31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Son's Car Wreck Reminder Of Priorities

Single with Children: Car wreck is reminder of what's important

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/09/03

On a recent Friday, I had a couple of business appointments, but I ridiculously imagined I might actually get home before 6 o'clock. It was a very sunny, steamy late June afternoon, and the streets in the city where I live were clogged with more tourists than locals.

Of course I had my cell phone with me. It's an integral business tool, and it routinely rings upwards of 20-30 times a day. Most of the calls are of the five-minute variety, and none of them have ever made me stop in my tracks. At least none ever had until 5 p.m. June 27. That's when I got the "track stopping" call.

"Mom, I've been in an accident. I'm OK, but I think my car is totaled. Can you get here fast?" Every parent's worst nightmare. My 16-year-old was about three miles up the same road I was on.

I changed lanes in fast forward and realized I could hear my heart beating in my ears. Amazingly, I encountered only green lights and was at the scene of the accident within about five minutes.

There he was. Justin was pacing around what used to be his "dream car," having received it as a generous surprise gift from my parents May 6. It had carried him to school during those last few weeks; to the bowling alley countless times; to his first real job that he started just last week; and finally into the back of a truck with a bumper now locked underneath his.

This automotive object of his affection was a crumpled wreck. I quickly ascertained that everyone involved was fine. This was my primary concern, and I whispered a quick "thank you" to God as I tried to calm my son's nerves. What started as an accident could have ended in a tragedy in the blink of an eye. Mangled Mustang notwithstanding, I reminded my son that he had just experienced a miracle. Metal can be reshaped and replaced. Human life cannot.

My son also had the fortune of running into one of the nicest men in our town. Though he is in his mid-30's, it was clear he remembered what it was like to be my son's age and was much more concerned with Justin's emotional state than his own misshapen bumper. He couldn't have been kinder. Another blessing.

After the police arrived and the obligatory reports handled along with the exchange of insurance information, the tow truck arrived, and Justin emptied the car of his personal possessions. After shaking hands and thanking the man who also was involved in this incident, Justin and I drove toward home.

We learned that just 10 minutes after his accident, another one had occurred within two miles of where we were. Unfortunately one person involved lost so much more than a mere vehicle. She lost her life. This had a sobering effect on Justin and made both of us realize how truly blessed we had been on this 27th day of June.

I could tell that as much as he missed his car, Justin also understood how incredibly obscene it was to mourn the loss of a machine. That night we gave prayers of thanksgiving for the fact that no injuries occurred in his close call. We also sent up prayers for a family who now would have to grapple with the loss of a loved one that no insurance company can ever compensate for or replace.

Even though I wish this car accident had never happened, I see changes in Justin. A little bit of that 16-year-old invincibility has been eroded. He has talked about how he might feel a little fear when he gets behind the wheel of a car again.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson of all is the realization that life is a very fragile thing. We were both reminded of how important it is to see the blessings and miracles hidden in the most unlikely of places and situations.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Chidlren: You Know More Than You May Think

Single with Children: Parenting doesn't get easier, just less scary

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 10/22/03

A few days ago, my daughter, Katie, found some "mystery" rolls of film. In other words, we had no idea what was on them. She dropped them off at the drugstore and about an hour later brought them home. We were surprised to find two sets of prints taken about five years ago.

As each of us looked at the photos, we studied the images and laughed at how much had changed in a few short years. Justin was now nearly a foot taller than when those pictures were snapped. Katie had blossomed from a small, serious-looking freshman into a confidant young woman who lives in her own apartment.

My mind went back to that time in our lives. I remembered tiny details that could never be captured on a roll of film. Back then, my son was in the middle of middle school, not an easy age for anyone. I vividly recalled wondering if I was doing OK as a fairly "green" single parent. The task before me felt huge. It's a good thing I hadn't looked ahead and wondered how I'd handle his driving. Sometimes it's a good thing to stay in the present and not project.

What stood out most for me was how young and innocent my son looked. I remembered worrying that I might let him down at some pivotal developmental point that could quite possibly send him into years of therapy. I also remembered how much I regretted buying him, at a particularly weak moment, that pair of pet chinchillas.

Last night, after everyone had turned in, I sat down with a huge mug of tea and looked at those prints again. I contrasted where we had been back then with where we are today. All the feelings and emotions intertwined with the corresponding memories came flooding back. The fun, the fear of giving consent when it should be declined (and vice versa), and juggling the responsibilities that confront us at every single turn on any given day. I found myself wishing that Justin could still be completely amused by a pair of soft, fuzzy rodents instead of the car he is either driving or washing. Five years ago, my biggest decisions involved things like whether to allow my son to buy a BB gun, give the OK for him to invite five of his favorite friends for a sleepover or upgrading his game system. These days, even though he's infinitely more independent, the stakes feel much higher.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend who had just reached her one-year mark of being the parent-in-charge. Though her kids aren't yet teenagers, the challenges she wrote about were instantly recognizable. She spoke of how some of the initial terror had eased but confessed to feeling more confused than not most of the time. "Does it ever get easier?" she asked.

When I sat down to reply, I thought about those precious photographs that surfaced yesterday. Of course, I told her it sounded as if she was doing a great job, because it really did. As for feeling confused, well, if anyone has the answer to that one, let me know.

The question of "Does it ever get any easier?" is one I mulled over and probably wrote six replies to before being brave enough to hit the "send" button. I still firmly believe that parenting is best done as a pair. I'm pretty sure it was designed to work that way. In reality, however, statistics show 52 percent of all American households are headed by single parents.

Several years into being a single parent, I can't honestly say that it necessarily gets "easier," but I have noticed that it's not quite as terrifying as it used to feel. I've discovered it's OK to celebrate the times I've been blessed enough to "get it right," to learn lessons from the times I didn't and to move forward without beating myself up as much as I used to. Since we're going to make mistakes from time to time, it only makes sense to use them to our advantage and turn them into stepping stones.

In almost all of the photos I looked at from five years ago, both of my kids appeared happy. As I looked at Katie and Justin, sitting at the table yesterday, so much more grown up and mature, they were still grinning and laughing. There are many yardsticks to measure growth and success, but for me, last night, those smiles were the finest measurement I could imagine.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Divorced Parents Need To Maintain Contact

Single With Children: Divorced spouses should know how to contact each other

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 10/08/03

One might think that by the time kids reach their teens, we parents pretty much have it all figured out.

As a single parent several years past the pain and confusion of divorce, I some times mistakenly believe that there's very little left to stump and elude me. After all, most parents have been through ear infections, strep throat, primary grades, middle school and then (gulp) driving lessons and learner's permits.

So there I was last week, in the office of our primary care physician, with a son who's taller than I am and outweighs me by quite a bit, and just like any parent, all I want to do is make it better.

Upon checking in at the front desk, I suddenly realized I had no clue as to what insurance company to use. My former husband had recently changed jobs. I rang up the one number I had so I could get the new information.

But finding Dad started to feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. When I remembered the name of his new company, his assistant told me he was off-site making a presentation. For the first time in a long time, I felt helpless and alone and just plain stupid. I was afraid we might have to set up camp in the waiting room until Dad could be reached.

I finally got the new insurance information, and Justin got the medical attention that he needed. But it felt like it took forever and I won't deny I was a little more than annoyed, which should prove to anyone reading this that I'm hardly a saint of an ex-wife.

To be fair, I came to realize that Justin's Dad never imagined the new insurance information might be needed as quickly as it was, but we probably should have.

I definitely learned a few things from the experience.

First, parents - custodial or noncustodial - should always know how to find each other on any given day. You don't want to play Perry Mason in a physician's crowded waiting room when information is needed.

Secondly, keep insurance changes as current as possible. Many things, like sharing report-card grades or discussing the need for a tutor, can wait. However, a medical issue usually can't, and things will go a lot more smoothly for everyone - especially the patient - if the information is available.

