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Till we meet again

Earlier this year, I learned that a man who’s like a second father to me had cancer. He was doing so well for so long this year (from my standpoint of living at a distance from him) that I’d almost forgotten the clock was ticking on my time with him.

I was able to visit him for about an hour when I was in his state for a family event. I cherished those moments sharing him once again with two of my children, letting them spend a little time with this great man. I did know it was possible it was my last visit with him, but I hoped it wasn’t.

Now, his time on Earth is over, and he’s moving on to a new stage of life, one where he will be reunited with his sweet, sweet wife who died some years ago.

I met Robert Harbertson when I was assigned as a missionary for my church to the visitors centers at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Rather than spending 18 months going “door to door,” as many are familiar with our church’s missionaries, I had the unusual volunteer opportunity of basically being a tour guide, of showing visitors from all over the world around Temple Square and introducing them to some of the history and beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This amazing, dear man was assigned to be in charge of all of us young volunteers (as well as the older ones, retired couples serving together). As such, he was an authority figure and a parental figure, who watched out for us and made sure we were safe and happy and thriving and getting along with each other. I saw him every day and knew he had absolutely my best interests at heart.

My 12-year-old says now her favorite story about him (I’ve told my children — and anyone else who will listen — plenty of good stories) is his opinion on the thickness of the peanut butter in my daily sandwich. Mind you, this same man handed down a rule that we young missionaries were not to comment on others’ food choices; we had missionaries serving there from countries all around the world, and sometimes they ate some strange-looking things to us Americans (or maybe vice versa). He didn’t want any comments on the “weirdness” of cultural food options to make anyone feel hurt. Even so, one day I was sitting at our lunch table and about to sink my teeth into a perfect peanut butter sandwich: it was made from the homemade whole grain bread provided in our break room and a very thick layer of creamy, gooey peanut butter. He reached around me and actually handled my sandwich, squished it, and said, “Sister Carmode! How much peanut butter did you put in that sandwich?!” I told him to mind his own business. Well, basically. We still had a good laugh.

President, as we just tended to call him, had a stern facade, which could be mighty intimidating if you didn’t know him, and if he had the need to make a point. But after just a short time of knowing him, I was wise to his game: just ready to pop out from behind the stern face was a huge, impish grin. He was also competitive, reminding us that he played college basketball, and we learned at the beginning of a spiritual address from a top church leader that President and this apostle regularly played a serious game of racquetball. I’m sure it was take-no-prisoners.

Here we are together at a 20-year reunion.

Here we are together at a 20-year reunion.

But at the heart of this stern, rule-making, authoritarian figure was a warm, gooey heart that held a spot for little ol’ me. He was in charge of probably 100 or more young women during his volunteer time, but he could make me feel I was the only one he had to take care of. Honestly, I love and miss my dad a great deal, but thanks to a very tough upbringing, Dad wasn’t a naturally, unconditionally-loving kind of person. So being in President’s care, having that place in his big heart, not just during the time he was assigned to watch out for me but in the two decades since, was a window into an experience I hadn’t quite had. It gave me a better understanding of what it means to be loved unconditionally and a boost to my feelings for myself.

When I was dating my husband, I took him to visit President and his wife, and he got their stamp of approval. It just so happened that was 2 1/2 months before my parents got to meet my then-future husband. I visited President on my way across country during one of our long-distance moves, with my firstborn baby girl. I’ve visited many times over the years and had little booster shots of that man’s love, all the while giving my girls the opportunity to experience it a little themselves.

We met in a place where a famous choir often sings “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.” Now, I sing it to President. I look forward to meeting you again.

I’m presenting a class for a family history workshop on how to preserve various family memories: audio, video, documents, and photos. I thought some of my friends online might appreciate the information I’m sharing, so here are the basics:

Video

You can use a service to transfer film or VHS/Beta tapes to DVDs or do it yourself. Services are certainly easier but they’re costly.

First, the services I’ve found: Mail your materials in to MyMovieTransfer.com, ScanCafe.com, DigMyPics.com, iMemories.com, LegacyBox.com, or YesVideo.com.

