Driving Lessons

Driving LessonsThis right of passage – giving driving lessons to a teenaged child – is not one faced by single (only) parents – but it’s been a unique challenge for me as an only parent to conquer, I think largely because it involves facing the fact that I have to give up some control.

Thinking back, I can remember the year from when I turned 16 (when you can get a learner’s permit) to when I turned 17 (when you can get your license) as a long year.  I remember doing the math and realizing although it seemed like it took forever to reach 16 (and 17) eventually I would be driving for more years in my life that I wasn’t.

So, I focused on learning to drive – both with my mom’s help and driving lessons and working for just about anyone who would pay me – so I could get a car the day I got my license.  For me, a car was freedom – the same way my bicycle was freedom when I was 10.

Now teaching 16.0 to drive is a whole new experience.

While I like to think I’m not a control freak, keeping things under control is important to me.  There is a definite sense of loss of control when you turn your 16-year old loose (even when you’re in the passenger’s seat and she’s in a parking lot) with your hard-earned automobile.

While I expect her to take a full driver’s ed course over the winter into the spring ahead of her June birthday – I’m trying to teach her how to be situationally smart while driving.  How to make decisions, and not what decisions to make (the model I’ve used for the last 6 years).

But now it’s hard to try to let her make decisions and sit there quietly while our safety (and my car) is on the line.

Slowly we’re getting there.  We’ve been out of parking lots a little and working on practical driving stuff (I’ll leave the technical teaching to the professionals).  And I’m slowly learning my driving lessons while I teach driving lessons to my daughter.

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Chips Off The Old Block

Chip off the old blockI think it was more of a coincidence than a plan – but we ended up marking Risa’s birthday (April 8) together on a late season ski trip.  While I am not sure the girls realized it, I was able to look at both of them during the three days we were in Vermont and see all the great qualities their mother would be proud of.  I can’t help but think my girls are chips off the old block.

April is one of those months (like mid-November through mid December) where the calendar conspires and life’s moments set a reflectional and introspective tone.  It starts with the eighth and continues six days later when we mark the passing of my father.  Then less than two weeks later is my birthday.  It’s become a month I struggle with.

But looking at my children this week I know their mother and grandfather would be happy with what they would see.

Channeling the determination of her mother, 14.5 mastered (with help from her friend who made the trip with us) the fine art of the snowboard.  Her determination to become good at snowboarding was not unlike Risa’s determination to be an involved mother early in her daughter’s life even though she was battling cycle after cycle of chemotherapy.  I could only watch proudly – with a smile on my face as 14.5 took on some of the harder intermediate slopes at Killington – and won.

This was our first trip to Killington and the first run 12.5 and I made could have ended our trip early.  Looking out at a fog hanging over the mountain, we decided to jump into a gondola and head to the top of the highest peak in search of a nice long run to warm up on.

The dense fog in the middle of the mountain sent me down a double black diamond and into a terrain park.  In the meantime, 12.5 skiing slower than me stopped and realized I made a wrong turn.  She showed the resourcefulness of her mother and waited for the ski patrol to point her in the right direction.

It was a 20 minute wait at the bottom of the mountain for me, hoping she did not follow me. Then as panic was about to set in, there she came skiing up to the gondola entrance where we said we’d meet.

That resourceful trait is the same kind of resourcefulness their mother imparted upon her girls by figuring out a way to overcome physical challenges and do things with them.  She took them shopping, brought them to the park and got them to Hebrew school despite some limitations.

Like my kids and their mother, my father passed when I was young.  I like to think there are traits I saw in my father in the early part of my life that I carry forward today.  To be honest, I don’t know – but I hope people can look at me and say I too am a chip off the old block.

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Lessons Learned On the Slopes of the Berkshire Mountains

Learning on the SlopesAfter a two and a half day hastily planned ski trip where we all had a great time, I can say there were lessons learned on the slopes of the Berkshire Mountains that make the trip well worth it – beyond great skiing.

