It's a very cold day in Frederick. We're going to be in the single digits, temperature-wise, tonight. Snow is still on the ground from yesterday, and it shows no sign of melting. Sunday morning will likely start out with ice.
Instead of ending my work day by grabbing my swimsuit and heading to the pool across the parking lot, as I did this summer, I'm now starting my day in the near-darkness and ending it in the darkness. I often curl up in the bed with all the babies (two dachshunds--Dabby and Jenny-- and two cats--CC and Maya), and we pull the covers up. Sometimes I nap, sometimes not, but we all cozy up together while Mommy makes her long commute home from the office in Rockville.
This leaves me with a lot of time to think. Sometimes I will read and then put the book aside while I mull over what I've read. Sometimes I just think. Today it was a little of both.
Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, recently put out a book, "There's More to Life Than This," and I've had it on my nightstand since it arrived in the mail. I pick it up, read some, put it down. I don't want to start a discussion about whether or not you believe her to be for real. I happen to think she has a talent and a gift that has been, unfortunately, twisted into a reality show. I am on the waiting list to get a reading from her. I want to see if she really does channel the dead, because I would love nothing more than to hear from my daughter. I see her in my dreams sometimes, on a really good day. I sometimes think I hear her voice. I've had pictures come out with orbs and smears in them that are unexplained by technology, tricks of the light, or dust motes. The same camera at the same angle in the same light within the same setting often produces varying results. In short, I'm a believer.
Part of me really needs to believe. Losing a child is something no one should go through, but we do. Many, many parents go through this every day. We have our hopes and dreams for that child dashed, no matter how their life ends. It makes me think about those expectations and dreams that we pin on our children. Do we really need to do that? Are they not enough, just as they are? Of course they are. And Theresa does a lot of talking in her book about positive energy, the fact that souls come to her bathed in God's white light, and finding peace in the knowledge that there is truly more to life than this.
I remember fretting over the fact that we couldn't give our kids a big house, a big money education, or even big vacations. I took a job that entailed a move to the DC area because I wanted to give the kids more. Trust me. There have been many days in which I've asked myself whether or not that was the right thing to do. While my ex-husband was a "Mr. Mom" (even before the Michael Keaton movie) when the kids were little, he eventually worked his way up the career ladder and is now a successful network engineer with Juniper. I had to scale back my own career as a network engineer because the stress was killing me - the travel, the long hours, the longer commutes, and always being on the hot seat. I moved into technical writing for a software company and let the engineers at the company work the long hours and take on the stress.
Plus, I needed to be more available to my kids. Stephanie was having emotional, physical, and psychological problems. When I was heading up the network operations center at NASA headquarters in DC, I had to start working half-days in order to meet with the folks at Children's Hospital, where Stephanie was an inpatient for awhile. I kept to that half-day schedule when they transferred to her intensive outpatient therapy, and then when she went back to school full-time so I could be there when she got home. Soon, I realized that it was impractical for me to continue to commute to downtown DC just for half-days and try to be a decent mom in that situation. I don't regret a thing. Sure, it was an awesome job - coveted. But my kids were more important to me.
The bottom line is this: today I was thinking about whether kids are better off when they are given everything. Miley Cyrus came to mind. She has a famous dad and a mom who books famous acts. Now she has simply turned into an act. All of this nonsense about embracing her sexuality and showing how grown up she is? It's crap.
I get it. She had this image that she wanted to ditch. Maybe she wasn't getting laid enough (although considering Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez running off to the Caribbean together in their mid-teens? I don't think it's a question of getting laid). It's all about image.
The problem with that is that the "regular" kids of the world get this idea that they should follow the model. Be thin enough. Take every available dance class (okay, maybe that's the stage mom's idea). Do gymnastics. Go to the most expensive college they can find. And the parents are working themselves to death to try and provide everything their children want.
Were my kids better off when I was working 10 hour days followed by 4-6 hours a night in my library writing the engineering books? Mmm. Not so much. Was I able to give them everything? No. Did I want to? Sure I did! It's the American dream, right?
The trouble comes in when this sense of entitlement or "need" or "want" or whatever you want to call it turns into the child calling the shots. It turns into a contest, and the parents always seem to lose. They are the ones who are completely stressed out and overworked. Oftentimes the child doesn't even feel the need to work, because mom and dad will provide everything. All they are supposed to do is go to school, and one day they'll be rich, like Miley, yes?
Not exactly. It seems to me that Miley Cyrus isn't exactly happy. Neither is Justin Beiber. He's tired already, and he's still a kid! What about the Robert Downey, Jrs, of the world? The Jodie Fosters, who no longer speak to their mothers because of all the pressure that was brought to bear on them. After all, if the child has a beauty or talent, profit from it, right? If you don't have the ability or talent to provide for the sky high dreams of your child, then make them do it? Who exactly does this benefit? Does money make the world go 'round?
Maybe I wasn't able to give my kids everything. My kids got their first two years of school paid for. After that, they understood that they needed to take out loans. Hell, I had to take out loans myself. We often didn't have the money to do everything we wanted to do, but one thing is for certain. We gave the kids the ability to try things out that interested them (not just for the hope they would become the next Big Thing). We gave them a lot of love. We never skimped on the goodnight kisses, bedtime stories, or "I love you"s. My son still says goodnight - okay, usually - via text message and tells me he loves me. Ditto. We both learned that you are never guaranteed that next conversation. Both of us have some regrets about how we left things with Stephanie. But I will never doubt that she knew she was loved.
And really, isn't that enough? Isn't that what life is really all about? And if you love your child and care for them, maybe it will all work out. Maybe you - just you! - are enough.