Monday, November 22, 2010

Can My Kids Be Happy?

Its weird how at certain times your brain goes into different modes- there’s work mode, play mode, shutdown mode and unfortunately for me right now at 2AM on a Sunday night, I’m in high anxiety mode, and the only cure (so that I can fall asleep) is to get it down in writing.

At 40 years old, I have come to recognize this brain mode. It’s when I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about what needs to be done. Or what hasn’t been done, or that I haven’t reached a life goal that I was hoping to achieve. It’s when I reflect on my life so far and think of the failures and the successes, and what else I need to do.

When I was a teenager, I’d think about social acceptance. I was by no means a loner, but I was the kind of guy where I’d always liked girls above my comfort zone and the girls who liked me were below my comfort zone- I guess I was never happy with my social caste. I did get teased some for several reasons- I was half Korean/half Honkey in an era where that was weird- but now I can say that I was a pioneer! My dad was 60 when I was born which limited physical activities and resulted in lots of “why is your grandpa here on father-son day?” I was given a name that was a little past its heyday- (sorry George Washington and George Westinghouse and Babe Ruth, but you dudes were dead way before I was even a glint in my father’s eye). But now I’m confident in who I am. I think I’m pretty friendly with pretty much anyone. I still may judge those who are above or below me, but I don’t envy them, and I try not to be a total dick to them. When an ex girlfriend of mine (who was white) broke up with me and married an Asian guy, I always rationalized that she missed me and wanted kids who looked like me.

As I got older I’d have anxiety about money or career or meeting the right spouse. As a B student ADD type I was always reasonably intelligent, but always found a way to slack off enough to let my grades suffer, so that I couldn’t go to a top tier college. I learned music and could play piano, clarinet and guitar… but I could never jam or make music (like my brother can). I pretty much learned how to play songs. My dad loved music and had a huge reel to reel tape collection- I ended up working at a CD store and have a huge CD/MP3 collection... I played soccer and baseball long enough to know the games well. I loved baseball and hated soccer… but I was mediocre at baseball and good at soccer- that translates to no high school sports and hence no real team camaraderie beyond youth. But by golly I can watch any baseball game at any skill level and enjoy it.

After college or even when college was almost over, I was a typical Generation Xer and had no real focus or expertise. Unfortunately my own father had passed by then, so when I really needed and wanted some guidance, it was too late and I had no other father figure or mentor. My dad was actually a career Army guy- a colonel who served in World War II. Then he was president of a major metropolitan chamber of commerce. Then he was VP of a start up company- but in my youth, he was stay at home retired dad. Although no Malcolm Forbes, the guy had some decent life experiences. And unfortunately for me I let that slip away without tapping into it.

When I was engaged to my wonderful wife, I had an anxiety dream that I was losing my hair. I got out of bed, went to the mirror and it turned out that wasn’t a dream, I was really losing it. Oh well.

So now that you know a little background on who I was, keep in mind that that’s not why I’m awake. I now can’t sleep because for once in my life it’s not about me. I mean, of course it’s about me, but I’m actually thinking about my family and how their brains work and how they have these same sort of anxieties. I’m anxious on how I can use my past to help them through their present and their future- all without sounding like a preachy parent.

I’ve been married for 12 years now, we have 2 kids and I am a business owner and am also gainfully employed in an industry that I am very capable at. We’ve gone through a few rough patches with the economy and like others; we have our medical scares from time to time. But now we have food in the fridge and a roof over our head. That’s the 10,000 foot view of my life today, but let’s zoom in a bit.

I have a short fuse, I’m lazy, I complain, I’m selfish. But are those bad traits? I get my temper when something doesn’t go the way I plan, or when people don’t meet my expectations. I find the negative in many things and vocalize it much to the chagrin of others. When I’m tired or hungry or burned out I need to sit, eat, watch tv and surf the internet. You remember that I’m folically challenged right? I sound like a real catch don’t I? Well, I’m not putting together a personal profile for eharmony. I don’t want to impress anyone. I love my wife and in fact we just renewed our wedding vows last weekend.

You see, part of tonight’s anxiety is my worry that my kids will end up like me… And any adult with kids can recognize that this is pretty much what happens in life. We may end up in different careers or environments, but our personalities are our parents’. Unless we have just plain bad parents who are abusive, negligent or dishonest, we really don’t have a reason to hate them. Assuming that a parent loves their kids and tries to provide for them and gives them a safe home, that’s pretty good in today’s world. Many kids go through the phase where their parents “just don’t understand”. But then later in life, assuming that they make it through to the other side intact, it all comes together. And then the cycle repeats and we end up having many of those same character traits for better or worse. My mom has a temper and her own idealistic mindset of how things should turn out. My dad was studious, curious, an alcoholic, an adventurer, and eloquent- perhaps that’s why I like to write sometimes. But forget about my parents. Let’s talk specifically about my kids.

I have a 9 year old daughter and a 5 year old son. Now assuming that they never read this, or when they do they are much older and wiser and self assured, then I’m going to lay it out there.

My daughter is very intelligent, very calm, creative, a quick learner in music, good with money, considerate, funny, an avid reader, a cook, an idealist, independent and she’s a daddy’s girl. But at the same time, she’s in 4th grade and has no real close friends, and she is already questioning why she needs to learn things, and she doesn’t practice piano much, and she’s forgetful, and she’s scared of getting hurt and she cries when I try to help her with her homework or piano lessons. Now I have no problem saying all these negative things about her because that was me at that age and I turned out OK. But at the same time, I had that point in my life in between riddled with teen angst and social awkwardness- all that other stuff that she is on the cusp of going through.

My son on the other hand has a few years before teenage stuff, but he’s very intelligent, a good reader, a troublemaker, a crybaby, belligerent, good with math, greedy, fearless, stubborn, and one who is prone to cause calls home about his behavior at school, bus, church, etc. Since I called our daughter a daddy’s girl, unfortunately I need to call him our mama’s boy… Our primary concern is that my wife and I are already fearful of how he might be categorized or shunned for his behavior despite his abilities or that despite watching episodes of Super Nanny and parent coaching (which we have completed), it might require a medical solution.

So, here am I with my traits. I won’t even go into my wife and her traits which are by no means terrible but just as human as anyone else- not to mention her completely opposite upbringing compared to mine, and two very different kids that we call our own. That is why I can’t sleep.

I always pray for guidance and I pray for individual needs for my kids and wife, and I know that worrying does not make it better- just ask my sparsely populated scalp. I feel confident that God will show me the way- whether it’s helping me to be a better person or bringing the right people into the lives of our children or his actual touch on our children’s souls. At this moment, I actually feel like my own needs are third on the list. I really want His will to be done, and then I want the welfare of my loved ones. But by golly, when I get hungry or tired then I shove my way to the top of the list and those who need my prayers or example just see the opposite of what they need. And those that I love observe my selfish actions and although they might not say anything, they sure as heck act on it.

I’m only speaking for myself, but when I look at how my son acts, I usually blame myself. And when I look at how my daughter acts- in a very different way, I feel that it is a result of my actions. My boy fights back and my daughter clams up. In either case, that’s not the right way to raise kids.

I want to be a good example. I want my kids to do well in school. I want them to be musical and creative and athletic and funny. I want them to have “a motor” – not necessarily a cutthroat drive, but a relentless motivation to put thoughts into action. I want my kids to be finishers- not a jack of all trades and master of none. I want my kids to have good friends and meet good people and find true love. I want my kids to be happy so that when they are adults they won’t have such a tough time passing it on to their kids.

Sadly, it really is about me isn’t it?