Your kids still need you

This weekend, my nine-year old boy got a cold.  His coughing and sneezing were rampant enough to keep him home from church this morning. I made the mistake of mentioning this possibility in front of my twelve-year old daughter last night and–wouldn’t you know it?–at about nine p.m., she told me she wasn’t “feeling good.”  You can imagine how much worse she was feeling this morning.  But because she’d been lethargic herself for few days, I let her stay home as well.  Grand total:  three out of five family members missed church today.  That’s one mighty wicked tribe.

Dropping my oldest daughter off at the chapel I realized that, since my middle daughter was staying home, I could have come to church today after all.  My “sick” daughter could have easily babysat my son, and a few hours in front of the tv by themselves would have passed quickly.  I felt a tad guilty all of a sudden, missing my Sunday meetings when I really didn’t need to.  I mean, it’s not like they need me to dress and feed them anymore.  It’s not like they need me to rub their back and loosen up their coughs.  It’s not like they need me to measure out their medicine and deliver it with an applesauce muffin and a glass of milk.

Do they?

Now that I think of it, my older kids don’t really need me anymore–at all.  They can get themselves showered, they can get themselves dressed, they can pour their own cereal, they can read their own books, and most importantly, they can operate the remote control.  So as long as an older kid’s around to watch my youngest (who could actually function just fine by himself were it not for those pesky CPS folks), I really don’t need to be home with them much at all, even on sick days like this one.  The T.V., a blanket, and some Sprite–what more could a kid with a cold long for?  And when they’re healthy, what could I possibly do for them that a locked front door and a Costco-filled pantry couldn’t?

One of the reasons we moms struggle with our toddlers becoming children becoming tweens becoming teens is that with each new phase of life, they seem to need us less.  And with each new liberty that arrives (the grocery store by ourselves! who knew what wonders awaited?) comes a deflating punch of disappointment.  (You made your own sandwich?  Good job, sweetie!  Now mommy’s going to sit on her bed and cry for awhile.)  We start to question the validity of how we’re spending our days and our spending our lives, because who are we without children who need us?  They go from helpless to semi-functioning to independent so quick-slow, and then one day not only do they not need us, they don’t want us.  At least, that’s what they’ll say.


These thoughts took shape as I made muffins and measured out Ethan’s cough syrup this morning.  I should be at church right now, I chided myself.  They could have stayed home alone; they would’ve been fine.  That much was true.  But after an hour, I told them to turn the tv off and either nap or read.  My daughter came into my room where I was folding laundry, flopped down on my bed, and moaned.

“What’s up?” I asked her.

“I just don’t feel good,” she said.

“Well then, get under the covers and I’ll bring you something.  What would you like?”

“Cranberry juice and corn chips?”  she asked without missing a beat.  (This had obviously been thought through.)

“Be right back.”  I knew I was spoiling her.  I knew sugar and salt weren’t going to make her feel any better.  I knew she wasn’t deathly ill and I knew she probably could have managed a few hours at church today.  But I didn’t care.  I went downstairs for the cranberry juice and corn chips, and found Ethan sitting at the kitchen table, staring into space.

“E, do you want a muffin?”


I warmed him a muffin then told him to take a hot shower.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes.  It’ll make you feel better.”  (Plus it would allow him to change out of the crumpled tee and basketball shorts he’d been wearing the last 36 hours.)

He ate the muffin, took the shower, and joined his older sister on my bed.  They curled up together as I stood at the foot of the bed, folding and stacking the clean clothes.  It was a quiet scene, utterly non-descript.  I wouldn’t call it a Magical Motherhood Moment; I wouldn’t say it was special.  But I will say that in that moment, I was glad I was there.  I was glad that I was the one getting their juice and chips and muffins, even though they could’ve gotten it all themselves.  I was glad that, though we weren’t talking much, we were in the same room together.  I was glad they had the assurance of my presence; I was glad they weren’t alone.

Standing over the rumpled heap of blankets-pillows-bodies, I remembered my own sick days as a child when, after passing the long hours alone in front of the tv, my busy working mother would finally come through the door.  Her arrival was always something of a revelation; the silent house suddenly filled with her warmth and purpose.  I wouldn’t get up right away, just lay and listen to the comforting sounds of Mom in the Kitchen:  running water and clanging pans, boiling noodles and “who ate the olives?”  (It was usually me.)  I didn’t need her to fawn over me and put a damp washcloth on my forehead (though she often did, to my delight.)  I just needed to know she was there.  I just needed my mom.

