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The Garden that Grew Guilty Flowers

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“I wonder what is at the root of your guilt… Serene?”

That was the question that was posed to me one Monday morning during an hour long conversation with a woman at my job. It was an impromptu conversation that came about from me just passing her office to say “good morning”. This woman happens to be a mom and a very spiritual person, so I always enjoy my encounters with her. However, this particular morning, my brief hello turned into an insightful conversation that left me in tears, with a new life-changing question to reflect upon: “I wonder what’s at the root of your guilt…Serene?”. I don’t even know how we got to the point where the conversation took such a thought provoking turn, but before I knew it, we were discussing our outlook on motherhood, work, and self care. It may have begun with the question, “How was your weekend?”, my simple response of “Oh, we went to church and I did the usual: Laundry, food shopping, etc”, somehow led to us both discussing the “Sunday Night Mommy Monster” that was all too familiar to us both. That monster, she came out each weekend due to the anxiety of only having two days to reset our homes for the week to come.

Until this conversation, I thought that I was the only one who transformed into that green creature with the purple ripped shorts around 6pm every Sunday.

I thought I was the only one whose family feel victim to the “Hulk Smash”, once she realized that she was not going to accomplish everything on her weekend-to-do-list. I thought I was the only one who single-handedly destroyed any trace of a great weekend, as I complained about failing to accomplish the goals of the weekend. I wasn’t the only one and this Monday morning conversation opened my eyes to that.

Then our conversation took another turn and, I was telling her about my insane need to sit at my desk all day at work, to complete a daily to do list that was longer than any human, or small team of humans could complete in a 7 hour work day. I revealed to her how hard it was for me to take a lunch break each day because I felt bad about abandoning my work for something as trivial as eating. She shared with me the struggle she once had with leaving the office on time to get home to her family. This made me realize that if it wasn’t for the fact that I have to pick my little girl up from the day care at 5:45pm each day, I probably would stay at work until the building closed. She explained how well she understood my struggles, because she had once battled with similar issues, but she went on to share how she had taken a stand against being a slave to her work and that she had even kicked the habit of coming to work on the weekends. She even shared how she had come to realize that it was so important to take care of herself and do the things that she enjoyed. She explained how by doing those things she had discovered a peace of mind that she had not known before.

I stood there looking at her with admiration, as my mind entertained all the things in life that I would love to do just for the sheer enjoyment.

I thought about how wonderful it would be to leave work while it was still light outside. I thought about how wonderful it would be to eat lunch without worrying about getting spaghetti sauce on the keyboard as I answered my work emails. I thought about watching a movie on a Sunday night with my family so that we can all feel relaxed before the new week begins.

Just as I started to feel comforted by all these thoughts, this awful feeling from the pit of my stomach began to rise up and dampen my whole mood. “I would feel so guilty doing many of the things that I would like to do because I would feel like I’m abandoning my responsibilities” I told her.

Her response was a sympathetic tilt of her head, as she looked at me and asked, “I wonder what’s at the root of that guilt? That’s the real question, Serene”.

She said those words to me.
We exchanged a few more words, she passed me a tissue for my tears, she gave me a few words of inspiration to meditate upon, and I went on to start my day of work. But that entire day, that entire night, that entire week I kept replaying that question over and over in my mind. What was at the root of my guilt? The funny thing about that question is that I actually knew the answer. Deep, deep, down inside I always knew the answer, but the voice was so small that as it whispered the answer, I always drowned it out by constantly keeping myself busy. Now that I was actually thinking about the question, the answer seemed to grow louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it.

At the root of my guilt, there was my idea of perfection. My idea that a perfect mom makes sure that the kids have everything they need and most of the things they want, a perfect wife gives her husband the time, the attention, the affection, the support that he needs at all times, the perfect daughter fits the mold that her mom intended for her to be. The perfect director runs her program in a way that pleases all her staff, all the parents, and keeps the company CEO pleased at all times with her work. The perfect friend calls her girlfriend multiple times a week to laugh and cry about life. And the perfect Christian woman never complains while achieving all of these goals. That was at the root of my everyday belief. I believed it because I thought this was how I was suppose to operate based on the responsibilities that were given to me.
However, the thing that stemmed from that root was disappointment in myself for falling short of that belief. At times, my children would want something that I couldn’t give them and on those occasions, I’d think: I failed them. At times my husband would want intimate time with me but I’d be striving to be the perfect director, so I’d be doing work in our bed, all the while thinking: I failed my husband. At work, teachers would complain, budgets would go off track, and I’d think, I’m not working hard enough: I failed as a director. My mother and I would argue over the simplest things and I’d think: I failed as a daughter. I’m not hanging out with my friends cause I can’t find the time: I failed as a friend. Then to top it all off, many days as I worked to achieve this perfection, I’d grow tired and weary, I’d complain and I’d think: AND I failed as a Christian.

