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Parenting

smaller coyoteI am over my worry allotment for this month. It’s not without some very good justifications. My mother, Tina died suddenly at the age of 86 in April and just like that all of the older generation that I knew is gone. There are still relatives out there but we haven’t traded even a Christmas card in too many years to count. I have a feeling that to my son’s generation of twenty-something’s I am now firmly in that older generation anyway.

Feeling out of kilter from the loss of a parent, no matter the age is normal. The grief comes in mostly small bits and pieces and creeps up on me. Things that I can usually roll with, like a snarky comment from a coworker get under my skin more easily these days.

It’s odd what has left a hole in the routine of my day.

In the last months of my mother’s life we were mostly talking about television and weather, which was fine with me. It was about the connection, no matter how momentary. My son, Louie who’s 25 does the same thing with me when he calls to tell me about the overturned car on Clarke Street or the coyote he just rode by on his bike. I call it the news of the day and having someone who will take those calls every time reminds us we’re tethered to the world. No matter what happens there’s someone who cares.

However, there comes a point when something reminds us that it’s all very temporary and for a moment I’ve lost my footing. When that happens there are ripe opportunities for change in some very different directions.

I could have done some serial dialing and lamented to everyone who would listen that I had lost my connection to something important. There would have been some sense of kinship for a moment but in the end I would have felt worse.

The other obvious choice to me was to make changes based on what I really wanted to be doing in the first place. The phrase that keeps running through my mind is to run my own race. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a terminal cancer survivor of just four years and three years over my expiration date and counting. No doctor can explain it, which is fine.

Surviving a terminal diagnosis should have been enough for me to really be bold and make some daring changes and it did to a point. I started eating right and exercising more and lost 86 pounds. That’s noteworthy but for the most part I was grateful to have my old routine back.

But then my mother died, quietly in her sleep and there was no one in my life who I could call and comment on the rain without an awkward pause.

One of my mother’s last comments to me though was odd because we had ventured into newer territory. She asked me how the crowd-sourcing was going for the new thriller. I was raising funds from family and friends to venture out into self-publishing for the first time in 20 years with the fourth book. She said, “You’ll be fine. That’ll be easy for you, no problem.”

I’ve been coasting ever since on that off-handed confidence my mother gave to me about my ability to not only write but market a book. Every decision I’ve made since that moment and in particular, since April has come with this other idea. In the end, what will be left are the people I love and the things I’ve created.

Traditionally, I’ve wanted to gather a lot of professional opinions and sift through all of them to discern what would be the next move. There have been very mixed results.

The new thriller, The List, the first in the Wallis Jones series is coming out in November and it’s been easier to make decisions about what to do next without all of the normal hand-wringing. There’s a speaking tour in the works to benefit some readers’ local charities and we’ve been busy contacting book clubs with offers. There’s more clarity and even more fun this time. After all, as my son said, “let’s get clear about two things, it’s just a book and you’re still alive.” The news of the day. More adventures to follow. Tweet me @MarthaRandolph and let me know what changes you’ve been making in your life. Sign up for special offers for The List and announcements for upcoming events!

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Me and Mom

It took me five years to return home, to visit my mother. That’s a long time, I know, and causes a lot of curiosity about all of my reasons. Often, reasons are a distraction; labels that give a justification why I’m not doing something.

I’d count up the years and after awhile not going even seemed like my new normal. I’d hear others talk about their holiday visits home and I felt no connection. It was easier to stay away, it was that simple. However, something else was growing on the inside at the same time.

Faith in something better.

That faith got me to start making a phone call to my mother at least once a week when normally we spoke every six months, or even more. A kernel of hope or optimism that God really does exist and really is unconditional Love got me to ignore the conversations that would have normally wounded me and I changed the subject instead. Maybe there was more to learn.

Forgiveness carried me the rest of the way. Not the kind of forgiveness where I judged my mother and decided I would let it go. That’s still me standing on high and deciding not only am I better in general, I’m really compassionate too. Look at me.

My mother, my son

I was learning through action a subtler kind of forgiveness that has more to do with myself and what I’m capable of, including letting go of all that’s happened, didn’t happen and live in the day I’ve been given, instead.