I believe that our growing children need us as much as they always have.  It’s just that now they call their needs “wants,” and so we, being the strict mamas we aspire to be, often dismiss those “wants” as demands, and we roll our eyes and say, “Hmph.  Teenagers.”  Or “Hmph.  Middle-schoolers.”  Or “Hmph–nine-year olds!”

Do my growing children need me to tell them to take a shower, or help them put on a fitted sheet, or make smoothies with them, or drive them to the mall?  Do they need me to hang around the house–even when they’re ignoring me as they study or watch tv–just for the sake of knowing I’m there?  Do they need me to ask them, over and over and over again, “What happened at school today?” with the determined hopefulness that, one of these days, they’ll actually answer?  And do they need  me to listen when that answer finally spills out from them with all the angst and confusion of their adolescent hormones?  Do they need me to remember that I’m not the only one sideswiped by their changing moods and bodies?  That they are the real victims of this strange reality called growing up, and that however tricky it is for me, it’s infinitely more so for them?

I would say yes.  I would say yes, our children need us to do all of these things.  But mostly, they need us to forgive them for not admitting that they need us.  And to recognize that when they say, “I want this,” what they mean is “I need you.”

And I think, when possible and reasonable, we should say yes.

Yes, I can drive you to the mall, so you can get away from your siblings and feel like you’re finally stepping into the Great Big World beyond our house.

Yes, I’ll watch What Not To Wear with you, again, so we can stop everything and snuggle together on the couch, like we did when you were little.

Yes, I”ll ooh and ahh over the “bridge”  you just built on Minecraft, so you’ll know that you are still worthy of my rapturous attention, even though nobody else is fussing much over you these days, now that you’re big and not oh-so-cute anymore.

Yes, I’ll make homemade muffins when you reallyreally ask for them and I’ll rub your back when you reallyreally want me to, so that you can feel the comforts, singular to childhood, of a sick day home with mom.

Yes, I’ll drive and watch and fuss and bake, because what you’re really asking me to do is to listen, listen–and then listen some more.  Not just to what you’re saying, but to what you’re not saying, and feeling, and not able to say you’re feeling.  Yes, I will be there, just for the sake of you knowing I’m there.

And so, dear moms, when we miss church or work or the gym to take care of our kids who can–by now and on paper–take care of themselves, don’t be disheartened by the seeming futility of it all.  They may be able to whip up a box of Mac ‘n Cheese all alone, but they need to know you’re in the next room in case the dishtowel–or their awkward, inexplicable heart and mind–catches fire.  It can happen so fast, and you never know when.  But you do know that, when it does, you’ll be there.  Because your kids–your nine-month and nine-year and nineteen-year-old kids–still need you.

Amy Chua’s “Triple Package”

Are we?  Yes, I just decided that we are.  Almost as much reading good books, I love talking about good books–especially with you, my faithful readers of good books and random blogs.  (You’re here, aren’t you?)  In my last post I offered a free Good Book* to the deserving contestant who guessed its title, and while we wait for a winner**, we need to talk about the Next Big Thing:  Triple Package, by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld.

You remember the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, of course, and I hope you read her fascinating and funny book.  My initial skepticism over Ms. Chua’s “strict parenting” gave way to admiration upon reading her self-deprecating memoir.  And because I was skeptical, I took the whole thing with a hefty grain of salt:  it was an entertaining read in which she made some valid points, but it certainly didn’t make a Chua-disciple out of me.  And though I applaud many of her theories, I lack the drive and discipline to carry them out as she does.  The result?  I have studious kids who will never make it to Carnegie Hall.  I’m okay with that.  And I still think that she’s just a fun and substantial writer to read.  We need more of those.

Which is why I’m excited to pick up a copy of The Triple Package this weekend.  (As with all important things in my life, I have also lost my Nook, so now I’m back to reading old-school paperbacks.  Don’t tease please.)  This time, Chua teamed up with hubby Jed Rubenfeld, a fellow Yale Law professor (whom I’ve decided is altogether dreamy.)


From what I’ve gathered, The Triple Package explores and explains why certain seemingly disparate cultures are performing disproportionately well in America today.  The cultures listed are:







Cuban exiles


Yep, its politically incorrect already.

