Grit Blogs > A Lakeside View

Raising Children: Attending Summer School

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: children, Shelby, parenting,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgAh, the joys of parenting. From the moment of birth, every new experience is a lesson for both the parent and the child. Starting with the first tentative step, followed by the first skinned knee, parenting is a series of ups and downs. You praise your children’s accomplishments, and you help them work through their disappointments, all the while trying to instill in them a set of morals that you believe will help them grow to be responsible, caring people. There will be moments of intense pride. Conversely, it’s inevitable that there will be periods they’ll stumble. Even good kids make bad decisions, but you hope that they’ll learn from their mistakes and not repeat them. Enter the teenaged years, and with gained independence comes greater accomplishments and, unfortunately, bigger mistakes.

Shelby is a good kid. She’s a bright child in every sense of the word. Her colorful clothing matches her sunny disposition. She’s smart, creative, and witty, and when she uses those traits in combination, she’s the Queen of One-liners, laced with a biting sarcasm that seems much beyond her thirteen years. Other times, she’s just plain goofy. She oozes enthusiasm for life with every bouncy step she takes. She is both my sweet angel, and my scary monster under the bridge.

Shelby as scary monster under the bridge

Keith and I were so proud of her accomplishments during her Middle School Promotion back in June. In a sea of boys in shirts and ties their mothers laid out for them to wear, and girls decked out in sparkles and gold shoes worthy of high-school prom night, Shelby bounced up to receive her “President’s Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence,” given for maintaining an “A” average in every semester of all three years of middle school ... and she received it in her funky, spiked hair with the silly bow, a patterned peace sign dress, and black high-top Converse tennis shoes.


“How could you let her dress like that for graduation?!” my friend uttered. Huh? Part of being a parent, I believe, is teaching children that who they are is more important than how they look ... or how someone else thinks they should look. Conformity isn’t all it’s cracked up be. Do we really want our children to be die-cast Stepford cookie-cutter models of what we think of as the perfect child. I like her quirks and her Shelbyisms, and whatever phases of hair styles and clothing she goes through, I hope she never loses that in an effort to conform to somebody else’s standards. Even Keith, though proud of her academic achievement, was disappointed in the way she looked – I was disappointed in him for saying so. I saw it differently: I thought she looked exactly like Shelby – her appearance fit her personality to a tee, and I wouldn’t have expected it any other way. But it didn’t matter that I thought she looked cute; it wasn’t about what Keith or anybody else thought. It was her night to shine, and if she wanted to shine wearing high-top sneakers, that was her choice. I was as proud of her confidence in expressing her individuality, as I was in the award she earned.

And I was more disappointed in her for a choice she made later that month than I ever thought I could have imagined being. That she didn’t put herself, or anyone else in danger, or that on the grand scale of her life this would be a small pebble that doesn’t carry much over-all weight, doesn’t matter. There was no gray area in this choice; she knows right from wrong, and in this case, decided to do something without giving thought to the consequences.

What do you do when a child chooses wrong over right? Ground them? Does keeping them inside the house, barred from seeing friends and taking away phone, television and computer privileges, and giving them extra chores, teach them anything? In my experience, it does nothing but produce a moping, miserable child, who makes everyone else in the household miserable during the period of confinement. Keith, at times, would like to keep her locked inside the house, if for no other reason than to keep her protected and safe from the world outside.

Instead of grounding, I sentenced her to two weeks of community service, starting with taking fifty dollars of her own hard-earned babysitting money – a fortune for a thirteen year old – and donating it to a charity or organization of her own choosing. And she had to write a one-page essay on why she chose that particular organization.

The essay was the only part of her punishment she balked at. “An essay? Mom, it’s like you’re making me go to summer school.”

In one of those moments of stereotypical parental corniness seen through the eyes of a teenager, I replied, “It is summer school…and it’s called The School of Life.” (Even I rolled my eyes at that one.)

The essay was completed the next day. She chose to give her donation to The American Cancer Society, citing in the essay a long list of people in her life who’ve been affected by cancer, and her desire that a cure be found to help them. Sadly, shortly after, one of those on her list – her best friend’s father – passed away after a long battle with the disease. Writing the essay may have made her realize that no matter how bad she thinks she has it (having to actually write something during summer vacation – “OMG!!! The horror!!!”), there are people who have it much worse, and the harder lesson, that even as hope fades, we must continue to help however we can.

