The Rockwood Files: Note to self

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Sometimes when I look at my 14-year-old son and his 12-year-old brother – the one speeding down the on-ramp to join his brother in the teenage years – I think they’re pretty brave. We grown-ups like to moan and groan about how tough it is here in the real world – and it is – but we forget sometimes that being a teenager isn’t exactly a walk in the park either.

Sure, it looks easy when they’re sleeping until noon or playing their third consecutive hour of video games. But when I think about whether or not I’d want to relive that time of my life, the answer is a resounding “no.”letter bird

In fact, sometimes I wish I could write a letter to my teenage self and send it back through time – save that poor kid some needless drama. If that kind of time-hopping correspondence was possible, here’s what I’d say.

10 things I’d tell my teenage self:

  1. Regarding your hair, higher and wider is not necessarily better. I have the photographic evidence to prove it. Put down the hairspray.
  2. While we’re on the subject of appearance, just because there are six different shades of blue eyeshadow in the compact does not mean you should use them all at one time.
  3. That volcanic pimple on your chin feels like a social death sentence. I get it. But the truth is that people think about you far less than you think they do, mostly because they’re busy thinking about themselves and their own volcanic rupture.
  4. You know that giant phone your parents gave you to use in case of emergency while driving to college? The one that’s roughly the size and weight of a brick with the ridiculously long antenna sticking out? Believe it or not, that thing will soon morph into a thin, sleek phone-slash-computer that you’ll use almost constantly. You’ll wonder how you ever lived a day without it. Scrape together some of your birthday money and invest in Apple stock right now.
  5. Your mother is not an idiot, so just cool it with the exasperated sighs and the eye-rolling. Trust me, that stuff will come back to you one day in the form of wicked karma when you’re the one driving a kid to school and you have the audacity to ask an innocent question like “You got all your homework done, right?”
  6. Acid-washed jeans are a terrible idea. Just don’t.

  7. Surround yourself with good, kind friends and hang on to them even when life takes you in different directions. The friends who know and love you even when you’re a moody teenager often make the best life-long buddies.
  8. Even when it feels like your parents “don’t get it,” they probably do. Maybe they don’t understand it completely because, after all, things can change a lot from one generation to the next. (See phone comment above, for example.) But people (even parents) never forget the feeling of being a teenager who’s just trying to get through the day without being embarrassed or ridiculed or made to feel stupid. We all worry about not being “enough.” Stop sulking and talk to them. It might actually help.
  9. If you think your jeans might be a tad too short, they are.
  10. Your parents’ job is not to make you happy. It is to help protect you, teach you and do everything in their power to grow you into a kind, self-sufficient person. Even on your most frustrating teenage day, never doubt for a second that you are loved with an intensity and ferocity you will never understand – until the day you become a parent.

Hang in there, kid. It’s going to get easier.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: What should I be when I grow up?

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

One of the things I hear my kids worrying about far too often is this: What should I be when I grow up? Kids who don’t even have a driver’s license are feeling stressed about what will one day be on their business card.

So I’ll lay out the truth about this age-old question once and for all. The answer is this: I don’t know, and you don’t either. It’s okay not to know. question light bulb

If you’re extremely lucky, you might figure it out in high school. Or maybe college. It might not happen until your twenties or thirties. When it does happen, you’ll feel relief that you finally figured it out… until the day you begin worrying that maybe you didn’t figure it out after all. Maybe you were wrong. You might re-evaluate the answer to this question for most of your adult life. That’s okay, too.

As a society, we put pressure on kids to pick a lane and do it early. We Americans gravitate to the idea of specializing in one thing so we can immerse ourselves and excel in it.

Even in sports, it’s tough for kids to “play the field” and try different activities. Kids who come to a sport in middle or high school find it tough to catch up with kids (and parents) who have been laser-locked on one sport since second grade.

But it’s not just sports. It happens in academics, too. I’m amazed at how often my own kids feel angst about not knowing what job they might want one day. Their brains aren’t even done developing, yet they feel like they have to pick a profession lest the career train leave the station without them.

When they worry, I tell them about the time in high school I worked as a dog washer. Then I tell them about the time in college I worked the late shift at a bakery making donuts. I follow that up with the story about graduating college and working as a bank teller – one with an English degree and no appreciable skills in math whatsoever.

“Does that make sense?” I ask them. “Nope,” they reply. Then I remind them that, despite the random collection of jobs, the road eventually led to the kind of writing work that suits me. Sometimes spending time in the “wrong” job teaches you more about yourself and what you want than any career orientation course ever could.

God willing, life is long. You have time to do different things and find your way. Did you know Morgan Freeman didn’t get his first movie role until he was in his 40s? And I’m pretty sure he has now been in almost ALL the movies. Isn’t that encouraging?