Or go to Costco, Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS (these all use YesVideo service) to drop off your videos for transfer.

Next, DIY methods:

For VHS tapes, you can use a VHS-DVD burner combo player, an analog-to-digital adapter for your computer, or a separate VHS player and DVD recorder. These require various levels of know-how and equipment that might be pricey, but it might be cheaper even with pricey equipment if you have a lot to transfer. Plus, you can re-sell the equipment when you’re done to recoup some of the costs.

Digital Trends provides a nice online tutorial for DIY methods.

Once you’re finished getting your video onto DVD, then you can move on to getting it onto your computer hard drive in MP4 or similar format. For the future, it looks as if everything is going digital, so just go ahead and do it now. This also means you can have all your memories in one place. You can store on your computer and also keep a copy on a backup hard drive for safekeeping, along with all of your other digital copies of photos and audio, etc. I’ve used Xilisoft’s DVD Ripper and it’s fairly simple if you have some computer experience; standard version is $39.99. Other software includes Wondershare Video Converter starting at $39.95.

Digital Trends provides instructions for some free options.

Audio

Transferring cassette tapes onto your computer hard drive and into MP3 or similar digital audio formats is less complex than transferring video. It’s also pretty inexpensive. You just need a cassette player and an auxiliary cord to plug it into your computer, as well as software. The primary software I’ve seen (and used myself) is Audacity. Bonus: it’s free! Here are a couple of online tutorials:

http://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-turn-a-cassette-tape-into-mp3s/

http://www.wikihow.com/Transfer-Cassette-Tape-to-Computer

Photos

If you have photos in slide format, you can use a service, which can be quite expensive if you have a lot of them, or you can do it yourself. DIY is pretty easy and just requires a slide scanner, which can be purchased for around $80 to $120.

Loose photos or photos in albums are easy to scan with a regular scanner. Many of us now have combo printer/scanners. If you don’t have one yet, you can purchase a good-quality one for as little as $50. Only drawback is it’s time-consuming. If you’re trying to scan in photos that are still in old albums, you’ll have to scan in each page, make copies of the image on your computer, then crop down to each photo. Afterward, you can use your favorite photo-editing software to clean them up.

There are also apps for this project, such as Pic Scanner, which can be downloaded from the iTunes app store. It’s free for the first 10 scans of album pages and $2.99 after that. Pros: Makes it easy to just “take a picture,” and it isolates the separate photos for you without you having to copy and crop. Con: I liked the quality of my scanner better.

If you do want to use a service, there are lots out there, such as ScanCafe.com, DigMyPics.com, FotoBridge.com, iMemories.com, LegacyBox.com, and YesVideo.com.

Documents

Don’t forget to scan in old family documents as well. Same process goes here for photos. Use a scanner.

Now, going the other direction: many of us have photos from the past 5 to 10 years strictly in digital format. That’s great for storage, but you’ll also want to have some actually in hard copy form. I’ve found it’s nice and pretty easy to make photo albums on my computer using various photo-album services and then just have them printed and bound for me. No printing of individual photos and then assembling into albums. I’ve used Shutterfly, MiniBox, and MyPublisher and have been satisfied with their products. There are also a number of other services I haven’t tried: PhotoBook America, Peggy Bank, and AdoramaPix, for a few examples.

Deals

If you’re going to do any of these projects with services available, make sure you get the best deal you can! Groupon and LivingSocial are handy for this. Sign up for their emails and you’ll get heads-up on the various deals that might involve these kinds of services. I’ve gotten good ones from MyPublisher and am up to date on all my family photo albums thanks to them.

I also like to use Ebates to get cash back and coupons for services. Create an account and you can search for all their participating merchants.

Some current deals (local to my area in California):

ScanMyPhotos.com

Digital media services from Southtree

Video and image digitization services from Peggy Bank 

Groupon for 40-page photo books from PhotoBookAmerica

Groupon for photo books from AdoramaPix

 

So I’ve been following the Atkins diet for two months. I wrote in a previous post about how I’ve realized how much I rely on carbohydrates for my regular diet, and how it’s clear I need to reduce my intake for a variety of solid health reasons. Despite how much I do adore bread (whole grain, mind you) and sweets (well, there’s no way to make that sound wholesome, sadly…), I found that I haven’t done too badly adhering to the Atkins diet phase 1. I lost about 10 pounds over the course of almost two months and felt pretty good. It’s possible I even avoided catching a cold thanks to my eating habits (my husband and oldest daughter were sick during that time).

