Five Wishes

Sometimes I find myself with my kids, and for whatever reason, time just sort of slows down, and the details of the moment overwhelm me. Maybe it’s a smile, a laugh. Maybe it’s the way one of them is running down the soccer field or the fierce determination of a batter’s stance. Or maybe it’s the sound of their voice, or a picture they’ve drawn, the feel of their hand in mine. Or maybe…maybe…it’s not at all. Nothing specific anyway. It’s just the moment, and the raw rightness of it makes me wish I could stay right there in that moment forever. That things could always be like that. That there wouldn’t come a day when they’d grow up and move on with their lives, go off to college…and maybe never come back. That’s what I did. (My husband, too.) I went to college, then went off to find a job…500 miles away. I planned to go back. Louisiana was home. It never occurred to me I’d stay in Dallas. I was a Louisiana girl…not a Texas girl. But here I am, all these years later, still in Texas.

Time doesn’t stand still. Things change. Children grow up. That’s life. So instead of spending too much time on the fantasy that certain moments can last forever, I’ve found myself thinking about what can be, instead. What seeds I can plant today, for the most wonderful blossoms possible tomorrow. I can’t freeze time, but maybe, just maybe, I can influence what lies ahead. So I find myself with these wishes, wishes for my children…for my nieces and nephews…my siblings and parents…my friends. For everyone.

  • I wish for you to be heard. For you to always feel like you have someone (or several someones!) who hears you, who gets you. Someone you can lean on—who wants you to lean on them. Who wants to listen. Who likes to listen. To you.
  • I wish for you to feel love. Really feel it. The warmth and security, the unabashed acceptance of who you are, the confidence that comes from knowing you don’t walk through your days alone.
  • I wish for your life to be absolutely flooded with smiles. Your smiles. The smiles of others. I wish for you to feel the freedom to lift your eyes to a total stranger…and smile. And I wish for you to feel the warmth of smiles given to you. Just a smile. Such a simple gesture. But each one has untold power.
  • I wish for you to be true to yourself. Be authentic. Find your passion, and follow your passion. Don’t let anyone else tell you who you should be. Define you. Affect how you think about yourself. YOU are the leading lady (or man) of your own life, the captain of your own ship, the author of your own life story. Own it. Love it. Chase your dreams. Color outside the lines if you want to. Don’t hold back. You are the only you.
  • I wish for you to make the most of each day. Not because you never know what tomorrow may bring, but because each day brims over with its own promise. Don’t worry about tomorrow, not until it becomes today. One moment, one breath at a time. That’s how you see the colors in the rainbow and hear the sound of the birds.
  • And finally, I wish for you to know that even when darkness comes, as it sometimes does, it always passes. Not even the darkest, stormiest night lasts forever. Dawn always comes, and with it a new day.

Okay, so that’s six, but I never was very good at math, and that’s okay.

I’ll miss Peanut Butter on the Keyboard so very much. I have a heaviness in my heart that this door is closing, but everything in life has its cycle. I’m on just about all the standard social media sites, but I am most active and responsive on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jenna.mills. I’d love to see you there!  For now, I’d like to close by wishing you happiness in all that you do.

What Happened to Halloween?

When did Halloween become such a big holiday? It must have happened sometime after I graduated from college and sometime before Princess Galen was born. A couple years ago I realized nearby neighborhoods were just as decked out for Halloween as Christmas.

Cemeteries pop up in yards, pirates dangle by nooses from trees, and zombies stand by driveways. It’s a lot to explain to a little kid. I don’t even know where to begin.

The year before my daughter was born I made the mistake of going to a Halloween party. I wore a twirly dress and fairy wings. My husband put on his cowboy hat and boots. We looked like we’d made an effort. The rest of the people at the party looked like they had been hired by a haunted house. I felt so lame. I also felt overdressed. The women wore nothing short of clothing appropriate for a prostitute.

When did Halloween become about wearing sexy clothes? And why have kids’ characters been sexualized? I think that creeps me out the most.

care bear

Cheer Bear from the Care Bears

Even Sesame Street isn’t immune.

halloweencostume

Big Bird

Where did we go wrong? When did Halloween become more about sex and less about games

2014-10-18 10.27.44and cute kids’ costumes?

2014-10-18 10.18.01

From Zero to Panicked in 60 seconds flat

Two years ago I had this conversation with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates:

Her: We’re thinking about moving to another school district.