The community service part proved to be harder than I thought. Because of her age, many of the typical places where one might volunteer here in town – the Humane Society, the parks and recreation department, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Visitors Bureau – require an accompanying adult, and are open only during the day on weekdays, or on Saturdays. Keith and I both work during the times she could have volunteered at any of these places.

Instead, we spent time picking up trash on the Kal-Haven Trail, and after the weekend tourists went home leaving behind a beach littered with garbage, we cleaned up after them. I held the bag, and she did the dirty work. She dressed Quetta in a t-shirt she’d printed with “Donate to the Al-Van Humane Society.” Shannon pulled the wagon, and they went door-to-door collecting much needed cleaning supplies, blankets, towels, and office items for the shelter. These experiences may have reinforced the idea that we are all stewards of the earth and the creatures contained within.

Clothing, books, and odds and ends from her own room and closet were bagged and taken to Goodwill, so that people less fortunate than herself may benefit from things she often takes for granted.

The library was an exercise in tedium. She manned a table set up for the children’s summer reading program. The program participants she logged in during the evening hours where few and far between. The time she wasn’t manning the table, was spent “sight-reading” the shelves – books had to be put in alphabetical order according to authors. She didn’t like it – it was “bor-ring.” But not all jobs are exciting – some are tedious, but still must be done given the same attention to detail as tasks that are fun.

And she did get to have fun during this time. I put her and her friend to work serving lemonade and refreshments during the nursery’s annual “Art in the Arboretum” event. Afterward they cleaned up and put away chairs, loading them on a trailer attached to a John Deere Gator, and driving them back to the barn. She commented later that night, rating the various things during her community service time thus far, that this was by far the best (the library ranked worst).

Shelby serving lemonade

Then came the highest ranking task on her list. Enlisting her friend’s help again, they painted the “band stand” in the children’s garden. She surprised me a bit with this project; I figured they’d use left-over paint from home, but she spent $70 of her own money buying rainbow colors for the railings, and black and white for a checker-board floor. (Look at them – punishment spent behind the bars of a rainbow-colored jail; I laughed when I took the picture thinking it so appropriate.)

Painting the rainbow jail

They not only painted the structure – they painted their clothing, their legs, shoes, and anyone who happened to visit the children’s garden that day. Visitors are immortalized in brightly colored hand-prints on the beams of the structure.

Visitor gets painted to make handprint

When the last book was properly shelved, the last piece of trash picked up, the last chair folded, and the last paint brush cleaned, I wonder what, if anything, this has accomplished. Will she remember any of it years from now? Will it help her somehow, somewhere along the way? I’d like to think she gained more from the experience than she would have folding laundry and cleaning bathrooms at home. But I don’t know; parenting is as much a learning process as is growing from a child to an adult.

You give your children the tools you think they’ll need in life. They get your guidance, support, encouragement, and respect. There will be times you’ll be proud of how they put those tools to use. Sometimes even with the best of tools you can provide, they’ll struggle, and you’ll try to be there to help them figure it out. As a parent, you have to expect that on their walk through life, there will be a few minor splatters along the way. Even that’s okay – splatters add character; character builds strong individuals. And strong individuals have the confidence to wear paint-splattered tennis shoes when everyone else around them is wearing dress shoes. Shrug. Or something like that; I’m not sure exactly – in the job of parenting, I’m still learning.