Last, practice patience and kindness, even in extremely stressful situations. No loving parents purposefully make things difficult for their children. Let negative thoughts remain unspoken. A child already not feeling well shouldn't have to hear World War III break out between his parents. Act like adults and focus on the matter at hand. Along with the right prescription, this too can make everyone feel better fast.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Never Too Old To Be A Kid

Single with Children: Teens not as grown up as they think

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/13/03

As I write this column, I'm in a hotel room a couple of miles from Disney World. When I asked my son where he might like to go for a few days vacation before the school year started, I offered a couple of suggestions such as the Cayman Islands, maybe a Six Flags park or perhaps a three- or four-day cruise. It never entered my mind that his choice would be Disney World.

Disney World? We lived in Florida a few years when he was in elementary school and made quite a few trips to the land of Mickey Mouse. Clearly, he had forgotten how impossibly hot it is in Orlando in August! Or that a 90-minute wait was not uncommon for a ride like "Space Mountain" or "Splash Mountain." I mentioned these things, but he was determined in his choice.

So here I sit after a full day at the Magic Kingdom. Naturally, he didn't want to hang with his mother the entire time, so I let him pick one of his good buddies to go with us. Fortunately for both of us, he picked one with impeccable manners, a quiet, kind demeanor and who had never been to Orlando.

We kept in contact via cell phone. He and his friend took the first shuttle to the park and were there when the gates opened at 9 a.m. After the long drive, there was no way I was going to face the heat, humidity and huge crowds visiting the house that Mickey built. I slept until around 10 a.m., when Justin called me for something like the fourth time wondering, "when are you going to get here?"

The park was much as I remembered from my last trip with Katie and Justin back in August 1997. But somehow, many things had changed. Perhaps not so much the park. I think the real differences involved the changes we had experienced in the years since our last visit. We have both grown up quite a lot. Justin in age, maturity and height. The changes in me are a little more subtle.

During the times he was off waiting in lines, I watched people. I saw people pushing strollers with exhausted and overstimulated youngsters more than a little ready for a nap in a cool place. I heard shrieks when a child was denied "just one more time" on some of the rides. As the day wore on, I watched families wear out. I couldn't help but remember I'd been in all of those situations many times. Strangest of all is that I missed those times.

When you're going through many parenting situations - the ones that make you swear you're within minutes of losing your sanity - you can't help but look forward to the time when those screaming, demanding kids are more independent and don't require every second of your attention. Today, as I watched folks deal with the stuff that inevitably involves supervising young children through a huge theme park, I felt so very nostalgic that at times I felt my eyes filling with tears. A few years ago, that was my former husband and me chasing our two kids around. Today, Justin and I were tethered not by a stroller or a small hand inside my own, but by the magic of a cellular phone.

We hooked up for a real sit-down dinner at one of the park's restaurants that also includes a visit with the characters. It was nice to hear about my son and his friend's experiences today, and it was refreshing to be out of the Florida heat for an hour. But the best part for me was when Minnie, Pluto and various other characters made their rounds at our table and, miraculously, Justin and Drew didn't feel themselves too grown-up to have their photographs made.

It was then that I realized why Justin had chosen Mickey Mouse over snorkeling with the stingrays in Grand Cayman. Maybe he realized, just as I came to understand, that these special moments are becoming so rare and precious that we both needed to revisit them just a few more times. I feel blessed that we were able to create some new ones today.

I also learned that no matter how much your teenager may protest that he or she is "all grown up," such words are not to be taken at face value. One need not visit a theme park to realize that whether one is 16 or (gulp) 43, it's absolutely OK to let the child inside of each of us step out for some time to play. You don't have to be any where close to Orlando or an overgrown mouse to make a lasting memory with your child.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Finding Meaning In Life After Death Of A Spouse

Single with Children: Life goes on - even after adversity

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 06/11/03

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Northern England.

My daughter, who is an au pair living and working in Ireland, was going to visit Manchester. That's the same town where my boyfriend, David, was born and raised, and he had left the week before to spend some time with his mom. So I took off a few days from work and flew over to meet with my daughter whom I hadn't seen since she started her overseas adventure April 3.

I had the pleasure of meeting her "Irish Family," and they allowed us to spend three days with her, touring the surrounding area.

Katie and I accepted an invitation to stay in the home of a 72-year-old single mom - David's mother. Audrey came to be single not through divorce but because of the death of her husband 15 years earlier. Of course, her sons were already grown and on their own, but it was a loss that required major life changes. She had been happily married for many years and not only adored her husband but also worked side by side with him.

I asked what it was like to find herself suddenly alone. She had to cope with the loss of a beloved husband and find something to give her a reason to get up every morning.

Initially, she confessed, this new set of circumstances threw her into the depths of depression. She said someone used to say "Pull yourself together," to which she would respond that she wasn't a "pair of curtains" and it just wasn't that easy to do. She didn't quite know where to start, but she isn't a quitter. This diminutive dynamo of a lady had faced pretty tough obstacles before, bouncing back from two bouts of breast cancer and a heart attack.

Her family and friends were an enormous sense of comfort. She doted on her grandchildren. She also sought professional help from a doctor and, after being prescribed an antidepressant, she eventually saw that life was going to go on. She wasn't about to sit back and let it pass her by, so she jumped back in and did it the way she's always done everything, giving her very best.

A few years after the loss of her husband, she moved to be closer to her son and his family and, more importantly, just a few blocks from a large hospital within walking distance. It was here that she found her new mission. She started not only attending but also assisting with the services at the hospital chapel and made new friends by providing coffee and tea and most of all, warm hugs, smiles and encouragement for anyone who remotely looked in need.

When I had visited her in December, she allowed me to tag along on one of her daily hospital visits to meet a friend who was battling a complicated set of problems. Most of the staff knew her by her first name and smiled at the sight of her. It was almost like being in the company of a British Mother Teresa. On the way back home, she told me this was her mission and why she was meant to move from the area she had raised a family.

One day last week, we drove to a rural, hilltop cemetery that overlooked vistas too beautiful to adequately describe. On the way, our hosts had stopped to buy some fresh cut flowers and then we headed to a very old, country cemetery where Audrey navigated the rocky terrain to seek out the headstone where her husband Bert was buried. He would have been 75 that day, and Audrey wasn't about to let the day go by without visiting the man she loved for so many years.

Before we returned to her home after a long day of sightseeing, she asked to David drop her off at the hospital before dinner so she could check on a friend. Typical Audrey. I smiled as I watched her make her way toward the hospital with that ever-present grin of hers. She's a lovely reminder that life does go on, even after really difficult things happen and there's always a positive difference to be made.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Family Dog Will Be Missed

Single With Children: Freeway surely earned her angel wings

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 05/28/03

A few months before my divorce was final, my kids and I decided to move from Florida to Charleston, S.C. I just didn't like the idea of raising my kids in the Miami area. It felt too scary to me.

We settled in, and then came my first experience with packing my kids off for a month to go visit their Dad in Florida. I couldn't imagine knocking around that house without the sounds of Katie and Justin, their friends and all the comforting chaos that speaks of a busy life.

So I went to the Internet and visited the online site of the local animal shelter. That's how I came to meet Freeway. She already came with the name because she had been found along Interstate 26 nursing four puppies, obviously abandoned by someone who didn't want to deal with her. She had been rescued by the shelter and allowed to continue nursing her puppies until they were ready for adoption. I was told she was a very protective, loving mother.

I met her on the day after her last puppy had been adopted. She was a mess - thin, scraggly, sporting three ticks on her nose and suffering from a pretty serious case of heartworm.

The moment we locked eyes, I knew I had found my canine companion. We had a lot in common. We were both pining for our kids, had been through some hard times and shared some sense of being left alone.

We bonded immediately. She would jump in my car and run errands with me, position her head under my hand for attention and, always at night, she would sleep at the foot of my bed, reminding me I really wasn't so alone.

I never knew how old she was when I adopted her. The vet's best guess was that she was probably 5 years old. There was no real friskiness left in her, but she more than made up for it in loyalty and unconditional love.

