Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You're Doing The Right Thing

Something must be in the water lately because there seems to be a record number of tantrums going around. 

I don't know if the kids are embracing their summer freedom or simply testing boundaries but as Jerry Lee Lewis may have once observed there's been whole lotta shakin' (screaming, screeching and stomping) goin' on.

But I'm less concerned with the tantrums and more concerned with

a. How parents are handling their kids' tantrums and

b. How other parents are reacting to tantrum-handling parents

In the first scenario I witnessed, a little kid, (we'll call him Bucket Boy) kept dumping water over the head of some random little girl. Bucket Boy's Daddy told him repeatedly to stop or he'd take the bucket away and when he didn't stop, Dad eventually took the bucket away.  Cue tantrum.

A shrill, high-pitched, thrashing-about mortifying tantrum that caused everyone to stare at him, including me.  You're cringing right now because you've been there.  Me too.  Dad was embarrassed. He moved to give the bucket back to his little boy but he was stopped, unbelievably, by another, random mommy with red curls piled on top her head.

"Don't" she said, gently laying her hand on his forearm.  "Don't do it."

Daddy wavered as Bucket Boy screamed for his bucket and began kicking dad in the shins.

"Don't be embarrassed. Are we embarrassed?" she gestured to the rest of us moms.  We shook our heads.  We were not embarrassed.

"I've been where you are," said another mom sitting there.

"Me too!" I piped up.  "Hold firm...you're doing great"

Daddy held the boy at arm's length, protecting his shins from kicking as his son cried and screamed for his bucket.

"It's okay," coached Redhead "You can do this."

"But he's freaking out!" Dad protested. "SHHH!" he said to his son who took that as a cue to increase his volume.

"True," Redhead said, raising her voice louder to be heard.  "But if you give him back that bucket, you've taught him that this kind of behavior is effective...and will be rewarded...do you know what I mean?"

Dad swallowed and nodded.  He looked in dismay at his beet red, hysterical toddler.  He tried to wrap his arms around his son to comfort him but that filled Bucket Boy with renewed fury.  In a move that I thought was both incredibly humble and courageous he helplessly asked "What should I do?"

"Take away his audience," I spoke up, emboldened by this red-haired mama guru.

"Yes," Redhead agreed.  "Take him over by the lockers and sit him down, turning your back to him until he rides this out. Let him have his emotions.  If he can't calm down, maybe even take him home.  He will learn that if he behaves this way he will not get the desired results."

Bucket Boy's screaming had reached a fever pitch as he pounded his fists into his dad's chest.  He was now screaming "I hate you Daddy!  I hate you!  Give me my bucket NOW!"

"Leave the beach?" the dad said doubtfully. 

"Yes," she affirmed.  "That's what I would do. Even if you gave him back the bucket now, it wouldn't even calm him down...he would just know you don't mean what say. Scary thought huh?"

Dad took a deep breath and hauled his son away.  The four of us moms left behind started yelling our support. Emboldened by Redhead, I added "Good job Daddy! You're doing the right thing!"

The dad gave a little smile at us as he hauled off his tantruming son.  I don't know what happened after that.  Maybe Bucket Boy learned that tantruming doesn't equal getting your way. Maybe it took ten more times of being removed from a situation until he learned it.  But I know, for a fact, that that father walked away feeling supported by a community of parents. And I think that he may have realized that he doesn't have to give in to his child's whims or let his child run the show in order to "keep peace" in front of other parents.  I don't think he felt judgment and I think he was an open enough man to accept help when it was being freely given.

"Are you a child psychologist?" I asked Redhead who was so powerful and serene in the face of this melee.

"No," she responded, surprised.  "I'm a mom."

In Scenario 2, I was at my niece's birthday party when a little girl had a meltdown because she wanted to sit in a certain seat when it was time to eat birthday cake and another little girl was already in that particular seat seat.   At first, to try and dtop the meltdown in its tracks (and because we were in public) Meltdown Muffy's Mom tried to get the other little girl to change her seat as to pacify Meltdown Muffy. (And don't judge, because we've all pulled that at one time or another...I know I have.  That's when I'm all "you have to pick your battles as a mom!" But I know in my heart how bad it is for my kids to indulge them and reinforce their bad behavior.)  But the other little girl wasn't budging and Muffy refused to sit in the other chair towards which her mother was directing her.  So Muffy, who is 5, began screaming so loudly, and with such a high pitch, it sounded like a giant tea kettle had come to kill us all. Windows began shattering (author is taking artistic license here and downright lying) and the Mom grimly set her mouth and said "Muffy, I am taking you out of this party!" 

The mom looked so embarrassed that I thought she was going to cry. I wanted to cry. Because she had nothing to be embarrassed about. The other 5 moms in the room weren't judging her...we were supporting her. I had to get this across.

And I was going to take a page out of Redhead's book and go for it. 

I put my hand gently on her arm.

