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I need to start this blog with a favor – being raised as an Italian, and believing in certain Italian superstitions – I need to ask everyone to stop right now and knock on wood. Thank you!

I have two boys, a thirteen year old, Jack and a sixteen year old named Michael. Now, for the benefit of everyone who doesn’t know me personally, let me just say that I am not a helicopter mom. Not at all. Not even a little bit. Again, I come from a long line of Italians and was raised around people who laid out their children’s clothes until they were in their teens, helped (or did) their homework until they were done with college and had dinner on the table every single night, no matter what. Their kids didn’t know how to cook, they were reminded, even in their teen years, when they had appointments, projects due at school, etc. Parents bought their children their cars and paid for their insurance. They called prospective jobs for their children and got all of the information on how to get the applications and even helped them fill them out. I am in no way condemning this way of parenting, it is simply cultural. I feel that this is especially true for the boys.

I wasn’t raised that way. My parents divorced when I was young. My mother was all my sister and I had for a long time. She worked full time in order to keep the house and raise us. I was a latch key kid for a while. I would walk my sister home from school, let us into the house, lock the door, get us snacks, make sure we did our homework and made sure that everything was ok until my mom got home. I learned to make macaroni and cheese, pastina, eggs and hamburgers. When mom worked late, I made dinner. There just was no other way.

When I was a little older (ten or so), my mother married my dad, who was thrust into a full family. He came into a ready-made family where my sister and I were used to doing our own thing. There was no “bed time”. As long as we were resting quietly in bed at a certain time, we could read, or tell each other stories. The time we actually fell asleep didn’t really matter. It took a long time to get the rhythm “right” as a blended family but, eventually we did. My father, however, was not raised in an Italian culture, either, and so was also not a helicopter parent. I remember a few instances that illustrate this brilliantly.

When I was about twelve, I wanted a new ten speed more than anything in the world. My father said that if I saved half of the money myself (Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, doing chores around the house), he would put the other half in and I could get my bike. I worked my butt off and saved my money and then, the day finally came. I had enough. I’ll never forget going to the bicycle store to pick out my powder blue ten speed. Because I felt like I worked hard for it, I took good care of it. It was one of the highlights of my childhood. I worked from the time I was fourteen and never had to ask my parents for spending money. Later on, when I wanted my first car, the same thing applied. I had to save for half of the down payment, and then make the payments myself. I was working at Sears at the time, picked up some extra hours and sure enough, before you knew it, I had enough money. Dad took me to the dealer and I got my first car, a light gray 1990 Toyota Corolla. I was responsible for the payments and the insurance. I loved my first car, and will never forget it. When it was time to go to college, I worked about thirty hours a week and went to school full time. It wasn’t easy but, I believe in the long run, it taught me to be a responsible person. My parents paid for part of my college and I took student loans to help supplement what they couldn’t do. I just finished paying those loans off about four years ago. I am forty four.

Chrissy also always had a good work ethic and worked for things she wanted. Chrissy also had a wild period. She would go to school and then, cut classes. When the school would call, my parents would say “I got them there, it’s your responsibility to make sure she stays.” My parents wouldn’t go up to the school to scream at the teachers when her grades weren’t up to par – they told the school, if she can’t keep up, you can leave her back. Luckily, this never happened but, the point is, we were responsible for our own school work, doing our homework, remembering when projects were due and studying for exams.

You may be wondering what the point of all of this is, and I am ready to tell you. My mom, having had cancer three times while we were growing up, in addition to having to raise us alone for some years, simply couldn’t be a helicopter parent, even if she wanted to. There was simply no time for that.

And, the same goes for me. I’m writing this blog tonight because the first period report cards came out. One of my children made the honor roll and the other made the high honor roll. I won’t say which is which as not to embarrass them but, to say I am proud is to put it mildly. You see, just like my mom, even if I wanted to be a helicopter mom, I simply wasn’t and am not able to be.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when Jack was four months old and Michael only three. After my first cancer surgeries, I literally could not pick my infant up. I had plenty of help from my friends and family and, of course, my husband. He worked full time, however, and was constantly taking me to doctors – for follow up surgery appointments, for chemotherapy, for radiation and all the other horrific treatment that comes with the diagnosis. My parents, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles were invaluable at this time and I will never forget the time they put in helping us out during this period. My grandparents were in their eighties and would sleep over and get up with Jack in the middle of the night to comfort him and rock him back to sleep. I had other people step in for me to take Michael to Adventureland, to go to his “special person days” at school and to just, in general, make him feel loved and special.

Despite all of this help, however, we were mostly on our own. So, Jack, knowing I couldn’t lift him, learned to crawl at four months. Michael learned to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at four years old. They both, eventually, learned to pick out what they were wearing to daycare/school. Al and I would help with homework the best we could but, being so busy with my cancer treatments and subsequent twenty surgeries, there were times when they just, from a very young age, had to learn to do things on their own. They learned to make french toast, pancakes, eggs, and various other things that they could eat when daddy was still at work and mommy was recovering from a surgery. Once they started Middle School, they were responsible for their own school work. They kept track (in the agenda that they were given by the school for that very reason) of their school functions, made sure to give us plenty of time to fill out field trip forms and always knew when the trips were – they didn’t need reminding.