In the past few weeks I noticed that Freeway was groaning every time she climbed the stairs to my bedroom. She sometimes was unable to make the trek. I took her to the vet several times and she was diagnosed with arthritis and the various other maladies that come with aging.

This past weekend she couldn't keep food down and cried constantly. I tried to ignore the obvious, but last night there could be no mistake that she was suffering a lot of pain.

Today, my dear Freeway was taken to a compassionate veterinarian. I couldn't do it. My Dad stepped in and took care of what I knew needed to be done. The doctor called me at work when she was gone and told me it had been very peaceful and that she simply went to sleep. He reassured me it was the right thing to do, as did my parents. I have to tell you that after I thanked the doctor and hung up the phone, I sat at my desk for 10 minutes and relived our relationship from the moment I brought her home until I told her good-bye this morning. I cried. I'm still crying.

It may sound silly to say that a dog helped me get on with my life, but that's exactly what Freeway did. I needed a lot of love and attention those first few months after becoming a single parent, and she gave it. I can only hope that I made her life a little easier and returned some of that love along the way.

If dogs really do go to heaven, then I know that Freeway must be sporting some special canine angel wings this evening.

Thank you, Freeway, for showing me that if you could find the courage to love and trust again, that I could do the very same. I'll miss you, dear friend.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com.

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Single...With Children: Post Divorce Spouses Can Still Maintain A United Parental Front

Single with Children: Parenting under fire

Custodial parents are frequently taken to task for their decisions

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 05/14/03

There are times when single parenting is challenging and offers ample opportunity for creativity. That's on a good day. There are other days when single parenting is gut wrenching and filled with moments that are fertile ground for second-, third- and 10th-guessing. When you get to that point, it also can be labeled underproducing territory.

Regardless of the child's age, some of the decisions we make can be life-altering. When the custodial parent is a force of one, even with the backup of the other parent (who can be either 10 minutes or 10 hours away and not always within cellphone reach) the in-house parent may not always have the luxury of waiting for a two-way conference to discuss the options, potential outcomes and consequences.

Sometimes, decisions must be made instantly, and mistakes and miscalculations are bound to be made. There are times when we get it right and there are times when we don't.

I'm fortunate in that there have been very few times when my former spouse has truly taken me to task on the occasions when I've gotten it wrong. I don't live in a bubble though, and I know this isn't always the case with a lot of divorced folks. I know both single mothers and fathers who have thought they were doing their best, only to come under intense fire for saying a misguided yes or no to something involving a child, which turns into fertile ground for an argument or blame. To make matters worse, the children involved become keenly aware of a storm brewing. It's a no-win situation.

Single parenting is a tough business. Cultivating a cordial post-divorce relationship can ease a lot of tension and pave the way for peace and understanding. It's never too late to work on lessening the bitterness that is, many times, part of the fallout of a disintegrated marriage. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift and has the incredible ability to make everyone feel better about the parental tasks both at hand and in the future.

Maybe the important thing to remember when one parent makes a decision the other parent finds abhorrent is that, regardless of the past that brought us all into the position of single parent, we must try to remember that it is the children we will always share whose best interests must be paramount. Children are gloriously resilient, but no child deserves, or should be subjected, to a continuing civil war. The absolute best we can give our children is a united parental front, and the best way to do this is through open channels of communication between parents. Remember that the divorce decree might have ended the marital union, but nothing can, or should, sever the ties that bind us as parents and not only allow but demand that we keep our childrens' best interests at heart.

Remember the adage about counting to 10 before doing or saying something we're most likely to regret?

I think it applies to post-divorce parenting and recognizing that we're all working toward the common goal of doing everything in our power to nurture and raise well-rounded and happy children who know they are loved by both a mom and a dad who may not always get it right but who are doing their very best. I can think of no better reason to let go of the past and do all we can to make the present not just tolerable, but full of enough joy to go around.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Faith In Love Abides

Single with Children: Relationships don't always follow expected path

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 04/23/03

The other evening my daughter's boyfriend, Andy, invited me to attend a lecture given by a witty, sardonic writer whose works we have enjoyed reading the past couple of years. I must admit that on the Friday evening of the event, I was pretty exhausted and was thinking more of sleep than sitting through a "reading," regardless of how much I enjoyed the writings of this author. However, I also knew that Andy was missing Katie who, I am happy to report, survived her flight across the Atlantic and is having a great time living with her new Irish family.

The writer was just as funny and entertaining in person as he was in his books, and it was interesting to hear him read some of his own works and expound on the origins of his stories. By the time his lecture was over, I was more then ready to drop Andy off and head for home and my bed. It had been a long day.

On the way out of the auditorium, Andy said he wanted to pick up a book for Katie. No problem. After buying the book, Andy decided it would be a real special treat for her if he were to get this author to sign it. I peered into the auditorium and saw a line that snaked around several rows and estimated that we were probably talking a good hour and a half wait. All I could think was, "you've got to be kidding." He wasn't.

This guy was on a mission. He was going to get this writer to pen my daughter's name into a book he knew she wanted and that was that. He had offered to walk home, but by now it was nearly 11 p.m., his apartment was a good two miles away, and I wasn't about to leave him there.

I tried to pass the time. I managed to clean out my purse. I called a couple of friends on my cell phone. I focused on not falling asleep and falling out of my chair.

I turned my attention to the length of the line and my eyes finally fell on Andy. I remembered the first time Katie went out with him 18 months ago. How giddy she was when she returned from that first date. How impressed I was with his manners and good nature the first time he visited our home. I remembered the first Christmas they spent together; she a high school senior and he a striking junior at the university. I remembered the time he threw her in the swimming pool last March, the times he would toss pebbles at her bedroom window at dawn on a school day just to tell her he loved her and leave flowers or notes on her car. The time she had a nasty case of the flu and he tended her with soup and countless glasses of juice.

The only thing I couldn't remember in all of those 18 months was ever a cross word between them. Not even the hint of a fight.

When finally it was Andy's turn, he told the writer to sign this for his girlfriend, Katie, who was in Ireland and who loved to read his books. The man smiled and wrote Katie's name in the blank page before the preface.

When I dropped him off at his apartment, he talked about how much he missed her, how hard it was, after seeing her nearly every day for a year and a half, not to see her at all. He said how lonely he felt without her around. I listened intently, mesmerized that someone so young, at 22, could articulate such intense feelings.

As I headed home, I remembered how I had read so many things following my divorce about how children from divorced homes experience greater difficulty staying in relationships and maintaining them. Reading that kind of stuff used to haunt me. What if I'd messed up my kids' future happiness? What if they were never able to commit or trust or love someone?

I smiled as I realized that Katie had just shot that theory full of holes.

This isn't to say that my daughter and her boyfriend might always be together.

There's no engagement on the horizon, but from what I can tell, the bond between these two is stronger and more mature than people I've known twice their age.

Sometimes, I love it when kids break the experts' rules.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: In Spite Of A Flight, Daughter Chases Dream

Single With Children: 140 days and an ocean away

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 04/09/03

I'm writing this column before a special dinner with a special guest of honor. I thought about writing it after dinner, but I know from experience that it's hard to write when tears threaten my vision. I'm being proactive.

In January, my 19-year-old daughter informed me that she had signed with an agency that would match her with an international family in search of an au pair. I admit that I wasn't too terribly worried because I thought this might be a passing phase. I also mistakenly figured that Katie's flying phobia would kick in and she would abandon the idea like a hot potato.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Tomorrow she will take off from Baltimore for an overnight flight for Shannon, Ireland, where she will be installed as a nanny for an Irish family with two young children and one on the way in late April. She will be gone until Aug. 21. Right this second, that feels like an awfully long time. It would be an understatement to say that I will miss her. I miss her already.

Please don't misunderstand, I know intellectually that this will be a great adventure and learning experience. References have been checked out on both sides and I feel quite comfortable that she will be sharing the home of a fine family. I also know she will enjoy the culture, the responsibility of taking care of a 2- and 3-year-old and that her days will be filled with something new every day.