"You are doing the right thing," I said.  "You are an amazing mother!"  (I chose this because it is, in my opinion, the holy grail of compliments.  I'll never forget when I asked my sister Vicky, at the bar of Casa Comida 5 years ago, what she would write on my tombstone.  She began with "Natty....devoted mother-"  and I interrupted her and said "Stop right there. I don't need to hear anything else.  That's all it needs to say."

"Yeah, right," Muffy's mom scoffed, as Muffy's screaming droned on and her mom began to pull her out the door.

"For real," I affirmed "We are all admiring you! What you're doing, right now! We've all been there at one time or another with our darlings!  Can I get an Amen?"  What I got was a silence, due to the fact that I was in a roomful of non-believers, but I could tell by the looks on their faces that they agreed with the gist of what I was saying.

One mom even added "Muffy, you need to listen to your mommy. When she tells you to sit in a certain seat, you need to do it!" she admonished the girl gently.

It turned out even some time in the hallway couldn't calm Muffy down. Her brave, caring mama decided to take her home rather than teach her to be an impatient, entitled child who would get to sit wherever she demanded if only she screeched loud enough. And without a goody bag to boot!  Burn!

I wish more moms spoke up to help and support when one of us is in trouble. I wish less moms judged this kind situation, conveniently forgetting that their own children can sometimes be just as irritable/unreasonable/gargoyle-like. And I wished that even more moms were open to the love and support that can come from other moms when you're in a tough spot and you need some reinforcements rather than being insulted anyone would dare question the utter perfection of their child.  I wished so hard that it so happened to me!  ( I told you tantrums were going around!)

And then...Scenario Three.  

My son and daughter went to a play date last week with a new family where there was conveniently another brother and sister combo who were exactly their age.  My son and his friend hit it off like Gangbusters, playing happily for about an hour. During this time, my daughter was being off-the-charts obnoxious. She wouldn't share. She demanded to sit in my chair, whining and trying to push me out of it. (But I didn't budge.) She would get huffy if the other little girl would pick up a toy even if she herself wasn't using it.  She wouldn't dress up or dance and her only happy moment seemed to be knocking Barbie dolls onto the floor with a smug grin.  She shot dirty looks at her friend, whenever the friend put on a another yet cute tutu and I admired it.  My daugher also kept doing gymnastic tricks and muttering to the other little girl what I swear sounded like "you can't do that" under her breath. I'd like to blame her horrible behavior on staying over Grandma's the night before and being pumped full of sugar, but the truth is, even the most angelic child can sometimes act like a complete brat (even if they haven't eaten the contents of Grammie's sugar bowl).  I was trying to "roll with it"  because I didn't want to have to shorten my son's idyllic play date.  But ultimately, my daughter's behavior forced my hand.

After my daughter aggressively yanked an entire game of Hungry Hungry Hippos out of her friend's hands scattering marbles everywhere (and had the audacity to then begin wailing like she had somehow been the injured party) I hit my breaking point. I made my apologies, tucked my squirming screech owl under my arm, yelled to my son that it was time to go, and began trying to load my angry, freaking out jellyfish into her car seat. I explained to her (as I would do many times that day) that we where leaving because she was not behaving like a gracious guest, what with the tantrums, grabbing, not sharing and general rude behavior. I explained to her that home would be the best place for her to express herself and her emotions. That enraged her more. Her protests about leaving were so loud they broke the sound barrier without an airplane and believe you me, I was MORTIFIED. I apologized to my gracious hostess as best I could over the din and dejectedly skulked away, feeling like a failure because my sweet little 2 year old had behaved like a spoiled little bully.

And then I heard the sweetest words as I felt a hand being placed lightly on my forearm as I walked out my new friend's front door.

"I think you're doing the right thing.  And you're a great mom."

Music, sweet music.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


When I've been asked the question "What superpower would you rather have -- invisibility or the ability to fly?" I ALWAYS say the ability to fly. Invisibility? I think I would be crushed to hear all/any of what people say about me behind my back.  Please, lie to my face.  Because I've always firmly believed that what other people think/say about me is none of my business.  

This point was driven home the other day when I when I overheard two moms I'm acquainted with talking about me behind my back...DUN DUN DUN! While they were standing in the lobby of (EDITED FOR CONFIDENTIALITY SAKE) I was in the bathroom with my 6 year old, waiting for him to finish his constitutional, unbeknownst to them. And get this, they were talking about MY BATHING SUIT. My bathing suit.

My bathing suit.

I love my bathing suit.  This suit I so enjoy wearing is incredibly functional (since I like to be in the pool or the ocean with my kids), it's vaguely retro looking and it's hot pink.  It provides maximum coverage for my figure and yet I still feel sort of like Esther Williams (does anyone get this reference?) when I wear it.  So it's not like I'm prancing around in a thong bathing suit with my chest tumbling out of my tiny top.  I'm a mom, wearing a very respectable suit.

The two moms were talking about how it's THE ONLY SUIT I EVER WEAR. 

