About Me

My photo
If you think this is about YOU, maybe you should go reconcile with your parent and work to get back your kids instead of continuing to be a jerk. If you think I am you, or similar to you, welcome! :-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Facts & Figures & A Grain Of Salt

North Americans, we live in a land of big numbers! The population of the United States is approximately 306,000,000. Canada boasts an approximate residency of 33,200,000. Mexico fills its land mass with about 110,000,000 people.

It is no surprise, then, when somebody tells us that 3,000,000 or so people have a disease, or a condition, or are doing something, we panic. Three million is a lot of people, after all! I certainly wouldn't want to invite 3 million of my nearest and dearest friends to supper some evening, unless perhaps I was using my suburb and two neighboring suburbs to build the table.

Let's put numbers in perspective. As many as it might be, 3 million residents in the US and 3 million residents in Mexico and 3 million residents in Canada might be people, but we are talking apples and oranges as far as comparisons.

Three million Americans (because calling them "United Statians" is klutzy) means devoting space to approximately 1% of the population, just 600,000 short. On the other hand, three million Mexicans (living in Mexico, this is not about illegal immigration) would mean a little less than 3% of the population. When Canadians talk about 3 million people, they are serious, because the population of Canada is NINE times less than the United States, and the percentage comes out to about 9%.

What's this got to do with the price of Tea in Beijing?

The Media reports facts and figures thrown at the average person at an alarming rate. Our respective governments are quick to quote figures, especially when they wants its citizenry to support or not support an action or a bill, again in a rapid fire fashion. All that information can create anxiety, even depression that perhaps the world is going to Hell in a hand basket, and very quickly, too.

I once conducted a totally unscientific experiment. I first listened to two hours of Fox News in the background of my home, and recorded my impressions. I take a conservative to libertarian approach to life, so a lot of Fox's content does not cause me angst. However, the constant bing-bang of factoids, or doom and gloom, did have an effect on my mood.

The next day, I listened to two hours of CNN as my white noise. Here, the angst became apparent within ten minutes of the listening period.

The third day, I listened to Fox in one room and CNN in the other as I wandered the house, doing my usual. The angst was reduced, and I think I brought new meaning to the term Fair and Balanced. I still got agitated, and I still became depressed.it was only on the fourth day, when I left Style in one room and Watercolor Jazz in the other, that I achieved a calming effect.

The big clue in this is my group of subjects- ONE, UNO, EINS, UNE. This was just little old me. I didn't even have a control group.

I'm not saying we should live in a Care Bears world, where cookies rain from the sky and everybody is happy. I'm not saying the world does not have its problems, because it does. I'm not even saying we shouldn't listen to the news of whatever stripe we choose.

But we need to pay attention to what we hear. The young ones are just as guilty of this as the middle aged and the seniors. We don't pay attention to what we hear and read. We don't analyze. We don't cogitate. We hear, and we react. Too often our reaction is fear.

Long before I completed the military's journalism course, and some time before I explored high school journalism with 3,999 of my closest friends and fellow inmates, Sister Mary Christine advised our fourth grade class of the four Ws and one H. They are:
  • WHO. Just who said or did this?
  • WHAT? What exactly was said or done?
  • WHEN? Was it yesterday? Last week? In the 3rd century BC?
  • WHERE? In Canada? Mexico? Bahrain? Iraq? China? The United Center?
  • HOW? With a crowbar? With a doctor? Through a straw? Using a needle?

We were told that WHY was not sufficiently impartial, and all news reports had to be impartial. If colored our news with why, then we had an editorial.

I urge you to apply those four Ws and one H every time you hear what is presented to you as fact. Perhaps it is fact, but perhaps it is also distorted fact. I challenge you to restore that distorted fact to its original shape. Put it in context. Ask yourself a fifth W, WHY, as in, "Why would somebody want me to believe what they are telling me, why would the teller distort my perception?"

As an added bonus, I am giving you a link to a calculator that not only translates easily percentages into whole numbers, but clarifies ratios into percentages.

To give you some practice, I'll link you with some news articles and factoids, and see if you can tell me why things are not as they might appear, or we are being led to appear.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

PART III: Fear & Intimidation, Stopping The Bully Cycle

Are you subject to a bully cycle? I feel for you, and I know, really know, how you feel. You are torn at letting this adult brat fend for himself or herself, loving the adult who was once and will always be your child, while trying to do what you can for the grandchildren.