Lesson 1:  Start with the actual skiing. I think this may be a new family tradition – a week or two after Thanksgiving, while everyone is focused on Christmas and Hanukkah, the snow is plentiful and the slopes are empty.

Lesson 2:  It’s beginning to look like 14.5 is a late-bloomer of sorts as far as sports goes.  It kind of started out over the summer when she decided a little out of the blue to play JV soccer.  As the season progressed – she became a more and more confident player.  Recognizing what she needed to work on, she started working out after the season and once winter sports opened, she joined the winter track team.

Not only is she enjoying her new-found athletic prowess – this year she took on snow boarding.  After two days of lessons (and a bunch of bruises), she’s doing well.  The instructors were pretty happy with her progress on the slopes and complimented her natural athletic ability.

Lesson 3:  This one is about 12.0.  One of the struggles I have with her is that she wants to do a lot of things, has some raw talent for them, but rarely if ever practices – or is even willing to practice.  For this trip, I let her take one of her friends along (actually it was more like she invited a friend and came to me with, “Dad, can my friend go with us? Her parents said yes already?”)

Since she has spent a lot of time with this friend’s family and gone on trips with them as well, I said yes.  The underlying thought I had went something like this; the friend likes to ski, is of about the same skill level and the two of them would take the mountain and just do lots of reps.

Almost like it was a plan, the two of them did hours of reps on the longer medium skill level runs, and 12.0 reports she was skiing with a lot of confidence and from what I saw a return to the skill I’ve seen in the past.

Lesson 4:  This one is more about me.  Over the last year or so, I’ve been working really hard to regain control of my weight and shape up.  A lot of time spent on cardio and strengthening – with less time spent on the weights.  In that time I’m down 25 or pounds and feel really good.  And I was able to feel the difference on the slopes from last year.  Turning was easier, recovery was faster and in general I felt my form was better.

I guess the upshot is your never too old to learn, and there’s no predicting just where school will be in session.  In this case, lessons learned on the slopes of the Berkshire Mountains were pretty helpful.

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Lines, Boundaries, and the Blur

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US MapOne of the roles a parent plays is to teach their children about behavioral lines and boundaries.  How far they can go, and understand there are repercussions when the lines are crossed.  It’s up to our children to push those boundaries and grow.

But when we become adults, learning those lines and boundaries as our lives change is very different.  Maybe that is why as we get older we get more set in our ways, because that learning of boundaries is set at such an early age.  I’m not sure, it’s a new theory though.

As 12.5 emerges into her teen years, I see a lot of that going on with her.  There is less jump when asked to do something, more pushback when she does not agree and the never-ending set of “why” questions when it just has to be done.  And all of that is normal, and dealt with in real-time.

For 10.0, the changes are more subtle, but they are emerging as well.  With her as she sees her sister push the boundaries, she would like to go along for the ride.  Sometimes there has to be a reminder that her sister is almost a teen, sometimes I’m OK with it, and sometimes the answer is just no.

Then there is my use case, which comes with much less of a template.

In many ways I am a mid-40’s parent with parental responsibilities.  In some ways I am a 25-year-old single guy trying to balance a relationship and life.  But when I was 25 and dating there were no kids (mine or hers) in the mix.  There were no complications of life (widow, divorce, separation etc) to blur the lines and boundaries.

So while my inner 25-year old wants to do a lot of things, my in the moment 45-year old stands up and says there are rules and responsibilities.  In between is my inner rational trying to work it all out in real-time.

No one ever said it would be easy, but a map (with borders) would be nice.  Usually trial and error works.  Sometimes its the border looks less like Nevada and Utah and more like northern Kentucky from Indiana to Ohio.

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Firing Up the Violin

Three months ago 9.0 started playing the violin in school as part of the music program in the school.  There is a lot of significance to this on a lot of levels.  Probably the most important reason for her is that her mom played the violin and viola (I think through college), and her instruments are still in the house.