What matters is I returned home, which just means the place where my mother lives now, and spent a long weekend sitting next to her, driving her around and just being without wanting something in return. I was even reminded that she has a wicked sense of humor and often goes out of her way to be fair, even generous.

The strangest part I’ve found is that when I go into anything without expectations the riches find me and I walk away with more than I ever expected. All of the grasping generally leaves me with less.

The place where all of the resentment and anger sat is left empty for God to fill. A vacuum is always filled. More adventures to follow.

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America is doing a better job at raising children than you may realize (Photo by Teddy-rised)

Let’s spread some good news around this week. Summer is just about over and we could all use a little something to cheer. There is actually something in America that we’re doing well these days and with less taxpayer money. However, very few voters are aware its still happening.

Imagine that in the age of the internet and Twitter and a desperate need for good news but its true.

Well, here it is. Our country is sending more children who grow up at U.S. orphanages to college than from the general population, significantly more children. Yes, orphanages still exist in the U.S. but are now known as residential education facilities or REF’s due to the myths surrounding the term orphanage.

As usual, we keep better track of our cars than we do the 600,000 children in need of a loving home but the individual homes see each child as a family member, of course, and 80 percent of the kids head off to higher learning.

Just so we can get past the images of Annie that just popped in your head let’s set the record straight right up front. A U.S. orphanage resembles an upscale boarding school with all the amenities. They have a staff that generally devotes their entire career and their life to the children who come through their doors. Lil’ Orphan Annie landed in a group home, which is vastly different and fictional by the way.

Now, here’s another statistic from the well respected Pew Report on the U.S. foster care system. If that same child were to end up in foster care in our country they’d have less than a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school and an increased likelihood of having periods of homelessness and unemployment in their lifetime. The factors surrounding the child’s background are the same so it’s not the child who is failing; it’s the system.

One more fun fact to really spell it out. The Pew Report also found that a child who ends up in an Illinois children’s home from social services has been on average through 9 foster care placements. That means that nine families said we can’t handle this kid and the child packed up everything they owned and headed off to yet another stranger’s house. In Virginia the average was found to be five. Talk about potential abandonment issues. There aren’t many adults who could handle that much change with any grace or without losing hope.  [click to continue…]

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Teach Your Child to Let Go

A courageous parent is the one who can stand back and let their grown children lead their own lives without their assistance. Sounds obvious but takes so much more than we knew when we first welcomed the small being into our lives.

The moment anyone becomes a parent marks the beginning of being pulled in two distinct directions for the rest of your life. One mindset dictates that you do everything in your power to protect this child from any harm.

When they’re still small and look at you as the smartest being on the planet that’s an easy one to fulfill. It’s obviously the right thing to do.

But then, if we do our job well they grow up and start to look to the outside world for the beginning of their own adventure. Suddenly, the parents are the observers who receive news from the frontlines of their children’s lives.

Some of the news is great like a new date or a wonderful opportunity that opened up for them. However, some of the news like getting laid off or their car breaking down along a road is a little hard to take because we’re not there to do our old job. We didn’t keep them safe from all harm, and thank goodness even if it comes with a twinge in the heart.

There’s the second part of our job and what inevitably turns out to be the toughest part. A good parent lets go and allows our small child who stands before us as fully grown to fail, to fall and to occasionally even get hurt. We do it so that they will know that the world is more good than bad and risks are not only worth taking, they’re a necessary part of really seeing how beautiful life can be. We do it so that we can both grow a deeper faith and actually put it to work. After all, faith only works when we take it out and test it.

But the hardest words for any parents to get out of their mouth are, just go for it. Within those words contain every possibility without the cautions or alerts. That’s the way it needs to be though so that our children’s eyes are on the possibilities of what might work instead of scanning for every potential pitfall. [click to continue…]

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Martha and Louie today

My grown son, Louie, has a radio show, Late Night with Louie (I’m the mother of the new Howard Stern) and one night I was listening when someone asked if he came from a broken home.

