Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Should we worry about over-sharing?

I am a sharer. I admit it. I love facebook, twitter, blogs, Google groups. . .you name it. . .I'm on it. I love to come up with clever facebook status updates or seeing how some words on twitter will gain 5 more followers. I love to share photos of my kids, videos of their recitals, accounts of our trips and seek out advice about school issues when needed. My mom, my cousins, my in-laws and my high school friends are all on facebook and I love to see what they have to share. I got to see my cousin's high school prom photos seconds after they were taken. We got to watch my husband's cousin's wedding from across the country the day after the nuptials. It all makes me happy.

But, there is a downside to sharing too much, apparently. It comes from almost all my close friends. Sure I have almost 400 friends on facebook, but they are not my closest friends. For some reason, I am in a circle of friends who despise facebook. They think there is a danger to sharing too much. They think I am putting my children at risk by posting their photos. They think I am violating their privacy if I speak up about an issue that their child was indirectly a part of (even without names). They think I share too much.

I try to explain it to them. They don't understand or see how it can be rewarding. They think there is a danger in communicating with old boyfriends or old crushes from 25 years ago. They think there will be consequences someday to all this facebook stuff. They are the ones who send me articles about facebook privacy breaches or viruses that come from facebook with the big words in the subject line. . . "SEE?"

Some of these friends are actually on facebook, but they are not active. They have only joined to see what it's all about, but actually only sign on maybe once a month. I tell them that they have to add friends in order to make it more fun, but even then they don't get into it. Just yesterday I got a call from a good friend asking me to remove a photo from one of my albums that had our group holding champagne glasses before a fun night out. She said, "My elementary library teacher is one of my friends and I don't want her to see THAT!"

My outward reaction was, "Of course, I'll take it off. " But inside I was thinking, "Really? You're 42 years old, out for an elegant night with friends, toasting champagne. We're not dressed skankily, we're not falling down drunk, we're not part of a religious group that prohibits drinking, or recovering alcoholics. Why would you be worried about your library teacher's reaction? I'm friends with my minister and my mother and my in-laws on facebook and I don't worry that they see me with a glass of champagne." But I don't say that. But I do give her a facebook lesson. I tell her that my album settings are private (mostly to protect my friends' privacy) and that her library teacher didn't have access to it. I explain that she can remove a tag from herself anytime she wants to. But I still take off the photo. After all it was posted over a month ago and I think anyone who cared to see it has.

But now I wonder, do I have to check with every friend everytime I want to post something? Do I say before I take a photo, "If you don't want this on facebook, please step out of the picture."? I'm afraid if I do that there will be an awful lot of photos of me by myself! Do I not put pictures of my kids up with their friends, even though my settings are private?

They think the world is getting out of control with the over-sharing, but suddenly I feel like I'm being censored left and right and I have to hesitate before I share anything. Among the active members of my 400 facebook friends, I see those who share without regard for anything and their friends who comment on their photos and their status updates. I envy those people who get 25 comments on a great photo of their child, or an advice from 30 good friends over an issue they brought to the table. I envy those women who post, "Hey anyone who wants to swim, meet me at the pool in an hour" and then 10 comments later I see that they had an awesome time at the pool with a ton of friends. . .all from a facebook post. I see how it can be and how it should be. I am jealous of the freedom those people have.

I mentioned that to a friend of mine - about how easy it was to get a big group together - and her response was two-fold. First she said, "Why do people feel the need to share everything they are doing every minute of the day?" And then she said, "Doesn't anyone pick up the phone anymore?"

How can I convince my friends to relax and enjoy our new ways of communicating? How can I show them that it's ok to let people know what you are doing? That nothing bad is going to happen by being an open and friendly person? How do I let them know that it is safe and as private as you want it to be? That child predators are not choosing my children out of billions of photos on the Internet and somehow breaking into facebook to find out their names and addresses and coming to kidnap them? (I don't have address or phone numbers on facebook). And that there is more of a chance of dying in a car accident than being kidnapped by a predator? If a predator is watching them, it's not because of a photo of them blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

And that your elementary library teacher really doesn't care that you grew up and now drink champagne.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Perfect Mother in Law

I constantly hear the stories about nightmare MILs (mother-in-laws in internet language). Just a few examples I pulled from the archives of Mamapedia:

My mother-in-law is OBSESSED with weight. She comments CONSTANTLY on how "fat" my 1 year old daughter is (she weighs 20 pounds for Heaven's sake!!!