I even managed to go on a cross-country trip for a week and stay on the diet. Yay, me!

My best friend, whose own experience with Atkins gave me a push to try it myself, told me that she’s “taken breaks” from it for short periods of time when she’s gone on vacation or had some other need to do so. I figured I could last through to Thanksgiving and maybe even skip all the carbs during that gluttonous feast and last all the way to Christmas on Atkins phase 1. Hey, if I can make it through a trip, I can make it through anything!

Well, shoot. Not so much.

I got back from my trip, during which I was premenstrual but not too crave-y (surprisingly), and then had my period, which is also a tricky time for dieting. I’d weathered it the previous month and knew I wouldn’t see any decrease in weight for a solid week or more. But I gained a little that week and then waited and waited for my weight to drop a few days past that lovely time of the month. And that scale did not budge.

At the same time, life got (or, rather, stayed) hectic. I’ve had a whole lot on my plate this past month activity- and obligation-wise if not table-wise, and careful dieting is work. It’s work for Atkins because I have to carefully count my carbs and track on my iPad app everything I eat. It’s also extra work because I’ve been cooking a lot of different things for myself than I fix for my family. Finally, with all my obligations and responsibilities, with all the work on the diet, with all of everything in my life (including a hormonal 16-year-old with Down syndrome, which is a topic for another post entirely, but a great stressor, let me tell ya), combined with the lack of satisfaction gained by stepping on the scale and seeing a lower number on a regular basis, I cracked.

A few nights ago, I came home from a workout (hoping it would help me relieve some nervous energy) still exhausted and frustrated, and I sat down and burst out crying, my thoughts and frustrations spilling out in waves to my husband, who wisely sat and listened. I went over everything that I have to do, went over in meticulous detail the ways I’ve been so “good” in my dieting. Even during traveling! I mean, that should earn me extra points, shouldn’t it? But my scale didn’t get the message. I was absolutely ready for a short break from the diet.

Here’s where it just shows the state of mind of a busy mom who’s dieting: I spun in circles articulating aloud to my husband all the things I’d been thinking for days. I told him all my emotions (fear being the predominant one: fear of regaining weight, fear of losing control, fear of losing all that I’d worked so hard to win) and logical reasons for and against taking the “break” for a few days from the diet. Logically, it made some sense because it would free me from worrying about details of my eating habits for a few days until I got past a big responsibility I have tomorrow. It also made sense from my own dieting history because I’d seen how upping my caloric intake or something similar and then going back to reducing it or going back to the more limited diet would give my metabolism a little kick. It helps to mix things up a bit and “confuse” my system. I’ve read about that and experienced it myself. The main problem? Thanksgiving. It’s a mere two weeks away. What’s my state of mind going to be for the holiday where we generally consume turkey and tons of carbs? I can’t “take a break” for a few days, go back to Atkins phase 1 for 10 days, and “take a break” again for a couple of days. It just doesn’t make sense. And I didn’t want to “take a break” for a solid 2 1/2 weeks. But it was pretty much down to either of those two options.

After literally two hours (or more) of talking it over out loud with my husband and absolutely agonizing about it, being frozen with fear, I finally decided to go with the latter option. A longer break it will have to be. And it’s relieved the pressure on me considerably, just making one change in my overall busy life. I feel confident I’ll get back to the rigorous diet in two weeks and continue to take care of myself for the long haul. Because that’s what this is about: it’s truly about the long haul, about reducing my cholesterol levels for the rest of my life (!) by eating fewer grains and sweets. Of course, in the short term, I’d like to see “results” in the way of weight loss, and that’s a powerful motivator when you’re eating a fairly strict diet. You want to SEE something HAPPENING. When it does, you’re good. When it doesn’t, you don’t feel so pumped about the restrictions.