Splattered tennis shoes

cindy murphy
8/27/2009 7:18:19 PM

Hi, Dave. You brought up some great points. I like that you used the word "perspective" when talking about how your children see things now as they look back on childhood experiences. Isn't it funny how we all see things differently. When Mom, my brothers, and I get together, each of us has a different view about things we did, (and what my Mom saw us do), as kids. I might see this community service gig of Shelby's one way twenty years from now; she might see it completely differently. That she might remember it twenty years from now will be a testament that it accomplished more than a typical grounding would have done. I also really like the way you put this: "They really can look past all the tattoos, hair styles, baggy wild colored clothes, and body hardware that make most older people shudder and shake their head in disgust." Even at Shelby's age, I can see this. Every school-age generation has their own set of classifications within the whole. It seems as if past generations stayed within their own group, and to cross the line was something to be looked down upon. Remember "West Side Story", "The Outsiders", and my generation's "The Breakfast Club"? The groups are still there today, though the names are different - Goth, Emo, Scene; the Jocks, the Preps, and the Nerds remain the same. It's not just tolerance, but teenagers of this generation, are a lot more accepting of those outside their group, and do (what I call) cross-pollinate, that is, there is no distinction when it comes down to what's behind the look. To put a spin on Michelle's comment, clothes and hair might complete the look, and to them, the look is definitely important, but it doesn't make the person. It'll be interesting to see how this transfers into the adult world, with adult views. Thanks for the word-limit tips! I've probably exceeded it already!

nebraska dave
8/26/2009 10:18:20 AM

Cindy, I've discovered that the word limit is 365. I use Microsoft Word to craft the comments then copy it into the comment section. Word keeps a running word count so I always know when I'm about to exceed the limit.

nebraska dave
8/26/2009 10:15:44 AM

Cindy, This is a great blog about raising kids. I want to encourage you and all the others who read this blog to know that kids do remember the learning moments and it does help them in later life. Two of my kids are now approaching 40 years old. After age 30, they began to open up and talk about all the growing up years from their perspective. Some of the things I did I’m quite embarrassed to even remember, but then there are those things just like the one you described in your blog, Cindy, that will be a good remembrance as they begin to raise their own kids. This Bridger generation (born 1984 and later) have broken the mold of the Builder and Boomer generations. Gone are the days of going to college, finding a job, and retiring at 40 years with a gold watch. They are blasting into a new millennium with new ideas, new concepts of work, and new ways to look. They are the future of this country and are moving into that responsibility with a fresh, different, wild perspective compared to their parents and grandparents. Personally I love being around this new generation because they have so much energy that it oozes off onto me. They really can look past all the tattoos, hair styles, baggy wild colored clothes, and body hardware that make most older people shudder and shake their head in disgust. Technology to these kids has become an extension of who they are and to be caught without a cell phone would be almost the same as a missing appendage. Our job as parents, as it always has been, is to help them discover and develop their talents to make the world a better place to live, to teach them to follow the straight and right path of life, and to live with integrity and honesty. I for one salute this new generation coming into maturity. I have confidence that they will indeed step into their role and guide this country into a new exciting direction that will make our country even stronger and more of a leader in the world community.

cindy murphy
8/18/2009 5:28:29 AM

Yep, Michelle, it was unfair that she was judged based on her looks and age, (just as it was unfair your daughter was judged the same way). But Shelbs did the exact same thing - she judged the evening's boredom factor based on the average age of the audience. I could have pointed that out to her, but I suspended her community service that night ONLY if she could tell me what she learned from the experience, and it took her a while to make the connection between the program topic, the judgement that was passed on her, and the judgement she placed on the elderly. Discrimination takes many forms, and they're all unfair. Ya can't judge a book based on its cover, but unfortunately people do....which probably is a reason she had to rearrange so many books on the shelves at the library.

michelle house
8/17/2009 8:29:46 PM

Hey Cindy, that is just awful that they misjudged her based solely on her looks, so unfair. And especially since the topic was discrimination. Ugh, nice of you, to suspend that time, it certainly wasn't her fault they were like that. My oldest used to dress like a thug, baggy pants, baggy shirts, etc.. her and her friends would get rousted by the MPs on post just for hanging out a playground. Clothes, nor hair make the person. Michelle :)

cindy murphy
8/16/2009 9:47:58 AM

HA, Lori! Yes, it'd be nice if children came with a manual. Only problem would be that "The Mom's Handbook" would be a twenty volume set. Each volume would be so thick, an entire room would be needed to house them. And since every child is different, they'd need to come with their own volume set! I wonder if there is a Reader's Digest condensed version out there somewhere?

cindy murphy
8/16/2009 9:36:26 AM

I really wish I would learn there's a word limit to these comments. To finish where I left off.... Since her community service that night wasn't performed, I let her off the hook by using the experience as a lesson. She'd prejudged the elderly people when we walked in; she looked at the elderly crowd, and immediately said to me the program was going to be boring. She was prejudged based on her strange hair. Ironically, the program topic was about Jewish immigrants settling in this rural area because they were discriminated against in the larger cities. It took a bit of prodding to get her to see the correlation between the three things, but it finally clicked: it's wrong to judge people based solely on age, looks, religion and race - a lesson learned in school, but something she never experienced first hand. Every experience is a lesson, and sometimes they stick better is learned the hard way.

