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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Masquerade

October 31, 2013 16 comments
group

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

People wear masks all the time, covering up all kinds of situations and emotions.

Halloween is one of my favorite celebrations. In disguise, you get to openly be whatever you want to be and get a bag full of free candy to boot! My memories of Halloween as a child are filled with endless hours of trick-or-treating (mostly treating) first through the 5-stories of our apartment building and then, all over town until our legs could take us no further. After that, my Dad would put us in the back of his shiny, red, Volkswagen bus and drive us to friends’ houses until our bags were stuffed and our eyes were bleary.

I don’t cut my Dad a lot of slack when it comes to my childhood. I can’t sugar-coat fear or disappointment. No one ever wanted to be on the receiving end of his wrath. You never knew what kind of mood he would come home in, if, or when he came home. Every day was unpredictable. He enjoyed holidays and parties though and could really get into the “spirit” of things– when he wanted to. Despite his ominous nature, he was big on costuming and we could pretty much count on his help for a clever idea and creative way of making it happen. He had an impressive repertoire of costumes himself. I remember him spending weeks working on them before the annual masquerade ball he and my mom attended every February at the German Club they belonged to. (I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my Dad is from Germany.) Every winter, the German Club celebrated Fasching which is a German holiday that resembles our Mardi Gras and is similar to Halloween in that parades are held and “clubs” host costume balls.

My Dad’s costumes always won awards, if not First Place.

These are a few of my favorites.

mummy

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My Dad, the mummy.

The old man on the right is my Dad.

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

This “old man” was only in his late 20s.

old group

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

A group shot of my “old man” and his date who, of course, is my mom.

Third man on the right. My Dad is the Godfather.

Circa 1970s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The Godfather (4th man in)– is my father.

One year my Dad went as the Statue of Liberty. Another year he was a Prize Fighter who lost to a midget. He even dressed in Blackface as a Minstrel which now-a-days of course, would be considered offensive.

The minstrel and my mom.  Circa 1960s

Circa 1960s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The Minstrel and my mom.

Another questionable but winning costume; large, blond lady wearing a dress made from potato sacks.

This blond woman wearing the dress made out of potato sacks is my Dad.

Circa 1970s
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

My Dad loved masquerades and wore many masks.

As an adult, I realize he was a resourceful, creative man and I often wonder how different his life might have been if he had been raised and educated in this country. Like many people, he had to contend with his demons while they competed with his redeeming qualities. He loved to cook and I have happy memories of him lifting me up and setting me on top of the refrigerator so I could watch him roll out the dough on the kitchen counter to make donuts or melt sugar and butter in a pan on the stove-top to make candy. He’d dribble the hot mixture into ice-cold water to form droplets of yummy home-made caramel. He took our family camping and taught us how to play Yahtzee and Monopoly and passed along his love for puzzling.  I love my Dad.

He did the best he could.

Children are resilient. Thankfully, despite the imperfections of our childhoods or the tumultuous relations we have with our parents, most of us also have unconditional love for them or at least forgiveness. I don’t deny the turmoil of my youth but I do try to have compassion for the fact that no matter how tough I believe some parts of my childhood were, my Dad’s was unimaginable; growing up in Germany during WWII. As a parent myself now, I realize we all just do the best we can and I hope that when my kids reflect on some of the mistakes I’m making, they will have compassion too.

Full Plumage

August 19, 2013 10 comments

Bus2

I’ll leave an envelope in your mailbox with a letter explaining what this is all about, he said.

It’s hard to believe school starts again in just a few weeks! Where did the summer go?

Where did the years go?

During the school year, my kids are super spoiled fortunate to be driven to school every day. Not like the early years when they actually wanted to get up early and take the bus; at least Noah did. Gone too, are the days when I’d follow the bus, every day, ensuring that my son didn’t get abducted along the way OR so I could be there, just in case he needed me in some way along the route OR God forbid, there was an accident and I needed to jump into rescue mode for my little boy on the big bus. Nope, those hovering masterful parenting skills vital to ensuring my son’s safe transport to school, are no longer needed. Indeed, it is no longer required of me — by me — to make a mad dash to my car as soon as the big double-wide doors are pulled shut. Trailing, oh-so-not-discreetly, behind the big yellow boat carrying my its precious cargo is something I just don’t have to do anymore.