I imagine this is a fine diet plan, but the author's assertion at the beginning turned me off. If he wants more real people to lose weight and have better blood sugar, he'd better understand his patients better.

I imagine this is a fine diet plan, but the author’s assertion at the beginning turned me off. If he wants more real people to lose weight and have better blood sugar, he needs to understand his patients better.

I remember checking out the book The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet by Mark Hyman from the library and never getting time before it was due to read much but the first 20 pages or so. But his assertion that it’s just “as easy as” starting his proscribed diet struck me as utter hogwash. He said, in essence, the conventional wisdom is that one must be “psychologically ready” to start a diet, but he doesn’t think that is true at all: what’s true is that since most of us are physiologically addicted to sugar, once we just start his diet and get going, we’ll break that addiction and all be hunky-dory.

Nope. False. Absolutely false. It might be true for some people, but I think for many of us, we really, really, truly do need to have a whole set of variables in place to be able to successfully diet. We do need to be emotionally ready. I could say I was solidly un-hooked from sugar after two months on phase 1 of Atkins, but emotionally, I still had plenty of connections to sugar and foods in general. And those don’t go away too easily like the physiological addiction.

Most of my variables are in place to get back to the strict phase 1 of Atkins in a couple of weeks, and I feel confident that doing it for maybe 6 more months total will probably be a good choice for me, after which I’ll eat a diet that contains fruits and occasional grains to maintain my better health. For today, I’m eating a little bread. And that’s OK.

What’s it going to take for our society to just STOP seeing women, and even girls, solely as sex objects?

This past couple of weeks, one woman’s blog post asking Target to stop the miniaturization (i.e. sexy-fication) of young girls’ clothing went viral. Rightly so. I have four daughters, ages 18 down to 7, and I have long chafed over the fact that retailers simply make girls’ clothes shorter, tighter, and smaller than boys’ clothes.

(Unfortunately, the one place this doesn’t seem to apply is in the waist and hips, because it’s dang hard to find a good variety of slim pants sizes for my slim girls. JCPenney makes them; Gap and Old Navy make some slim sizes; online retailer Lands’ End makes them. But this being a slightly-related but not completely-related topic, I’ll just keep it to this: can’t we have more sizing options? Yes, I know that, one, people — including kids — come in all shapes and sizes, and two, there are more and more heavy kids in what’s becoming an obesity epidemic, thus necessitating the plus sizes in kids’ clothes, but there still are some children out there who eat fairly healthy and are naturally slim. Argh.)

My oldest, in Bermuda shorts.

Anyway, back to the topic: Just because teen girls seemingly prefer short-shorts instead of Bermudas doesn’t mean mothers want to buy Daisy Dukes for their toddlers and elementary-school-age kids.

This goes as well for all the junior-department dresses that are about 16 inches long, particularly formals, that are strapless and end mid-thigh. Pair these with the also-trendy stilettos or huge platforms, and we have the stereotypical image that’s traditionally been reserved for prostitutes.

And look at what a really gorgeous and fun but not-skimpy dress we found for prom.

And look at what a really gorgeous and fun but not-skimpy dress we found for prom.

Mind you, I do like style, particularly dresses. I adore dresses! They’re so fun and girly and there are just SO many styles and interesting looks. I love to shop for myself; I love picking up new frocks for my girls (on sale, naturally; the better the bargain at a nice retailer, the bigger the smile on my face). But there is no reason for such a high proportion of dresses to skimp so much on fabric. And taking the sexy styles of teens (which are too sexy for girls who haven’t even reached adulthood yet) and adapting them into preteen styles is just NOT COOL.

More of us parents and shoppers should be ACTIVELY doing more to contact retailers and demand change. So kudos to this blogger. See? One person asking for change can make a difference.

Then there are the constant stream of images in the media, whether it’s music videos or movies and TV shows (to which our girls are looking for inspiration or, at the very least, simply can’t NOT see in their digital lives). The latest, apparently, is a horrific video by Maroon 5, “Animals,” featuring Adam Levine as a butcher who stalks a female customer. Oh, yeah. Let’s glorify the “fantasy” of a male stalker — a butcher surrounded by bloody carcasses, no less — with an “animal” lust that can’t be controlled.

