27 October 2014

Making Memories

The 13th Gift Book Club Banner FL2W

***This post was inspired by The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith, a memoir about how random acts of kindness transformed her family's bereavement and grief during the holidays.  Join From Left to Write  on October 28th as we discuss The 13th Gift. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.***There is so much pressure surrounding the holidays.
So much pressure to get just the right gift, and present it in just the right way, and make just the right meal and set just the right table.
I'm guilty of it on occasion, I'll admit it; getting caught up in the outward appearance angle of Christmas.  Wanting to make sure that the kids are appropriately "wowed" when they come barreling down the stairs in the morning.  Wanting to make each Christmas better than the last.  Wanting to make special memories.
I've never had to try to make Christmas feel normal for my kids just a couple of short months after the sudden and unexpected death of their father.  I do, however, remember distinctly one Christmas when I wanted nothing more than to pull the covers over my head and not come out till mid-January. It was the year my marriage very nearly fell apart, right around Thanksgiving. Going to family dinners and big festive holiday parties was miserable; who wants to listen to a tale of marital woe and dry tears when everyone else is merry and bright? Our kids were little; too little to understand what was going on and why Mommy and Daddy were sad all the time, and still little enough to need the magic and the wonder of Santa Claus.
My sister would call and ask if I had gotten one of the boys this toy or that toy; she had seen it on sale and just picked it up because she thought they'd love it.  I finally had to ask her to stop shopping so I could have something left to give my kids.  If only I could make myself go out and get in the damned holiday mood! It was a tense and awkward holiday and as much as Captain America and I tried to act as if nothing was wrong, it was painfully obvious to everyone around us, that something was indeed, terribly wrong.
The holidays came and went, the kids got gifts they loved, and the storm in our marriage passed in time.  But I'll never forget how much pressure I felt to make everything wonderful, when all I wanted to do was hide from the world and even from my own family.
I don't know if I can really say I enjoyed reading this book, because it is, in some ways, a very sad story.  It brought tears to my eyes, and it made me want to hug the whole family, really hard. But I guess I'd have to say I did enjoy it, in a sense. In spite of its sadness, though, it is a hopeful story.  There ARE kind people out there, who WILL go out of their way to ease someone else's pain, and do for a hurting person what they can't do for themselves yet. It's hopeful because although Joanne really didn't want anything to do with the anonymous gifts at the outset, they reached her anyway. It gave me hope that God does indeed send angels when we need them.  In a funny coincidence, I live very near to where this story took place, and every street name, every town name, every store and school mentioned was like chatting with a neighbor.  In a way, it was comforting to know that such a hopeful story happened right here in my neck of the woods.
Memories aren't just made when the table looks like a magazine spread and the gifts are piled high.  Memories are made from being with the people you love, and memories are made even when the holiday spirit seems to have skipped your house, and you don't want to play.  Treasure those moments anyway, because you're still making memories.  Just ask Joanne's family.  

08 October 2014

Who Do You Want Me To Be?

 ***This post was inspired by 
by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, 
where he analyzes online date to find out that people 
who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date.  
Join From Left to Write on October 9th
as we discuss Dataclysm.  As a member, I received a copy 
of the book for review purposes.*** 

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

I love it for all the same reasons everyone else does: keeping in touch with family and friends, seeing pictures of them and their families, getting recipes and decorating ideas, all the hilarious memes; you know, the same reasons that everyone loves social media. I hate social media because it can swallow an entire day whole if I let it. I allow myself to get sucked into political debates (I am fascinated by politics and could talk all day) or get into conversations or I go on Pinterest to find an idea for a kids' Halloween party.  The next thing I know, it's 5:30 and little people want to be fed. 

And I will say that ten or twelve years ago, I might have thought it ridiculous that you can meet people online and develop real and lasting friendships, but I am singing a different tune 
today.  I have actually met some really great people online who have become friends There are message boards, forums, chat rooms, comment sections on blogs, and mobile apps for discussing everything from parenting to politics, and from airline travel to dog grooming. I, like millions of others, have jumped into the data pool.

This past summer, my husband, kids and I went on vacation with some members of a group of people I'd met via Facebook.  We all met and shared a cabin for a long weekend and it was really a great time.
Everyone was EXACTLY who they had portrayed themselves to be on Facebook. 

And therein lies the potential problem with making friends online; how do you know that they are who they say they are? 

I have a group of moms that I have known online for nearly eleven years. We met in a parenting/pregnancy forum and we all have kids born in a particular month and year. I have met one of them in person, but the rest I have not.  We share pictures of our kids and our families and ourselves.  There is one in the group though, I have never seen a picture of her.  I believe she is who she says she is, but I have to admit I wonder sometimes. 

My kids are old enough now to have an online presence and it worries me greatly.  I know that this is the world they inhabit; they need to learn to navigate it safely and wisely.  We talk about online safety, and I demand their passcodes and their passwords. I follow them on Instagram and I read their emails. I tell them very bluntly upfront, upon receipt of an iPod or a tablet or any other Internet access device, that they have ZERO expectation of privacy, and if I catch them lying or hiding, their access will 
be closed down. I sometimes shake my head at the things they post; it's silly and not really very funny to me, but it sure is to them.  Some of it has been borderline inappropriate.  I've seen their friends posting completely inappropriate things, and I have talked to them about them.  In one case, the kid in question has been friends with my boys, literally since they were babies, and I reached out to him via text message and talked to him about what I saw on his Instagram wall. 

I sat my kids down and showed them videos about how online predators seek out and victimize kids who don't know better or who think they know who they are talking to.  At the end of one of the videos, my oldest son turned to me and said, "I don't think I want a Facebook account anymore." Yay technology! 

I'd like to think that most of us social media users are honest and legitimate; we are who we say we are.  We're on Facebook to see pictures of our kids and grandkids that live far away, or to find old high school friends. But I have to be realistic too; not everyone is being upfront.  

If I meet people on Facebook that I don't know from Adam and then take my family out of state to meet them for a vacation, how can I tell my kids that the Internet is dangerous and they don't need to be on Facebook anyway? It's a fine line to walk; helping them learn to navigate their virtual world (even though it scares me sometimes) or shielding them from it completely, for their "safety" and to their detriment. 

Parents have always struggled with how much rope to give their kids as they grow toward adulthood.  The online world can be a lot of fun a lot of the time, but it's those unanswerable questions that make me not want to give my kids much freedom: who are these people that "like" your post?  Who are these "followers" you have?  How do you know who they really are?  Who do they want you to be?  

Are your kids online?  How much freedom do they have?