Bus1

September 2003 ©Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile

Back in the day and during his entire first year on the bus, I’d follow and then veer off at the corner of Dunkin’ Donuts and Route 9 while the bus would head into Princess Circle where a cluster of apartment buildings were. The apartment-pick-up allowed me just enough time to run in for a cup-of-Joe and be back outside standing on the corner, ready to catch a glimpse of my then 5-year old who’d be peering out of the window directly behind the bus driver. The bus driver would make him sit in the seat right behind her every day.

I make all the little ones sit behind me, so I can keep an eye on them, she told me one day.

Bus3

September 2003 ©Karen Szczuka Teich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile

Thank you, Jan.

An older woman with a big heart, there was no pulling-the-wool over Jan’s eyes. And instead of balking at my stalker-ish behavior, she’d honk the bus horn two or three times and I’d over-hear her through her cracked window telling Noah,

Look, there’s your mom. Wave to her!

He and she, would, as they rounded the corner from Princess Circle to route 9, every time.

It made my day.  Every-day.

And, to-this-day, if Jan sees me around town she honks her big yellow bus horn and waves to me with a big heartwarming smile on her face.

Thank you, Jan.

But, I digress.

My 5-year old is now going on 15 and he can sit where he wants to on the bus. Plus, these days, he has a companion. Well, sort of.  He and his sister take the bus home almost every day together. Although I somehow doubt they actually sit together. And they don’t always get off at the same STOP. But people know they’re siblings, including their current bus driver, who Hannah has had now for the past two years in a row.

It was the end of June, school was over when the man on the other end of my cell identified himself as “Vinny”, my kids’ bus driver. He told me he would leave an envelope in my mailbox explaining what the call was all about.

According to the letter, each year the Federation of Workers representing nine units (including bus drivers) in the school district we live in, take part in a program that allows for 40 out of the well over 65,000 children served, to be recognized for exhibiting outstanding behavior.

WCSD Letter

Accompanied with the letter were 4-tickets to a Renegades game; our local minor league baseball team.

If our name comes up, Vinny said, we choose a student that we’ve come in contact with during the year that has shown exemplary behavior.  We’re only supposed to pick one but I chose both your kids because they’re both great kids and really deserving. They never give me a hard time. They say hi and thank-you, are polite and Hannah helps me out with the little kids all the time.

Like a peacock fanning her feathers in full plumage, I could feel the pride swell inside.

peacock mama

Since my last post boasted the sibling rivalry that exists between my pair, I thought it fitting, to highlight their cooperation; even if they don’t always realize or recognize it; sometimes, other people do. Way to go Hannah and Noah!

Thank you, Vinny!

 

True Story

July 28, 2013 7 comments

In just about every family that has more than one child, I’ll venture to say, you’ll find some type of sibling rivalry. It’s a natural, normal part of growing up. Sometimes it even extends into adulthood, but that’s another post for another day. Maybe.

This post is about the sibling love between my kids. I’ve written about the dynamic between my son and daughter before. They’ve been playing and bickering together, loving and fighting each other since the day I brought my baby girl home.

August 2001 ©TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Sometimes, I think my son was so sweet to his sister the day she was born because he thought she was going to stay there — in the hospital that is, in Poughkeepsie. He cradled her and sang “Rock-A-Bye-Baby” to her the first time he met her. Precious. Truly. Actually, even the first few days after she was brought home were filled with curiosity and a few tender moments. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when he realized, this baby-doll was here to stay, that the two-year-old-tantrums began. Hey, it’s good to be the king! He had a good gig being numero uno for a while there before she came along. Can you blame him?

Mom!!

©TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Twelve years later, it’s still sometimes difficult for him to accept that she’s not going away and the fact that she’s two inches taller than he is right now doesn’t help much either. Poor guy. He truly finds himself irritated by almost everything she does.