Would you like to get out of this cycle? Really? Are you sure you don’t feed on the whole thing? There are some psychological advantages to the bully cycle. You get to play Hero when the adult kid claims to need something. You get to somehow “make it up” to him or her, for whatever you think you lacked in the past. You get to share a secret with the grandkids, which is Mom or Dad really can’t get his or her act together, but Grandma or Grandpa will always be there, checkbook and credit cards in hand, creating another generation of grabby, grubbing bullies. You can play “Ain’t It Awful?” and “Aren’t We Saints?” with your spouse. So, be sure you really, truly want to work toward the two-pronged goal of getting this adult person up off their fanny and into responsibility or that you are ready to 1.) Make good on your threat to remove the grandchildren from the custody of the adult child; and 2.) Make good on your threat not to participate in any more bully cycles.

You have to admit there’s a problem. If you cannot, then there is no point in trying to effect change. And yes, there IS a problem, a big one. It is not going to go away if you ignore it. It will simply be ignored, and you will spend possibly your entire life playing Step-N-Fetch-It to ungrateful adult babies, who will only miss your money when you’re gone.

If there is a problem, there must be a solution. Ah, there is- but one size does not fit all in this case. Your problem is unique, of course. How you approach its solution is based on your resources, skills and wherewithal.

Go read the books I recommended! Most public libraries have them. eBay, Amazon, half.com all carry them at one time or another. Get the voice versions if reading gives you angst or hurts your eyes. Then, when you have absorbed these books, develop your strategy to stop the bully cycle.

It comes back to our basic questions:

  • Are you absolutely sure you want custody of your grandchildren, perhaps even adopting them, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, for court orders, for visitation schedules, for grade school, for high school, for all the stuff that child rearing involves?

  • Are you ready, if necessary, to turn your back on your adult child for the sake of your grandchildren?

  • Are you willing to butt your nose in where others might tell you the matter is none of your business?

  • Are you willing to seek out support resources?

  • Are you willing to pick your battles, collecting evidence as unobtrusively as possible, against the day you might have to use it; and then using it for the sake of the grandchildren?

PART II: Fear & Intimidation, or The Bully Cycle

I know a woman, in her early 70s, who has three children. Her daughter is an all-star person, just well-rounded and can take care of herself. Her two sons? Well, they are boys, boys in their 40s. They have never had to grow up. One has a spare mother, his wife, who takes care of everything. The other continues on the cycle of doing as he pleases, then running to Mama when Life hits him upside the head. Mama feels guilty, because after all, she raised him and somehow it must be her fault the Man Child is behaving in this fashion. Mama and Papa are retired and on limited means, yet the Man Child feels no compunction about sticking his hand out when Life smacks him upside the head. It should come as no surprise to you that the only help they receive is from their daughter and her children. It should also come as no surprise to you that Mama has left her estate when she passes to the Poor Boys who cannot fend for themselves.

I was a personal guilt sponge from the get-go. My adult daughter knew it. I felt badly about the time I devoted to her younger brother, a child with very special needs. I felt badly because I’d been divorced, and part of her childhood was spent as I raised both children as a single parent. She could lie her head off, and I would run with the checkbook. If she made it sound as if the children were going to suffer, I ran that much faster.

One of her biggest lies to get money out of us, the one that I should have caught but didn’t, was when her little baby girl was about six months old and they lived out of state, the baby, the adult daughter, and my erstwhile ex-son-in-law. I was called and told that the baby-sitter was blackmailing them. If they did not give her $200, the baby-sitter would report them to child protective services, even though she had no basis for doing so.

I am not a fan of our local child protective services, DCFS. I had encounters with them and my special needs son. DCFS did not train actual social workers in the 1980s and 1990s. I don't know if they do, now. Anybody with a bachelor degree who could take the state civil service test could be plopped on the list to work for DCFS as a case worker. DCFS seemed, at the time, to make a project of harassing people with common sense and big problems, while ignoring children who were molested, being tortured, lived in neglectful situations, or were raising themselves while their parent drugged and/ or drank. This colored my view of any child protection agency in any state.

We didn’t say, “Well, here’s a plane ticket. Bring the baby here until this is finished.” We didn’t say, “Well, call her bluff and submit to the investigation.” We didn’t say, “Ask to live on base, where there is a day care center” as they were both in the military. We didn’t say, “Give us this woman’s number and let her tell us that to our face.” No. Despite evidence to the contrary, despite how far-fetched the whole thing sounded, we believed them, believed her.

I do wonder every so often if they actually used it to pay a bill, or went out on the town, with or without a baby-sitter. But we believed more and more stupid things to come out of their mouths, eventually having them owe us some $3,000 or so.