Ideas of perfection at the root, thinking I failed everything at the stem. All that blossoms from this kind of plant is GUILT! And there it was!!!

My epiphany!! I discovered the root, I had figured out why my guilt had grown and why it was choking me so much. I had allowed the garden, that is my mind, to be inhabited by weeds. I had watered roots that needed to be pulled before they had a chance to flourish. Then the thought that I failed as a gardener started to cross my mind as well, until I quickly recognized what was happening again. I snapped that thought out my head. I told myself, I must be thankful for the revelation that I finally received and now I had to do something about. It was time to take back the garden of my mind. I declared from that day moving forward, I was going to pull every single weed that disguised itself as a precious flower.
And this is where I am in my life right now. I’m gardening. I’m detecting the weeds of my mind. I’m discovering that some of them are so big, they are so hard to pull, but I’m pulling. I’m clawing at them. It’s a messy job, but I know that I must do this. Not for my family, not for my friends, not for my job, not for my mother, not for husband. FOR MYSELF!!

Talk to you soon,
Serene “Sweetpea” Stevens

Share with me: What’s growing in the garden that is your mind? How are you nurturing it each day?


 

Pot of Sweet Peas

Homework Personalities

When my eldest son, Papi became a 2nd grader, it was my first introduction into the world of being a parent of a kid who now had homework. I don’t know when it happened exactly but somewhere around the time that I had two school aged children with homework, I actually became as sick of homework as my boys were. Between their work load and the need for me to be the “homework police”, monitoring the assignments and ensuring their completion, there was a time when I felt like homework became a bigger burden on me than it was helpful for them and furthermore, it started to become more stressful than anything, which was not the experience that I wanted for any of us.

One evening, last year while helping the boys do homework, I found myself losing my last bit of patience. Instead of working, the boys were talking to each other, losing all kinds of focus. No one could find a pencil although I purchased over 150 pencils at the beginning of the school year. And my youngest son kept shifting in his chair because he just “couldn’t get comfortable”. All the while, I was preparing dinner, watching the time slowly move into the hour that baths were suppose to begin and it looked like no one was close to finishing homework because they just couldn’t get it together.

That night I became angry with my children which manifested into me turning into the HULK, banging on the table and yelling “GET IT TOGETHER! HOMEWORK TIME IS SERIOUS TIME!” and a few additional threats to cease all fun activities in the home for the next 2 months.

This resulted in my then 5 year old, crying and not being able to focus anyway. I then became angry with every teacher who ever assigned homework, including myself in my classroom days. “Don’t teachers know that parents can’t spend ALL NIGHT dealing with homework? What is wrong with them!!” Of course, I know that this was not rationale thinking but I had to be angry at someone at that moment. I can’t remember how that night even ended or if homework even got completed but I know that that evening was pivotal for me.
Since that night, I had to figure out a way to take some of the stress off the homework process for everyone’s sake.
Though in theory it seemed like a good idea to have both of the boys at the dining room table, close to me in the kitchen while they worked, it was not conducive for them to be next to one another. So the first plan of action was to separate them. Each child in his own space of choice to work. Then I had to accept the fact that my youngest son was uncomfortable in the chairs and did not work best sitting with his butt in the chair, feet on the floor, facing forward , which I thought was key to creating a studious little intellect. When I took out the time to listen to what he needed, I realized that it worked better for him to lay belly down in the middle of a room with his books and papers lying beside him. He just thinks better that way and still does 4 years later. Now, figuring out exactly what my oldest son needed to work best was not a challenge for me as much as accepting what he needed was. I grew up learning that your work space should be quiet so that you could focus and tune out distractions, which is why to this very day, I can’t stay focused if any noise enters my work space. So when my son asked to play music while doing homework, I couldn’t fathom how he was going to also concentrate so I fought the idea for awhile. But he kept insisting “Mom, I can’t think while its this quiet!”, he’d say. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that. But finally one day, I did and let him work with his music of choice. And surprisingly he was able to remain seated and quiet for the whole hour plus that he worked on his homework.
Now I am not saying that all of these homework changes made homework time a breeze in my household, but coupling these “newfound” practices with a pre-homework snack and at least an hour to unwind before beginning homework definitely makes for a less tense home during the week.
My lesson in all of this: Sometimes your children’s methods of doing things are not your own nor are their methods how you envision things being able to work out, but sometimes for the sake of learning something new and making life a bit easier, parents should listen to what their children are asking for. They might just know what they need for themselves.

