . . and actually forgot everything for a little while. The book had worked. The tears retreated, the bitterness dried up.
After a bit Roxanne went inside and wrote . . .
in longhand . . .
because . . .
“The computer won’t wauk.”
Just Me With . . . a story. Not sure why I wrote this in the third person, except that I’m reading in the third person.
I’m currently reading , “Admission” by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Coincidentally, after I wrote the above, I got to a point in the book where a secondary character said the following:
When you’re a single mom, and everybody talks about how hard it must be, what they mean is the little-kid stuff. Getting up in the middle of the night all the time because there’s no one else to do it, or having to take on all the doctors’ appointments and parent-teacher conferences yourself. But I’m telling you, that was nothing. This teenager stuff is hard. This is, like, crazy hard.
Admission, Copyright 2009 by Jean Hanff Korelitz
It was also made into a movie, which I haven’t seen.
I’m just trying to make it “One Day At A Time” like divorced TV mom Annie Romano, except that I have two Barbaras and two Julies, and a boy.
Let me set the scene. As per usual I was unsuccessful in getting certain tasks completed before the kids came back from a visit with their dad. As per usual none of the kids gave the requested heads up text to let me know they were on their way before they came. (I didn’t know what time they were coming home, only that they’d be home earlier than the required drop off time because one of the kids had a rehearsal.)
So the kids walked in to me in the middle of various projects — hanging a shelf, bagging their clothes they refused to wash, my private journal open on the kitchen table and Sex and The City blaring on all three TVs. (It’s one of my secret single behaviors to turn on all the TVs while cleaning so as I’m walking around the house I can still hear and glance at whatever is on. Don’t judge.) I was startled and felt like I got caught doing something wrong.
Turns out, I apparently had done something wrong.
My cleaning and organizing efforts were rewarded with a fit of rage from the Anxious child. Her twin, the Angry child was — guess what? Angry. As per usual, she did not enjoy her visit with her dad and brought her frustration home to me. The other kids just breezed in, dropped their stuff where they felt like it and perched various places in the house to eat the fast food their dad sent them home with. Someone got the Angry child’s order wrong and she was angry about that, too, no surprise. Somehow this anger was directed toward me.
It is always stressful when the kids get home. They’d only been gone for twenty-eight hours but the whole visitation process: getting them ready and out of the door when they’d rather not go, their behavior when they return, my guilt over how I choose spend my time when they are gone (not getting enough done, not having any fun) is always difficult. See Weekends Off.
After the tirade from the Anxious and Angry twins and my frustrated response, I still had to drive the oldest to rehearsal and get some dinner for myself.
During the drive I tried some relaxation techniques I’ve been reading about. I took deep breaths. I sat in my car for a bit to calm down. And, in an uncharacteristic move, when I returned I decided to sit down and watch something funny. Normally I would hide from my ill-tempered children or launch into a series of chores and attempt to get them to do the same. But instead I loaded the DVD player with my new favorite guilty pleasure, Pitch Perfect. Don’t judge. Okay, go ahead and judge. And yes, we own it.
The girls joined me. When he returned from his rehearsal, the Arrogant one — the boy, retired to his boudoir as per usual. To his credit, he was doing a massive amount of homework that he saved for when he got back from the visit. His choice, his stress.
What people say about humor and music is true. Watching Pitch Perfect made me feel better. Miraculously, both the Anxious child and her twin, the Angry child, calmed down.
But when I got up to go into the kitchen to get a drink, however, I was met with a surprise.
Someone had opened every single cabinet and drawer in the kitchen.
It’s not just a matter of neatness, leaving cabinets open has scared the bejesus out of me way back to The Sixth Sense!
Do you remember the abused ghost wife and the open cabinets in The Sixth Sense?
I stopped dead in my tracks. I was already emotionally fragile.
I WAS TRYING TO CALM DOWN!!!!!
But those people I made, those people I grew in my belly like mold, those people know that having all the cabinets and drawers open frightens me!
It probably goes back to Poltergeist as well.
I just don’t do well with kitchen surprises. I’m okay with bugs, I’ve dealt with some nasty stuff, see Piss, Puke and Porn, but open cabinets — scare me.
I froze in my steps, mouth agape. When I could finally move I gingerly walked the five steps back into the family room and cried to my four female spawn,
“WHO DID THAT? You know that scares me!”