My mother in law has been telling me that when we move out on our own "someone" will call CPS on us because we are so filthy. She keeps saying that CPS is going to take our daughter away because I don't keep things clean enough.

I am so sick of my mother in law!! We see her and my father in law once a week and sometimes more. She is constantly undermining what I say.

My mother in law drives me crazy. When I was pregnant she would tell me things like "Don't cross your legs or the baby can't breathe."

My mother in law is over bearingly nosey. How do I deal with someone so difficult? I have a very bad relationship with her, and we don't even talk anymore.

That is just a small sampling of what's out there - women needing advice on how to handle the mothers of their husbands. And I constantly hear stories from my friends and co-workers who deal with problems on a daily basis. One friend of mine had her MIL move into her beach cottage (their vacation escape they have been working for years on fixing up) and won't leave and won't pay rent. She says they owe it to her for raising him. Now they are unable to even visit their own home because she has completely taken it over.

What causes these MILs to become so difficult? Is it jealousy over their son's new lives that doesn't include them anymore?

My MIL comes to visit us once a year in her RV. She and her husband bring their RV and stay at a local campground for 4 weeks every spring. They come with the intention of visiting their grand kids and also helping us out around the house and yard during the busiest time of year (spring). She cleans, cooks, sews, babysits, you name it. She will bend over backwards to help us.

And she is the kindest, gentlest person you will ever meet. She doesn't gossip or have unkind things to say about other family members, she doesn't get her feelings hurt if we need a day off without seeing her (usually because of other commitments). They have been coming for 14 years - same time, same routine. Sometimes I think she's too perfect. She cleans the areas of my house that I overlook (the top of the dryer, the little hard to reach places in my refrigerator, the corners around the sink). She buys me cleaning supplies and leaves old toothbrushes for me to use to get all the grime out. Her house and car are always immaculate. Her clothes always have a little personal flair that she has added with her embrodery machine. She always makes my husband's favorite birthday cake, just how he likes it (something I can't seem to get quite right). The precedent she sets is very hard to live up to.
There are things I have learned over the past 14 years about her. She doesn't do well with last minute changes or impulsive decisions (her son can be very impulsive though!). I now print out calendars with both my husband and my schedules and give them to her the day she gets to town so she will know when we are around and when we need her.
And I have learned that the earth revolves around her boys. She will drop all her personal commitments to come to the aid of either of her sons no matter what the instance or distance. She will bend over backwards to keep them happy and sometimes I wonder why she has this constant need to please? I also see it in her relationship with her husband (her second marriage). She leaves all decisions up to him. She has to check with him first and she seems to expect me to always have to check with her son (my husband) before I make any decisions.

And she relies on her husband for everything. See, I am pretty self-sufficient. They bought us a DVD player for a gift and instead of waiting for my hubby to install it, I did it myself. This shocked her to no end. . .

I got a new lawn mower and instead of waiting to be shown how to use it by my husband, I just read the book and mowed the lawn. Again she was shocked. In fact she still can't get over that I even mow the lawn. She leaves everything mechanical up to her husband and I often wonder if he's not around someday what she will do to survive.

My husband leaves a pile of clothes that need repair or a button on them in the MOM pile. Each year when she comes she gets the pile and fixes all his shirts. . .I even add to it on occasion. . .this is something she wishes I would learn to do. . .

Sewing. . .no. . .mowing. . .yes!

I said to my husband the other day when he showed me how she had fixed the embroidery on one of his shirts, "I sure hope your mom lives forever."

Because without her, I'm not sure what WE would do to survive!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Should moms be friends with the moms of their kids' friends?