We were stupid for over five years before we woke up and realized that our little baby was over 18 years old, and needed to stop blaming us for her mistakes. Furthermore, she needed to stop using her children as pawns to get us to do things.

“If you don’t get me a car, I won’t be able to get a job, and I won’t be able to support these kids.” We got her a car. We got her 3 cars. She screwed them all up by not performing simple maintenance, and used them to ditch work.

“I need clothes to get a decent job. If you don’t help me, I won’t be able to support the kids.” We got her clothes. Nice clothes. Clothes from real stores, and not thrift shops. And she did get a job at a respectable law firm. At the firm, she wore old jeans, nasty stretch pants, gym shoes with holes in the toes, and surfed the Internet day in and day out. Pity they didn’t appreciate all the work she alleged she did. They canned her after 90 days, and replaced her with a young woman who knew how to dress and knew how to work.

“My house is too much for me to clean.”

“You’ve got the money.”

“You forget, you gave the Boy everything.”

“I got sent to college when I was 17.”

“I was just taking a shower when the children cut each other’s hair with kiddy scissors. They can just go to school that way. I’m not paying to fix it.”

“If you don’t stop it and do what I want, I won’t let you see the kids again.”

“If you don’t stop it and do what I want, I am going to kill the kids and then myself.” This one was followed by locking herself in the house. It was our wake-up call.

This was punctuated with behaviors from her Ex. Ex and his child bride forged checks off his our adult daughter’s old marital joint account. Ex wanted visitation, but didn’t want to follow his regular schedule. Ex stopped paying child support. Ex allowed himself to be discharged from the service, then re-enlisted, removing any reference to our grandchildren, his children, from his service record. Ex seemed to enjoy creating drama in her life, and therefore drama in ours.

We got volunteered as visitation supervisors, without our knowledge.

We were on this bully cycle for years, from 1998 through October 2005. It took watching, observing, gathering evidence, before we could feel comfortable just packing up the kids and saying, “Enough. Get your act together, or we’ll keep them.”

We wanted her to step up and take responsibility. She owed us money, over $5,000. We had to force her to visit her children. And we still had to deal with bullying, to a lesser extent.

“I have no way to go to work, and you expect me to work. There’s no bus at 5 AM.”

“I need a storage locker, because my roommate and I had this awful fight, and I had to call the police, and she kicked me out, and St. Vincent de Paul paid for me to stay in a motel for a week…”

“I’m going in the Air Force as an officer, and all I need…”

“I’m going in the Navy, and all I need…”

“I’m really going in the Army. They gave me a free membership at the Y to work off the extra pounds. I need to transfer guardianship to you. I’ll make you out an allotment for child support. I’ll sign an agreement with you on that, along with a promissory note for the money I owe you.” She then disappeared for a couple months, only to resurface with the lie, “I decided the Army was not going to give me what I needed.” I know she flunked the urine test. I found out. Yes, I invaded her privacy. No, I will not tell who told me. Ever.

Laughing Boy, the Ex, was not much better. He had a new life, and three more new kids (he now has four). When our attorney approached him about relinquishing his rights, his wife's concern was that her rival, my daughter, was dead and there would be Social Security if they took the children. Alas and alack, my daughter is quite alive, and so Ex hastily signed the papers.

The bully cycle was less intense after we took the children. It really slowed down after the adoption. It did not stop. Her last attempt to bully and blackmail came about 4 months ago. She announced she planned on getting married, and that she wanted to do it correctly. To our mind, “correctly” meant she planned on taking her sorry fanny over to her local parish and consulting the priest about a defect-of-form decree of nullity, followed by intensive marriage preparation and counsel with the priest. Funny. Her view of “correctly” apparently meant that we would take her and her intended out to dinner to meet him at our expense, pay for a “real” wedding, and eventually turn custody of our younger children back over to her. Needless to say, we do not speak, email or anything else at this point.

PART I: Whose Fault Is It? Fear & Intimidation

DISCLAIMER (Once again): I am not a therapist. I am not a lawyer, attorney or barrister (I am a notary). As accomplished and unique my skill-set, I am not those occupations. I am a mother who at one time was my younger children's grandmother.

Charney Herst wrote a very good book, For Mothers Of Difficult Daughters. I recommend anybody with difficult adult children, no matter the gender, get it, read it, and then reread it. I would then recommend reinforcing the book by getting the CD or tape version. I bought it in 2000, just as my adult daughter started giving me fits and hassles. Gradually, I applied Dr. Herst's ideas to my situation.

I also recommend the highly acclaimed Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I finally recommend God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! by Greg Popcak.