Then I collapsed on the floor and laughed so hard I cried. I didn’t go back in my kitchen until I got a confession out of the Quirky one and ordered her to go in there and close everything up.
Oh, those people I made all had a good laugh about it. Great big belly laughs. I was a hysterical mess on the floor, but unlike some of my past days, it was in a good way.
I guess the experts are right that laughter helps with depression and anxiety.
But does it have to be at my expense? Does it?
I just looked at my girl, the Quirky one — the Offender, and said,
“You used to be one of the ones that I liked.”
Just Me With . . . a weird phobia, an unexpectedly devious Quirky child and a good laugh — on the floor.
Given my mood, it was a bold move on the Quirky One’s part. I have to respect her risk-taking.
Shout out to Merbear who inspired me to write something positive about my girls. Well, I don’t know if it was positive, damn kids.
Other Kitchen Surprises:
I admit. I’m on my phone a lot. All the time.
But I didn’t grow up on my phone all the time. I grew up — using both hands!
The other day my daughter and I went to the neighbors’ house to walk their dog. I wanted to make sure she could do it by herself. Accordingly, I instructed her to open the door by herself using the key. She dutifully inserted the key in the lock with her right hand and turned. The door did not pop open, of course. She turned the key again with her right hand. It did not open. Her left hand hung at her side.
She was bewildered, perplexed, really.
She turned the key again with her right hand. Her empty left hand still hung at her side, useless.
Before my head exploded, I had to speak up — slowly:
“Turn the key with one hand, use the other hand to turn the knob and push.”
She’s a teen, not a toddler. Yet it had not occurred to her to use both hands.
I blame Apple. Usually this kid has a phone and/or iPod in hand. She is so used to holding a device that it has rendered one hand useless, even when it’s empty.
This scenario has happened often with my kids. They only use one hand for most things, even cooking. Oh, I admit they’ve become quite adept at using one hand, but it’s not efficient. Not at all.
And it looks ridiculous.
When my children were babies and toddlers they always scored so well on those tests for large and small motor skills. They could manipulate small toys and they could climb on anything.
Now they forget that they have two hands.
I think someone should conduct a study on the long-term effects of the use of personal digital devices on the (arrested) development of manual dexterity in teens — because I think this is a problem.
Seriously. Have you ever watched a person do laundry with one hand? It’s ridiculous.
Just Me With . . . both hands.
The social worker said, “She wants to break you.” She, being my daughter.
The reasons why there is a social worker in my house are beyond what I feel like writing about now. But know that it was my reaching out for help, not a protective services situation. My daughter is struggling with anger and depression and literally ran — I mean ran from traditional counseling. You haven’t lived until you’ve chased a child around a therapist’s office, but I digress. Consequently, I sought another route which brings professionals to the house.
Over the years I had done what I was supposed to do. I told the children what they needed to know about the separation and divorce and move based on their age and capacity to understand. I did not talk about the legal aspects of it. The children never knew that I suffered through dealing with various court filings (actually for me I was usually responding to my husband’s filings) and court appearances. They don’t know about the financial and professional ruin and my poor health. They were too little, it was appropriate to shield them. The younger ones don’t seem to remember my good old-fashioned nervous breakdown and years, literally — years of tears. I suppose that’s good. I know it’s good. When my children are grown and thinking back on their childhood and mother I don’t want them to recall an image of me lying on the kitchen floor sobbing. That’s not cool.
She has stated that her misery is because we moved from the big marital home in the nice neighborhood, but I think it’s more. I agree, she wants to break me. I believe she thinks any appearance of strength or acceptance on my part somehow negates her feelings of loss. The more comfortable I get with leaving the old life — the old house, the more miserable she seems.
What she doesn’t know is that I’m already broken, I broke down long ago, my loss was substantial. For the last few years I’ve just been in survival and repair mode, with medications and counseling as needed, along with a fair amount of carpentry. As the children have gotten older I’ve enhanced explanations and have told them they can ask me anything and I will respond (age appropriately). I’ve explained why we had to move, and why we moved to where we are now . . . but she’s too young and too miserable right now to hear it.
Still, she is old enough to know that our move to a much smaller house in a poor neighborhood is not merely a new adventure; she can see that we have taken a step down, socio-economically. She also knows that her Dad also has a new life — with new people in it — and that’s just the way it is.