If I wasn't friends with my kids' friends' moms then I wouldn't have any friends. But this is the advice I got recently when my daughter and friends of hers had a falling out. Their moms are my very close friends and when they had a minor disagreement, the wrath between moms escalated into a much bigger one. Emails, phone calls, face to face confrontation. . .it went on for weeks. The girls were over it in a day.

Why did such a minor instance escalate into such major mom drama? I think a lot of it has to do with the sensitivity of the moms to their child's behavior. Everyone thinks their daughter is perfect and any mention of a mistake or meanness on their child's part is not taken well. They get defensive and then angry and then self-righteous. Tough to try to reason with someone in that frame of mind.

But then the other side of the coin is the mom who had the issue to begin with (me!). My daughter was the victim of their child's bullying and suffered for it. But because they never admitted their child did anything wrong ("just kids being kids" and "wouldn't it be awful if all the kids acted the same way?") and never got an apology, I felt angry myself. They flew off the handle and actually got angry with me for speaking up about it. So I apologized. "Sorry, shouldn't have said anything. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have brought it up."

Why was I the one apologizing? Shouldn't their daughters apologize to mine? Shouldn't they apologize for over-reacting to my simple statements. . ."hey, guess what happened today. . ." But I never got an apology and it still bothers me. We have gone back to somewhat normalcy in our relationships, but I don't think I'll ever trust or respect those moms again like I did before this happened.

During this drama, a casual friend of mine who is a mom of three older children said to me, "My husband and I agreed a long time ago that we cannot try to be friends with our kids' friends' parents. If their kid does something to yours and you don't want them to socialize anymore, then you have to end the adult friendship too. It just doesn't work."

A few months ago, prior to any of this drama, I probably would have laughed at the idea. My girls will be friends forever with their friends and even if they drift apart I can still be friends with the moms.

Now I'm not so sure.

After a year of my daughter being treated extremely poorly by her BFF and my BFF for the past 8 years not willing to hear it from me, I feel trapped in a fake friendship. I can't talk to her about what's going on in school. When she says "What did you do last night?" I can't tell her that we made a special trip to Borders to buy books on bullying and how to stand up for yourself and then read them when we got home. I used to tell her everything, but now I can't. I can't mention a single instance of what my daughter is going through in class, because it all involves her daughter. And I don't want to hear the excuses and the blame that we are being overly-sensitive.

I'm sorry but if my daughter was purposely shunning hers, I think I would want to know. But she has said to me directly that she never wants to hear again what her daughter did to mine unless physical danger is involved.

So I'm stuck. And now I avoid her calls. I used to call her just about every day, but haven't dialed that number once in a few weeks. What her daughter is doing, hurts me just as much as if she was doing it to me. My husband says I need to just step away from the friendship, but the idea of losing her (taking away all the girl drama) hurts me. And I lose sleep over it every night.

And we do have lots of people who treat us right. Just yesterday, Emma got an email from one of her loyal, tried and true friends. It was the sweetest thing ever written and had the line in it, "your my best-est friend ever!!" And I have many other friends whose daughters don't treat my daughter poorly (hopefully they never do because I would hate to have to follow the no-friend advice!).

What I tell my daughter repeatedly is, "Love the people who treat you right, forget about the ones who don't."

Advice I think I need to listen to.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What is Popularity, Really?

We have a skewed perception of popluarity in this country. We see teen girls who have it all - money, clothes, boyfriends and a circle of equally stunning friends surrounding them and assume they are the popular clique and that everyone strives to be a part of them.

But how did they get there? What did it take to rise to the top when they were in the formative elementary years? Besides the obvious - moms who take them shopping to the "teen" stores, let them stay up late, buy them laptops, iPods, cell phones, encourage boyfriends and discourage playing with toys?

For many of the "popular girls" they had to start out their school years by being a leader. And a leader has to have followers, so in order to obtain those followers they had to come up with a set of "rules." These are the girls who form the exclusive clubs that they only let certain girls be a part of. They are the girls who hand out bracelets to their chosen cool friends and say they are in the club. They are the girls who will turn others against the kids who are not considered cool (by them) with gossip, lies and shunning. They will insult their close friends, tell them things like, "I won't be your friend anymore if you don't do this for me" and have girls crawling all over each other to win and keep their approval. In essence, these are the elementary school's "mean" girls or bullies. They are the ones who we will call "popular" as they get older.