And in these cultures, the authors claim, are three basic mindsets that drive its members to get ahead:

1.  A sense of exceptionalism:  believing you are special, and thus special things are expected of you

2.  A sense of insecurity:  believing you have something to prove, and being willing do what it takes to prove it

3.  Impulse control:  an ability to control your appetites and resist temptation–especially the temptation to give up

Riveting stuff, if you ask me.  Picking the brain of a single person is one thing, but understanding an entire culture’s secret to success is something else altogether.  Because if the same common denominators work for thousands–even millions–of people, they may just work for us.

As was surely intended by it’s authors, the book has already kicked up a firestorm of controversy, especially among academics and journalists who dismiss its claims as racist–though the authors emphasize that culture is what matters, not race.  (The debate is raging online; be prepared.)  The book examines cultural and familial expectations, not I.Q. points and genetic maps, which is what makes their argument so compelling and, I believe, so optimistic.  Everyone has access to the three tenets of the Triple Package–because it’s a mindset, not biology–and therefore, everyone has access to success.  The point is that some cultures are embracing these tenents more fully than others, so we can all learn from their example.

I should stop here and mention that I belong to one of the cultural groups listed in this book.  This may explain some of my interest in it.  (Three guesses on which culture I belong to.  Spoiler alert:  I’m not Nigerian.)  But the generalizations about an entire culture’s success are obviously broad, as I know many people from “my” culture who are confirmed underachievers.   (No offense, but really.  You know who you are.)  I wonder: were I not included in any of these esteemed cultural groups, would I feel differently about the premise of the book?  Probably.  Probably I wouldn’t like it at all, and that’s probably why it’s got so many people hopping mad.  But honestly, I am more interested in learning about the tools of success than about who’s using them.  Because then I can put them to use in my own family culture, which is where I believe my children’s destinies are truly determined.

As with her first book, Chua has taken common sense (Belief in Oneself + Discipline = Success) and wrapped it in a timely, readable package.  If nothing else, this writer knows how to get people talking, make people mad, and sell some serious books.  I, for one, don’t mind being one of the minions tossing coins in her well; I’ve spent money on worse.  (See pp. 3, insecurity  and impulse control.  Having the former without the latter has cost me a lot over the years.)  And as I did with Tiger Mother, I will also be taking this book with a hefty grain of salt.  These are general ideas about people and their habits, not scientific proof about where where we’ll each end up in life.  None of us want to feel “determined.”

Are you going to read The Triple Package?  I hope so.  Because if you do, I’ll invite you to post your opinion about it here.  And it’s okay if you don’t agree with it; I may not either.  Then again, I may love it–and so might you.  That’s the thrill of an unopened book, isn’t it?  Worlds await, admission is free.  (Well, not exactly.  But it made for a pleasing idiom, no?) Now I’m off to drive my son to basketball practice in a pitifully Western, non-Tiger Mom manner.  (He should be in violin, not basketball, speaking Manderin on the ride over while finishing his calculus.  And he should already be in bed–preferably without dinner.  Shoot.  I’m hosed.)



*hint:  the Good Good Book referred to here is not the Bible.  Although if I was a better person, that’s what I’d be giving away.

**hint hint:  the author’s last name is the first name of a certain befuddled-but-loveable germaphobe in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle.  (Those of you under age 30 will be at a disadvantage with this hint and yes, that is intentional.  You’re too young and pretty.  I have to make things fair somehow.)

Bella Voce

Have I told you about Bella Voce?   Because it’s the coolest thing I do.  Which is hardly an impressive distinction, I know, considering the level of my Cool Barometer, but that won’t stop me from bragging about it.  Bella Voce is an authors series sponsored by the Sterling Wealth Management Group, which is run by Sterling Bank, which is where my hubby’s business banks.  (Did you follow that?  Me neither.)  One of his partners, Lisa, holds three tickets to the tri-annual event and uses them as a marketing tool and fun perk for her many clients and colleagues.  A  couple of years ago, Lisa–being the kind and generous rock star that she is–offered the third ticket to me, indefinitely.  Her reasoning for sacrificing one of the coveted spots to a no-name gal east of the Gorge?  She knew I liked to read, and she thought that I’d enjoy it.  That’s all; that’s the way warm and thoughtful Lisa thinks.  So thanks to her, I get to bypass the long waiting list and high ticket price and, three days each year, I get to shimmy over to downtown Portland to sit in a beautiful ballroom, eat wonderful food, meet wonderful people, and listen to various New York Times bestselling authors talk about life as a writer.  If you think it sounds like a Pretentious Wannabe’s Dream Come True, you are absolutely right.  I gulp down this opportunity like a Tri-Citian does her Slurpees and let me tell you, even the Cherry Fanta doesn’t go down as smooth.  Bella Voce is interesting and exciting and genteel.  It’s enough to make a housewife smile.