However, 140 days is a very long time to go without seeing one's daughter, and even though she moved into her own apartment last June, I always knew she was a mere five miles away. This time there will be the very big pond that is the Atlantic Ocean separating us.

Of course, at some point I will visit her during the summer, which opens up the opportunity for me to visit a country I would very much enjoy knowing more about. I also have a family friend in France who plans to make a trip in late June with his daughter, both of whom know Katie pretty well. I think her dad, stepmom and of course, her boyfriend, all will be crossing the Atlantic to see her, so it will be a great chance for her to play tour guide in between her responsibilities as an au pair. I remind myself it's Ireland and not the moon she's winging her way toward.

Having said that, I know that tonight, when I embrace her for a good long hug, a lot of that good reasoning is going to fly out the window. I hope she forgives me if a few tears stream down my face. I'll do my best to smile and send her away with something that will make her feel brave, but most of all remind her of just how loved and cared for she is to each one of us who will be waving good-bye.

And, as much as I know her brother will miss her, he will be driving her car to school tomorrow and will make use of it until she returns home. He'll try to hide his excitement at this new freedom that is falling into his lap, but I know tomorrow morning, he's going to feel especially grown up as he drives himself to school and no longer requires my chauffeur skills. Both of my kids will be experiencing milestones simultaneously. My maternal job description is quickly dwindling by the day. I wonder if anyone needs a mom for hire?

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Helping Kids Feel Secure In Scary Times

Single with Children: Be attentive to kids during this war period

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 03/26/03

As I write this, the clock is ticking and it would seem that America is poised to begin a war with Iraq.

As you read this, some of the questions will be answered. How did we fare? Was there terrorist retaliation on U.S. soil? Did our country finally come together and present a more united front thAn we saw in the days leading up to the conflict?

Right now, I don't have the answers to these questions. By the time you read this, so much more will be known.

I have other questions, as well, but on a more intimate, familial level. I'm wondering how families will handle the confusion and fear these unsettling events might elicit in their children, regardless of age. As I write this, though the war hasn't commenced, cable network news programs are broadcasting nonstop about the impending battle. Children might overhear scary and dire forecasts of possible terrorist ploys, or they might get their news from other kids in school whose television viewing isn't so closely monitored. They might inadvertently walk into a discussion between adults in their own homes who are unaware young ears are present.

What I want to know most is what will be running through these young minds. If they hear the statement "high terror alert," what will they think? What do they internalize, what do they verbalize and, most of all, if they feel safe enough to discuss their fears, who are they discussing them with? It's important to know where children get their information. And, it's much better if they get it from people with no other motive than to make them feel as safe and secure as possible.

There are so many mysteries about how this war will play out that our feelings are perfectly natural. The real challenge is how to juggle our own fears and still make our children feel safe. It's a high-wire act and, lately, it feels as if there is no net to catch us if we misstep. Anxiety is running high.

Right now I'm trying to control my "news junkie" tendencies by finding other things to do. It's hard, because I find the first thing I do when I log onto the Internet or watch television is instinctively turn to channels that host a wide variety of pundits chiming in about various scenarios. And few of them seem to offer much comfort.

I'm drinking a lot of chamomile tea lately.

In the next few days and weeks, or for however long this difficult period lasts, it will be important to lend an extra-attentive ear to our children. Obviously, toddlers and preschool children won't understand the same information as adolescents and teenagers. Age will be a key factor in determining the fears that might be swirling around inside them.

We can't do much about filtering what our kids hear when they aren't under our roof, but we can pick up on the cues in their behavior when they are with us, before and after school. Rumors abound on the playground, and as far as many children are concerned, that's inside information, regardless of how sensational and far-fetched the stories might be. It will become our job to make them know they are safe and protected, with as much sensitivity, honesty and love as possible.

The coming days will present us with challenges and will force us to rise to meet the demands and fears that might confront us. What must be paramount in our minds and hearts is how we safely navigate our children, regardless of their age, through this difficult period. Making our kids feel safe is what being a parent is really all about. The task will require good information, sensitivity to their moods and demeanor, and a lot of prayer.

I wish all of us, including our president, the men and women at the front lines, and most of all, our children the very safest passage possible. Let us hope we find the peace and strength necessary to make things on the home front as comfortingly routine as possible and that our kids are visited with good dreams rather than nightmares.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Tears Fall In Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Single with Children: Mr. Rogers' spirit will live on

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 03/12/03

Have you ever noticed, especially recently, that the cable news shows have taken to attaching a different theme music, appropriately serious and somber, for each major story that the United States is currently involved in? Without even being in the same room as the television, I can predict which story is about to be discussed, whether it's "War With Iraq," "The Axis of Evil" or "The Hunt for Bin Laden," not to mention the music that announces a "Breaking News Alert." The memorization of such tunes becomes fixed in our brains.

Recently, I was flooded with memories courtesy of another kind of music - to be more specific, "comfort" music. Hearing the familiar electric piano and friendly melodies warmed my heart and reminded me that it was playing on all of the news stations for a most unhappy reason. "The neighborhood" felt the shock of the passing of the man who created it.

Of course, anyone who spent any time with a child or grew up in the 1960s and '70s knows that music was, for many of us, part of the soundtrack of our childhood. And while we all know that no one lives forever, it was the most astonishing shock to me when I heard the very sad news that Mister Rogers had died after a short bout with stomach cancer. It was already a rather cloudy, gloomy day in my neighborhood. And it looked so much darker after I learned he was gone. I imagine heaven must have been an extra-shiny place when he was invited.

The story played over and over, always beginning with the familiar tune that signaled the beginning of a new episode of "Mister Roger's Neighborhood." I immediately went to his Family Communications Web site and was startled, although I shouldn't have been, to see that he had even left suggestions on how to break the news to his many young fans that he had died. He was concerned that they could be confused by seeing reruns of his show after being told that he had passed away. He also wanted parents and caregivers to be cautious about saying he died because he was sick, fearing that his young viewers might think that when they get sick with the flu or a cold, they might die as well.

Quintessential Mister Rogers.

That's the kind of forethought and consideration that made him an American icon in the finest sense of the word. If ever there was a child advocate in this world, it was Fred McFeely Rogers.

The tributes were overwhelming. They came from folks of every age, status, ethnicity and walk of life. This didn't surprise me at all, but Mister Rogers was a very humble man, and I can imagine that he would have been kind of amazed to find out the number of times he was the lead news story, which in a way is incredible, given that we are on the brink of war, dealing with a high terror alert and learning about the many uses of duct tape, coping with an economy dangling on the brink of recession and everything else that seems to go haywire on any given day.

Mister Rogers broke through the "hard news" barrier by being one of the softest, most caring fixtures on a medium that doesn't tend to foster or promote such attributes. The one thing that stands out about Fred Rogers is the sheer predictability and hope he offered in a world that seems to thrive on shock value.

He employed no special effects because I don't really think hand puppets qualify as such. He was a kind, gentle man who took the time and trouble to think about how something might be viewed by a young person engaged in the very important business of growing up.

Apparently he felt that lesson was worth revisiting now and again, regardless of the age or venue of his audience. Many times he would quiet applause meant for him, by asking the audience to join him in thinking about someone very special who had "loved them into being," and he would instruct folks to take 10 seconds to give silent recognition to all of the people who had helped them become who they were. Just to prove he was serious and this was no joke, he would let them know that he would watch the time.

The recognition that Mister Rogers received reflected all the things he exemplified.

This evening I am thankful for two things. That our lives are blessed with people like Fred Rogers, who left us with lessons that are timeless and help us make some right decisions in the way we raise our children and re-evaluate the things most valuable in this adventure we know as parenting and living our lives.

I'm also thankful for the invention of videotape and reruns. Mister Rogers may be gone, but his lessons and the example of his life will remind us not only of who we are, but perhaps also nudge us into becoming something more positive and meaningful than we ever imagined possible.