Last I checked, the meaning of the word popular was to be well liked by a group. Does anyone really like these girls? I know the kids who are getting stomped on by them are not great fans of theirs and I suspect their close friends are so nervous about what move they are going to make next that they never become comfortable enough to honestly say they "like" them.

My fourth grader, Emma has become the target of one such popular group. The leader of the group - Maggie - has been the one in class who seems to set all the rules. She was responsible for the shunning of another girl earlier this year by telling everyone in the 4th grade not to be her friend or to sit by her. Emma sat by her anyway and the next thing you know, Emma is now being shunned. Maggie and her cronies have even gone up to Emma's closest friends at recess,while they were playing with Emma, pulled them away from her and told them that they shouldn't be Emma's friend anymore because no one likes her.

And now whenever there is a group activity, no one from Maggie's group will allow Emma to join in with them. Even Emma's supposed BFF in the class goes along with Maggie and never even utters a word of support for her friend. She even had the nerve to say to Emma one day that she thinks Maggie is "wicked nice" and she's my friend now.

There is a rainbow in all this, though. Another girl, Ally has come to Emma's aid. This girl is a long standing casual friend of Emma's. She invites Emma to join her group even if their group is full when Emma is not allowed in any other groups. She asks Emma to sit next to her at lunch or to sit next to her during a project even when other girls are telling her to move. She even said to one girl, "She's not moving, she's staying right here." And she is helping Emma to get back in a respectful way to these girls. One day Emma was responsible for carrying the lunch crate with all the lunch boxes in it to the cafeteria. She asked one of the girls for help and the girl gave her a look and said no, then tossed her lunchbox onto the top of the others and ran away. Ally offered to help and then said slyly, "I have an idea."

She then proceded to take the other girl's lunchbox off the top, leave it in the middle of the hallway and head off to the cafeteria. This other girl had to run back and get it and everyone ended up laughing about it. For once Emma felt included in the banter.

But what do we do about the unnecessary shunning? I have spoken to the teacher about it and she moved the girls around in class. She assured me that next year those girls will not be in Emma's class. But is it enough? The risks of taking it to the administration probably do not outweigh the benefits. On one hand, I'd like to see this girl punished for what she's doing to girls, but on the other hand, I don't want my daughter to be affected even more by me speaking up. It's a tough situation. The teacher is aware and is watching out for it. . .so hopefully that will be enough.

So when I explain popularity to my little girl, I tell her that Maggie is NOT popular just because someone has labeled her that way. The truly popular girls are the ones who are respected by everyone for their honesty, integrity, friendliness and happiness. They will be the ones admired and well-liked. No matter how "popular" everyone thinks the mean girls are, they are not really popular if everyone is scared of them and talks badly about them.

In my school (ok, 20 + years ago!) the girls who were elected Homecoming and Royalty Queens were not the girls who wore the right clothes, went to the right parties or were dating 24 year olds. The girls who were honored with that title were the ones that were nice to everyone, never had harsh words for people and never gossiped or shunned anyone. They had strong family lives and even chose family time over going to THE party of the year. They didn't strive for popularity or rush out to buy the right styles (or SillyBandz for 4th grade!). Everyone liked them and respected them for who they were. That is what popularity is all about.

Treat others how you want to be treated and life will turn out ok. . .Promise.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is My Child an Outcast?

This has been a tough fourth grade year for my Emma. She was so excited at the beginning of the year to be in class with her BFF. They had never been in class together before and had always wanted to. Their wish came true.

I, on the other hand, was apprehensive. This "BFF" that she has been friends with since she was two years old has always treated Emma poorly. She is more aggressive and bossy toward her, tends to not be fully truthful when faced with something she's done to be hurtful and is hot and cold on whether she's "in the mood" to include Emma in her games. To me, this is not what a best friend is all about.