Here’s me and my tablemate, Judi, after listening to Elizabeth Berg last year, who was charming and funny and really needs to be My New Best Friend.  (If only I could make her see.)  I have no photos with Lisa, as she is always behind the camera in her signature self-deprecation, making sure everyone else looks great and has fun.  I, on the other hand, will grasp at any photographic evidence of me doing Something Cool.  (I fear this speaks volumes about my insecurities, but…whatev.  Take the picture, get the flowers in it.)

Some of the other writers who’ve come are Lisa See, Ivan Doig, Anita ShreveCheryl Strand (I was glad to miss that one; email me if you want to know why), Heidi Durrow and, believe it or not, the great Ann Patchett.  (And, believe it or not, I missed the great Ann Patchett because my darling baby sister decided to go and have a darling baby of her own that week and, in spite of myself, I was compelled to go visit said baby and said sister.  Hmph.  Still kinda mad about it.)  (But the baby was darling.  I guess.)

So last week Bella Voce rolled around again, and brought with it the fantastic and formidable Rebecca Skloot, who’s won (and is probably still winning) countless awards for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Have you read it?  It’s fab.  Beefy and fascinating and fab.  My science-minded friends were enraptured; I was ardently impressed.  This writer knows her stuff.  I was determined to meet her afterward, if only for the purpose of bragging about it on this blog.  (See pp. 2, insecurities.)

As soon as Ms. Skloot left the stage and the lights went up, I beelined to where she stood talking with some bigwigs and slowed down to make my approach seem casual.  Their backs were all turned to me, however, and in a series of unfortunate events, the group began walking away from me just as I was walking toward them, oblivious (I hoped) to my lingering presence several paces behind.  An awkward moment ensued as I quickened my pace a little, trying to catch up with Rebecca and Friends, all of whom were walking–deliberately, it seemed–faster than I could follow, still with their backs turned to me, still ignoring my desperate attempt to infiltrate their clique.  Flashbacks from middle school nearly thwarted my mission, but I quickly refocused and continued stalking my prey.  I followed Rebecca silently and shamelessly all the way across the ballroom, until she found a seat behind a draped table with a long line forming in front of it for book signings.  Despite the time I felt we’d already spent together, I had no choice but to redirect my course to the back of the line, even though I was certain none of the ladies in front of me had hunted down Rebecca with the devotion I had.  But in the spirit of the event, I chose Graciousness and quietly waited my turn.  When it came, I worked up the courage to ask for a picture with her.  She agreed and her assistant snapped this dark, terrible shot.  I wish I could say it was not another awkward moment, but it was.  I can’t put my finger on why.  I just felt like a jack-a.

Turns out I looked like one too.  Please forgive the pooch.  I’m blaming winter, the camera angle, and forgetting to wear my Spanx that day.  I am not blaming my own perpetual lack of self-control, thankyouverymuch.  (And those are boots, not my calves!  Please be aware.)  It took a lot of nerve for me to post this pic, and I see my willingness to do so as a mark of emotional growth (read:  giving up the fight.)

Rebecca was polite enough, but I think maybe I’m just getting too old to be a groupie.  Come to think of it, if chasing down writers (instead of a band) for a photo that will impress no one (instead of everyone) causes you to call yourself a “groupie,” then you are definitely too old to be classified as one–no maybe about it.  But hey: I figure with this photo I’ve significantly raised my Cool Barometer–which hasn’t budged since 1995 when I married an engineer–and that’s what it’s really all about.  Afterward, I tempered my awkward Rebecca sighting with a little retail therapy downtown (new Spanx and a new skirt were first to be purchased), and that put all things aright.  And I still had a blast at this event, and I still think Lisa hangs the moon, and I still can’t wait for the next one in May.

And can you guess whose coming to lunch in May?  Leave your answer in the comment section; whoever guesses correctly gets a free copy of his (hint!) book.  I haven’t read it yet so I make no claims about the content, but let’s just say that it’s a runaway bestseller with a pretty, pretty cover.  And a title that every middle-aged woman can relate to.  In fact, so excited am I about this book, that whoever wins it will also receive a framed 16×20 picture of me, Rebecca, and my gut.  Just to sweeten the deal–and remind you who your Great Spanxless Benefactress is.