So what should you be when you grow up? You should be kind. Honest. Helpful. Hard-working. You should be good to people even when there’s nothing in it for you. Do what you need to do to pay your way until you find what you’re meant to do – the thing that makes you feel alive and part of something bigger than yourself.

After you find it, keep learning and looking for your life’s work, even when the direction changes. Above all, pray for guidance. When it comes to career counseling, you won’t find anyone better than God, who made us his life’s work.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Summer Bummer

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

I wouldn’t say this directly to my kids because they might take it the wrong way. But here’s the truth: Back-to-school time makes me happy.

It’s not because the kids will spend more time away from the house. I actually love our relaxed summer schedule, if you can even call it that. There have been plenty of days the kids didn’t change out of their pajamas until two in the afternoon. They’d watch movies, play board games or float around in the pool with friends. The hustle and bustle of the school year can be intense, so I like to see them get a break from the busyness.

The reason I secretly look forward to this time of year has everything to do with the shopping – school supplies, in particular.colored-pencils-686679_640

My inner nerd loves the smell of a fresh package of No. 2 pencils. There’s something so satisfying about an unblemished spiral notebook and its pristine white pages. A brand new box of 24 perfectly sharpened crayons gives me 24 reasons to feel good. Don’t even get me started on the joys of a new backpack, a fresh cube of Post-it notes and decorative folders. Polka dots, stripes, solids, patterns. I’ll take one of each, please.

Although the kids enjoy choosing new things for the fall semester, they hate how early the back-to-school advertisements invade their serene summer bliss. By mid-July, Walmart already had a few aisles of school supplies, and the ads were everywhere we turned.

Nothing puts a bummer on your summer quite like the constant reminder it’s about to end.

“It’s still summer!” My 12-year-old defiantly shouted toward the looming back-to-school signage. “It’s not time yet!”

Poor kid. Put yourselves in his back-to-school shoes. What if, every Friday night, we grown-ups saw an ad on television reminding us that Monday morning work is right around the corner. No one wants to hear the clock ticking down on our precious free time.

Because this is our last week of summer break, I’m trying to ease the kids’ upcoming transition. While I can’t necessarily convince them that school is going to be a non-stop fun-fest, I can make them more willing to leave the house.

Here’s how I do it: I slowly increase the number of chores I need them to do around here. I don’t announce it, mind you. I just tell the kids I’m swamped with writing deadlines and need extra help to get things done.

“Jack, please go change the load of laundry and hang up the shirts in the dryer before they wrinkle!”

“Adam, my car is so dirty. Please go Windex the windows, wipe down the interior and clean the floor mats.”

“Kate, the litter box needs to be cleaned again. Better get to it!”

By the time Monday morning rolls around, the kids might not be thrilled about going back to school but it definitely sounds better than laundry and litter boxes. All they needed was a little perspective.

You’re welcome, kids. I’m so happy I could help.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Time to toe the line

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

On the last day of our summer vacation, we went to a water park in Kansas City. When we arrived, we dropped our beach towels on lounge chairs and took off for one of the smaller slides so we could “warm up” before we tackled the big scary ones. The first slide was a brisk but gentle ride on an inner tube through a series of twists and turns.

“That was awesome! Mom, let’s go do the next slide,” my son said when we splashed down out of the slide.

“Sure!” I said and then launched myself out of the inner tube and into what I thought was waist-high water. It turned out to be less than knee-deep — a jarring shock to one of my toes which hit the bottom of the pool with cringe-worthy force. I didn’t yelp or mention it to my kid who was already dragging his inner tube out of the water and up the hill toward the next slide.

The toe silently but painfully protested my decision to “walk it off.” I was determined not to be a lame old lady who had to sit down because she stubbed her toe. After a few hours, we’d crisscrossed the water park, taking on every slide except for one. We’d saved the biggest, tallest, scariest slide for last.

The slide’s name is Verruckt, a German word that means “insane.” It’s the tallest waterslide in the world, and the boys and I wanted the bragging rights of riding it. While we stood waiting in line, that angry stubbed toe changed from flesh-colored to bluish purple. Then it started to swell to something shaped less like a toe and more like a sausage link.

I pointed to it and asked Tom if he thought it might be broken instead of stubbed. He took one look and grimaced. “Broken,” he confirmed. “Maybe you should go sit down.”

But the kids and I had come too far. We were next in line to slay the dragon, and I was sure I could do it as long as I walked on the outside edge of my foot as we climbed the steps to the tallest slide.

