A fresh perspective: Kate Williams

kate web.jpg
Today's interview is a conversation with an old friend, Kate Williams. Kate is a hilarious and thoughtful writer who tells it like it is. And you know what else? Kate was my very good friend in the 5th grade!  In fact, Kate knew me at perhaps my most awkward stage of ALL TIME -- junior high. We both loved to read, and we both wanted to be writers. And now look at us! Kate is a writer, and I've been writing the same dissertation for 87 years. Good on us!

My family moved away from the small Texas town where Kate and I endured middle school just after eighth grade, but we were digitally reunited through the ever-astounding connecting power of Facebook. Since then I've followed Kate's blog and laughed along with the exploits of her three sons, Aquaman, and yellow dog. Grab a cold Diet Coke and read on -- Kate's perspective on big kid parenting is warm, funny, and real. 

First off, tell us about your kids.  We have three boys. The oldest I refer to as The Redhead - he’s 14. The twins turn 13 this month. I cannot believe we will have 3 teenagers! I refer to the twins as Thing 1 and Thing 2 when I write.

They are all very interested in science, The Redhead has already declared he’ll be majoring in Marine Engineering (he’s only a 9th grader!) and Thing 2 says he’ll be a marine biologist, like Dad (aka Aquaman). Thing 1 shows the most interest in fishing and geology. They are typical boys. They like fire, explosions, Youtube, and xBox.

What have you learned as a mom of older kids that you wish you had known when your kids were younger?  I wish I had known how bad their memories are. There are so many times when I lost my temper or cried or locked myself in the bathroom (sometimes all three at once) and felt so guilty because I thought I was damaging them for life. I just knew that they would have memories of their crazy momma, losing it. But you know what? They don’t even remember what the house we lived in looked like - much less the time I just walked out, leaving Aquaman to deal with three screaming babies. (That might have happened more than once - in more than one house.) If I had known how little they actually remember, I wouldn’t have stressed myself out so much!

If you could sum up your philosophy of this mid-stage of parenting into a fortune cookie, what would it say?  I actually saw this on a sign somewhere recently and I think it says it all:  “If you’re going to act like a turd, go lay in the yard.”

Such words of wisdom. I can’t stand to have a sulky, pouty kid around. And it doesn’t hurt to remind myself that sometimes my behavior is less than stellar and I should get out of my funk and get on with it.

What’s your favorite part of parenting teens?  I love that they are involved and interested in things that I can clearly remember doing or being interested in when I was their age.

I remember high school marching band vividly, so I’m able to understand what The Redhead has to do and what’s involved. When he lost it during summer band camp, overwhelmed and exhausted, I was able to pull great stories of band from my memory and give him an effective pep talk. And my stories from the good old days seem to amuse him.

The twins went to their first dance last weekend, and I remember being in 7th grade and having my first “boyfriend” and how awkward everything felt. I try to keep that in mind when they actually choose to share something with me. Being a teenager is hard. I think remembering that angst helps me as a parent.

allmyboys web.jpg

What’s your most challenging part of parenting teens?  Dealing with the attitude. When they just look at you with that blank stare, and you’re so worked up you could spit nails. Or when they don’t answer “Yes ma’am.” when I’ve called them or asked them to do something. It’s the most challenging when you know that you have taught them well - they know what they’re supposed to do - and they deliberately choose not to do whatever it is.

That “Woe is me” attitude that our boys have a lot also gets to me. “My life sucks. We never do anything. I never get to go anywhere. Do I have to?” That stuff. Drives me nuts. I always ask them, “How can you possibly act so spoiled? We’ve given you NOTHING!” They never think it’s funny.  

On a more serious note, their severe food allergies and asthma are a huge challenge. (Only Thing 1 isn’t at risk of anaphylactic shock and doesn’t have asthma.) As they get older, I am sometimes filled with dread knowing that they are away from me a lot and it is their responsibility to be careful about what they eat, what other people around them are eating, and how to respond if there’s an allergic reaction or asthma attack. When I hear stories on the news of the latest death from anaphylaxis or asthma, I just want to curl up in a dark room. That, or follow them around everywhere with an inhaler and an Epipen.