I would often feel guilty about the fact that I was not personally at every school event (although believe me, I was at as many as I could be, and many times at the expense of my own health). I felt guilty for not living up to how I watched the rest of my extended family raise their children.

But, here is the lesson. Michael was picked for the challenge and discovery program in the middle school (the gifted program) and was in that program for all three years. Out of six hundred and some odd third graders, he was one of thirteen that was selected. He excelled. He is in eleventh grade now and is never home. He is always with friends. Always has something to do and somewhere to go. Just like any other “normal” kid. He is deciding what to do with his life and looking into colleges and getting ready to take his SATs in the spring. He can cook almost anything. He applied at various jobs and got call backs on every one. He chose Five Guys as his job for now. He applied online by himself, took the calls regarding coming in for his interview himself, walked to the interview and got the job. He makes curfew every night and always lets us know that he is safe and where he is via cell phone. He makes us proud every day.

Jack, in spite of not having me able to lift him every time he wanted to be, not being able to change him myself when I was in bad shape, was really “raised by a village”. He is one of the most outgoing, social, sweet, tender thirteen year olds I have ever known. I have had some of my friends, who don’t have children say to me, “If I knew that my child would turn out like Jack, I would not be on the fence about having a child.” He is helpful and is the child in class that invites the new kid to come sit with him and his friends at lunch. He excels at sports and plays both football and basketball and, is now becoming interested in baseball. He is just an overall awesome child.

And, there has not been one semester, since they both started middle school, that they have not made either made the honor roll or the high honor roll. Again, they are responsible for their own schoolwork. The only thing they sometimes ask me to do is type a really long report. Words don’t work to say how it warms my heart that they have turned into such beautiful, smart and “normal” kids.

They are far from perfect, and I’m the first one to say that. The sixteen year old knows everything and can really give me a run for my money. The thirteen year old can be extremely moody and can hold a grudge (that’s the Sicilian in him, I suppose).

You see, though, when you are forced not to coddle your children and helicopter around them, they learn to do things on their own. That’s not how I felt much of the time, though. When “normal” negative things would occur, I would always blame myself for not being able to be there for them like “normal” parents. I would worry that it was because they were angry at me for being sick, at not being able to be there for them all of the time. Anyone who has been in a similar situation like me, I’m sure, feels the same way. Your never certain if it’s because of how they had to grow up, and the things that they lacked, or if their behavior is just normal behavior that all kids go through.

My mother never admitted that she felt that way but, I’m sure when we were giving her a hard time, she had the same fears. It took me the support of my friends, who would assure me that the way they were acting was perfectly normal for their ages and many years of therapy to be able to realize that perhaps, because of the things they went through when they were young, they are actually almost better for it. They have learned to cope with traumatic things at such a young age and will be more prepared for the big shit that comes down later in life. I really and truly believe this now. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when those old fears come up however, they are less and less the older they get.

There are some lasting effects. When my mother passed away, Jack didn’t want me to leave his side for about three weeks. Knowing that she died of the same disease I had, I think he was terrified that I would leave him, too. He was just too young to understand the different stages of cancer, and how I had so much more treatment than my mother (I still take an estrogen blocker each day to prevent it from every rearing its ugly head again). He gets very nervous when I am sick, even if it’s just a cold.

Michael, for a long time, would come home from school and, instead of saying “how was your day?”, he would say “is everyone alright?”. Clearly, the trauma of his childhood and losing his grandmother has taken a toll on him, as well. He even gets nervous when I sit out on the porch late in the summer, just writing or on the phone or playing on Facebook. He, also, is afraid of something happening to me. He waits until I come in to go down to his room.

They have both received the appropriate help, something that I will always thank my mother for doing for my sister and I.

The one thing that always stayed with me, however, was the fact that I didn’t take for granted that my mother would always be here. And, as painful as that often was, I couldn’t be more happy that it was that way. I always conducted myself in a way as to make her proud. Before I did something that I knew was wrong, I would think about how it would hurt her. I didn’t always make the right decisions but, there were many times that I did, and it was directly related to wanting to please my mother, to make her happy and to make her proud of me.

If that’s the worst thing that comes out of everything my children have been through, I couldn’t be happier. It pushed me to be the best that I could be. Knowing everything my mom had been through, one of my most important goals in my life was to make her happy. We were also as close as could be and I also believe that that had a direct correlation to what we went through together.

So, I’m knocking on wood right now, because that’s what us Italians do. I don’t want to jinx anything but, today I am so grateful that they came through the fire even stronger than they would have been had they had your typical, run of the mill childhoods.

Whenever my friends go through some kind of trauma, and are concerned about how it will affect their kids, I tell them my story and my mother’s story and how, sometimes, having trauma early in life, makes you stronger in the long run. And, for any of you out there reading this, and going through a really tough time, I hope that you keep this in mind, as well.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, one thing my kids never lacked is love. And, love is the answer.

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