What continues to elude me is why women who are participants in these blatant displays of demeaning women are willing to sign on. The Maroon 5 video features Levine’s new wife, Behati Prinsloo. No doubt the honeymoon phase hasn’t worn off yet. Otherwise one would hope she would be the first to say, “Look, Adam, honey, I don’t think that’s a great idea. Let’s try something else, shall we?”

Then there are Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea celebrating their barely-clad backsides in “Booty.” (Let me note that I have not watched these videos, just seen a few screenshots. I do NOT care to put any more images in my head of these things.) They are the stars of their own shows; J.Lo, with her clout, arguably does or could control her image and what kind of music she sings and videos she shoots, so I hold her more responsible. I believe the typical argument goes like this: “I’m a strong, empowered woman, and I’m taking control of my own sexuality and am CHOOSING to show my sexual side.”

My only response to this is this: Baloney.

You know that you’ll get lots of attention and more money by using your sexual side to sell your “brand.”

Think what these empowered women could do if they really put their money where their mouths are and CHOSE to send different messages, messages about how richly talented and diverse and interesting women and girls all are, starting with themselves. And think what we as consumers could do if we sent a message the other direction to these celebrities and the media who promote them: What if we truly did not buy their products? What if millions of us rose up in protest and sent emails and letters, showing that we really don’t want what they’re foisting on us?

In an age when many of us really are trying to teach our girls something better, to rise above worries about trivial matters of our appearances, why are the music industry, the film and TV industries, working so hard against us? (Rhetorical question, folks.)

I heartily agree with this sentiment expressed by a parenting researcher and author in The Daily Telegraph: “I am sick of trying to teach my daughters how much they have to offer the world, only to have everything I say undermined by the sleazy, unhealthy messages that someone with no respect for womanhood promotes to the mass market to make some more money. The wellbeing of our wives, sisters, and daughters is worth more than that. It’s not OK.”

Today we recognize the amazing determination of one teen girl in pushing for education for girls in her native Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: one of the finest achievements anyone could aspire to, and she’s only 17. We aren’t all in awe of her for her booty, her figure, her beauty, or her style; far from it — she covers her head in public with colorful scarves. She bears scars from being shot in the head for campaigning for girls’ right to education. No, everyone is impressed with her convictions and bravery to do the right thing, despite almost being killed.

That’s what matters. That’s what we want to encourage our girls to embrace about themselves: their strength, their bravery, their determination to find the best in themselves and make it better and share it with others, conviction to make the world a better place. They’re all different sizes, different colors, different backgrounds. But they all have so much to give! I speak from experience because I have amazing girls.

It is high time we ALL spoke up for the amazing girls and women of this world and helped them reject being reduced to mere one-dimensional sex objects.

I love carbohydrates. I absolutely adore them: breads, pasta, starchy veggies, fresh fruits and, yeah, refined sugar. I’ve always known that white sugar (and, well, brown, that amazing kind that not only tastes good as part of a streusel topping or a cookie but entertainingly can hold its shape like a sand castle …) is bad for me. But it’s been, honestly, my one vice. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I do eat lots of healthy fruits and vegetables, but I indulge overmuch in baked goods and ice cream.

I was raised, though, with the belief that whole grains were a no-brainer. They were, undoubtedly, good for me. My church has always taught its members to be prepared for all kinds of eventualities (natural disasters, emergencies, job loss) by storing food and other necessities, so my parents stored wheat, among other basic items, and I always have since I’ve been on my own. I own a wheat grinder, same as my mom, and we both grind our wheat and bake all kinds of things with our freshly-ground whole-wheat flour. Sounds delightfully down-to-earth and wholesome, doesn’t it?

So not only do I love carbs, I love to create carb-loaded goodies: homemade whole-wheat bread, muffins, biscuits, cookies, cakes, even from-scratch pasta. I enjoy cooking with fresh wholesome ingredients.

My life has been SUSTAINED BY CARBS.