What have been your most successful family gatherings/activities with older kids? Going to the movies as a family has been the most enjoyable for everyone. We can typically rely on all 3 boys wanting to be there, agreeing on something to see, and sneaking candy into the theater hidden in my purse (we splurge on popcorn and drinks).

Once or twice a year, we’re able to read a book aloud together before it comes out as a movie. Then we usually go and see the movie the day it opens. (Right now we’re reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card - the movie comes out in November.) All of the things that we loved and discussed about the book are rehashed as it comes to the big screen. There’s nothing better than hearing your kid say, “The book was way better!” And there’s something about having that shared experience.

We try to read aloud every night - we’re more strict about that than all eating dinner together. We all love it, unlike some other family outings we’ve tried (like hiking or even meals where inevitably someone doesn’t like the food or doesn’t want to be there).

gamenight web.jpg

What new routines or traditions have evolved as your kids have gotten older?  Elaborate homemade birthday cakes have become something expected as the boys have gotten older. It started out as a necessity - they have so many food allergies that the only way to have a birthday cake that they could eat was for me to make it. I kind of felt like I had to make it super special, since most folks were giving their kids store bought cake that would have some amazing designs or be over the top. But along the way, I got really good at cake decorating and it became something that everyone looked forward to. Now it’s tradition for each boy to request something challenging (for me) and very unique (for them) for their birthday cake. I’ve made everything from Spiderman, Hulk, and Monsters, Inc. to a snare drum and a shark.

Our reading aloud at night before bed has also evolved - it used to be board books and picture books. Then we graduated to early readers, chapter books - now we read pretty much anything. This summer we attempted World War Z but it just wasn’t made for reading aloud - too many sidebars and things set off in italics and different points of view. We still haven’t seen the movie, even though our boys are all about zombies.

readaloud web.jpg

How and/or when do you connect with your teens best? Usually it’s when we’re watching something like Saturday Night Live. My maturity level is on par with a teenage boy’s when it comes to comedy, so we’re all good. We watch the skits and laugh and laugh and laugh. And we end up talking about current events and discovering new musicians.

When Seth Meyers (from SNL’s Weekend Update) came to the DFW area, we went and heard him speak. The Redhead loves him, but all of us had a great time - he was a really good speaker. Silly humor brings us together. Will Ferrell brings out the best in us. We watch Elf every single year before Christmas and then quote from it year round. Just this weekend, we were at a park and saw a raccoon walking on the ground. I looked at the boys and said, “Hey! What’s your name? My name’s Buddy.” Thing 2 didn’t even hesitate. “Does someone need a hug?” We all cracked up. (See clip here.)

 What is one thing you want your children to learn/understand before they leave home? I want them to know how to do their own laundry. Please God don’t let them go through life in stained underwear.

Williamsfamily web.jpg

 Any funny stories you can share about your kid(s) or mid-stage parenting?  We’ve been through alot the past few years - we moved from a very small town to the suburb of a huge metroplex. Not too long after the start of the school year after we moved, I quit my job teaching. I was waiting on the front porch when the boys got off the school bus. They were surprised to see me - I usually didn’t get home for several hours after they did.

“What are you doing home?” The Redhead asked as they walked up.

“I quit my job,” I announced. Out with it. No beating around the bush.

Thing 1 didn’t miss a beat. “Does that mean we can’t go out to eat anymore?” he asked.

“Maybe not as much,” I said.

I was prepared for all kinds of questions and anxiety from them. Ready to explain why I had to quit, why commuting and working somewhere that I didn’t feel appreciated had to end. How everything was going to be okay and we would be fine. How it was important for me to be home now that Dad was working out on boats for weeks at a time. I braced myself for the onslaught. Thing 2 looked like he had something to say. “Do you have a question, sweetie?” I asked him.

“Yes. Can you have a snack waiting for us every day when we get off the bus now?”

And there it is. A boy’s priorities.

They’re easy to love.

I love that Kate's family reads aloud every night. I want to do that. I'm big about jumping on a bandwagon and then falling off (and badly injuring myself). Well, badly injuring my pride anyway. But I'm going to pick up a book and climb up on that reading bandwagon anyway. I'm the boss around here. I'm in charge. And I want to READ!

Aside from being a thoughtful parent, Kate is a great essayist. You can read more stories about her family life here, here and here

Thanks Kate!