The beginning of the year started out ok, but then slowly things started to change. A few mean statements, a few moments of exclusion. . .then Emma's BFF was transported to the top of the cool girl hierarchy and Emma was painfully alone at the bottom. Now all the kids treat her that way.

The dynamics of the class are tough. There are only 8 girls and as I mentioned in a previous post, they are ALL very good at sports. They all love fashion and music. They make fun of anything they consider "babyish" like High School Musical or Hannah Montana. They watch what you wear and how often. They watch what you eat and make sure that if it's something different or weird that the whole table knows about it. They fight among themselves frequently and treat one another poorly.

Emma doesn't fit in with that group at all. Her BFF has done everything possible this year TO fit in, even if it means stepping on Emma in the process. Now the group of girls has formulated some sort of pact to not let Emma join them in any activity. First if was gym class. There is an even number of girls so when they have to partner up she always ends up with someone, but if they have to go in groups of three - that's when no one will let her in. Then it was in class when they had to form groups to read a play aloud. No one would let her join their group and actually had to be forced by the teacher to let her in. Then yesterday it was in music. They were playing a game and the music teacher announced groups of four. So Emma went to the group of girls with three that included her BFF and was told she couldn't join them by the "leader" of all the mean girls. Emma ended up in tears and the teacher did nothing to correct the mean girl behavior, instead she put Emma in an already formed group of four. She said to Emma at the end of class she was sorry, she knew how girls could be to each other.

It's hard to believe in third grade Emma was given the award by their teacher as "Most Confidence." Third grade had different girl drama. That year she had a friend in class with her that was very possessive and over-bearing. She wouldn't let Emma play with other kids without a fight. She did everything possible to stand next to her in line and sit next to her at lunch. She also did things to tease her relentlessly, like hide her pencils, move her chair to the other side of the room, take her apple from her lunchbox and play catch with it. . .in other words it drove Emma crazy and we were so glad to be out of that dynamic.

But I think I would prefer possessiveness to exclusion any day. At least with possessiveness the problem is that you are liked "too much" instead of not liked at all.

Emma has no problem making friends. In fact she has a ton of girlfriends and has sleepovers and playdates every weekend. I keep reminding her that she has friends who treat her right, who care about her and who will always be there for her. It's just that these friends are not in her class this year.

What can I do to help her through this?? I sent a note to the teacher yesterday and informed her of all the recent episodes. I asked if she has noticed anything and also if she sees any reason that Emma is treated this way. I told her that we are just going to try our best to make it through the next two weeks without anymore tears and that next year she really needs to be in a class with a better dynamic. I named the worst perpetrators so that the teacher could make sure that she was not in class with them again. At this point I don't care who her teacher is. All I care about is who is hopefully NOT in class with her. This includes the BFF who has not stuck up for her or tried in anyway shape or form to include her. In fact it was her who initially wouldn't let her join in gym class back in December. Maybe I'm being harsh, but I really feel she is at the root of the problem. She established her dominance over her by letting the other kids see that even the BFF could exclude her and treat her poorly. The rest of the class is following her example.

Then when no one's watching the BFF invites Emma for a sleepover.

Two weeks of school left. . .

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Stink at Kickball!

I have to apologize to my daughters. "Sorry, girls. The fact that you can't catch a ball without covering your heads in fright, that you can't out run any of your classmates and that you can't hit a ball further than the pitchers' mound? Well all that is my fault." It's really not fair to them. After all, my husband is somewhat athletic, I had hoped that they would inherit some of his genes. Looks like they got my athleticism and his inability to spell.

I wasn't the slowest kid in my class. I very clearly remember during the shuttle run that I wasn't ever in last place. Second to last. But not last. Last place was always a girl who was born with one leg shorter than the other. She had an excuse. What was my excuse? I wasn't overweight. I wasn't overly incoordinated or clumsy. I just had no ability.

My abilities were in my school work. I could finish a test or read a book faster than anyone in the class, but these are not the things the "cool kids" are measured by, unfortunately.