I can't think of a more sterling legacy. Well done, Mister Rogers.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Compassaion Eases Scary Situation

Single with Children: Compassion gives strength during crisis

Publication Date: 02/26/03

There are days when life skates magically along and falls into place and follows the rules in such a way that we don't realize how wonderful, how positively glorious the term "routine" really is.

It's sort of like forgetting to appreciate a sunny day because you never realize how amazing they are until you find yourself in the grip of a week of gray skies.

Yesterday started out as a routine kind of day. At 4:30 p.m., I received a call from my son. His voice was uncharacteristically raspy, and he sounded more than a little scared.

"Mom, I had an accident on my skateboard. Can you die from coughing up blood?"

If you're a mom or a dad, or even a grandparent, you probably are familiar with that unpleasant sensation when it feels as if all of the blood in your head has drained and your heart jump-starts to something approaching Mach 2. It's not something you want to experience but once you do, it's awfully hard to forget.

I was downtown attending to some business. In the blink of an eye, what had seemed important and worthy of my full attention and focus immediately became insignificant and meaningless. When someone who is precious to you is hurt or compromised, perspective changes.

The ER was "standing room only" because of the recent outbreak of viruses and flu bugs that are so common this time of year. However, a patient sporting any kind of blood usually has a ticket to the front of the line. We were placed at the registration desk and before we knew it, we were sitting in an exam room being settled in by two compassionate nurses taking a great deal of time, kindness and genuine concern with this precious son of mine.

They will never know how much I appreciated their gentleness and levity at a time when I was showing a positive face though inwardly shaking like the last leaf of autumn. I was grateful for those special angels around me who regaled me with tales of raising sons and their own experiences with multiple trips to the ER and how, quite happily, both they and their sons had managed to survive the experience. I think Justin and I both needed to hear their stories.

Before long the doctor appeared and, after taking an oral history, listened to my son's chest and breathing. He said things didn't sound too bad, but X-rays were definitely in order. Everyone who came in to care for my son did so with a level I could only feel the most gratitude for. No matter how many times they might have handled trauma and illness that day, they still seemed to possess copious amounts of understanding and tenderness. This was certainly not lost on Justin or myself. It was as important and healing as any medical procedure. Human kindness, especially in the high-tension atmosphere of an emergency room, is a fine and irreplaceable gift. It might not show up on the bill, and it doesn't require a prescription, but if it did, it would prove too valuable to ever be reduced to a dollar amount or an insurance code.

We were told that the bleeding would probably resolve itself in a day or so as my son's body rested and his natural healing abilities were allowed to take over. If anything out of the ordinary were to occur and his bleeding did not resolve, we were given strict orders to reappear so they could go in and cauterize the burst vessels. My son didn't particularly enjoy hearing about this option, but I always like to know there is a "Plan B," just in case.

We returned home, after a stop for a cheeseburger and fries at my son's request. It's always a good sign when fear is replaced by hunger. I settled him into my bed and proceeded to watch over him like I used to when he was a little boy dealing with bronchitis or the croup. It was a chance to take care of him in a way that he rarely allows now that he's a nearly grown-up teen-ager. I even got a little extra affection, and I enjoyed fussing over him and rearranging his pillows, making sure the TV remote was within his grasp and his glass of Dr Pepper was replenished.

Of course, I kept his Dad well within the communication loop, and I imagine he felt an incredible amount of anxiety, being so far away and depending on our updates, thanks to the magic of cellphones. Several calls were placed back and forth, and he assured our son that he was only a phone call away if he needed anything. Though we are no longer married, we are still very much invested in the parenting of our kids, and Justin and I both felt and appreciated his concern and support.

Several things lingered in my mind last night, after the high drama had dissipated, and I couldn't help but reflect on some of the events and how they impacted me in ways I had not anticipated.

Emergency rooms can be intimidating and frightening. There's no way you can walk in there among all of that high tech, formidable-looking equipment and not feel a little vulnerable. The human factor of the folks who work in such high-stress places must never be underestimated. It is the humanity of it all that makes it tolerable. All the nurses, technicians and doctors not only work to repair the body but also dole out the courage to let us know we can handle such situations. They help us be brave, especially when we think we aren't doing such a great job of holding everything together.

I've decided to send a thank-you note to the folks who made a scary experience easier than it could have been. It seems we're always quick to shoot off letters or e-mails when things go wrong, and I wanted to let a very special group of folks know that I not only noticed but also appreciated that they delivered a level of service that's probably beyond what is listed on their job descriptions. Showing kindness, making the way a little smoother for people who are in an especially fragile state, is something that should never be overlooked and is worthy of the few minutes it will take to let them know that their attitude and actions were most welcome.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Kids Hold Parents In The Palm Of Their Hands

Single with Children: Kids hold parents in palms of their hands

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 09/25/02

A friend recently told me about a magazine cover on a parents journal she saw a few years ago in which there was this outstretched, oversized hand of an infant holding two much smaller figures, which happened to represent the baby's parents. The point was that many times it is the children who hold the real power.

I thought about that picture and, even more, about the theory it implies. And then I considered how much more power that child's hand could possibly possess were the parental figures in that hand pared down from two to one. To say the balance can be a little out of proportion is more than an understatement. If we have more than one offspring, we're outnumbered!

Let's face it, parents work very hard to make their children happy. It's an innate response, and we're not simply talking about small children here. It would seem that just as our kids grow up in size and weight, they also grow in expense. That cute little plastic barn with the sweet little animal figurines might have been a delightful present at 3 years old. At 15, it's the mega cool, steel truck outfitted skateboard that brings a smile approaching the one that used to be delighted with the $5 Slinky or bottle of bubbles. In my own experience, I'm lucky if that skateboard is still usable after four months, and that's a generous measure of optimism. Usually they break and crack long before I would ever have imagined.

This begs the question: Where do we draw the line? When is "enough enough?" and how often do we employ good financial common sense and use the word "no?" I know that for me it's a hard word to mouth, and I'm pretty certain it takes more out of me to say it than for my teenagers to hear it. They seem to recover much more quickly. Why is that? Because I have a feeling it's their job to ask for the moon, and sometimes we mistakenly believe it's our job to deliver it, on a silver platter, with a few stars thrown in as a garnish. Common sense flies out the most available, open window. Haven't we all seen it whizzing by?

Another form of control that is common in one-parent families was so eloquently illustrated when a friend recently shared her greatest fear in assuming the role of single mother. She told how, in the first couple of years she was head of household over her three middle school- and high school-age offspring, she was almost frozen with fear at the possibility she would somehow disappoint her children and cause them to no longer want to live with her. She had just gone through a very painful divorce and lost the love of her life. She couldn't imagine what she would do if her children suddenly decided that they no longer wanted to live with her.

For a while, she jumped through hoop after hoop and fetched everything she possibly could in order to cater to their wants, long after taking care of their essential needs. One day, after an especially exhausting day at work, one of her kids casually mentioned that if she didn't get the item of the moment, perhaps her other parent's home might just be a good place to move. Her daughter knew instinctively which buttons to push and it nearly always worked like magic. But my friend, on this day, found she was spent, not only financially but emotionally as well.

Though trembling on the inside, this very tired Mom marched up the stairs and with every ounce of courage she possessed, firmly but kindly informed her daughter that she would simply not be able to fulfill this latest wish and that, if this young lady was truly miserable living in the home she had worked so hard to lovingly establish and provide, Mom wanted her to be happy and was willing to help her pack if that was the choice she wanted to make.

My friend reported you could have heard a pin drop in the room. Her daughter had expected no such response and had no intention of following through on her idea to move away from home. It was on this day that the power shift occurred and equilibrium was achieved. Of course, she said, when she left her daughter's room after making this bold offer to help her pack, it took hours for her heart rate to return to anything resembling normal. It was, however, a necessary gesture in order for her to re-establish control.

