For many of us, parenting is uncharted territory. I was an only child of only children. I had no brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts or first cousins. I played with books, not dolls.
When my daughter, Molly, was born, hers was the first diaper I ever changed. I used to say when she was a month old, I threw a party to celebrate having survived that long. People thought I was joking. I wasn't.
I got lucky. I had a healthy, easily placated child with no health issues. She ate. She slept. She reached all of her developmental milestones in textbook fashion. Piece of cake, right?
Nope. I was still a basket case, unsure of myself and terrified that I might do the wrong thing. I wasn't even sure I'd recognize the wrong thing if I did it.
I spent a month's salary on parenting books. They only confused me more. Friends gave me conflicting advice. Just when I'd think I finally had babyhood or toddlerhood or preschool age figured out, she'd move on to the next stage, leaving me behind in the talc-scented dust.
One of the pervading themes in my columns is the need for responsible parenting. Kids don't raise themselves, you know. Or at least, they don't raise themselves very successfully.
Last year, I wrote a column about that dim-witted Toyota Sienna commercial featuring a couple of young boys choosing to play in the family van rather than in the tree house their father had built. I talked about the dangers to children playing unattended in and around cars. Actually, it was more of a rant.
After the column ran, I heard from a local dynamo named Dee Dee Mize. She is the executive director of Family T.I.E.S.. ("teaching, informing, empowering and supporting today's families") Gainesville. It's a nonprofit agency that provides free parenting classes. Dee Dee was wondering if I'd be interested in serving on their board of directors.
Me? I'm the woman who dropped her child off at school one day only to receive a phone call when I got home telling me that it was a teacher work day and to please come back and retrieve my daughter.
The more I learned about Family T.I.E.S., the more impressed I became. I've never been much of a joiner, but this seemed important enough to make an exception.
The programs work with expectant parents and those with children up to 18 years old. Groups are taught in either English or Spanish. Programs serve families who are mandated by the Department of Family and Children's Services or the court system as well as parents who are incarcerated or any parent wishing to improve their skills.
It also offers programs for teenagers whose parents are enrolled in the Empower Parents class and for middle school students in the YMCA after-school program. These classes are aimed at helping teens deal with issues of bullying, drugs, self esteem, anger management and character building.
Dee Dee showed me a letter that one young group member had sent to one of the facilitators: "I just wanted to say ‘thank you' for everything. I've actually enjoyed coming to these classes even though at times it was hard dealing with all the problems I caused. ... Another thing I realized was that I hurt my family a lot by choosing to do the wrong thing and I am truly sorry with all my heart. I am not going to say I'm all completely changed but I look at things differently and I'm trying to change. I have a long way ahead of me to gain my family's trust and forgiveness. ... Thank you so much for guiding me to the right path."
Once I started attending board meetings, I quickly discovered that nonprofit agencies aren't showered with money by some good fairy somewhere. It's the board's job to help raise funds.
Our current project is the annual 5K and 1-mile Fun Run. It's going to be at the American Legion at the end of Riverside Drive on Saturday, March 20. Registration is $25. Let me entice you further by mentioning that runners won't receive the usual ho-hum cotton T-shirt for participating. Oh, no. Our runners will get a long-sleeved, moisture-wicking running shirt. E-mail me for details or call Dee Dee at 770-287-3071.
Family T.I.E.S. Gainesville is a remarkable program with services that can be life-changing for families struggling with parenting issues. It's well worth supporting so, please, whether you're a dedicated runner or an around-the-block stroller, come on out the Legion on March 20. It'll be a lot of fun for a good cause. See you at the finish line.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.