We’re Teaching How to Think, Not What to Think

The school year has started and like many kids in our COVID-times, our daughter is enrolled in virtual school here at home. What she hadn’t anticipated was that we were going to take an active role in teaching her about things outside of her daily school curriculum. Some of these things include learning about history—with a focus currently on Florida’s history. We plan to read about and visit many landmarks and historical sites within a day’s drive. She has participated in a webinar on finances now that she has her own bank account. She will learn how to budget her money and keep track of her spending and saving. We have also added the Woman’s Movement given it’s the 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment. It’s important that she understand how far her gender has come. I want her to have an appreciation for the women who came before her and how they laid the foundation for future generations. They did this by pursuing not only what they wanted from life, but battled against those who saw to oppress them. 

We are currently reading And Yet They Persisted: How American Women Won The Right To Vote by Johanna Neuman.  We take about an hour of time together each night, taking turns reading and discussing things along the way. The writing is a bit advanced for a sixteen-year-old, so we utilize the dictionary frequently to ensure a clear definition of terms. I’ve come to realize that although I know the meaning of these words, sometimes I’m unable to clearly define them for her in a way she will understand. This is also where Michael comes in as he easily provides concise definitions and examples—he’s usually sitting off to the side listening as we read. Another thing we do is frequently pause to ensure our daughter understands the material. This takes up a lot of time, but it’s important for her to comprehend what she’s reading. Needless to say, we are all learning. 

Part of our learning experience is watching lectures—which we did today. The speaker was Johanna Neuman, who authored the book we’re reading. This creates an opportunity for discussion and better understanding of the points the writer is trying to make. Our daughter does seem to have an appreciation of the privileges and rights she enjoys because of the woman who came before her—more so now. Unlike her great-great-grandmother, she gets to have an education that includes more than learning to sew. She can be a pilot, a scientist, or even a president—of our country or of her own company.  One thing my daughter said today was her inability to comprehend how anyone can be sexist in this day and age—a frame of mind that would consider excluding women from what they want to do. I feel exactly the same and delighted she doesn’t feel like her possibilities are remotely limited.

She recognizes women are still working today toward total equality. She does, however, need to take a moment to process that when I started working in the business world back in the early 90s, I couldn’t wear pants to work. Women were only allowed to wear dresses or skirts—and required to wear pantyhose. My legs itch just thinking about it now. What’s also a challenge for her to understand—from both our reading and what she witnesses—is that there are some women who are good with the limitations a patriarchal society. They accept those rules and willingly play by them. The key point is for our daughter to appreciate that everyone should be free to live how they choose—even if she doesn’t agree.

In a world as diverse as ours, she has to accept that everyone will have a different perception of how life should be lived. Even those who grow up with the same parents have children with opposing views, so how can one expect the various cultures of our society to conform to one viewpoint? What we offer in our home is the right to discuss absolutely anything and learn from both sides of an argument. We want her to understand that ignorance of an opposing view is a sure way to lose a debate. The advantage to any discussion is knowing about all sides, not just what you believe. One must appreciate the complexities that create an individual’s point of view—whether that be upbringing, education, or experience. She must also be receptive to learning from others and find value in a difference of opinion.

In the end, she will have to decide for herself how she wants to live her life. She will discover on her own what causes she wants to fight for. Our job as parents is to ensure she is armed with a diverse education that will enable her with intelligent thought. This education includes the reality of the world she lives in and its history. 

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” 

― Margaret Mead

Asking A Teen If They Want Advice Is Just A Formality

It’s always amazing to me that children brought up in the same household can be so very different. They may have the same parents, same upbringing, and same opportunities—however, the outcome is anyone’s guess. We see the similarities in our kids—certain characteristics—but quite commonly, they each march to a different drummer. The question is how do you help each of them find their path in life?

I do not accept the philosophy of “You can be anything you want to be” that we all heard growing up. It’s really just something encouraging to tell kids. As they get older, however, we realize there are things they just can’t do. The key is that there is unlimited potential to try anything they want—but, they have to put in the work.

My children, two of which are technically adults, have vastly different capabilities. My middle child is the most social and can definitely read any room he enters. He is quick to assess a situation and knows where a conversation needs to go. He took a drastic step in joining the army, becoming an infantryman. This was surprising as he has a lackadaisical approach toward life. Joining the military was in opposition to his personality—however, he thrives on challenges. I was pleasantly surprised by his determination and so very proud of him. 