Come to find out that carbs are not just making me heavy as I’ve reached middle age, they’re very likely the cause of my slightly-too-high cholesterol levels. My dad had always had slightly-high cholesterol levels, too, and he was a fanatic about eating healthy and only eating healthy fats and lean meats and fish and nuts with Omega-whatevers. He exercised. He was too thin, really, for most of his adult life. But darn it if those cholesterol levels weren’t low enough. What the heck? Why?

Now the food-and-health trends are leaning towards showing how carbohydrates, especially simple sugars, are doing us all in. I mean, yeah, we’ve always known that refined sugar isn’t good for us. But the idea that it could impact cholesterol levels, for just one thing, didn’t occur to most of us, after the low-fat trends of the previous decade or two.

I wouldn’t have believed it myself except for battling the cholesterol tests every other year or so. Then this year I happened to be on a good diet where I was drinking healthy shakes for some meals and watching carefully the amounts of sugars and carbs I did eat. And lo and behold, I happened to go in for my yearly lab work during that time. When I sat down with my doctor after the results came in, she was astonished. My levels had gone down from about 220 total to 170 or so. I have to say, I was equally amazed. But putting two and two together and then doing some more reading and trying-out of diets, I have come to appreciate that my body needs fewer carbs. DARN IT!

Like I said, I’ve generally eaten pretty healthy. I love to eat a very varied diet, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, all kinds of recipes and styles of cooking, various ethnic foods, etc. I’ve never indulged much in soft drinks; my parents allowed us one small soft drink once a week and that was it. I have never had a soda-pop habit. Ever. Drink my calories? No thanks. I love water. And yeah, I’ve felt a distinct disdain for parents who have given their toddlers soda, even with caffeine. Crazy. I would NEVER have done that to my kids. I’ve seen people with all kinds of horrible diet habits, who eat processed food and fast food like it’s the only kind of nourishment that exists; people who wouldn’t know healthy food if it bit them. And I’ve judged. Yes. I have.

I have felt a little pride in my good eating habits, in my whole grains and vegetables and fruits. I don’t have to make drastic changes. I just have to try to cut back on my sweet tooth. Not a big deal, right?

Now that I’ve realized how sugar is impacting my cholesterol, I feel like the rules have changed. I never saw this coming.

So I decided perhaps Atkins might be a good way to do some changing. And a month in, being on Phase 1 of the program, with no grains and having to count net carbs even in vegetables, for pity’s sake!, I’ve lost 6 pounds and am feeling fine but am starting to really, really want some grains. Bread! Cookies! Rolls! They are calling my name from the kitchen, from the huge canisters of flour that sit on my countertops.

I never thought whole grains, whole wheat in particular, would ever possibly be the bad guy. Just changing that one aspect of my diet seems like a sea change, one I don’t know if I’m prepared to make permanently. It’s devastating! If it’s that hard for me to just change this part of my eating habits, how in the world do people change their entire diets when they’re really eating a ton of stuff that’s bad for their bodies? Disdain aside, I’m feeling more affinity for them.

Atkins it is for me right now. I’m also prone to emotional eating and less motivation during hormonal times of the month, so it’s been a little tough the past week. I’m giving it another week to see if I swing back to being just fine with this trial of Atkins. If I don’t think it’s just the right fit, I might look into Paleo. Or I might just see about not doing an official diet but just trimming my diet down to a very minimal amount of grains but still some.

I’m just in the early stages of a sea change. We’ll see how well I can swim … or surf … or captain my eating-habits boat.

Next week will mark five years since my dad’s death. I expected I’d write a post then to observe the occasion, but I’m finding I’m missing him a great deal right now, so that anniversary post is happening now.

Dad’s death was unexpected and a completely devastating experience I was wholly unprepared for. I felt sure I had a good decade or more with him so I wasn’t at all ready to face the possibility of him not being in my life. His loss upended me, changed me utterly, and created a crater in my very self, as if a fiery asteroid had crash-landed in my torso. Time passing and the reality of no more phone calls or visits or little notes or pictures in the mail have forced me to accept his absence, but the crater is still there. Only problem is that it’s somehow been covered up over time by the accumulating detritus of life, so few observers have any idea it’s there, this charred chasm.