But, without acceptance of it all, it stinks.
Plus, my daughter is savvy, suspicious, practical and depressed enough to outright reject the “positive spin” talk. I’ve tried. She’ll need a different angle. She’s a lot like me that way.
And let’s face it, misery loves company, and she wants me to be miserable and angry, too. (I am, but I try not to show it.)
Though I’m thankful she feels comfortable enough with me to express her feelings, especially since she is uncomfortable with her Dad, I still want to (but won’t) say,
“Don’t break me, girl. You need me, more than you know. I’m all you got. I am not invincible. I am human, even though I am your mother. Don’t break me. Please. I’ve been broken before, you don’t remember — but it ain’t pretty.“
So when I recently tweeted, “I will not cry, I will not cry, I will not cry” after the heart wrenching session with my daughter and the social worker, it was because it hurt me to my soul and I feared that if I cried I would never stop. I know, sounds overly dramatic, but sometimes . . . it is.
Just Me With . . . some struggles.
Thankfully, my kids have all been healthy. Their gross motor skills developed early. Translated, that means as toddlers they were (are still) runners, climbers and jumpers.
Once somebody gave me one of those big plastic houses kids are supposed to play house in. I had space inside so I put in it the family room. Not once did my girls play house in it. No, no. They did, however, stand on top of it and jump off, repeatedly. Had to get rid of it. That cute little house was a safety hazard for my twins, two of whom I call Thelma and Louise . . . but I digress.
We had a long informal dining table, also given to us. With the leaves attached it sat eight people. It was just the size we needed. However, according to my Olympic monkey children it was also long enough to run across. Again, a safety hazard. The table wasn’t that long and once the toddler runs and reaches the end? BAM! No, this was not going to work. I’d caught the kids right before falls on previous table running attempts but sooner or later my luck would run out. My daily goal back then was just to stay out of the Emergency Room (and off the Six O’clock news).
Still, I needed a table, so it could not suffer the fate of the play house. The table and the children must learn to co-exist safely. But the children were still little, they were at that age where I could really only chase behind them. They had no concept of consequences, danger, or any real responsiveness to my voice — they were all,
“Oh I can run, I can climb. Therefore, I will run and I will climb — all the time.”
And all my parental, “No, Stop! Wait!!” and all that jazz — meant nothing.
Absolutely, nothing. Say it again, y’all . . .
Back to the problem. How to keep the girls off the table? (Later it’ll be how to keep them off the pole, but I digress again.) They could only get on the table by first climbing on the chairs, but simply moving the chairs away from the table had not worked. These minions simply pushed them back to the table and climbed up, then a sibling would follow and in a blink of an eye, I had a line-up of miniature Village People looking toddlers on a table.
No, no. I needed something more secure.
I think it started with a jump rope. No, I didn’t tie the children up (not then, heh heh heh).
But after every meal, I would push the chairs in, grab a rope, thread it through the chairs around the table and tie them up in a nice knot.
The children’s fine motor skills had not developed enough to untie the rope. They weren’t (yet) strong enough to pull the chairs away, though they tried.
I didn’t realize how weird it was until a friend from out-of-town came to visit. We sat at the table together, ate, fed the kids. When we were finished I cleared the table, got out the rope and proceeded to tie the chairs around the table while we were chatting away.
She stopped talking and said, carefully, slowly, like talking to a crazy person:
“What are you . . . doing?’
Oh snap, sometimes you don’t know how strange and dysfunctional you are until there is someone to see it.
Me: “You mean you don’t tie your chairs together after every meal?”
Sometimes the kids did listen to me, even when I didn’t want them to. See, “Momma said, No!“
Here’s a fun fact: As children grow they develop fine motor skills.
So I did what everybody does, I told him, scolded him really:
“Do not ever unbuckle your car seat. It is not safe. Do you understand me? You will get a time-out for that! It is very, very, very important. Do you understand? ”
Me: “Are you sure?”
Him: “Yes, Momma.” He still called me Momma then.
He could tell when Momma wasn’t messing around. I was using my stern voice, my serious face and my angry eyes. Mission accomplished.
