The Veterans, Pt. 1

Today, we hear from my parents!

Q: Once both, the kids headed out for college, was there any sense at all of “Whee! The house is open!” or was it mostly “Awww… the babies are gone.”

Dad: Recently unemployed, I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped neither one of you had to come back home to live.

Mom: There was for me a sense of pride that both of you were in college and doing so well. To this day, I still miss the household of our past, but have lots of memories and can even “hear” much of what passed over the years. Short answer is that I would lean toward the feeling of an “empty nest”.

Q: How early did you start saving for school/college for us?

Dad: A long time before you needed it but your Mom’s parents kicked in a big chunk and we added some of the earthquake insurance payout to the college fund too. Of course we also had a somewhat reversed situation where your high school tuition was more expensive than college.

Mom: We had some good advice and started saving when each of you was born. It was an account for your education only, which was a priority for us. Both of you have shown talent and capabilities since you were small, so we wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to learn in the correct environment.

Q: Do you recall how you felt before having us kids? Was it the sort of balance of nerves and excitement that I’ve been writing about or more one or the other?

Dad: For me it was nerves because I have the worry chromosome and must obsess about all worrisome things. Oh geeze, did I say that right?

Mom: We experienced many changes in a short time when I found out that we were expecting a baby. Dad got a new job here in California, we left family and friends behind to take the position. Dad had flown out for the job interview and called to tell me to get on a plane so we could buy a house. We did so in one weekend.

Then we packed up, said our goodbyes and drove across country to a whole new life. (Grocery stores did not stock the same brands we had grown up with so we even had to learn what foods and staples to buy!)

Anyway, I had wanted to be a mommy and a teacher since I was a little girl. So I don’t recall being nervous, but remember wanting to be sure that you were safe and healthy.

Q: What was the hardest period raising me? How about my sister?

Dad: All things considered, you guys were a walk in the park.

Mom: Interesting question. I will tell you this – once when you were about 20 we were discussing SOMEthing, I have no recollection of what so it was most likely inconsequential, and you snapped at me. I was shocked as it had never happened before.

I do wonder if having your sister two years after you might have been hard for you since it placed you in the big brother role as a toddler, but maybe that is maternal angst rather than a real emotional issue her birth created.

I cannot latch onto a hardest period. Watching and guiding your children is a continuum. Some of it goes along more smoothly than other parts is all . . .

Q: Do you have any advice for new parents? Any method or tactic that you swore by?

Dad: Unless you were raised by wolves (or a Republican) just do what logic and your own good sense dictates. Then there’s the advice my dad gave me for everything, which upon reflection is more philosophical than I gave him credit for: ‘Tom, you do what you gotta do.’

Mom: I have a few tried and true methods and tactics. They are so simple that I think they sometimes fall under the parental radar.

One is to use a whisper voice. Infants and children alike need to stop their crying or fussing in order to hear you.

Another is to allow a child to play or explore without interrupting them. If that toy is suddenly fascinating, it makes no sense to introduce another at that moment.

(Personally, I believe that would be the beginning of a problem with ability to maintain attention and focus, but that’s probably the teacher in me talking.)

I also was a fan of listing choices of activities so that you learned to keep yourself occupied. “Mommy needs to do some laundry right now. What would you like to do – color or play with the Legos?” for example.

Next, and this is so important, is to allow the child to function as a part of the family. You and your sister were asked to take things to the kitchen or go get a blanket or fold the washcloths. You did this since you could walk and understand. Work together. You felt like big kids doing your little jobs, and you were happy to be helpful.

Let me move to into the future some years for this next bit. I would tell you to listen without reacting. Children will stop talking to you and stop telling you things if you react without hearing their side or seeing their point. It is not hard to do but takes a prior determination to stand back, so to speak, and realize that what happened or is being discussed is a part of the child’s life and they need you to bounce ideas off or to help guide them or just to say that you know it can be difficult or sad or whatever. As a parent it sometimes makes us want to fix things or point out the folly of something when that is not what is needed at the time.

Q: Any particular things that you wish you had done as a parent that you want to remind the new wave to do?

Dad: When changing a boy’s diaper, always point him away from you.

Mom: What ifs are pretty tricky. None come to mind at present, but I’ll mull that one over.

Q: When raising my sister and I, did you have to really strive to try an install a sort of moral and ethical compass for us? Or was it something that just came about as a result of the general process of parenting?