Talk to you soon,
Serene

Share with me: What are/were some of your best homework time practices in your household?

Pot of Sweet Peas

To Spank or Not to Spank

“It’s time to start popping her hands” a family member said to me as they watched my one-year old, Bean, walking around touching everything she could reach. My response, which is my go-to response when I don’t agree with a suggestion, was to stay completely silent. But in mind, an entire monologue was beginning to form.

Why, I thought, should I begin popping her hands because she is exploring a world she has never seen? Why should I begin to physically inflict pain on her or just “shock her slightly” because her curiosity is at an all time high? Then I began to think about the reasons that parents “pop, spank, hit, beat” their children. The reasons that I was at the receiving end of a spanking when I was a child, the reasons why my own children have gotten popped, and the reasons why I have seen other children be hit by their parents.

What internal feeling triggered that response? Was there an internal feeling at all or was it all impulse?

(And before we move on, I must clarify that I am not talking about hitting and leaving a mark. I’m not talking about anything that’s equivalent to a story on the channel 11 news. Those situations have a category of their own and I’m not going to go there right now). But moving on….

I have spoken to many parents and it’s very interesting to hear the different reasons that parents use to justify the implementation of spanking. The reasons span from “to show my child that I am in charge”, “because my child made me upset”, “to teach my child a lesson”, “to make sure my child listens”, “because I got hit as a child and I turned out great” and my favorite, “ain’t nobody got time for all that talking!” There are many reasons that people have for this parenting method and while I don’t judge anyone’s decision, I do have to play devil’s advocate for a second when I ask, “what’s the message that a parent is conveying when they spank their child?” When you pop your child out of anger, does it say that when you are feeling angry, you can inflict pain? When you hit to show dominance, does it convey the message that a child should stay in a submissive state? When a parent hits to make a child listen, is that showing the most effective way of “speaking”? And when you do it because it was how you were raised, what is it saying for our ability to evolve? I am definitely not saying that spanking is wrong and I’m also not saying that it’s right. As I said before, there is no judgement attached. But as an educator, I’ve always found it interesting that I could control a classroom of 18- 4 year olds who I am in charge of for 8 hours a day and I never ever think to lay a hand on them. And believe me they are not always compliant. So I have always struggled with the justification of hitting my own children who I’ve been responsible for  since conception.

As an African-American mother the concept of spanking my children seems to be something that is suppose to be hard-wired into my DNA. It’s “Spare the rod, spoil the child”, right?

I’ve been in the presence of family members who have looked at me like I should turn in my “black card” when I did not opt to hit my children for wrongdoing. And they look at me as if to say “poor, naive Serene. You’ll be sorry you didn’t pop his behind”.
Sure, I know that popping would get the trick done real quick. After all, it is much more time consuming for me to tell my one-year old that the stove is “hot” with a stern voice as I move her away. It does take more time to have a conversation with my pre-teen about the expectations of greatness that we have for him, because we know his full potential, although his grades for the marking period are sub par. And when my 9 year old yells, “I hate you” to his older brother mid-argument, instead of me slapping him in the mouth for using such a horrible word, it is definitely more time consuming to explain to him the true meaning of the word “hate” and teach him other words that he could use to express how his “pain in the butt” brother is making him feel at that moment.
I know all of these things take up more time, but isn’t that what parenting is? Teaching your child acceptable behavior? Teaching them about the dangers in life and why to avoid them? Teaching them why they should strive for greatness and teaching them how to effectively express themselves so that they are understood?
Does a spanking achieve these goals? I am not sure. We are still in the process of raising our children and can’t yet determine if our parenting methods will result in “perfect children” or totally mess them up as adults. I guess that’s also what parenting is all about. Giving it your all, adjusting and readjusting your parenting methods in the hopes that your children will turn out to the best adults that they can be.

Talk to you soon,

Serene

Share with me: What message do you think spanking sends? Can that same message be sent in another way?