Just last week he came to me with this:

Mom!

She’s doing it again!

Who? What?

Hannah!

Good grief. What now? What is she doing? What is the problem?

Reading!

What??

Reading!

She’s reading again!

That’s when the dumbfounded, quizzical look appeared on my face to which he retorted:

I’m serious!

That’s all she ever does now and she’s wasting her life away reading!

mishmosh 003

And so she was,

is

and continues to do so — read that is.

Yes, she is “wasting her life away with it”.

Nine books in five weeks.

I’m just a mom striving to live life on life’ terms while taking my kids the world on with a smile

True Story.

Fish Out of Water!

February 24, 2013 13 comments

caution-sign

Caution: Some of the images contained in this post may be considered disturbing.

Ever find yourself in a situation where you feel like a “fish out of water?”

Ever wake up in the morning to find your fish – out – of- water?

As a mother, my nature is to nurture. Once you have a child and start taking care of it, something happens within you and you start taking care of EVERYTHING that comes into your life or crosses your path; extended family members, friends, other people’s kids, pets and plants included. You can’t help it. Unfortunately for me, while taking care of my children and other human beings has always come easily & naturally, the taking care of plants and animals, not-so-much. Last winter however, when we moved into our new place, a neighbor welcomed us with a beautiful poinsettia plant that regardless of any amount of neglect I seamlessly bestowed upon it, it not only thrived but has managed to survive, to this very day. It’s even budding new red leaves.

Astonishing!

plant 001

So, when my daughter won two gold-fish at the County Fair last August, thrilled with both her achievement and the notion of finally having a pet, I had hope and thought, why not? Maybe like the rest of my life, I’m headed in a different direction here. We’ll give it a try and see what happens I told her. Being reasonably skeptical however, we hesitated to name them, referring to them only as “Fish 1” and “Fish 2” (just-in-case ) and never quite knowing exactly which fish was which. Not surprisingly, about a month later we woke up to find a pair of floaters in the fishbowl. As I set about the business of transferring Fish 1 and Fish 2 to their final flushing resting bowl, I caught a faint fin-wiggle out of the corner of my eye. Upon closer examination I could see Fish 1 was actually still alive! Sure enough, after being put into a small holding tank and fed, he began to perk up and swim again.

Interesting. I thought.

Fish 008

Sometime in December however, again, I woke to find a barely breathing “Fish” (which is what we were now lovingly referring to him as),  struggling to stay alive. Oddly, again, I put him in our small holding tank, fed him and voila! He was back to his perky self in no time and carefully transferred back into his fishbowl.

If cats have nine lives, how many lives do fish have?

Strange. I thought.

Alas, a few weeks ago, I woke to find an empty fish bowl. Gone, he was. Indeed, Fish, it turned out was out of water! Seriously, sometime during the night, Fish had somehow jumped out of his fishbowl and landed in the kitchen sink! (I know, EW!)

True story. And dead he was. Truly.

Or  so  I  thought.

I left Fish in the sink. This was something I thought Hannah had to see for herself. A few hours later, when she got up and after delivering the sad news, in ceremonious fashion, I awkwardly scooped up Fish in his little net and quickly tossed him into the big bowl that would ultimately carry him to fish-heaven, if you will.

Is there anything you want to say before we flush him Hannah? I asked.

She is after all, such a dramatic sensitive child.

She nodded negatively, peered into the big bowl, put her hand on the lever and SCREAMED…

Mom! Quick! Get the food I think he’s still alive!

Disturbing Image #1 ~ Fish & food in the big bowl.

Disturbing Image #1 ~ Fish & food in the big bowl.

Instead of full-on-mouth-to-mouth, I did what she recommended and sprinkled some food into the bowl. Why? I have no idea but she was right and there was movement. You could see the ever-so-slightly wiggle (again) of our Fish’s fin and his teeny, tiny black eyes peering up from the big bowl.

Indeed, Fish was alive! Again.

Disturbing image #2 ~ Indeed, Fish is alive.

Disturbing Image #2 ~ Indeed, Fish is alive.

