Having to count your words while writing can be annoying at best, and intimidating at worst. Professional writers have to deal with this conundrum on a regular basis and it is annoying.
However, it doesn’t have to be a stumbling block and I hope it doesn’t discourage you from wanting to contribute to What Were We Thinking? Parents Confess Their Biggest Mistakes so You Can Avoid Them. Forget about counting words and just write your story. Also, don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or even if it makes sense. Just get your thoughts down. This will give you a structure that you can build on later. Many of us have had these stories in the back of our minds for years; now is the time to let them out. By the way, you just read 124 words.
Good stories have a beginning, middle and end. Set the scene – the age of your child, the circumstances that led to the situation and what happened. Describe why you regret the decision you made or the action you took. This can be very painful and hard to write. I had difficulty writing about what happened to my son. For my story about my daughter, I started with her high school graduation. Then I described how we limited our options for choosing a school, failed to communicate effectively with her about her options, and described her choices after she left school that we ultimately accepted and even celebrated.
There is a very easy way to count your words if you are working in Microsoft Word. Click on “tools” at the very top of the page and select “word count” in the drop down menu.
My next blog will have more tips on writing – stand by . . .
Jan and Molly
Basically, I should have done a zillion wonderful things with her, rather than a mere few thousand.
But the dumbest thing is still painful for me to recall.
Molly was an adorable little imp, about 6-years-old. We had two-story scaffolding on our home during a remodel. I warned my Molly not to climb on it. I was very clear and emphatic.
Several days later, I looked out the window and saw that she was on it. I said to myself, “ Well, I warned her, and if she doesn't listen to me, that’s just . . . too bad!" I let her climb.
She fell and required stitches in her scalp. So. Dumb. I should have simply demanded she get down and assign a time out in her room. I don't spank.
Molly is now in her thirties. I emailed this admission of parental regret to her and she replied, telling me that she not had climbed the scaffold to spite me. I was surprised because it had never really occurred to me that she was ‘”spiting” me by disobeying. To me, that seemed out of her character.
As I remember it, my anger (which now seemed spiteful on my part) came out of a feeling that my warnings were simply unimportant to her. When a daughter doesn’t respect her daddy’s words, then what? It was such a comedown from feeling I was important (and to be listened to).
I realize now I was important to her, but she just didn’t see me as infallible. Or, maybe, she just had forgotten my warnings and saw no problem in climbing that scaffold. Knowing her, that is most likely.
When our son entered junior high we knew he would be dealing with the challenges that puberty brings. We had been through it already with our daughter, and she managed with a minimum of stress, or so we thought.
The local public elementary school was very good, but the junior high did not have a good reputation. Our daughter completed grades seven, eight and nine there. She had told us about “fights with blood” at school and we knew the mother of one of her friends was in jail. Students who did well academically were mocked in school award assemblies. She played saxophone in the jazz band and did well academically, so that was what we paid attention to.
Things were different for our son. He was not a member of the majority ethnic group and, with blond hair and blue eyes, he stood out. He got on a drum squad in seventh grade and our daughter told us that that made him cool. He didn’t tell us much about what was going on, but we were in the clueless parent stage of his adolescence and we didn’t push.
He went to summer school after seventh grade. I picked him up one day and he was upset to the point of tears. A classmate of his had been shot and killed on the way home from school by another classmate the day before. We went to the wake together and my heart broke to see a child in a casket. My son was devastated.
We sent him back there for eight-grade. In the middle of the year, my husband got a call from the vice principal telling him that our son was beaten up. My husband took him to urgent care because one eye was swollen shut and he worried about a head injury. At a meeting we requested a few days later, the vice principal passed it off as normal junior high male behavior and, since it did not take place on school grounds, assumed no responsibility.
It was a young teacher’s aide who came to our home and gave us an education on gang behavior. He told us that the attack was most likely done by a gang. The murder of our son’s classmate the summer before was probably a gang initiation. We finally got the message and our son never went back to that school.
We tightened our belts and paid for a private school on the other side of town. My husband drove our son to a bus stop outside of our neighborhood because the teacher’s aide said he might be retaliated against if he waited for the city bus in our neighborhood. Years later when I told a police officer this story she told me we probably saved our son’s life.
Both my husband and I still feel guilty for not acting sooner to protect our son. Our first responsibility as parents is to keep our children safe. Our son is now married with two children of his own. He assures us that he has forgiven us, but I don’t know if we’ll ever forgive ourselves.
It is this story that provided the impetus for this book and inspired the title: What Were We Thinking? Parents Confess Their Biggest Mistakes so You Can Avoid Them. Our goal is to share stories that will help other parents in a positive way.
Our daughter graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and was awarded a partial scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. We had also visited an art school in San Francisco that she liked very much and was less expensive, but did not offer her a scholarship. California has many state universities that she could have applied to, but she confined her search to art schools only.
Chicago is on the other side of the country and has brutal winters. Because our daughter was leaving home for the first time, we wanted her to be in the protected environment that a dorm provides but the Art Institute didn’t have one. We didn’t take any of that into consideration, but focused only on the money that was available. Even with the scholarship, she couldn’t afford to complete four years based on our family budget. She dropped out of the school after one year and never returned to a post secondary education.
Many years later my daughter told me she really wanted to go to the art school in San Francisco. It was then that I realized that my husband and I made several mistakes in guiding our daughter to college. First, we concentrated only on art schools and didn’t consider a more traditional four-year liberal arts education. Since she went to a specialty high school, we looked down only one path when many more were available.
Second, we didn’t take a long, hard look at the finances. Student debt is a big issue these days and parents and their offspring need to aim for schools that they can finance for the full four years. But the biggest mistake we made was not communicating with our daughter in such a way that she felt comfortable telling us what she really wanted. We should have flat out asked her what she wanted to do, and listened with an open mind to her answer.
Ultimately, our daughter chose a path that did not include a traditional post-secondary education. She cofounded a nonprofit organization dedicated to community building by facilitating cooperative trade. Best known as Time Banking, the concept is built on the idea that each of us has unique gifts, talents and resources to share and that everyone’s time is equal. She has found her calling in her own way.
Kathleen Vallee Stein