But my little Houdini is not my only kid. I had had five kids in all. The three-year-old was just the oldest. Twin girls, twice, came after. Yes, They are Twins, Yes, they are Twins, Too. Consequently, we didn’t get out much. Taking a preschooler, two toddlers and two infants to any store — well, this was not an outing that a person takes lightly. So sometimes when I had to run errands and my mother was with me we would buckle the kids in the car and my mom would stay with them while I would run in and out of stores. It got us out of the house, sometimes the kids would get their naps using this method, and it gave me a little break.
The very next day after the car seat unbuckling incident and lecture, my mom and I decided to load the kids and run some errands. We pulled into the local pharmacy and I ran in. As per usual, my Mom stayed with them in the car. I was gone only a few minutes.
When I came out, my mom was standing outside of the car, all five kids were still strapped in — inside.
The doors were closed.
“This can’t be good,” I thought.
My mother was distraught. Almost in tears.
“I can’t get in.” She said. “The babies started to cry and I got out to calm them down. I — I — I — closed the door . . . and now it’s locked.”
We, the adults, were locked out. The children were locked in. Turns out I was right. This wasn’t good. The keys were in the car.
I tried not to panic. After all, the car was running and the air conditioning was on, so they wouldn’t cook in there . . . but still, it’s not good to leave five children alone in a car and I didn’t know how much gas I had.
Options: I could run home and get an extra set of keys. But that would take too long, and my mother was losing it. I didn’t want to leave her alone with the kids. My husband was never really available during the day and worked too far away, anyway. I could call my Dad to do it, but he’s hard to get a hold of . . . so . . . I guess I’d have to call the police to break into the car. This was not a proud moment. “Why? Why, do I ever leave the house?” I wondered.
Well, hello there, Mr. Panic.
Then I remembered — my son — the big boy, the one who has motor skills!!! The boy can get out of his car seat and unlock the door!!! He has the ability. He has the manual dexterity. I’ve seen him do it — just yesterday. “It was worth a try,” I thought.
And so . . . one day after having scolded the boy for unbuckling his car seat and making him promise never to do it again —
I begged, “Honey,” I spoke kindly but loudly through the closed window, “Momma wants you to UNBUCKLE YOUR CAR SEAT and UNLOCK the door!”
He looked away from me. “Clearly,” his three-year-old mind must have reasoned, “This is some sort of test and I’m not going to fall for it, nope nope.”
I cooed, “No Honey, it’s okay, it’s okay, really, Momma says it’s okay, PLEASE get out and let us in. Please, you won’t be in trouble!!!! I promise!!!!”
I saw him roll his eyes toward the ceiling, away from me. His hands stayed at his sides. He was more still than any three-year-old could possibly be. It was impressive, really.
My mother was crying by this time and apologizing, she felt really, really badly. But I had to get to the kids.
Me to my statue-like son, “Honey, please. Please!!!!!! It’s okay, I promise. Get out of your car seat. Momma needs you to get out of your car seat! PLEASE!!!”
This child would not even acknowledge that I was talking to him. Again, it was impressive. And comical. I had literally just made him promise never to get himself out of his car seat and here I was begging him to do just that. It was like a sitcom.
“Pleeeeeeease!!!! Momma says it’s okay.” But that boy was NOT going to fall for my obvious trickery. “Momma said no,” he must have thought, “Momma said no.”
We had started to draw a crowd. I was beginning to tear up, too. The girls were useless, too young to manipulate their car seats, arms to short to reach the locks. And . . . they’d started to cry again.
This was not good.
In the end, my obedient son never unbuckled his car seat. Some nice gentleman drove me home (I wasn’t far, and thankfully I’d left the house unlocked). I got my spare keys and everybody was fine.
—- Except my mother. It took her a long time to recover.
We didn’t go out for a while after that and when we did, no matter what the kids were doing, my mother never got out of the car again.
Just Me With . . . five car seats, a mom, and a son who had learned his lesson, damn it.
She was in first grade when her world changed. Her Daddy had moved out during a three-day weekend — one of those holiday weekends when people buy refrigerators and mattresses. Me? I was online looking up how to tell children about their parents’ separation. That Sunday we told the kids and he moved out the same day (I cannot describe that day, it was — no words, yet.) On that holiday Monday I held back sobs long enough to call each teacher at home and give him/her a heads up. Having no idea how the kids would be at school, I asked the teachers to call me if there was any strange behavior — outbursts, crying, sullenness, etc. They were crying a lot at home, off and on.