Has there ever been a kid who was considered "cool" who did not possess some sort of athletic ability? I sure can't think of many. Why are we so defined by our prowess in gym class? I was the last to be picked for teams, the one who heard groans from teammates when I would come up to the plate and the one the teacher would constantly tell to try harder. You'd think by now there would be some sort of built in sensitivity training for gym teachers in how they handle kids with no ability. But no, they still have the classes pick teams, pick partners. . .they still have the slower kids on the spotlight for the other kids to berate openly without correction. The gym teachers after all never had to go through this kind of humiliation. Obviously they liked and did well in gym class or it would not have become the profession of choice for them. They don't understand inability. To them inability to perform means laziness or not trying hard enough.

And now 25 years later, my 10 year old is going through the same things and feelings I had as a kid. Yesterday in gym class they played kickball. The class quickly learned that when she was up she would not be kicking the ball very far. The field of players all moved in and every time she came up she got out. One boy turned to her and said, "No offense but you really stink at this game."

Another boy, who generally could whack the heck out of the ball came to the plate and kicked it softly, sending the class scrambling to get to it in time. The teacher said, "You need to kick it harder than that." His response was, "Why? That's how Emma kicks it."

She experienced the same groans, the same catcalls, the same irritation from her classmates that I went through 25 years ago. And the worst part of it all? There was no girl with one leg shorter than the other that she could reassure herself with. She is in fact the slowest, most incoordinated girl in her class. And not by just a little. She only has 7 other girls in her class and they are ALL on the above average side of the bell curve when it comes to sports. Soccer, basketball, cheerleading, dance. . .you name it. . .all 7 of the other girls are involved and they are GREAT.

The good thing is, I tried to tell her, is that elementary gym class is only temporary. Kids will ultimately forget that you can't run very fast or kick a ball very hard when they realize your other talents. Athletic ability will become less important as you get older and more involved in music, drama and other activities. You are a naturally happy, bright, engaging child with lots of friends. "You will survive this." I told her.

"How can I ever survive this?" She asked mournfully.

Ok, so it seems like the end of the world now, but summer is coming and eventually the pain of being the worst will wear off.

Well, maybe in 30 years or so. . .

Why Anonymous?

I am a blogger, a facebooker, a writer. . .you name it. I like to share. But lately, I have found myself feeling quite inhibited by what I want to write about. I sit down to blog but find I can't hit the publish button because there just might be something in the words I have written that could tick people off.

So, who cares, right? I should be able to write what I feel without worrying about the repercussions. But, alas. . .no. I happen to be one of those people that cares what others think. Isn't that a basic human need? To feel accepted?

I have blogged about controversial issues in the past and have gotten rave reviews from friends and family. In fact I even had someone come up to me. . .a complete stranger and give me a pat on the back for something I had written about a controverial subject in our school.

But then there are the other people. The people who wish I wouldn't speak up. These could be the people involved in the issue, people who think I am too open or people who would rather shy away from controversy.

And these people seem to always be my friends, or my kids' teachers or someone whose opinions generally matter to me. So I began feeling uncomfortable with the thought of speaking out. . .voicing my opinion. . .trying to help others to see the common sense behind my thinking. Suddenly I had become censored.

So, I haven't blogged anything in many months. I will think of an excellent blog story, sit down to write it and then poof. . .I imagine my audience and I lose my nerve.

The idea of an anonymous blog hit me in the shower this morning (don't all great ideas come from the shower?). I decided I could still write what I wanted to write, but I needed to do so without my friends or family reading it. I think others from around the country, around the world even (I've been told my original blog has been read by strangers in Ireland and Australia!!) could learn from our experiences. Maybe they could find they relate to the typical issues that arise in a typical middle class family. Maybe they will share a laugh or share their own experiences.

And the intention is not to talk badly about people or to be mean. I am probably the furthest thing from a mean person as you can get. I will speak honestly and truthful about life experiences without worrying about who might be reading it and taking offense.

So enjoy and happy reading. Who knows maybe I'm your neighbor or your friend. Or maybe I sit next to you in church! Hopefully you'll never know.