The oldest leaves me flummoxed. Although he is regimented and likes routine, the military would not necessarily be a good fit. He wouldn’t thrive in a demanding situation and is quick to shut down if challenged. Unlike his brother, he can’t easily read people and isn’t a social creature. Drawing inference from most situations is not in his wheelhouse. He doesn’t want to go to college, but has considered technical school. He has always liked the mechanics of things, but problem solving would be a challenge for him. Ultimately, he has to decide, but he hasn’t a clue of which direction to take—and I don’t know how to guide him.

The youngest is my most creative and has fabulous artistic talents. She has an interest in digital art and demonstrates she can succeed with what she creates on her iPad—as well as, traditional drawing on paper. She is also filled with an abundance of empathy for people and animals—fluctuating the idea of becoming a doctor, veterinarian, or teacher. She is still young enough to figure things out and surprisingly talking of being an airline pilot. I’m not sure where that came from, but I encourage her to see if it’s a fit.

All three seem to be resistant to parental advice unless they are the ones to ask—even then it’s iffy. The strength to resist choking them as they dismiss my advice is an acquired skill I’ve mastered over the years. I know they need to make their own decisions, doing what they feel is best. How else can they appreciate the success or failure? The problem is I don’t want them to fail more than they have to in order to learn. Naturally, I tell them I listened to my parents and followed all their advice. The laughter breaks the tension, but I do say I wished I had listened more.

The only thing for me to do is be available when they want to talk and use that opportunity to slip in any advice bottled up in my parental arsenal. I will still encourage my oldest to find his path in life—even if we don’t currently know what it is. In the end, all I can really do is introduce them to the world and let them make their own decisions.

Confessions of a Culinary Autocrat

Hello. My name is Desiree and I’m a Culinary Autocrat.

Let’s first define autocrat as I know it’s one of those words people think they know, but may not be sure. The purpose of this exercise is to bring awareness, as well as help those who are in denial to recognize it within themselves. 

Autocrat:  a person ruling with unlimited authority; one who has undisputed influence or power.

It took a hot minute to determine the exact noun I wanted to use to describe my condition. I first selected bully, but that is defined as someone who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker or in some way vulnerable. I am not cruel, insulting, or remotely threatening to anyone—it’s not in my nature. Dictator didn’t work as I’m not an oppressor—unless you ask any one of my kids, but that’s for another time. These two words alone are quite negative in connotation and I don’t think my condition warrants that kind of cynicism. 

The word autocrat seemed to fit perfectly as I do have unlimited authority in my kitchen and hold all of the power and influence as to what goes on there. Think of a chef in a restaurant. This person is in charge and decides on what is to be prepared and how. I am no different in my kitchen, but the concept changes when people around you aren’t employees. With that, I am using this post as a sort of confessional as I recognize that my autocratical ways may not always be positive. 

Herein lies my problem…I like things prepared or cooked in a certain way—my way. My argument is that I have been cooking for about twenty-five years and I think that gives me some authority. Right? I know I have made it far from fun to cook with me sometimes—okay, most of the time—but, there are methods to my madness. There are certain ways things are to be chopped, or diced, and there are specific ways ingredients have to be measured and prepared (see Alton Brown). There’s a science to the art of cooking and it ALWAYS matters how things are done.

I am confident in my abilities and know my limitations. I know I should use my powers for good and teach my teenagers, but I lose patience. I can show them how to use a knife, measure ingredients, and put everything together. The problem is that the next time they help, anything I’ve taught has vanished from their memory. I show them again—and again—and again. To watch them haphazardly pour milk into a measuring cup used for dry ingredients EVERY SINGLE TIME, rather than use one for liquids, makes me crazy.  Now I am done and my tone will discourage them from any future culinary exercises. However, I do need to ensure my kids know how to cook for themselves as they have to be comfortable in the kitchen, knowing all the tools to use, spices to add, and various ingredients that work well together.  Or, they grow up thinking it’s easier to open a box and just add water…with the wrong measuring cup, no less.

Now, cooking with your significant other not only shares responsibilities, but it’s an engaging way to bring you closer together. There are random conversations, laughter, and even some sensual taste-testing.  Michael and I have had some fabulous cooking sessions and it can, quite honestly, be very romantic. However, the days of us preparing meals together have been put on the back shelf—like some ingredient that is used on rare occasions, such as truffle oil or saffron. He knows how to cook and has prepared some delicious meals.  I have learned with him that I have to let go and let him prepare things as he wants. However, I find myself making little comments—not to insult but to suggest. At least that’s how I see it.