Why all the reading material? If you are a grandparent in the situation where you think your grandchild or grandchildren is in real danger from from your adult child, the grandchildren's parent, then you better know whereof you speak.

Dr. Herst brings her own experience to the party, a teenage daughter who planted marijuana in Dr. Herst's flower beds, and was taken to court. "Mother, get your act together," the judge intoned from the bench. Why? Dr. Herst hadn't planted the weed. She again mentions a group session, where she admitted she had some problems with her daughters. The group turned on her, telling her she "must" have somehow caused her daughters to react through neglect, even though they were the most loved, cared for children in the world.

Drs. Cloud and Townsend mention a couple who came to the office seeking advice on their grown son. The son had hot-and-cold running access to cash, a nice car, and admission to a new college when he blew off the prior, all funded by the Bank of Mom and Dad. The therapist told them flat out that the son had no problems, but they did. They were the ones with the bills, with the responsibility, and the son seemed to live a charmed life. "Would you like me to help you to give him some problems?" the therapist asked the couple. At first, they didn't understand. The therapist was willing to give them the tools to make the young man hoe his own row.

Dr. Popcak, despite gripes about his views on raising children, makes a very valid point in his book. People who are out to give you problems need to be forgiven as the Church teaches forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We don't waltz into confession, tell Jesus through the priest our sins, and expect Jesus, and the Church, to just say it's OK, we all make mistakes. There is a penance, an act, no matter how small, that we perform to show our good intentions. We not only have to say we are sorry. We are expected to prove it. Why not then expect those who have wronged us to prove they have no intention of sinning against us again?

Your adult children who behave in a manner that disrespects you and their children might or might not have what we call in our house F You Syndrome. Yes, they just might be out to get your goat. Yes, they may or may not blame you for whatever little unhappiness has happened in their lives. Yes, they might be resentful of their children, the little people they procreated. And yes, you will feel guilty, as if you caused it. As long as you give into that guilt, without taking steps to stop the cycle, the adult child can manipulate you six ways to Sunday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

If girls are children of God, does that mean they are princesses?

We are slowly gearing up for the last little girl in the house to make her First Holy Communion.

I state at this time that I think the Eastern Church has the Latin skinned by a mile in this regard. There is no big white dress or suit for First Communion. There is no argument out of surly teens because, "Maybe I don't want to be confirmed. It's my choice." There is no confusion with Protestant Confirmation and Catholic/ Orthodox Confirmation. The little baby is baptized, confirmed (chrismated) and receives the first of hopefully many Eucharists if not at the exact same service, then within a couple weeks of the rest. All three Sacraments of Initiation neatly packaged for one child, one day, suitable for family photographs! If children are accepted into the Household of Faith through Baptism, then let them be accepted for all three Sacraments, and hang what they know or realize. The Latin Church, particularly in the US, has turned Confirmation from the Sealing of Baptism and the Reception of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit into a Catholic Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Not so in the Eastern Church. The next big sacrament is preparation for Confession, and then those kids don't need a thing except regular religion classes. And no matter the opinion of some Latin directors of religious education, the children of our Eastern brethren do not seem to skip catechism classes because they have already been confirmed and communicated. There are no hoops of years in classes, service projects, and retreats in Byzantium.

I pointed this out to my husband some time ago, when one of the elder children was confusing Confirmation with a Baptist altar call. He did not appreciate my suggestion that we at least explore the possibility of say the Italo-Albanian Church, rooted in Byzantium and still loyal to the Holy Father. He was not amused, stating he doubted we would have any other children. How little he knew.

So here we sit, awaiting the happy occasion of our youngest's first reception of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, in the Easter season, which for Catholics is about eight weeks long. Her First Reconciliation is this Saturday.

I have only walked one little boy through his First Communion. He prepared for Reconciliation by not only examining his conscience, but also memorizing lines from the movie, The Quiet Man. Why? "Because Father is from Ireland, and if he gets too upset with my sins, I'll just talk in a brogue and tell him jokes to calm him down." The only way he was going to show interest was if the Transformers or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also making their First Communions. His interest in clothing was minimal, but did involve the choice of a bright tie that had a pattern similar to stained glass. He chose a similar tie for his Confirmation, same pattern, just longer.

So that leaves my first-hand First Communion experience with two young ladies.

One first received in 1986. The lesson plan was less than stellar, but I managed to make up for it. Girls wore cotton eyelet at the time, and everything for young girls was tea length. She did not desire a veil, and was adamant she would not wear one. She did not want a hat. She did not want a flower wreath. "Just leave my head alone!" I managed to get a very fancy ponytail holder, with a spray of tulle and a flower or two, and get that in her hair.