I think secondary is a point of differentiation for her.  When 11.5 was in fourth grade she tried the clarinet and never really took to it.  It’s important to 9.0 to succeed at something on her own too.

When she started playing the violin in November, she asked about taking private lessons too.  I made a deal with her in November that will begin to be fulfilled today.  I told her if she practiced and enjoyed the violin, I would sign her up for lessons “in a few months.”

Three months later, we are off to private lesson one.  Fortunately there is a place not far from the house with a great reputation for teaching-so off we will go.  For now, I’ve committed to five weeks-but I think this will go through the end of the school year.  She’ll have the summer off for camp.

In the meantime, I’m thinking about finding out what it takes to restore a violin-assuming 9.0 remains avid about the instrument, playing her mom’s violin I think would be very special.  I think that will be a summer project.

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Lessons in the Apple Orchard

Not where we went apple picking thoughAs the sun set on Rosh Hashanna this year I took the girls for some apple picking.  For those who read who are not MOT or aware of the culture, part of the holiday is to dip an apple into some honey for a sweet year.  It’s admittedly a little quaint, but it works.  And we did that at temple-which spurred the conversation about apple picking.

One of the benefits of living as far from the city as we do is easy (or relatively easy) access to many of Long Island’s still operating farms.  We generally pick strawberries, apples and pumpkins each year, and sometimes some other items.  Also when we go east of our house, a stop at a farm stand on the way home is not uncommon.

Lesson one from the apple orchard was to get there ahead of the holiday next year.  It was pretty slim pickings in the fields.  We got about 10 apples-and I don’t have high hopes for any of them.  Thinking apple pies are about to be backed.

Last year, being what it was, the only picking we managed to do was pumpkin picking.  It was just too much with my wife in hospice and trying to get there on the weekend with the girls and still keep all the rest going.

This year, even with less than a plentiful bounty-the girls had a great time walking through the orchard and hunting down the few apples they could find.  It’s not about the haul for them-but about the activity.

Last year was the first since we moved out here (almost 9 years now) that we did not do apple picking.  I’m not sure 11.0 remembers when we went apple picking before we moved out here, but we did.  There is a kind of relaxation and familiarity to it, and it’s a nice little family event.

Lesson two from the orchard is to make sure I remember to look at some of these events through the eyes of my children.  To me, the trip was kind of a bust in that the apples were not great and I am not sure the apple pie (or apple sauce or apple cider) will be very good.  But that’s only a small part of what comes out of the apple orchard.

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All (sort of) Packed Up and Ready to Go?

Packing is part of the equationSo, during the extended spring break 10.5 and 8.5 are enjoying I sent them to grandma’s house for a couple of days.  I had some meetings and work stuff that I had to do, and it was simpler than trying to juggle sitters etc.  This is not the fist time they’ve overnighted at grandma’s and not the first time they’ve slept out–8.5 loves the sleepover.

Since it’s generally low impact, I don’t delve too deeply into what they pack for these.  I do ask, did you pack a toothbrush, hair brush, underwear, pajamas etc.  Invariably, 10.5 forgets something and rushes to go pack.  8.5, answers yes, yes, yes and my assumption is its packed.

For this particular sleepover, I checked with them individually three times, although I never looked in their suitcase  Sure enough, 8.5 had no clean underwear.

Now my mother (grandma) sees this as a problem.  After all, I am among the legions who were taught it’s a bad thing to have to go to the hospital after an accident in dirty underwear.  I don’t actually teach that concept to my kids though.

Instead, I teach the philosophy shared by a camp counselor a long time ago-in life you need to know how to wipe your own ass.  In this case it means, you were told to pack.  You were told what to pack, you were asked (3 times) if you packed and you didn’t.  Now you’ll know what its like to spend quality time in dirty underwear.

Unfortunately, 8.5 probably got her underwear cleaned, or grandma picked some up while they were shopping-a valuable teaching moment lost.

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