Pot of Sweet Peas

All’s Fair in Love and Basketball

“You are off the team!” I shouted through clenched teeth. That was the last thing I said before he walked out the door. Well, technically the last thing I said was “I love you” because you should never depart from a loved one without saying you love them. But right before that, “You are off the team!”, was what I said to my 12 year old son “Papi” as he raced out of the door 15 minutes late. Although he had gotten up on time, the flow of the morning routine came to a screeching halt when Papi remembered that he had an assignment that was due in class that morning. And although he had done the assignment, he had not printed it out yet nor did he know where his USB was located In order to print out the assignment. But the icing on the cake was that this was a Monday morning so he had all weekend to ensure that his work was printed and ready to go. But no, that’s not how that went down AT ALL.

As I stood there watching him trying to place blame on everyone else for why he would not have his work turned in, I could no longer contain my disappointment, and so it erupted in five words, “You-Are-Off-The-Team!”

And in that instant the look in his eyes told me that I had just ruined his entire world. My son, the self-declared future NBA player who eats, sleeps, breathes basketball was beyond through with me. But in the interest of time, I ushered him out of the house, told him I loved him and closed the door behind him.
And then I cried.

But only for a minute. You see, I didn’t want to pull him off the team but it had to be done. For 4 months I watched as Papi religiously practiced jump shots, lay-ups, and drills. I listened as he told me the stats on all the latest NBA players, and I swelled with pride as he suited up in uniform and walked onto the court, game after game, to do what I think he is amazing at doing. But for those same 4 months I also watched as he is presented sub-par homework to his teachers, I listened as he gave me excuse after excuse as to why he accidentally left in his homework assignment in his school locker, and I hung my head in disappointment as his teachers explained to my hubby and I that Papi was more than capable but just not willing to apply himself. So yes, I did cry. But only for a minute, because while I don’t want to rob him of his happiness, I also have been charged with the responsibility of being his parent. And as his parent, one of my jobs is to prepare him for life, while of course, nurturing all of the things that I see inside of him. I also have to help him understand the concept of priorities.
I’ve never played college basketball a day in my life, but I have heard that in college, if you don’t stay on top of your grades, then you don’t play ball. Now, I don’t know how true that is (I’m sure I could easily research that), but I am going to go with that concept and consider myself to be one of his “coaches” (his dad being the other, of course). He didn’t produce the grades so I had to bench him. Not forever, but until he puts forth the same effort academically as he does in the area of sports.
And I am happy to report that all of this took place over a month ago and already the change in Papi’s work habits have changed drastically. He wants to get back on that team so he is doing what I knew he could do all along. He’s still not happy with me at all and he tells me every chance he gets. But hey, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

So do I regret my decision to pull him off the team?? Heck no!
“You are off the team!” Yup that’s right, I said it. But let’s not forget that I also said “I love you” and I truly do, cause if it were not for love, I would not have done what I had to do.

Talk to you soon-Serene

Share with me: Can you recall a time that you as a parent OR when your own parent had to go to what seemed like “drastic measures” to teach a lesson. Do you think it was worth it?

Pot of Sweet Peas

The Most Important Job in the World

Last night I was so excited about the thought of going to bed early.  The weekend had been filled with such excitement that it threw everyone off schedule. Last night was to be the night that I reset my body and get the rest that it had longed for over the past couple of days. I did my regularly scheduled nightly routines, including preparing Lylo’s bottles, washing the dishes, and preparing myself for the next day.  However, you should know where this is going; things did not work out quite the way that I envisioned.  Shortly after putting Little Lylo to bed, I looked out into the backyard only to see my two boys engaging in a quarrel that I had to interfere in immediately.  Now, I understand that sibling rivalry will happen, however, there are certain activities and behaviors that I will not accept from my children.  I will spare you the details of everything that I witnessed, but let’s just say I thought that the particular behavior that I witnessed warranted a conversation especially between me and my oldest son Papi. Once again, I won’t delve into the ins and outs of all that was said, but the gist of the conversation was that the expectation I have for Papi as an older brother is that he always has his brother’s best interest in mind.  I reminded him that our family is like a team, (I referenced a basketball team in particular, as that is what he is most familiar with) and as a team, we have to make sure our teammates always feel supported and encouraged. An hour and a half later Papi seemed to understand where I was coming from which was a definite positive, but when I looked at the clock it was much later than I wanted to climb into bed.