The second one was influenced by the Age of the Computer as well as Disney movies. I think if animated birds could have flown down and deposited her wreath upon her head, her happiness would have been complete. She designed and wrote each of her invitations to brunch before Mass. I tried something new, taking the kid for portraits before the Big Day, and letting her just be herself. What a concept! She wore her favorite purple glasses to Mass, read her portion of the petition prayers, and then walked around the baptismal pond, which was surrounded by flowers for Easter, sniffing as she went. "I've been wanting to do that all Easter!" she said as she returned to our pew. All her other actions were reverent and heartfelt. The DRE and the child's teacher, personal friends, made sure all the kids were involved, and everybody had a really good idea of the what and why of the Mass and Communion.

I am hoping this last one does not have to endure what I saw last year at the First Communion Mass in our parish. Father does not like the practice of reserved seats. This did not stop people from literally lying across whole pews, forgetting that they spoke English, and saving seats. The din in that little church was more of a family reunion in the park and less of a congregation in a house of worship, let alone a Catholic church. The first communicants were all herded up front, where from the sounds of things, they were not little angels. I wouldn't know. I was crammed in the back. So were the parents of several first communicants. As we have a new second grade teacher for the school, I've suggested perhaps depositing a child in each pew, where he or she would be supervised by parents; two Masses, not necessarily dividing the children by CCD versus School, but perhaps drawing names; and giving parents the opportunity to have their children receive at regular Masses in Easter.

I am hoping for the latter. My darling is an Italian-American Child of God, at least one-quarter anyway, and an Italian princess needs a venue and an entourage. The posse she has: Her living grandfather and grandmother, my parents, would come from the ends of the earth to attend their last granddaughter's First Communion. Her godparents will be abroad, but will be sending an emissary, one of their children. At least one of my sisters will attend Mass, and everybody will want to go to the party after Mass. The venue, well that's tricky. The Mister prefers that we entertain in a restaurant or club for such events. If we have to go with the parish's group Mass, we will be entertaining our guests at one of a national china of campy Italian eateries, several towns away from ours. If we can just bring her to any weekend Mass in the Easter season, we will opt for the early morning and offer breakfast or brunch at one of the many pancake houses.

Our baby would prefer to receive with the whole group, but at the earliest possible Mass in the parish on Sunday morning. Why? "Nobody is paying any attention to God! This is about God, and all they care about is their clothes and what they're getting (for presents)!" The other reason is, "They could be done, change clothes, and go have fun. Instead, everybody has to stay all dressed up, all day!" This was when she asked if we could rent a trampoline for First Communion.

She already has her dress, very simple, name-brand close out on last year's dresses. She was planning on staying simple in the veil department, as well. "A too poufy veil means you can't concentrate on God!" What she described sounded as if it was a cross between a mantilla and a head rag.

This was before we took a walk through Hobby Lobby.

For you parents, grandparents, godparents contemplating the First Communion of a little girl this year or any other year, there's no need to spend $30 upwards for a simple veil. Hobby stores, fabric stores, and "big box" stores all carry a premade veil, ready for a headpiece, $8-10. A simple flower wreath runs about $6 to make. If you can't use a glue gun, find a relative who can. Many bridal headpieces fit little girl heads. If the veils aren't with the First Communion and Easter dresses, try the Wedding Department, next to the Cake Decoration Department.

It was at Hobby Lobby that we found the Tiara. Her simple dress has one ornament, a bow with a circular rhinestone clasp at the neck. Floral wreaths did not seem a good match. A simple headband in satin didn't work with the child's high forehead. The big, bling headpieces did not seem right for her or the occasion.

She dug it out of the corner of a shelf. "This is the one."

As a child, I heard the story of a female saint, I can't remember who, that was asked by her priestly uncle to attend her First Communion not with her class, not in finery, but in her normal dress at the earliest morning Mass. She did so.

While I am sure her sanctity was rewarded, I remember at the time being angry with the uncle in the story. Who did he think he was? Life is short, and childhood is even shorter. If I was his sibling, I would have verbally been up and down his fine idea, butting his nose into the family's business.

I am pleased our baby is taking her duty to God seriously. I am pleased she is considering a vocation, what she calls "the sister lifestyle." However, I highly doubt God wants to deprive this child, who has already been deprived as an infant and toddler, of a princess tiara.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We Are Sorry.

We have had the flu. it was not pretty. We are feeling better.