Dad and Cathy LOVEDad and I were close. I have come to appreciate that calling him one of my best friends is not an exaggeration. He really was. He also could be completely exasperating and sometimes annoyingly clueless. He was a hypochondriac and an over-sharer, and loving completely unconditionally did not come naturally to him, thanks to a difficult upbringing. He was obsessed with taking care of his health and was a bit underweight, and he focused overmuch on other people’s appearances. Thanks to that, in part, I am overly concerned with how I look, a frustrating shortcoming that can sometimes take me away from what’s truly important in this short life. Honestly, I could write a few more paragraphs about how he could make me crazy, sometimes even angry.

Nonetheless, I adored him. I have so many treasured memories of time with him, daddy-daughter time. He taught me so much and transferred so many of his own “likes” and preferences to me that I feel sometimes I can just channel him. Dad took me to cultural events: orchestra and band concerts, ballet performances, plays (because he was a university professor we had access to some great performances at the various universities where he worked. And if they were free or a very low price, all the better: he really disliked spending money). He instilled his love of music and his humor. I can still almost hear him laugh. Just … almost … the sensation, the sound, is just out of reach, like a word on the tip of my tongue. I can imagine his reactions to just about anything. He loved card games and was quite competitive. He had so many distinctly-him mannerisms. I can practically bring him to life any moment by repeating something he’d typically say or by aping a habit. My oldest daughter in particular remembers those things pretty well and can accurately mimic him too, repeating how he’d bug the poor front-line workers in a McDonald’s about “What kind of oil exactly do you use in your fries?” or deliberately and dramatically placing a card down on the table when playing a game.

I’ve read over the years how those who are grieving do want to talk about their loved one who has left this mortal existence, that asking questions or talking to them about the person who’s died is actually a welcome activity, not an intrusion or painful reminder. No, we already know that the person we love is gone. We can’t possibly be “reminded” any more. It’s SO true that what I want to do is just talk about him. I want to tell everyone about him, to just talk endlessly about all his quirks, all his high notes, all characteristics in between. In talking about him, I’m bringing him to life for someone else, keeping his memory alive for myself.

I am at peace entirely with my beliefs on where he is now and what he is doing. I’m happy for him to be in this next stage of what I know is an eternal existence. He gleaned what he needed to from this stage of life, and he’s learning more and doing more where he is now. But that peace, knowledge, and happiness that I have for him doesn’t change how desperately I miss him being here, with me. I still miss him every day. I still wish I could pick up the phone and talk to him, maybe get his advice and input, just hear his voice. He was such a vibrant, oversize personality: he was impossible to miss. He spoke loudly and commanded attention (he taught TV broadcasting and spoke accordingly). He was funny and appreciated good humor. Not having that presence around now creates a Dad-size hole that won’t go away until I am reunited with him someday.

I miss you, Dad. It’s as simple as that. My heart will ever be broken till we meet again.

I’ve read a couple of articles lately that have reminded me just how tough it is to parent these days. And not in the ways you might think.

First, I read a great column about one woman’s experience, When kids were unbreakable, remembering her “dangerous” childhood and giving her kids some more opportunities for freer play. I think most of us who are in our 40s and up fondly recall hours of free play when we were growing up. I was particularly lucky to live “out in the country” most of the time before I turned 10, after which point I was more in neighborhoods. In both living situations, though, I was away from my house (and my watching mom) for hours at a time, playing in the dirt and in creeks, exploring the woods, walking along dirt roads, riding bikes along suburban streets or cutting through unfenced yards to walk to friends’ houses. I rode my bike with no hands a number of times, and once I ended up needing stitches in my elbow because of it (and I didn’t do it again). I don’t remember a lot of other dangerous things I must have done, just that I had lots of fun, was mostly smart about it, and paid attention to what was going on around me. Dad taught me to shoot a rifle in the backyard a few times (in the country); Mom taught me how to use a knife (and lots of other tools) in the kitchen.