Somehow he managed to get to be 23 without ever hearing that phrase and said, no. The guest then said, oh your parents are still married and Louie answered, no, they got divorced when I was two.

When the guest told him that’s the definition of a broken home, he set her straight. Without any attachment to that broken phrase he explained how happy and full his childhood was and he refused to accept that anything was broken. I couldn’t have gotten my ear any closer to the speaker as I marveled at the moments we sometimes get as parents when we catch a glimpse of something wonderful.

Life as a single mother with Louie was wonderful and constantly surprising. Thank goodness I knew he was smarter than I was. That’s what made it possible to look out a window and see him on his small tricycle, legs out to the sides, whizzing down our very steep driveway, his curly hair straightened by the wind blowing past him, and not worry. Or watch him attempt to pet every living creature, sometimes getting nipped by the geese down by the lake in the process, and not worry. Eventually the geese gave in and let him pet them, and he gently stroked their heads and chatted with them. They would turn their heads slightly and look at him till he was done talking.

He did get nipped a little hard once by a garden snake and it made him mad, very mad. His three-year-old self whipped the snake into a half-knot, for which he felt instantly sorrowful and he came to get me to help untie the snake.

“What?” I asked, in the middle of vacuuming. “You did what?”

“I tied a snake in a knot and I need you to help me untie it,” he said, calmly. His entire little person fully expected me to handle the situation.

I turned off the vacuum, still looking at his calm expression, wondering if maybe this all meant something else and I would find something else tied in a knot. Tied a snake in a knot?

There on the front step was a long black garden snake slowly, very slowly, untying itself from a very tight half-knot.

“Help it,” Louie said. [click to continue…]

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Rachelle Kuramoto, founder of Kigo Footwear

Martha Note: Starting a business takes guts, savvy and a great product and Rachelle Kuramoto has all three. Learn about how Rachelle has used the art of making mistakes to her advantage and how it’s probably a necessary ingredient to doing anything that requires a little boldness.

Guest Blog by Rachelle Kuramoto

I’ve always been attracted to things that combine art and science. As a child and into my early adulthood, I played the oboe. The allure was the musical art that was created through the science of instrument mechanics, tone and mathematical equations. In college, I worked as a writing instructor, teaching other students how to use the sciences of grammar and syntax to create the art of the well-written word. After I had finally exhausted my post-graduate study options, I took a job directing market research and editorial creation for a global public relations agency, which meant analyzing statistics to create unique, productive brand content.

At every phase, I’ve felt that the reward for mastering a science was the resulting art, whether music, poetry or a great brand. That left/right brain symbiosis is motivating – even when the challenge is great, the challenge is great.

And great that challenge has become as I’ve become an entrepreneur and a mom. These roles are not entirely dissimilar, especially as a study of arts and sciences.

As any mom or dad knows, parenting involves almost every science from biology (obvious) to chemistry (stain removal) to physics (will it flush?). And the arts are fully involved as well. If your house is like ours, it’s full of books, singing and paintings on the kitchen cork board.

Similarly, most entrepreneurs will tell you that an accurate business card would show their title not as “Founder” or “President” but as “Hat Rack”. As the founder/hat rack of Kigo Footwear, that means employing sciences including textile development, economics, market research and even occasional computer repair. It also means the art of the brand, of shoe design and color study. [click to continue…]

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Trouble can bring necessary change

There are a few things on my bucket list that are very long term in nature. One of them was to successfully raise a child, which means he’s upright and out on his own. Check, that’s done. Louie is now 23 and out there conquering the world.

Parenthood was one of those life events that took me apart till I was a million little pieces and put me back together again in a completely reconfigured way.

Despite what bumper stickers say, it’s not the one job that if you do it well you eventually lay yourself off. Instead, it goes from constant awareness of everything your child is doing to very little information with just as much love and maybe a little less concern.

However, when there’s something great that’s happened in his day or something really bad my son still calls and we either celebrate wildly or take a deep breath together. My main role now seems to be as maternal touchstone to let him know there’s a place where he can always return to for comfort but to get back out there because the world is a great place to go and explore.