Me: Why? Did you or your husband get a new job?

Her:  No. We’re worried about Jennifer’s class rank.

Me: Um … okay.

Her: This school district is so competitive. It’s almost impossible to make into the top ten percent. And you, if you’re not in the top ten percent, you don’t automatically get into UT, A&M or Texas Tech. And if you can’t get in there…

Me: Um ….

Her: What do you think?

Me: Don’t colleges know how competitive our school district is? Shouldn’t that matter?

Her: <Looking at me like I’m a naive idiot> Um ….

 

At the time, our kids were in the second grade. I thought she was crazy. Like, bat-shit crazy. Why would you move (actually sell your house and move) so your kid could go to an inferior school district in the fear that ten years from now his or her GPA might not be competitive?

Flash forward to Monday morning. Someone forwarded The Geek an article from Money Magazine ranking colleges. He’s rattling off interesting facts:

Him: Did you know most of the really good colleges are upwards of $150,000?

Me: <choking on coffee>

Him: Did you know Stanford only accepts 8% of its applicants?

Me: Uh???

Him: Oh, look, Harvard only accepts 6%.

Me: <gasping for breath>

five minutes later

Me: How do we feel about moving to a shitty school district?

 

Okay. So we’re not moving. Yet. But I am officially freaked out. My daughter is in the forth grade. Middle school is right around the corner. Those days when I have to think about class ranking and dream colleges is right around the corner. Like so many times in my past as a mother, parts of me are at war. On one hand, I don’t want to be the crazy mom who moves the whole family to engineer a better class rank for my kid. On the other, I want her to have options. I want her to get into any school she wants to go to. I want her to enjoy her childhood. I worry that we’re not doing enough. I remind myself that I got into Texas A&M (and so did her father) and that was good enough for both of us. I don’t want to push too hard, but I’ve always felt my parents didn’t push enough.

What if she wants to go to Harvard and doesn’t get in. What if she does get in and we have to pay for it? What if pay for it and then … and then … my baby is going to live in Boston!!!!

What if she never moves back? I’m going to have to move there too! I’m going to have to learn to drive in the snow! 

Thank goodness for The Geek. While I was hyperventilating, he pointed out several wise things: we still have time, we have savings, our kids are bright, we didn’t go to Harvard and we’re okay. Remembering all of that helped. 

But here’s the bottom line: I’m going to panic. Every time I think I’ve got this parenting thing under wraps, there’s going to be something to freak me out. I can go from zero to panicked in sixty seconds flat. Okay, in this case it was more like fifteen minutes. Still, you see what I mean right?

Here’s one of those things I never knew about parenting: I would be afraid all the time. I would be afraid of crazy crap that I would totally make fun of under other circumstances. And I would always be trying to hide how afraid I am. Because here’s the deal: I’m okay telling The Geek when I’m afraid. I’m okay telling you guys. I’m not okay with the kids knowing it. They don’t need my crazy in their heads. My girl will have her own fears about college and they will come soon enough.

So, what about you? Are you thinking about college yet? What makes you panic?

 


 

Emily McKay lives in Central Texas with her family and her chickens where she writes YA horror and eats lots of cookies.

Summer Fun

postcard KW
By now many, if not most, school districts and universities/colleges are back in session. Summer is over and it’s time to get back in a groove of school, homework, longer commutes and busier schedules.

The dog days of summer are behind us—though in the Southeast, we’re still feeling the heat and humidity. And typically will for months to come.

With our kids and teachers starting back to school, I thought I’d call upon a beloved class assignment from my past: the age old, “What did you do this summer?” essay.

I have to say, I had a blessed summer of 2014. My girls are older, so they’re not home all that often now and when they are, I treasure every moment.

I started off with a three-week visit from with my youngest before she headed back to college for the summer session. Yes, I tried to pack as much fun as I could in her short time with me.
zac brown band with belle

Then, my youngest niece and nephew arrived to spend two months with my parents and me. Talk about reliving my past. It’s been a while since I’ve had elementary and middle school kids running around the house. From World Cup soccer parties to 90 minutes of trampoline time at a local Skyzone…they certainly kept me hopping—in a fun way!

world cup gator dockside 1
Between two writers’ conferences, a rousing family reunion celebration in Texas
cousin love
and the passing of a beloved uncle, my June and July flew by.