For a third time, Fish had been snatched from the jaws of death, quite possibly even the jaws of JAWS,  not to mention a fatal flush. And once again, we placed him into the now, magical holding tank of LIFE”…..

Disturbing Image #3 ~ Putting a net in the toilet. Ugh!

Disturbing Image #3 ~ Putting the net in the toilet to retrieve Fish. Ugh!

….where amazingly, Fish instantly, began to swim! Again.

Good God! I thought, I couldn’t kill this fish if I tried!

Somewhat Disturbing Image #4 ~ Fish alive again!

Somewhat Disturbing Image #4 ~ Fish alive again!

I consider myself  to be more of a spiritual rather than a religious person. Clearly, there is a greater power at work here.

Early on in motherhood, you quickly learn not to question certain things. Count your blessings and be grateful. You take the inexplicable and otherwise bizarre happenings in stride and simply say,

Yep, that seems about right.

Bizarre Image #5 ~ Fish back in his bowl.

Bizarre & Disturbing Image #5 ~ Fish, alive, yet-again and back in his fishbowl.

Good night, Fish.

Kids These Days!

December 30, 2012 21 comments
momscrystallball

Mama’s Crystal Ball

Every parent strives to do better than the previous generation, providing for their children that which they lacked or missed out on in their own childhood.

Nowadays, the reviews are mixed.

Kids these days have it too easy! They’re spoiled with less required physical activity and way too much couch-potato-encouraging technology that keeps them inside exercising their thumbs rather than outside, exercising their whole bodies and minds.                                            

~ Any Random Adult 

It’s an on-going challenge for parents trying to strike the balance for their children; keeping abreast of what’s current, necessary and useful and making sure they don’t lose sight of what’s important for them to know how to do.

Despite the difficulties, I LOVE being a mom. Always have. For many years I enjoyed being a stay-at-home-mom, eagerly performing what others might consider mundane tasks for my kids, like painstakingly working out ketchup stains from their favorite dress or shirt, making sure the same favorite dress or shirt (or batman costume) was constantly clean so it could be worn several days in a row or making extra portions of a home-made dinner so I could freeze them for my son who refused to eat a cold lunch at school up until the 5th grade.  I didn’t mind the endless task of picking up their toys and returning them to places they could easily be found the next day during their pre-arranged play-dates and I’d spend many hours searching and experimenting with new recipes I thought they might like to try. Even though my daughter is in 6th grade now, I still enjoy making her lunch for school every day.

These and so much more were—are, to me still, labors of love.

eyes

The eyes in the back of my head are blue. What color are yours?

As my kids enter their tween and teenage years however, the tasks are changing and I’m starting to focus more seriously on the notion that it’s my duty to prepare them the best I can, for (real) LIFE.

Parenting is unique to each unique child.

Babies don’t leave the womb with a ‘here’s how I specifically operate and what I’ll need to know, mom’ guide and even though the long-held myths about moms having eyes in the back-of-their-heads and a-future-seeing-crystal-ball hidden in their bedroom closets are absolutely TRUE, our eyes and crystal balls are often clouded and not exactly all-seeing. I’m not always quite sure, how to make sure, my kids have the life-skills and tools they’ll need to become high-functioning, productive, kind and considerate citizens of our future communities.

In short, much of what we put forth is a bit of a crap shoot, flung from instinct.

For example, myself and four other mothers of my 14-year old son’s basketball-playing school mates recently hired a culinary chef who has a school in New York City to give our teenage boys some professional training in the kitchen. Sure, they know how to boil water for Ramen Noodles but what do they know about using a knife or picking fresh produce, making their own salad dressing, gravy or apple-crisp? Not much and my crystal ball predicts the women they’ll eventually end up with 10-years or so from now will not be as interested in devoting the same amount of kitchen and laundry time me or my mom did while raising a family.

It’s a new era and they’ll be out forging new paths and making lives of their own.

rabbitfromahat

Easy access to information.

Our boys need to know how to cook and keep house.