It probably doesn’t hurt that I went skydiving when I turned 50 and after surviving cancer I’m determined to run again even with part of my leg missing. I want a life in practice and not just in theory and that’s going to take some doing to accomplish.

Originally, I thought my job was to keep Louie safe and teach him things that would keep him safe so he’d grow up and be safe. Safe was like a four letter word for me. Instead what I taught him was to be afraid and wonder if it was really possible to control anything, which it isn’t. But I left him thinking that control was a necessity.

All that control has ever done for me is draw a tight little box around my life and fill the inside of it with anxiety.

Louie’s a smart kid, though and somewhere in his late teens he told me he had enough and I was either going to straighten up and fly right or he was out of there. That was the push I needed to open my hands and let him go. Not just physically but spiritually as well, which is what made all the difference in the world. [click to continue…]

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Louie Carr talks about helping his Mom, Martha Carr recover from melanoma and the removal of part of her leg, to learn to walk and to live again and about the 5k Project. Runners from Infinity Training and PROskydiving are going to run and then skydive at Chicagoland Skydiving Center on the same day in celebration of life. Money will be raised for the Northwestern Dermatology Research on Melanoma fund.

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My son, Louie's usual expression

There is really only one skill required in order to be a good parent once your children have grown into adulthood. It is the ability to appear supportive without really saying anything. Any comment that borders on opinion travels through the air waves and lands as judgment in the fragile ears of our children. An innocent remark about how a new car looks or an old job is doing and the wheels start turning in our offspring’s head.

“What did you mean by that?” asks our incredulous twenty-something. It’s as if we’ve just confirmed their worst suspicions that we had always hoped for more out of them. Truly, if our children are paying their bills and not asking us for money we’re already on the road to parental bliss. If they’re also putting money into any kind of investment plan and have some kind of faith in some higher being, have started looking around at someone nice to settle down with and might volunteer at something while cutting back on the processed foods, well, that would be nice as well. However, all of that we as parents would be wise to keep to ourselves for a couple of very important reasons.

The first is because the time has passed to guide our children toward some bright and shining future. They’re actually in that future and it’s their turn to pick and choose what it’s going to look like. Every time we butt in we’re actually telling them they’re getting it wrong, try again. That can be a real confidence blaster.

The consequences of over-parenting any adult can end up being that our grown children stop trying to create bigger and better and start settling for smaller and what appears safer. The results of that are often a lot of great opportunities get left on the table. Worst case scenario is that the child is living in your basement. No one wants to see that.

Risk is a necessary part of the big picture and its cousin, failure is vital as well. The first adds a certain amount of exhilaration to life and pulls the idea of faith out of theory and into practice. The second teaches us what we want to keep or discard in the description that is our lives.

Failure is also a much better teacher than success when it comes to building a nice, big fat dream. When we find ourselves able to stand back up again and can see how to solve a problem a piece at a time we also catch on that there actually is a solution to just about anything. There will be some compromise, some letting go, a few bumps and bruises but even the worst of it can be resolved. We learn to take that with us as we move forward. [click to continue…]

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The Carr's in the '60's. That's me in the blue velvet.

A child needs two parents who care about them and show up for them in all aspects of their lives. When we do that we let the small fry know that the world’s a safe place in the small moments of sitting next to them in church, cheering them on from a variety of sidelines or holding our children close when they’re not feeling well, inside or out.

It’s the biggest opportunity for an adult to be accountable and learn that very little of life is really about us at all. That’s a good thing.

But somehow in the mix of trying to figure out how we can lead more authentic lives a lot of us forgot about that axiom and started acting like our needs came ahead of everything else.

However, there’s no time like the present to try a contrary action.

Our children need balance in their lives just as much as we do and a new study released last week backs up that idea just in time for Father’s Day. A study out of Australia says that letting Dads roughhouse with their children improves their emotional health and rate of development.

It’s the balance between a mother’s nurturing hug and a father’s nurturing toss in the air. One tells us that there’s a safe place to return to and the other lets us know that the world can be a little rough but on the whole it’s a lot of fun. Don’t be afraid to get knocked around a little because what you learn will be worth it.

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