Now, cooking with your significant other not only shares responsibilities, but it’s an engaging way to bring you closer together. There are random conversations, laughter, and even some sensual taste-testing.  Michael and I have had some fabulous cooking sessions and it can, quite honestly, be very romantic. However, the days of us preparing meals together have been put on the back shelf—like some ingredient that is used on rare occasions, such as truffle oil or saffron. He knows how to cook and has prepared some delicious meals.  I have learned with him that I have to let go and let him prepare things as he wants. However, I find myself making little comments—not to insult but to suggest. At least that’s how I see it.

Things all came to head when he wanted to help and asked how I wanted some potatoes cut. They were going to be roasted in the oven, so it was important that they were all relatively the same in bite-size pieces to cook evenly. What started as a friendly argument over diced versus chopped turned into eerie silence in the kitchen.  I’m honestly not sure it was me being offensive or him being defensive—but, it’s been a while just the same. 

So, I find myself alone in the kitchen these days and I know it’s my fault. I have to let go my need to be in culinary control and allow my family to learn—just as I did (and still do). With Michael, I have to let him cook as he pleases, without my commentary (unless he asks, of course). I will add that I don’t complain about having to do all the cooking—the culinary autocrat in me is good with this. But, the kitchen being the most commonly used room in the house is a meeting place for families. I am exceedingly happy on those rare occasions everyone is home and standing around the counter as I cook—laughing and sharing stories. I even love it when just one person hangs out with me—until they ask to help.

I’m a work in progress. 

The Making of a Soldier’s Mom

We all know that mothers have an important job and we put in a lot time, work, and dedication. There are all kinds of mothers and everyone has one—it’s the most common denominator we all share. Being a mother of three has been a rollercoaster of a ride so far—thrilling, scary, and fun. Like with all parents, I want the best for my kids and hope they go off on their own one day to live happy, healthy lives. That time came for me last week with child #2—the first to fly from the nest. And just like the first day of kindergarten where mom is tearfully dropping their kid off at school, I tearfully did the same when my son left for the Army basic training. 

He swore in on October 1st with a ship date of November 13th. The excitement was overwhelming at first and then it turned to anxiety—but in a good way, if there is such a thing. I really only know what I’ve seen in movies and hearsay from others about boot camp. I understand the process of “breaking” the enlisted recruit and then building them back up again. This is why the process is tough and training can be grueling, but necessary nonetheless. However, this was MY son venturing into that atmosphere. The thought of breaking his spirit was distressing. The thought of breaking his bad habits…well, that didn’t worry me so much.

He is the one who could literally sleep all day and would now have to get up at 5 am. The one who would sleep on a bare mattress rather than put on sheets would now have to make his bed every single day. The one found in the kitchen quietly making a quesadilla at midnight would now have to eat when scheduled. He is the very one who averaged a thirty-minute saunter to a high school that was only a ten-minute walk away—and he will now be running miles. In short, whatever discipline is called for in basic training, he was the polar opposite. 

The remarkable thing is that he knew he needed the discipline and challenge. That alone makes me a very proud mom. He recognized the qualities of becoming a solder and what it would do for him. This was about realizing that life needs direction, even if you aren’t sure which way you’re going—you need to keep moving. He talked the talk all day long about his future, but now he was actually doing something about it.

It’s been a week since I said good-bye, with only a brief phone call to say he arrived safely. My thoughts are filled with how he’s adjusting to his new life, even though I understand he really hasn’t begun training yet. It’s the getting up and moving about with the rest of us day-walkers that he has to get accustomed to. And, he knows he will have to bury his sarcasm (yes, that’s from me), his smirk (probably from me too), and joking his way out of confrontation (yea, there’s a pattern here). For the most part, I can empathize with what he’s going through. The drill instructors do too, but they couldn’t care less about what his feelings are about getting up early or training—and they certainly don’t tolerate sassiness or dickering on how the day is structured. They have a job to do and know what it takes to get it done. They have a solder to make.

I have some basic training of my own to do during this time as I know my job parenting is done. I’ll always be his mother, but I understand that this is a new chapter in HIS life— and I will let him be the adult that he is. There is no need to interject my opinions and advice about his choices without him asking. I will be encouraging and listen with interest to what he’s willing to share. I will learn more about the intricate nature of the Army and all its terminology. And, I will write letters even though they will probably outnumber his ten-to-one. 

In short, I will be here knowing he is doing what he needs to do with his life. He knows he has my support, love, and encouragement—and care packages…the boy man is going to need his chocolate. 

HOOAH!