Sometimes, the frightening actions we must take also are the most critical and essential. It's funny, but when someone asks me how to handle a given parenting situation, I could easily give them a very reasonable, grounded, even psychologically correct response without batting an eye. But let that same question come up in my own situation and, factoring in the emotions, feelings and deep love that involves being a parent, the easy answers become fuzzy, blurry and anything but rational.

Love has the powerful ability to mask our clarity. It makes a mockery out of objectivity and ability to reason. As parents, we have to hold on tight to the reins that steer us toward the best decisions for our children. Sometimes, it's a wild ride, and you have to hold on for dear life.

I'm finding it more important as time goes by and my kids grow up to focus on the wisdom of a well-placed "no" and all of the free and wise lessons that go with this two-letter word that is not a rebuff nor a measure of how much I love my children.

The most amusing part of it all is that while I'm still obsessing over how painful it is to deliver the bad news of a "no," they have not only completely recovered but also have moved on to contemplating the next item they can request before I catch my next breath.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: The "Trickle Down" Effect

Single with Children: What happens 'upstream' affects us all

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/28/02

A few days ago, I was visiting an aquarium, and a friend of mine pointed out a plaque that said something incredibly profound with implications beyond ecological considerations, which are, without question, extremely essential.

The message on the sign was this: "We All Live Downstream From Ourselves." If one wraps this message around the context of raising children, "trickle-down effect" takes on a whole new meaning. Aren't we all affected by what happens "upstream?"

Of course, in the aquarium, the sign focused on what we put back into the earth and its effect on everything the Earth gives birth to and sustains. But if you think about it, the same principles can be applied to parenting.

In the wild, as the aquarium pointed out, animals and plants are truly at the mercy of every single one of our human manipulations. Many times they adapt and somehow manage to thrive. But every now and then toxins, factory-produced waste and human carelessness can sully the ecosystem so much so that some of these animals and plants can neither develop normally nor maintain life.

Whether you're a one- or two-parent family, life can get hectic, overwhelming and downright crazy at times. Controlled (hopefully) chaos. I think that becomes apparent on the first day you bring a new baby home. And, as far as I can tell, it never stops.

In families, a different kind of poisoning of the interpersonal variety can occur, and the consequences can be life-altering in a most negative way. I'm talking about things like an errant word about a former spouse; a harsh word spoken to tender, innocent ears; or becoming so busy with life that things fall through the nuclear family cracks that never, ever should.

If one is fortunate enough to have a vital network of extended family and friends, many times these precious people can pinch-hit when our dance card becomes too full or we physically shrink from exhaustion. Sometimes we can't change our schedules to make the Little League game or band concert. How vital it is that we have people in our lives who step in and make certain our children know they have someone special in the bleachers or audience who truly cares about the performance they have worked so hard to present.

Children need to be listened to, and attention needs to paid. So when we, as parents, can't be there every time, it's important that we try to find other folks in our children's lives who can make the time. Providing backup support prevents a negative experience. It still illustrates how much we care. The kind of support I speak of doesn't necessarily have to be a blood relative. Good friends can fill in nicely.

As our children grow, resilient as they may be, they are still products of everything we have "poured" into their environment. Mistakes will no doubt be made, and there are lessons in the mistakes as well as the victories. But it's extremely important to make certain that, overall, the familial environment we create and nurture them in is as free of negativity as possible.

Fortunately, many oversights and glitches can be remedied during the life of a child, but keeping home life as pristine and positive as possible should always be the goal. This also means that buying a ticket for a guilt trip when we fall short really does no one any good and usually exacerbates the situation.

The lives of our children are so very fragile, just like the biological environment in which we live. Unfortunately, parents aren't equipped with catalytic converters to filter out the inevitable emotional toxic waste that we all emit from time to time. In a sense, parents are the filter, the screen through which the positive gets separated from the negative. But unlike a machine, we all work from whatever issues are present in our own lives at any given time. Sometimes, we have to shut down, regroup and do a little self-maintenance.

We need to produce life-affirming, loving and secure emissions to head off the negative waste that might be occurring upstream at any given time. As our kids grow and become independent adults, we want to have provided as much groundwork and vigilance as possible so that whatever comes flowing down from just up the stream will only enhance their lives.

We truly do all live downstream from ourselves. Every action, every word, every situation that might occur in the lives of our families today will have an important impact at some point in the future. Let's give our children fewer reasons to have to employ any more adaptation than is necessary. It makes our job as parental filters so much easier if we simply think about the future impact of today.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Learning To Live In The Moment

Single with Children: 'Today will never come again'

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/14/02

Even after all of these years, I could tell something wasn't quite right. I could detect an oddity in the tone of the voice as I checked my messages last Sunday evening. It was slight, but undeniably different. Perhaps a bit stoic. It was the kind of voice that had something sad to share.

I told my son that he should return his father's call as soon as possible. After many attempts but making no connection with his dad's cell phone, Justin called his dad's home. Upon reaching his stepmother, we were most sad to discover that my former husband's father had passed away rather unexpectedly. We knew he had been ill for several weeks, but we had no idea it was anything resembling this serious. My son and daughter had just lost their first grandparent.

Because of the many moves over the course of a career, we had always lived away from our home state of West Virginia, and the visits through all these years had been rather infrequent. We had moved from the East when Katie was merely 2 years old and Justin is the only native Texan in our family. Because my former father-in-law had suffered from ill health for several years, cross-country trips were difficult for him to make. Many summers we were busy relocating to different cities across the country and none of them were ever in close proximity to where the children's paternal grandparents had lived their entire life.

I guess we had always assumed that someday our kids would get to know the paternal side of their family. Someday they would catch up and hear stories about what their dad was like from their grandfather's and grandmother's perspectives. You know, the anecdotes and stories that our parents love to share, which make our kids double over with laughter or wide-eyed with shock, and inevitably make us cringe when we hear them, more often than not, without any embellishment required.

The thing of it is, that we can't count on "someday." As we discovered this past Sunday, "someday" doesn't wait for us to catch up. We only have today. This one moment in time and it's all that we can truly count on with any dependability. Whatever plans we may have for the future may stand on good intentions, but they come with absolutely no guarantees. Someday is nice if it waits, but every now and then we are reminded that it's cloaked in uncertainty and far more fragile than we allow ourselves to realize.

Later Sunday evening, I made a call to my kids' stepmother and found out the details of the funeral service. We reminisced about this man who was once my father-in-law and had recently become hers. She commented that when things like this happen, when we lose people closely related to us, it's a reminder of our own mortality. And she is right.

As I ordered a bouquet of flowers to send to my former mother-in-law, I was reminded of a line I read in the commencement speech that Fred Rogers delivered in May at Dartmouth College. He gently told the graduating class that we are all intimately related and expressed his hope that "may we never even pretend that we are not." A very special friend of mine shared with me that his own late father had frequently reminded him that "today will never come again." He, in turn, fashioned this philosophy by remembering to "never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because if you liked it today, you can do it again tomorrow." I embrace the positive spin and energy of that sentiment. It speaks of action rather than inactive contemplation.

I wish that I could somehow magically give my children more moments with their grandfather. I regret that they did not know him as well as they could have. Perhaps some of those cross-country moves should have included more visits home, even if it was in a different direction. Sometimes heading in the opposite direction sends us to the place we need to be.

I do know that this evening, before their dad attends the funeral of his own father, that we are thinking of the memories we have, sending strength and prayers and love. Even within a blended family, we still hold onto ties that need not be severed by a divorce decree. Relationships with family members of both sides of the parenting unit are not simply acceptable, but essential components in giving children a sense of who they are and their own unique family history. To allow a dissolved marriage to somehow eradicate that experience is an injustice to everyone involved. And as we discovered this past Sunday night, many opportunities should be taken advantage of sooner, rather than later.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Kids May Move Out But The Worry Never Does

Single with Children: Parental angst never goes away

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/24/02

I remember this scene from the movie "Parenthood" and at the time I didn't quite understand it. To synopsize the scene: Jason Robards, who portrayed Steve Martin's father, was having difficulties with his 28-year-old son - the kind of fearful wringing of hands and deep angst that visits parents of children from time to time. Martin's character was listening to his father talk about experiencing the same worries and concerns for his grown son that Martin was facing with his 9-year-old son and seemed astonished that the worry doesn't cease at some point.