Mom: I think that as parents you have a standard by which you live, and that is passed to your children simply through example and discussions. Rules and expectations set the guidelines for children. We are fortunate that you and your sister were not rebellious or problematic, so this response applies to parenting an “easy” child.

Q: As a sort of corollary to that last one, any disciplinary techniques you can swear by without needing to fear child services?

Dad: Guilting always works best.

Mom: Let me repeat the whispering for this question. It can help when a child is getting too rambunctious.

I do recall telling you both that people could see that you were not behaving well. I would ask if that was what you wanted them to see about you. In retrospect, that may have caused you to think that those people should mind their own business or could have made you public shy, but seeing you both socially tells me that thought is a mom angst.

I think that singing can turn a situation around sometimes. Really.

Reading aloud works wonders. Even in the classroom, when things are threatening to go out of control, a good story brings everyone in focus and quiets even the rowdiest child.

(So, what? Carry a library and learn some good show tunes . . .)

Q: Did you get any particularly good or particularly bad advice from anyone about raising a child?

Dad: My Mom would repeatedly tell her kids, friends, neighbors and anyone who would listen that the best advice she had was to “bury ’em at 12 and dig ’em up at 20.” Good or bad advice? You decide.

Mom: Another mother talked to me about the listening advice I listed above. She was right, but it’s surprising how many people don’t realize how effective it is as a communication skill.

Q: I was almost named “Vittorio”, but the family talked you out of it. Any particular reason you were thinking of such a “cultural” name? And what made you change your mind? Just the sheer pressure from everyone?

Dad: I don’t recall pressure from la familia, but this was not long after The Godfather films so the name Vito carried some added baggage. I think we came to our senses on our own and instead opted for naming you after Vito’s son.

Mom: We had a list of names picked out for a boy or a girl. I like Vittorio. The most likely reason for having it on the list is that my early childhood was spent in a very Italian neighborhood. Angelo, Vito, Alberto, Aldo . . . It sounded familiar and nostalgic for me.

The family was pretty adamant that we would be assigning our child an ethnic albatross. That was not our intent, and Michael was the name of Dad’s grandfather, so we chose that with Dad’s name as a middle name.

Different option, not settling.

Q: Knowing how I am now as a person, and how I was growing up, have I changed a lot? Or are there a lot of core parts of my personality that remain? How about for my sister?

Mom: I am a firm believer that we are born with certain character traits that are innate. A prime example is the fascination you had for books since you were tiny. You always loved games. You’ve been a high achiever all of your life. You were always a thinker and a diplomat. You also spoke well – in the high chair you would say that your food was “delicious”. (In the interest of full disclosure, there may have been a /th/ in the middle in place of the /c/.)

Your sister has been active since she learned to walk (early, like you). She was hopping and skipping and dancing when other babies of that age were barely mobile. She still likes to be busy. While she was a non-reader as a child, she now reads and plays games like her big brother.

She talked young and could tell stories in detail. She still has great communication skills. She is artistic plus has a green thumb.

You will find that as you get older, it’s the outer shell that is changing. Inside, while you learn and adapt and wise up a bit, you still feel like the person you were when you were young.

So – have you changed a lot? Yes. And no.

Q: Was it difficult to watch me and my sister grow up and become more independent? Or do all the big milestones that make up that process sort of balance things out?

Dad: No, you always envision your kids as being small children needing you, which is why I so enjoy doing your laundry when you come visit.

Mom: Happily, it has been a source of pride and pleasure to watch you both grow up. Seeing that you are so capable and self sufficient is testament to how you were raised and the opportunities that we tried to provide for you. We each face certain hardships or difficulties from time to time, but I remain impressed with your abilities to handle situations and cope. Living closer to each other so we could visit more easily would be enjoyable for me, but knowing that you are both successful and productive and within a network of friends brings me a sense of satisfaction that all is well and probably as it should be.

Q: Were the teenage years as difficult as everyone makes them out to be?

Dad: Like I said, pretty much a walk in the park. Well, except for the car accidents.

Mom: I had always heard that if you have an easy child, the teenage years would be difficult and vice versa. Let me begin by saying that over time the mind fogs over a bit, but having heard that adage I kept expecting things to go dark and that I would need to try to use the force to retain some sense of order and good. Teenagers begin to stretch their wings and express themselves and mark their territories etcetera, and in doing so there are new discussions and lines drawn and adjustments made.

It’s all good . . .

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