They still had “Circle Time” in Mr. Harris’ first grade room. “Circle Time” was the part of the school day when the children sat on the floor, each taking a turn to speak freely. It was meant to encourage discussion and teach respect and listening to others. The teacher used a rain stick and passed it around the circle. The rule was, the child with the rain stick had the floor (or rug — ha ha). The other children must listen to the speaker and be quiet, but they could ask questions after the child has finished. Since it had been a long weekend, the children discussed what they had done over the weekend.
When my daughter got the rain stick she announced to the class:
“My Daddy moved out over the weekend.“
She told me all about it when she got home from school. She exclaimed, with bright, light eyes open wide, and in that — slightly too loud, high-pitched and overly dramatic little girl voice,
“Mommy, everybody got soooo quiet. I could hear the birds outside and the trucks on the street! Nobody said anything.”
That’s some serious silence for a classroom of first graders.
I was a mess; I managed to murmur something about how they probably didn’t know what to say. I asked what the teacher said. She said he didn’t say much.
I sometimes referred to this child as a wealth of “inaccurate information” (Hell, I still do). I never really know what the whole truth is with her. Once I found her name written on the wall at home. Of course it had to be her work. Why would another child write her name? She denied it of course. But not only did she deny it, she took paper and a pencil to all of the other children procured handwriting samples in an attempt to prove her innocence. Her investigation was flawed since little sisters couldn’t write anything but their own names at the time, but I had to give her props for her tenacity.
My little lawyer . . . but I digress . . .
She was telling the truth about Circle Time, though. I spoke to Mr. Harris later, and he confirmed her story, saying that the other kids did indeed fall silent when my daughter made her announcement. Since there were no questions he just continued on to the next child. Reportedly, my daughter appeared to be okay. Mr. Harris told me that he was glad he already knew, though, and he thanked me for giving him a heads up.
We often think of how to tell the kids. This is how one kid told . . . her whole class.
Just Me With . . . a Circle Time story.
By the way, her twin in the class across the hall didn’t say a word to anybody, and was angry that her sister told our business.
Our Break Up, The Musical Revival — Oh yeah, we went to a play that weekend.
Six Days of Separation — I was a hot mess.
My Cheating Husband Was Packing Viagra — Self Explanatory
When I Needed a Helping Hand — People can be so nice.
Last night I went to a jam session. I took my kids and one of their friends. I have hopes that someday my kids will participate. They take lessons, they have some chops, but they don’t have the confidence or drive to get up there. So last night they were there to listen. Still, something beautiful happened. They clapped . . . for me.
I played multiple times, I took solos, and after each, they clapped . . . for me. (In case you’re wondering, they weren’t the only ones.) But as I look back on it today, the fact that I got applause from “those people I made” is something I really needed. They were there, in my element, watching/listening and clapping at the appropriate times. They showed genuine appreciation for the music, for me, and for the other musicians. They may never get up there. But they know their mom can, does and loves it. They know I have credibility with other musicians — something which has nothing to do with them or being their mom.
I’ve had a hard time with my particular situation, the demands on me, my current place in life and the journey that brought me here. I’d been feeling a bit beat-down lately. Periodically, or sometimes consistently, leaving the “me” behind to meet the needs of my children and be there for them had been taking a toll. I’m a sensitive person, but you gotta have a thick skin to raise people, and sometimes, it’s well . . . hard. But last night, things were different, so different things were almost upside down. I wasn’t one of the many supportive parents taking pictures and cheering my kids on at a school performance or sporting event. They were there watching, clapping for and taking pictures of — me. And it was good — to play music, it was good to have a respectful audience, it was good to back burner the “mom” nameplate yet still have the children with me. In short, it was good to be Just Me.
After a while it was getting late, and they were ready to go, as was I. As we got up to leave I was asked to play one more set. The kids didn’t seem to mind that much. I played. They clapped. No complaints. At the end of he night I thanked them for coming. (Mind you they did get some food out of the deal.) But the lack of eye-rolling, whining, fighting and squirming — and their applause . . . they don’t even know how much I needed that.
Sometimes a girl just needs a little applause. I may call my mom and just clap for her.
Just Me With . . . my music and my kids . . . . just being me.