cindy murphy
8/16/2009 9:26:50 AM

Hi, Michelle. I think it's great you helped your daughter dye her hair; it probably helped to create a special bond between you both. With so many restrictions (and rightly so) placed on kids by parents, school, employers and even peers, choosing a personal style is one way - and probably the most benign way - they can express themselves. Back in high-school when hair-styles were long, I had short short pixie hair with a bleached platinum blonde streak down the side, and I turned out just least, I'm pretty sure I did. I shoulda known way back that Shelby would have her own look; when she was about four she insisted on wearing her purple snowboots everywhere. This was during the sweltering summer months, and she wore them with shorts or sundresses. I could not convince her that she'd be more comfortable in different footwear, or that it just looked strange. Her hair style has gotten mixed reviews. Some of her friends love it; others hate it. Same with adults. During her period of community service, I had arranged for her to help clean up after an evening program at the Historical Society. We listened to the program in a packed standing-room-only full of elderly people; she was the only child in attendance. She was stared at, pointed toward, and whispered about by those in attendance. Afterward, the man who agreed to let her help, after thinking about it during the talk, (and giving her disapproving looks throughout) decided there wasn't really anything she could do to help afterall. Conversely, an older woman came up and smiling sheepishly, asked if she could touch it; she was dying to know what the spikes felt like. Their conversation was cute; the woman recalled back in her day, her style was different than everybody else's too. Since her community service that night wasn't performed, I let her off the hook by using the experience as a lesson. She'd prejudged the elderly people when we walked in;

8/16/2009 7:34:45 AM

Cindy, I have a 22 year old daughter that is married to our wonderful son-in-law, and a 20 year old son that still lives at home. Believe me, I CAN RELATE! Foolish me, I used to think things would get easier as the kids got older. You know, once the baby is potty trained, things will be so much easier...that kind of thing. Problem is it never does get easier, because there is always a bigger challenge around the corner! The teen years are the most challenging! Then, when your child finally reaches 18 years, (an adult right?),It would be nice to say" OK, my job is done!" It doesn't work that way either, and at that point you can give your best advice to your children, and hope they take that along with what they've learned in life thus far, and make good decisions. That doesn't always happen either. And when you know your child is making a bad decision, then what? You can tell them so, tell them why, but ultimately, you have to let them make their own mistakes and hope they learn from them later! I Have two wonderful, outgoing children with great personalities! I just wish parenting came with a manual, like a car. When something happens, you simply look at how to fix it! Wouldn't that be nice?

michelle house
8/15/2009 12:20:42 PM

LOL, I loved this one, I raised 3 girls, and I agree with you about the clothes, I felt the same way, clothes will change, hair will change, I once helped my middle, dye her 4 inches of the bottom of her hair purple, the top was blonde, her friends were amazed that a mom would do that. LOL. The structure they painted looks, beautiful, a perfect fit in a kids park. Michelle

cindy murphy
8/14/2009 10:16:13 PM

Yes, Shelby is, I mean, Yo Mama Dear, it's way too bad she had to go through that harsh punishment...but if you, er, I mean "she" did what she was supposed to in the first place.... And after all that, you're still my biggest fan? Maybe I'm not such the Mean Mom after-all, huh? Go ahead and admit it - we had fun together, didn't we? At least during part of your time served? And you learned something? Maybe next time we can do it under different circumstances...which doesn't involve you getting in trouble first. Hostages prefer a soil loose enough that they don't become root-bound-and-gagged. Oh, and where are your capital letters? Good thing you used them in your essay; it would have been a do-over if you hadn't. Love, Mom. P.S. You left your participle dangling in mid-air again.

shelby is awesome_1
8/14/2009 6:14:43 PM

omg cindy! love love loooooove the blog girlfriend! your kid shelby and her friend keri sound like the bees knees! too bad she had to go through that harsh punishment... oh! ps- do you what kind of soil hostages need to be planted in?? your biggest fan, yo mama:)