To cap off my summer, my middle daughter arrived home for two weeks and we headed off for a long weekend in Key West, my old stomping grounds during junior high and high school.

We biked all around the island,
P & G biking KW
hit Duval for a little dancing and nightlife, watched a glorious sunset on Mallory Square, caught sunrise before hitting the tennis courts, spent a relaxing day on a boat with old friends, passed by my childhood home and enjoyed playing tourist. It was a jam-packed weekend of catching up with good friends and sharing my hometown with my daughter.

Some folks have commented on all the traveling I managed to do over the past few months. Yes, I’ve been blessed in that respect.

For me though, what I really count as a blessing is the time I’ve been able to spend with family. The memories we created together. The hours spent in each other’s company. The opportunity to say, “I love you” in person to loved ones I don’t get to see often enough.

I’d say the highlight of my summer was the blessing of family time. With the traveling being the icing on the cake. ☺

So, as the Key West sun sets, the homeschool teacher in me wants to know: What did you do this summer?
KW sunset

The Very Worst of Me

Oh-h-h, she has your smile. She talks like you, too. Walks like you. And wow, her eyes. They’re the exact same as your husband’s. Same color of blue. Same laser intensity. And your little boy…look at him, he’s the spitting image of you. Everything, his hair, the twinkle in his eyes, the shape of his face…

I hear these things and I smile. They warm my heart. They’re the kind of thing I use to wonder about, dream about. How would my kids be like me? How would they be like my husband? Which features would they inherit? I tended to think they would be the very best of me…the very best of him. Of us. Like our own personal greatest hits.

 

ourfamily

But there’s another side to the equation, a side I never thought about until I actually had children. We, each of us, have good traits, good features, characteristics, but we also have those that we aren’t so fond of. That maybe need work, improvement. That we struggle with…wish we could change. There’s the very best of us, and the very worst. And our children inherit both.

I’m a worrier. Always have been, probably always will be. I’m not real happy about this, but for as long as I can remember, my mind always runs to the worst possible scenario. If someone was late getting home, they’d been in a car accident. They were in a ditch somewhere, horribly injured, or worse. If a friend was unresponsive to me, or looked at me the wrong way, or heck, maybe their voice just wasn’t right or they didn’t return my call…they hated me. I’d done something terrible to them, and now they were done with me. Airplane turbulence…we were going down. A headache…an aneurysm. A summons to my boss’s office…I was fired. You get the picture.

Yeah, not a real fun way to be.

This is something I’ve really worked on in my adult life, to overcome this near debilitating habit of worrying. Then, one horrible day, I noticed my daughter doing it. She heard a weather forecast. There was a chance of storms. Maybe even a tornado. And suddenly she was beside herself, freaking out that there was going to be a tornado and we were going to die. Another day it was the thought of a test the next week, a big test by third grade standards, but suddenly she was extrapolating failure on that test out all the way to failure to get into a good college, which meant she wouldn’t have a good education, wouldn’t get a good job… Once she even told me that she got worried when she realized she wasn’t worried, because that made her worry that she was forgetting what she was supposed to be worried about.

Houston, we have a problem. Right there in that sweet little child of mine….the very, very worst of me, the big, bad dark cloud that followed me everywhere.

Ah, baby. I’m so sorry. THAT is not something I wanted to share with you. My eyes, my mouth, my smile….those. That’s what I wanted for you.

Then there’s my son. He’s the one that favors me, from a physical perspective, much more closely. But…he’s also got my emotional makeup. And my cognitive. And so much more. You can’t tell him to do (or not do) anything. You can’t spare him an accident, or pain. He’s got to learn it himself, often the hard way.

Just like me. (My daughter, she’ll actually listen…just like her father…)

So I realize it one day. Holy cow, these poor sweet kids. They inherited some of the best of me, but some of the worst, too. (For the record, they got the best and worst my husband, too!) It’s a total mixed bag…and it’s so, so sobering.  (The good, the bad, the ugly, anyone?) It’s like some kind of karmic, cosmic joke, I found myself thinking.

Or lesson.