Somewhere around the 100th stair, I began doubting the wisdom of my decision. By the 200th stair, I desperately wanted to stop but knew we’d come too far to turn back. By the last stair, the 284th one, we saw a sign that said we had climbed to the same height as Niagara Falls. I would have marveled over that fact but I was too busy hating myself for being an idiot who walked up 284 steps on a broken toe.toe2

Even though the slide looked terrifying from that height, it was less scary than the thought of more stairs. Attendants at the top of the ride strapped us into a raft and sent us down the nearly vertical drop. We screamed the whole way down, and Tom snapped our picture as the raft neared the bottom, proof we’re truly as “insane” as the slide itself.

Afterward, I hobbled over to a lounge chair where I took Advil for the rest of the day and Googled first aid for a broken toe. Part of me wondered if it was a sign of old age and brittle bones. Part of me figured it was just an ungraceful hop out of an inner tube followed by foolish bravado. Either way, it didn’t matter. We came, we saw, and we conquered. Sometimes a mom has to show the kids and herself that she can really “toe the line.”

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Buckle up, baby

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

There are two times in a woman’s life when she needs an epidural to block the certain agony coming her way. The first is the day she gives birth to her sweet baby. The second is the day her sweet baby takes his first driving lesson.

Right now I’m thankful I had the good sense not to go through this experience alone. I enrolled our 14-year-old in a course at the Driving Academy of Northwest Arkansas. He completed a week’s worth of in-depth classroom instruction and now we’re in the midst of four private driving lessons with a certified instructor.

I rode in the backseat during today’s lesson, promising myself I would simply observe and pick up pointers on how a professional instructor coaches a new driver.

adam collageThe problem is that I know too much. I’ve seen too much. Even though our son is now taller than me and has huge man feet, part of my brain still sees him as the toddler who tried to eat dirt. The 2-year-old who spun around in circles laughing until he got so dizzy he fell down. That part of my mama brain is having a hard time accepting the fact that he’s old enough to operate heavy machinery.

I admit I don’t know much about the laws of physics but I do know this: When it’s your “baby” behind the wheel, 35 miles per hour feels exactly like 70 miles per hour. No, strike that. It feels like 700 miles per hour. It feels like you’re hurtling through space in a reckless, death-defying sprint toward doom.

Was it really that bad? No, apparently not. Because our driving instructor, a wonderful young man named Ethan, wasn’t bothered at all. He said my son did well during the lesson, only making the common mistakes made by most new drivers.

But I suspect Ethan might have a super-human ability to keep his cool in tense situations. Perhaps it’s one of the prerequisites of becoming a driving instructor – that you have a calm, cool demeanor and the smooth, tranquil voice of a golf commentator.

I was struck several times by the sharp contrast between Ethan’s gentle guidance and the hysterical voice in my head which spent most of the 90-minute lesson silently screaming in the backseat.

Me: “BRAKE! HIT THE BRAKE! NOW, NOW, NOW!”

Ethan: “….okay start slowing down and get ready to stop…good.”

Me: “GET OVER! YOU’RE GONNA RUN OFF THE ROAD!”

Ethan: “….ease to the left…ease to the left…good.”

Me: “WHY ARE YOU GOING SO FAST? YOU’RE DRIVING AT MACH SPEED! WE’RE BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER! SLOW DOWN!”

Ethan: “…notice that the speed limit here is 35 and you’re about five miles over, so slow down to 35…good.”

Me: “NO, NO, NO!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WE’RE GONNA DIE! WE’RE GONNA DIE!”

Ethan: “…so you don’t want to cross that double yellow center line, so just ease to the right… ease to the right…good.”

I’m telling you, this guy could not be rattled no matter how many times our driver accelerated toward the stoplight. Meanwhile, I was sitting directly behind my “baby” driver, thankful he couldn’t see the way my face grimaced every time I bit my lip to keep from shrieking “Watch out!” He couldn’t tell that I was wishing the car was equipped with one of those airplane oxygen masks that drop out of the ceiling. At one point, my knees reflexively pulled up to my chest, as if I was curling into the fetal position and praying the airbags would save us all.

Thankfully, we have a few more lessons with even-keeled Ethan this month, and that’s good because the relationship between a parent and teenager is already fraught with tension and eye-rolling. If I had tried to do what Ethan did today, I can almost guarantee that the lesson would have deteriorated into a regret-filled episode of fury and tears, mostly mine.

That’s why it’s important that we have Ethan, the instructor-slash-buffer. He’ll be like the good doctor who keeps the parents from freaking out while he guides our baby driver onto life’s highway. I wonder if I could hire Ethan to ride along with my teenager until he turns 35. Does that sound doable?

If it’s not, I’m going to need that epidural right about now.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.