As though parental concern could honestly evaporate after 18 years of living with, nurturing and, most of all, loving a person who has developed through stages too numerous to count, right before your eyes! Parenting is a forever kind of thing. Our kids may not always need it, but it seems a hard habit to break.

When I first saw that movie, Katie was 6 and Justin was just 3. We all had a lot of growing up to do, and we're still doing it. I never imagined confronting the issue of my children actually growing up and moving out someday. That someday seemed about as concrete to me as the "12th of never." Very abstract. So distant as to not really exist.

My daughter moved to her first apartment three weeks ago and guess what? I discovered firsthand that "eventually" and "far off into the future" appear faster than I could possibly conceptualize. The future came knocking at my door. I had no choice but to answer it.

Katie and I sat in her room sifting through all of the things she had compiled through almost 19 years of being an "in house" resident of our family, reliving a lot of memories, and many of them were wonderful points of reminiscence. We discovered her third-grade citizenship award. An old photo of us taken on a fifth-grade field trip to the space center in Florida. A ticket to the first school dance she attended in eighth grade. The movie stub she saved from the first time she went to a movie with a boy and without a parent. I could go on, but you get the picture.

We boxed up CDs, journals, more than 100 books, plaques, awards and photographs.

She kept having to shoo her cat Sylvester out of the boxes, because he seemed intent on being moved along with everything else she owned. And why wouldn't he? He had chosen her one July evening in an El Paso shopping mall pet store. This little gray furry feline had reached his arm out to her as she bent down to check out another kitten. It was exactly one month before her 9th birthday, and he was determined to let her know she was the one he wanted to own. When she noticed his attention and returned his affection, there was little to do except buy the kitten.

There's no doubt in my mind that Sylvester knew she was moving away and that he was going to be left behind.

It is one of the first times I truly believe I knew what a cat could be feeling. Sylvester and I had a lot in common that Friday night three weeks ago. We are both crazy about the girl.

Soon, everything was securely boxed, taped and heading out for her little red Neon, sitting in its usual spot in the driveway. After the last boxes were carried out, I was sitting at the kitchen table, and Katie walked in and said with a timid smile on her face, "You know, it feels a little like I'm running away!" I asked her if I should fix a couple of peanut butter sandwiches? We laughed.

After two or three extra big hugs, tear-filled (but not spilling over!) eyes, and extra pats on the back, I reminded her, as parents must, to make certain her doors were locked, keep an eye on the burning incense holder, and not to leave the stove on. Hey, it's my job. I also reminded her how very proud I was of her. How dearly I loved her.

Of course, the move wasn't to some distant state. In fact, there now run about seven miles between her old bedroom and her new apartment. It's on the edge of the campus of the university she will be attending in August. She's a busy young lady now, working full time this summer, learning to wait for the cable and telephone installers, and sometimes, late at night, looking at an empty refrigerator because she forgot to stop at the store. She may not be in a classroom quite yet, but she is learning valuable, practical lessons. She is learning just how those wings she's spent years developing really work. I have an idea that they will take her far. That's what they were designed to do, even if it's in a new, distant direction. It's important that she knows they can carry her. There's no doubt in my mind.

Sometimes as I climb the stairs and pass by what used to be her bedroom, I momentarily listen, thinking I will hear her tapping away on her laptop, at work on another story or just touching base with a friend in one of the many states we have called home. There is only silence. One section of my nest is empty. I suppose that indicates some type of success and in time, I'm sure I'll see it as such. But for now, it's an adjustment, both a bittersweet ending and a shiny new beginning, and every now and then, the stirring of a heartstring or two.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Finding Mr./Ms. Right

Single with Children: Life more rewarding with a companion

Publication Date: 07/10/02

I appreciate readers who shared their own stories after reading my most recent column about the sometimes lonely business of single parenting. It means a great deal to me when you relate what is going on in your life and how you resolve the problems you face.

Some of you who responded had inspiring stories of finding love the second (and in some cases third) time around. I loved reading them. Like many of you, I also dream of someday finding the right fit and having another chance at "happily ever after." I think we all know that life is more rewarding when there's a hand to hold. I just don't believe that human beings ever outgrow the need to share love, affection and attention. It is basic to our nature.

Of course, actually finding "the one" can take a rather circuitous route. Some of you have written about finding the right person almost instantly. Many have shared stories of more than a few dating disasters and are still tenaciously working to find "the one." Every path is unique.

If there was a common thread in all of the feedback, it was that ever-elusive quest for "the one" - two simple words that define what we're all searching for. When speaking of "the one," many of us affect a kind of dreamy look in our eyes because we know that nothing less than "the one" will ever do.

Some folks wrote and asked if I had any idea where this creature might be hiding? In other words, where does "the one" hang out? It reminded of me that series of children's books where the object of discovery was a lad named Waldo. Sometimes the books were quite clever, and I had problems searching out Waldo long after my kids had found where he was hiding.

So where do single parents go when they have some precious down time? The first thing that comes to my mind is bookstores. I can't help but wonder if some of the folks cruising the aisles might possibly be "single with children" and looking for something to engage their attention until "the one" walks into their lives. I don't know if you've noticed, but I see a lot of traffic in the "self-help" section, and at times there are a lot of people sitting one to a table at the bookstore cafe. Is it a sign? Is destiny drinking a decaf?

Church is another wonderful venue for possibly meeting the object of one's affections. Naturally, we go to church to connect with like-minded, spiritually focused fellow worshipers, but many churches offer programs for people who are divorced. While you might not meet the next love of your life, you might just make some very good friends. The good news is that we can never acquire too many friends, so there's nothing but potential positives. How many things can you say that about? It sounds like a win-win situation to me.

If you can't locate anything interesting in the weekly list of community events, why not be bold and start something? And it also should be noted that one doesn't have to be single for long before a good friend can no longer resist the urge to arrange a blind date. Believe it or not, many solid relationships have started this way and have even gone the distance. If it's a friend you truly trust, you might not want to be so quick to think up an excuse not to take them up on it.

Which brings me to my next suggestion. Computers. It's probably not too surprising that many people are now meeting via the Internet. Sites like Match.com or similar matchmaking services are gaining wide acceptance and apparently many folks are enjoying some success in discovering like-minded companions online. When you think about it, the whole idea makes a lot of sense. Our schedules and responsibilities don't always allow us to take off on the spur of the moment for a date, but most of us can find the time to read or write an e-mail at the end of the day. For a fee of around $24 a month, you can post a personal ad and, in the most minute detail, describe everything you are looking for in the form of a rather personal list of likes and dislikes, including the distance you're willing to travel and a thousand and one other preferences. Many subscribers post photographs or wait and trade photo files with people they've made a "written" connection with and find worth pursuing.

Like everything else in life, there are no guarantees. Sometimes you find what you're looking for in the last place you imagine. Chance encounters still happen, and they can't be scheduled.

It's a little too easy to sit home and just throw up your hands and feel that the love boat has sailed on by, but just because it's easy to give in to such negative thinking at times, doesn't mean it's true. Prayer, family, friends and maintaining an open, optimistic outlook make each new morning a possibility that something surprising and unexpected might cross your path before the sun sets. If, on some lonely evening you can't find a single thing to do, take a walk or make that trip to the bookstore. At the very least you might find an exciting new bestseller to capture your attention. And who knows - someone feeling a lot like you, might just be sitting alone in the cafe and having coffee. Stranger things have happened.