The next morning, as I sat at my office desk, one of my co-workers inquired about why I was so tired.  After explaining to her in deeper details, the events that took place the night before, she responded, in a genuinely surprised manner I love that you take out the time to really talk to your children.  While I thanked her for her compliment, I replied quickly, in the next breath, “Of course, that’s my job”.  And when I thought more intently about the matter I concluded that no matter what work I’ve done all day or how long my to-do list grows, my most important obligation is to my children and more importantly the most crucial job that I have is to raise children to be grown-ups who have goals, morals, values, and respect for others.  Why is this an important job? Well, because the children I raise today will be the adults that impact society tomorrow.  I understand that everything that I pour into my children will be exactly what comes out of them in the future. Being a parent is serious business and it is a job not to be taken lightly. So no matter how tired I am, I have to take out the time to do my job effectively.  I couldn’t call myself a teacher if I didn’t take advantage of the teachable moments especially when it comes to teaching the students that were given to me for life.

Enjoy!

Share with me: What “teachable moment” conversation have you had with your children? 

Pot of Sweet Peas

The Writing’s on the Wall

When my boys were very little, they loved to write on everything besides the paper I provided them with.  No matter how many times I stressed to them that we only write on paper, I would find stray marker scribbles on the wall.  I remember speaking to many parents and discovering that I was not the only one with this issue.  Different parents came from different schools of thought.  There was the parent that refused to give their children writing utensils while they were in the house.  Those parents left writing opportunities for mommy and me classes, and the mess could be avoided at home. Then there was the mom far on the other end of the spectrum, who just threw her hands up, saying “Who cares if they write on the walls. We will just cover it with paint…one day”.  I’ve actually visited that mom’s home and literally, there was art on the actual walls like the living room was one big canvas.  Then of course, there was the mom right in the middle of the spectrum who purchased an easel and was committed to repeatedly reminding her child to only draw on the paper. 

While there is nothing wrong with any of these approaches, I decided to add another option to the list for my boys.  I decided that two can play this game. 

If it was going to be inevitable that they write on the walls, then I was going to make sure that the walls were covered with paper.  This way, we both win.  

I purchased a big roll of butcher paper which can be found at an art store or even a hardware store.  Then in the hallway of our apartment, I taped a long sheet of paper on each side of the wall. So there was 6 feet of paper to the left and to right of us when we walked down the hall.  Then I placed all crayons and markers in a bucket on the floor and let the boys go to work.  They absolutely loved it!! I also had an appreciation for their art work, which is why I left the papers hanging in the hall for a week or two at a time.  Also, I found that they would come back to the papers throughout the week and add to it.  There was so much paper for them to cover, it always kept them busy. 

Clean up was easy as pie.  When we were going to have adult company that we actually wanted to impress (yeah right), we would simply peel the paper off the walls, roll it up and put it to the side and Viola!! Clean walls. 

Happy Children, Happy Mom. 

Talk to you soon!

Share with me: What battles have you given up fighting with your children and just decided to meet them halfway? 

 

Pot of Sweet Peas

The Sock Bag

My children, like many others, are not very good at keeping their socks together.  I lay out a matching pair of socks for them, they put on a matching pair of socks, and at bath time they take off a pair of matching socks. But somewhere between them taking off the matching pair of socks and the socks being dried after washing, a pair of socks becomes a single sock with no match.  I have told my children countless times that it is important that they put their socks together after they take them off.   I’ve taken out the time to show them how to roll the socks together once they have taken them off and I’ve even threatened to use their own money to purchase their own socks because I was just so fed up with the depletion of socks and money for socks.  But alas, all my efforts have been to no avail.  I buy a pack of six socks (that’s 12 socks total), and by the end of the month we end up with…….well….. less than 12 socks total. It’s always an odd number of socks.  I know that I am not the only one… 

So when life gives you wash cycles of single socks, make a sock bag!

I came up with the idea of the sock bag a few years back and it has revolutionized the single sock epidemic. Here’s how it works: After a load of laundry is complete and the pairs of socks are put together, there are ALWAYS socks without a match.  Those single socks are placed in the sock bag. Then when I wash another load in a week or so, when there are single socks remaining once again, I then put those in the sock bag.  After a few rounds of laundry, eventually what happens when I glance in the sock bag is that the once single sock and it’s match are reunited and it feels so good.  But what about the socks that never finds their match again, you ask? Well… those particular socks become house socks which are great for my children who hate to wear slippers in the house during the winter months. Whenever the house gets a little cool I tell them to go in the sock bag and put on some socks. Sure, they are wearing socks that don’t match but who cares! Their feet are warm, I don’t have to keep saying “put your slippers on!”, and the socks get some use even if it’s not quite the way the manufacturer intended. 

Oh well, it works for us *smiles and shrugs shoulders.

Talk to you soon!

Share with me: What creative ways have to you turned a negative into a positive as it relates to dealing with your children?