The short story is this: my mom and dad didn’t watch my every move. I wasn’t penned inside my house; I wasn’t watching TV or any other screens very much. I ran and played. I breathed fresh air. I invented all kinds of fun games by myself and with friends and (if forced :) ) my younger siblings. I made something fun out of “nothing,” the materials at hand. My mom felt fine — and was a perfectly great parent — letting me go outside her supervision for those hours.

Today, things are far different. We live in a hyper-vigilant society, in which we have 24-hour news coming at us from TV and the Internet and smartphones. Every instance of bad things happening to kids is reported to us. We fear strangers and are sure if we aren’t watching our kids every moment, that someone will likely snatch them. We live in a time when we are told to know the signs of child abuse. This is a good thing; abuse is not pushed under the rug as much and is better reported. But it’s made us all wary of being the kinds of parents who let our kids have free creative time to explore and imagine and play, without being within 10 yards of them at all moments. We fear that our kids might get kidnapped and/or abused. We fear that we’re not being “engaged” with our kids, providing them lots of fun play options. We fear we’re not good enough. I’m fairly sure that these weren’t concerns for our parents.

Which brings me to the second, and very disturbing but not surprising, article, Woman Calls CPS After Seeing Kid Play Outside. It upsets me to read it because I’ve been in a similar position. When my first two were only 2 years old and a few months old, I was reported (anonymously, though I was able to piece together who it was because I knew her personality and modus operandi) to CPS because someone was concerned they were undernourished and one had a raw, chapped rash between her lips and her nose. Here’s what the circumstances were: my kids were and still are, many years later, petite. The infant had Down syndrome, and many people don’t realize that children with Down’s have their own growth chart. My pediatrician measured her growth against other DS kids. She was fine and perfectly healthy. In fact, we’ve always been blessed that she’s been remarkably healthy, with no heart problems, no digestive problems, almost no ear infections, even. But she looked, to one too-sensitive observer, to be “too small.” My 2-year-old just had a bad (and difficult to break) habit of licking above her lips and that small area was for a fairly short period of time just red and chapped, and I did everything I could think of to make it better. This apparently also made me an object of concern.

A case worker came out to our house and questioned me and looked at the kids, and I was lucky enough that that was the end of it. My kids also were too young to know anything was going on. But it was extremely upsetting for me. I was scared and just sick to my stomach. Raising my kids was hard, and I was always grateful for a break and me-time, but I certainly didn’t want them taken from me!

It was also my introduction to the brave new world of Big Brother: everyone is watching you. And they are given the power over your life to call a number and anonymously report the possibility of you being a Bad Parent. Then you are thrown into what I have discovered is not just a flawed system, but one that’s in some places openly hostile and dangerous to normal, good parents. I don’t have space to tell all the stories, but I could relate a number of them, of good and loving parents who have ended up having to take time-consuming and unnecessary parenting classes, hire attorneys, and be in genuine fear for their parenting and working lives because someone misconstrued something they did in public. It is terrifying.

We have become a nation of helicopter parents, it’s true. And we’ve become a nation of people who are quick to jump to conclusions, who are quick to call “the authorities” on the basis of a tiny possibility of a problem, who don’t know their neighbors from Adam, who have no idea of any context of the lives of the people they’re reporting on. If we knew each other better, knew that our neighbors were good parents who love their kids, whose parenting styles assuredly are different from ours but are NOT BAD, who support their kids and teach them and are making them into responsible adults, we’d be far less likely to go straight to the government with a concern rather than talk to our neighbors first, if we do anything. But we don’t. We are very connected with disembodied people via smartphones and tablets and computer screens, and with talking heads on the news, but not truly interconnected with a community of real, living, breathing people. We’re taking a quick way out to call the authorities and assuage some kind of guilty conscience (for not being better involved, for not knowing Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their two kids next door) or to pat ourselves on the back for “doing the right thing,” as the government and news outlets repeatedly tell us.

Would it be possible at this point to go back a little, to recapture the sense of community we had as neighbors, to support each other in the tough job that is parenting, and to let our kids have the space they so desperately need (as studies keep proving) for free play and imagination and learning how to navigate the world? I’m a little worried that it’s not, that we’ve gone too far. But I desperately hope we haven’t.

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