Now that he’s been schooled, will he happily whip up a roasted chicken dinner complete with a fresh vegetable side and dessert when his future significant other informs him she’ll be coming home late from the office? I have no idea. BUT I continue to have faith and blindly put forth my efforts and babble, babble, babble on, hoping that somewhere in their premature brains my kids are processing what I say or make them do and will be able to pull out what they need, when they need it, like a magician pulls a rabbit from his hat.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how my kids will act or react when they get caught in a jam or circumstance that really requires them to step-up and take responsibility.

Thankfully, every once in a while however, the gods are good and toss out a bone, giving us insight as to whether or not we’re on the right track and we get a glimpse of what kind of an adult our child is going to be.

A few weeks before Christmas, I very suddenly and unexpectedly came down with pneumonia. I’ve never had pneumonia before. In fact, I rarely get sick. For the most part, I’m a Type A personality, leaving little time and patience for illness that would keep me from doing, let alone out of work. It’s not in my make up but this was out of my control. I had no choice but to succumb and was completely laid out for nearly two full weeks. With the help of a few family members and friends however, I was checked-in on, and my kids managed to get fed and brought to where they needed to be, including school each morning while I lay incapacitated in my third floor bedroom.

For days, I was completely unawares of the goings-on below and could barely hear my daughter moving about in the evenings.

note1

What’s this? A note?

I finally passed through the fever-delirium period and made it to the tolerating side of a hacking cough that cut like a knife in my chest. As much as I love my secluded bedroom, I desperately needed to make my way downstairs, if for nothing else but to reassure myself that I could still walk. It was sometime mid-morning on a weekday, when I took the last step down and rounded myself toward the kitchen for the first time in several days.

I saw a small piece of white paper taped face-down to the counter.

Reaching out, I flipped it over and this is what it said….

notes2

The gods are good.

Yes, the first word in the fourth item on my 11-year old daughter’s List after ‘work on gifts’ (because she hand-makes Christmas gifts for each member of our extended family every year) is sew and even though I don’t, apparently she does.

It’s the second to last item however, that stopped me cold in my slipper-laden tracks.

Take care of mom

Thank you, good gods.

And as if that wasn’t enough to bring an already weepy mom to tears, on my way back up to Never-Never-Land, I glanced down the short flight of stairs to the front door. One of the last statements and only instructions I recall making from my sick-bed to my daughter before literally entering the Twilight Zone in the first 24-hours of being laid out was …

You’ll have to buy lunch at school.

BUT like many other kids these days, she had her own ideas about lunch and apparently, made it herself.

Every day.

Even reminded herself, not to forget it from the fridge before leaving in the morning.

note3

Kids these days.

They’re pretty awesome!

Photo Credit #1-3 Google Images

Photo Credit #4-6 KarenSzczukaTeich&www.takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

It Takes A Village And A Can

December 9, 2012 17 comments

villiage

It takes a village.

~ original origins unknown

I love this phrase because it’s true.

Indeed, when raising children, it takes a village. Or a neighborhood. Or a sgoyaredchool. Or a group of amazing teachers. Or in this case, a can. Well, maybe a few hundred cans. Okay, in this case, it took 900 cans.

Goya cans that is and I’m not talking about raising children exactly, although the concept behind the phrase made famous by Hilary Clinton in 1996, is the same and the idea that when people come together to help each other to do good things, good things get done, is the implication.

In this case however, I’m talking about it taking amazing teachers and awesome, eager teams of Kindergarten through 12th grade students creatively coming together to feed hungry people in our community. (And 900 cans of course.)

They’re doing this by building incredible sculptures entirely from canned food.

The program they are participating in is called Canstruction® and, it is brilliant.

This is the first Canstruction® Jr Hudson Valley event in our region and it’s being presented by my daughter’s school. Several other schools in the area are also participating. The academic, social and humanitarian components of this project will no doubt serve to enable these outstanding students to absolutely make a difference in someone else’s life this Holiday Season. 

That is what it’s all about. Isn’t it?

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade

But in our world of plenty, we should spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time

~ Do They Know It’s Christmas

For several weeks my daughter’s 6th grade class has been working with their math, science and humanities teachers along with an artist to come up with a diagram of a structure they could build using canned food. This is progressive, project-based learning at it’s best.