If you have any other suggestions or personal stories to share, please feel free to e-mail me with what has worked for you. If it's worked in your life, chances are it just might be the ticket for someone else.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Single Parenting Can Be A Lonely Business

Single with Children: Single parenting can be a lonely business

Publication Date: 06/26/02

Every now and then it's easy to forget that we, as parents, single or married, are working ourselves out of a position. Of course there have been days when it seemed our kids would never outgrow teething, understand the goal of potty training or ever get a handle on the fine art of putting clothes in the drawers, rather than on top of them. My kids are teen-agers, and they still haven't quite mastered that feat.

Summer lets us slow down a bit, take a deep breath and, sometimes, even do a personal inventory. I've been doing a little of that in the past couple of weeks. My son has been visiting his father, and my daughter is preparing to move to her new digs. I remind myself that my son and I have three more years of high school to look forward to but also am realizing that I have basically wrapped my whole world around being a parent. I never really let myself think seriously about what happens next. The prospect is, at times, both exciting and vaguely intimidating.

Of course, if one is married, at least there's some idea of a mutual plan and no real fear of being alone in looking ahead to the future. But for many of my single friends and me, it's a rather strange idea to consider.

The one universal thread I find in talking with my fellow single parent friends is that we all seem to have a fear of eventually being alone, followed by an even more urgent phobia of not wanting to fail at a relationship. If you've ever been near a divorce, that's not such a difficult thing to understand. I have yet to meet anyone who wants to go through that kind of crisis again. It's no wonder that many single parents find their post child-raising future a delicate terrain to contemplate.

It is, however, a reality worth giving some consideration. Some folks recover quickly from the sting of a failed marriage and hop right back on the dating bandwagon. Many parents are simply too exhausted from all the juggling to consider adding a new, time-expensive addition into an already hectic schedule. But the fact is that single parenting can be a very lonely business. There are many time demands of a custodial parent playing the part of both Mom and Dad, but in the hours after the children are tucked away the house becomes very still, and there is often a quiet longing for a hand to hold and another adult to share the events of the day.

The other day a friend wrote and asked me, "How will I know when I'm ready?" The question reminded me of the one I asked my obstetrician in the waning days of my first pregnancy - "How will I know when I'm really in labor?" I remember his nonchalant reply - "Oh, you'll know - believe me - you will know when it's the real thing." I didn't understand at the time because I had never been through the experience, but he was absolutely right. I knew exactly when it was time to get the watch out and start timing contractions. I think the same thing probably applies to when is it time to consider venturing out and testing the dating waters. You just kind of magically know.

A lot of single parents report experiencing guilt over contemplating a date, much less a new relationship. I understand that. Most of us give so much to our kids that it can be daunting to imagine taking a few hours out and stepping into a date that doesn't begin and end at a fast food restaurant. The biggest decision to make on those "dates" is whether we want to add fries with the sandwich. It's not glamorous, but it's comfortable and nonthreatening. Eventually, though, we find ourselves on a first date sitting at an actual table with a real waiter and it's amazing how those butterflies we experienced before we were ever married return, as if on cue, to the same spot in our stomachs. Some things just never change.

As for the guilt attached for many folks re-entering the dating scene, there is one very important thing to keep in mind: Children truly want their parents to be happy and complete. They know instinctively when we are, just as they can always detect when we are not. Our children also take their cues from us and most seem to understand our need for adult companionship. More often than not, they are pleased to see Mom or Dad taking a brave new step. If our little ones feel secure, they will embrace the idea, making the need for any "guilt" completely unnecessary and useless.

So with the advent of longer days and maybe even a little more time on your hands, these lazy, hazy days of summer might be a good time to consider the possibility of meeting new people and dusting off your dating skills. I have an idea that with a little practice, things start to feel familiar. Of course, it's all trial and error and one date does not a future make, but that first date might be a step in the right direction. Who knows? There could still be a "happily ever after" just waiting to be discovered.

If you would care to share any interesting, funny, good or bad stories on re-entering the dating world after divorce, I'd love to read them and will keep things anonymous. Feel free to share!

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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Single...With Children: Blended Families, Blended Celebrations - It's Possible To Share The Joy!

Single with Children: Child's graduation a surreal experience

Publication Date: 06/12/02

Surreal. That's the only word that comes close to describing what it was like to see my daughter walk across the stage and accept the diploma that she has worked 12 long years to earn. As I sat in the stands for the ceremony, alongside my son, my best friend (and date) and my daughter's father, stepmother and of course, Katie's boyfriend, it almost felt like watching a movie or something I was merely observing, rather than intricately and most personally involved. I think this kind of "disconnection" was necessary; otherwise someone would probably have escorted me out of the auditorium, finding it difficult to hear the procession and list of graduates' names over my unbridled weeping.

As it turned out, I was almost proud of myself as I sat there calmly, feeling so blessed that I have been privileged to mother a young lady who, in my admittedly biased opinion, has pretty much graced me with laughter, honor and more than a little pride. After we exited the auditorium, it was time for photographs to record the event for posterity. A few final additions to a rather stuffed baby book recording an adventure I could never have imagined. This, too, presented its own surreal moments. The first few photos featured the happy graduate, my son, my former husband and me. Then we had a couple of photos taken with the newer members of this blended family: Katie's stepmother looking genuinely proud, a couple of photos with the man I'm dating who is a favorite with both my son and daughter. Everyone beaming with the cap and gown-clad young lady who took center stage. I think my daughter's favorite photo was the one that included her boyfriend, towering above all of us at 6 foot 5 inches tall.

We continued the celebration at the restaurant of my daughter's choice and sat down to a scrumptious meal. I will admit I was nervous about this part. Though I had spoken to my former husband's wife several times on the phone, I had met her a couple of times before, but only briefly. I also reminded myself that she was probably feeling a little apprehensive. Moreover, she was preparing to sit down to a dinner that included my parents as well.

When we were led to our long table, my former husband and his wife sat directly across from me and my date. I couldn't help but wonder if I were in a film that Steve Martin had penned. Of course it would be civil, but beyond that, I really had no clue as to what to expect. This was relatively new territory for all of us, so we began, as most people probably do in unfamiliar, slightly awkward situations, with good, old reliable small talk. I noticed that at the other end of the table, a few glances were surreptitiously cast our direction, no doubt wondering if things were going well.

About a half-hour into dinner, I was conversing easily with the woman who is now the stepmother of my son and daughter. She shared with us some of the things going on with her own two teen-age daughters, one of whom will graduate next year. Pretty soon, it was more like I was talking to a friend, someone who is a mom just like I am. A lot of my own preconceived notions started fading away with the last minutes of daylight. It was, in a word, very warm and much more comfortable than forced civility.

As we lingered over after-dinner coffee, I couldn't help but whisper thanks to God that this day had turned out better than I could have ever planned. I also had to admit that my former husband had made a very good choice and that my son and daughter were most fortunate to have such a compassionate, kind stepmother. Every person in our small gathering had one very important thing in common: celebrating the achievements of the graduate.

As I looked over the photographs of the big day, I saw happiness, love and support. I also imagined that in three years it will be my son's turn to be the star of the day. When that time comes, I have a feeling that the slight trepidation I felt graduation morning will be erased and I will look forward to catching up again. After all, there will no doubt be weddings, grandchildren and who knows what else that will bring us all together again. Our lives with our former spouses and their new families will forever be intertwined because of our shared children. This fact alone makes forging a positive relationship even more important.

A few of my close friends were eager to know how everything turned out during this important weekend. One of them also had managed to find his own experience with his former spouse pleasant and stress free. A couple of my friends related that this would never happen in their future. I don't think this should be viewed as a personal failure. I reminded them that things wouldn't have gone so smoothly, in my own situation, without the contribution and determination of both sides of the parental equation.

Some folks can't make something happen that requires everyone's cooperation, and therefore, it's not a character flaw on the parent who is trying to work toward "normalized" relations. Having said that, I feel that one should always keep the door open. There is always hope, and some hearts just take a little longer to soften. Most parents I know would bend over backward to make their children happy. Sometimes it helps to think of this as another opportunity to do just that.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Department, P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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