What better way to force you out of your own destructive habits, your own neurosis or blind-spots, than the desire to spare you kids, show them a better way? Seeing my own struggles manifest in my children both challenges and inspires me to step up and be a better version of myself. I want better for them. I don’t want them to get stuck in the same traps I did, the same train wrecks, to deal with the same self-inflicted wounds. I don’t want my daughter to worry herself into an ulcer, or my son to learn every lesson the hard way. It’s so eye-opening sometimes, when maybe I’m lost in my own worry, but suddenly see my daughter descending into her worry (often about the same thing), and suddenly I’m cast in a different role. No longer can I wallow in my own worry because now, as a parent to this little person I love beyond imagine, it’s my job to teach her a different way. A better way. I’ve got to find a way through my own dark forest…so I can help her find a way. And my son…I’ve got to put aside my own emotional volatility and figure out how to rein him in without stomping on his spirit…and without him realizing he’s being corralled. (It’s fascinating to look back and realize this is a trait I inherited from my father, which, I know now, is why we butted heads so famously when I was growing up. I didn’t like being dictated to…and neither did/does he. And neither does my son.)

It’s something I tell my nieces, half jokingly, half not. That guy you’re dating? The really hot one or the really exciting one? The one who sometimes drives you notes? Who you think you might want to marry? Just remember, you’re going to end up raising a little him…the good, and the bad 🙂

The very best of us, and the very worst of us. A composite. That’s what our kids are. A mirror, inside and out. And a chance, I’m coming to think, a chance to step outside ourselves and help create something different, better.

We can’t undo our past, but the future—our children’s future—is yet to be written.

meandkids

How do you want to change their story, from your own?

 

(Photo credit: Wendy Valderrama, Valderrama Photography, http://www.valderramaphotography.com)

Kids and Lying

I think we’re nearing a crucial time in the Galen household. Another small part of innocence is about to be chipped away. I can’t blame this one on society because I’m sure it’s just part of human nature.

Princess Galen told a lie.

truth-257158_640I know it’s not the last she’ll tell, but it hurt my heart a little to hear the first one. I remember just a few months ago, at Christmas, her older male cousins were teasing each other and saying the other was a girl. PG didn’t get it at all. She kept arguing that they were boys. Finally, I explained to my nephews that she didn’t know what a lie was and had never told one. They were amazed, but I think that’s fairly typical for kids who are under 5. They think in truths and aren’t sophisticated enough for verbal deception (notice I say verbal).

Even Princess Galen’s first lie was awkward and muddled. We were talking, and she said “poo poo” or some sort of potty word. Immediately, she knew she had crossed the line, and she said, “I was talking about using the potty.” We hadn’t been talking about that, but she knew that was when it was okay to use potty words. Before I could even contradict her, she said, “I mean, I’m sorry for using a potty word. It was an accident.”

The lie lasted all of three seconds before she came clean. Still, I made sure to tell her that I appreciated her apology, and that she should always just admit her mistakes and not lie about them. Moms, I am not so naïve as to believe she will actually follow that rule always, but hopefully she follows it more times than not. I know this is part of growing up, but there are some parts of childhood I wish could last longer.

 

rainbow
Refilling Your Emotional Well

As a writer I’ve heard this phrase many times before, usually in a talk or presentation about creativity and tapping into your artistic or creative side. But I’ve also found that it’s an important phrase for life in general.

What I mean is, we’ve all read or written blogs about the busy-ness of life or about finding “me” time as an adult and a mom. Especially those of us who unrealistically try to be Supermom. ☺

But I also think the idea of refilling our emotional well is an important concept to teach our kids, too.

Oftentimes today our kids are overbooked, overscheduled, over-involved…over a lot of things. Sure, trying your hand at a variety of things can be a great way to develop and discover new talents, interests and skills. At the same time, doing too much can lead our kids to feel just like we do after a hectic day at the office, followed by an evening taxi-ing our kids to different activities, cooking dinner and washing dishes, capped off with a writing session in front of the computer. No wonder there are days when we feel frazzled, frayed or bamboozled.

So, just as we need a little “me” time, so do our kids. Think of it this way, if we teach our girls how to recognize when they’re getting to a point where everything seems too much when they’re young, maybe they’ll be better at balancing their responsibilities or at least doing so in a healthy way when they’re older.

Whether it’s curling up with a good book in a corner on the couch or under a tree in the back yard, or coloring with crayons, or going to the beach to have fun in the sun and surf…Whatever it is that makes them truly happy. That helps them feel re-energized and rejuvenated. Whatever brings a silly grin to their face.