Their efforts culminated in 5-hours of  precisely stacking nearly 900 cans to create this melting masterpiece:

Melting Snowman

Melting Snowman

For the next week or so, this and other wonderful creations will remain on display at our local Galleria. Red bins in front of each structure will collect more cans for donation to a local soup kitchen and food bank from visitors and onlookers.  The bin with the greatest number of cans at the end of the week will receive the coveted “People’s Choice” award but the real winners in this competition are each and every student who participated. Through awareness, guidance, teaching and love these students will take with them the pride and joy of knowing their efforts helped collect thousands of cans of food that will feed hungry people in our community at Christmas time.

They are making a difference.

b28

It takes a village. Or a neighborhood. Or a school.

Or in this case, a group of amazing teachers and awesome students.

Oh, and 900 cans.

Or — all of the above — because when people come together to do good things,

good things get done.

b23

The World


There’s A Place In
Your Heart
And I Know That It Is Love
And This Place Could
Be Much
Brighter Than Tomorrow
And If You Really Try
You’ll Find There’s No Need
To Cry
In This Place You’ll Feel
There’s No Hurt Or Sorrow

Heal The World
Make It A Better Place
For You And For Me
And The Entire Human Race
There Are People Dying
If You Care Enough
For The Living

Make A Better Place
For You And For Me

~ Heal the World

b30

One Proud 6th-Grader

Photo Credits 1 – 2: Google Images

Photo Credits 3 – 6: KarenSzczukaTeich&www.Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

One Second

November 18, 2012 9 comments

A four hour drive north brought us to Camden, New York last weekend and only three games away from playing in Pop Warner’s Super Bowl at Disney’s ESPN Sports Arena during the first week of December. The Hudson Valley Knights Midgets’ team had won their division and up until this game, were undefeated.

Excited would be an understatement.

Ready.   Down.   Set.   Hut!

Sometime not long into the first half of the game, the ball was snapped and handed off from the quarterback to my 14-year old halfback.

Three seconds later my heart was lodged in my throat.

Two seconds before the throat lodging, a massive tank wearing the other team’s jersey lunged toward my son. The crowd literally gasped. My jaw dropped and the pupils in my eyes dilated as I watched in horror and failed to breathe. It was in that second, that one second at the point of contact, that I thought to myself:

 Oh, God, this is why so many parents don’t let their kids play football.

In moments such as this, for one split second, all of the decisions you’ve made as a parent become clouded in doubt. Fear rears its manipulative head and begins to churn in yours immediately eating away at your confidence. And it was in that particular moment I prayed without realizing I was praying that the equipment my precious boy was wearing was all that it was supposed to be: SAFE.

In that one second I remembered that I never checked his helmet to make sure it had the sticker showing that it meets the standards of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.

I meant to.

For it was in the moment that my heart lodged itself in my throat, that the giant from the other team had swooped down, seized my son’s thighs and in one-continuous-effortless-gliding-motion did his due diligence. Nearly as graceful as a male ballet dancer lifts a ballerina above his head, the opposing ogre raised 165 lbs. of my boy, gear and all, and seamlessly flipped him over his head causing him to land CRACK—SMACK, down on his back!

Only when he popped up like a spring from a board a few seconds later, did I begin to breathe again. Oh, I could tell my boy was a little shaken but he survived the throw-back and bounced back into the game almost as seamlessly as he was flipped over the other boy’s head. Luckily, Pop Warner’s equipment safety meets the highest standards.

Even though Pop Warner has clearly defined weight and age guidelines, before the second half of the game began, it was clear the other team had a physical advantage over our boys. Even the coach remarked that although it’s not unusual to come across one or two opposing players who are physically dominant on the field, our boys faced twenty and we lost to Chili (pronounced cheyeleye) which took us out of the championship. Naturally our boys walked away disappointed.

Me, I kept thinking about that moment, that one second in the game that caused my heart to lodge itself in my throat and I, walked away grateful.

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