Whatever refills their emotional well.

For me, that’s a day relaxing on the beach with a good book. A nap in my back yard with my puppy sniffing around for lizards. Watching a chickflick with family and friends. A day of baking gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies with my girls. Going salsa dancing. Putting on my music and going for a run.

How about for you, what helps refill your emotional well?

This makes for great dinner table conversation with your loved ones. Try it, and maybe someone will surprise you by their response.

I’d love to hear how it goes for you if you give it a try!

Lockdown

It was early afternoon, within an hour of dismissal. They were in social studies, reviewing explorers….Christopher Columbus, Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Coronado,  Sieur de La Salle and Hernando Cortes’. Just an ordinary every day kind of day. Then the principal’s serious voice comes across the intercom with the words Official and Lockdown. He may have kept talking. He probably did. But everything blurred, kids scrambling into action, rushing to the back of the classroom and under tables while the teacher hurried to close and lock the door. A little girl huddled there, under a table, afraid to move, afraid to look. Images of Newtown flashed through her mind. She could see the parents who were interviewed that cold winter morning, and she tried not to cry. Shaking while she tried not to move, she thought she heard thuds and screaming, and she started to plan, and pray. She planned what she would do if the door was kicked open and the gunman came in, how she would go limp so maybe he wouldn’t notice her. And she prayed her parents wouldn’t have to be interviewed. She prayed she’d see her family again. Her dog. That her friends would be okay. Her teacher. She prayed and prayed, and then came the knock at the door, the assistant principal informing them that the drill was over.

The drill.

My daughter never heard that word, that key critical word, the one that would have made her not fear for her life, not until it was all over. She thought it was real. For her, for those five minutes when she crouched under a table in the back of her classroom, it was real. And when I saw her half an hour later, she vaulted into my arms, breathlessly telling me how scared she’d been, that she’d thought she was going to die.  And my heart just kinda broke. It broke for her, that she’d experienced that terror. And it broke for her friends, who were gathered around her, around us, saying that they’d thought the same thing, that there was a shooter in their school, like Newtown, and that they were all in danger. That they might die. That their friends might die. It broke for the world we live in, that this is these children’s reality. They know that sometimes people go to work, and bad things happen. That sometimes people go to the movies, and bad things happen. And sometimes, sometimes kids, elementary school kids even, go to school, and never get to go home.

When I was a kid, we had drills, too. We drilled for fire and tornadoes and even a nuclear bomb. For fire we’d leave the building. For tornadoes and the bomb we’d huddle under our desks, as if that would make a difference. But none of us were really scared, not in that Oh-My-God, is this the end kind of way.

But now, today, bad things happen, really bad things, and our kids know it.  They’re not immune to it. Little girls and boys walk to their friend’s house a few blocks away, and never get there.  How do you explain that?

Innocence. It’s one of the most beautiful aspects of childhood.  The hallmark. Childhood is that one time of life when you are surrounded by those who wish nothing more than to take care of you. Childhood is that one time in your life when you shouldn’t really have to worry, be scared. But I can’t help but think, in so many ways, that kind of pure, unencumbered innocence is now no more than a pipe dream. A fantasy. A fairytale of some heralded time in the distant past. But not real anymore. Not reality. Not with what our kids are exposed to far too early. Now they fear walking to their friend’s house, to the movies…to school.

This is their reality. This is the world in which our children live. And it makes me so, so sad.

I sit here tonight, thinking. Wondering. What does this do to them? Our children. What does this kind of fear and horror do to them? What does it do to their young hearts and their young souls? How does it scar them…shape them?

From the day I became a mother, my goal has been to protect my kids, shield them. But I can’t protect them from this, the stressed out, enraged world in which they live. In which we all live. I can’t make it go away, and I can’t keep them in some kind of timeless, suspended bubble.  Would that I could. So instead I find myself sitting here thinking, what can I do? What can I do to help them live in this world?

For me, what I think it comes down to is love. I can love my kids, wrap them in it like a soft, warm, strong blanket, create a safe place for them, a  haven, where no matter how dark and scary the world is, they always know where to find sanctuary.  All the while, inside I quietly mourn for that fantasy of another world, the fading, forgotten world, where children didn’t worry that someday, they might go to school, but never go home again.