I take exception to this.  Once in a while, I wear a similar suit that is deep green except it's a halter top.

But more than that, I take exception to the fact that of all the fascinating topics under the sun (pardon the pun) these two ladies could be discussing, the one that they are discussing is....(wait for it) the frequency with which I wear my bathing suit.

It was horrifying/sort of interesting.  They both acknowledged I was "really nice" and had a "great sense of humor"...which was strangely gratifying (although I was miffed they didn't comment on my exceptional cooking and baking skills).  One also added the tidbit that I'm a book reviewer, as if all of this helped to negate my faux pas of always wearing the same suit. 

So their conversation wasn't entirely mean-spirited ( I mean, I DO often wear the same suit) but it caused me to start thinking.

The reason why I wear the same bathing suit is because I love it and I love how it makes me feel.  Yes, I generally wear only one suit but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who takes better care of her bathing suit than I do.  I also only wear one suit because I hate waste and excess and I've been embracing a minimalist lifestyle where my family tries to buy/have/use ONLY what we need and let go of/donate everything else. If I didn't believe in this so deeply, I wouldn't be writing a book about it.

But the truth is, there's nothing excessive about having more than one bathing suit and I'VE BEEN MEANING to buy a new suit that's equally pleasing to me now that I've lost a few pounds -- it's just that I haven't gotten around to it.  So these ladies would soon be in for a treat.  They would soon see me in a WHOLE NEW SUIT...and thus they'd have something even more exciting about which to talk.

Although it was uncomfortable to overhear someone talking about me, there's not one person reading this blog (or writing this blog) who hasn't discussed or otherwise even criticized others behind their backs.  It's something we all know goes on, but we don't really want to experience it firsthand when we are the topic of conversation.  Either I'm JUST that fascinating (I'm not) or these girls need to focus their brain power on more meaningful topics of conversation then the frequency with which I don a particular piece of swim wear.

And you know how when you catch someone talking about you, you think you'll sweep in with a raised eyebrow and smug grin, saying "Interesting conversation, ladies?" or some kind of brilliant, cutting remark. That's not how I've ever experienced the rare times I've been in this situation.  I honestly found myself feeling bad for them and not wanting to embarrass them when they realized I heard them. When I came out of the bathroom with my (now eliminated) child, their faces turned white.  I genuinely felt awkward at their discomfort so I just smiled warmly and said "Hey guys" and moved along.  My friend Stephanie always says that "the air is freshest on the high road".  So true.

However, the downside of this situation is now when  I buy my coveted new bathing suit later on this month, they'll think it's because of what they said. Rats.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Another Year

It's bittersweet surrender. -- Big Head Todd & The Monsters

Big A turned 6 today.  It was a wonderful day that began with his dad's famous oatmeal-chia-flaxseed-coconut oil pancakes ( I only pretend to eat them as to spare my husband's feelings because...gross) but Big A, not knowing any better, thinks they're great. We gave him two small gifts of the Lego and Angry Bird variety and decorated his kitchen chair. He spent the day at the beach with Grandma, his cousins and few other beach club friends, smashing a piƱata, swimming in the pool and topping the whole thing off with a Cookie Pus. (If his father was present, it would have been a tower of fruit.  As Big A gobbled down Cookie Pus's delicious nose, he MUST have been thinking "Okay now what were those CRAP pancakes my daddy served me this morning?")

So he's home now with a big smile on his face.  But for me, it's a little more complicated.  I feel sort of like the sister from the movie Poltergeist.  After her contribution of giving the finger early on in the film she's pretty much absent the entire movie (and throughout all of the possessed hijinks) only to arrive late in the movie and scream, at the top of her lungs, "WHAT'S HAPPENING????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

What's happening here, Big A?  How are you 6?  How did this happen?  Where did the time go?  You were JUST BORN.  I remember your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th birthdays like they just happened yesterday. How did you get to be 6?  I'm truly am baffled about how time could zip forward so fast.  Didn't you just smash your cake with your fist as everyone cheered?  Didn't you dress up like a tiny leprechaun for Halloween with a little green hat?  Remember when you couldn't say your "Fs" and you were obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine? Remember the time you fell asleep in your high chair and woke up only to scarf down two bananas?  Now you're so analytical, you crack sarcastic jokes, you empathize with others.  You hate bananas.  And you're just so....tall.

We celebrate birthdays for our children with joy, love and fun.  But sometimes I don't want to celebrate another year in the can.  It reminds me that with every year that passes I am closer to losing you.  Which isn't even fair to say. I'll never lose you. I can't "lose" you anymore than I could lose my own finger prints.  You'll always be with me, ingrained on my soul and tucked deep inside of my heart no matter what happens. But your birthday reminds me that you are growing up, (which is sort of the idea here) but it's also a sobering reality check that with each year that passes I will be one year closer to having to let you go.  Our time is so precious...what is it they say about parenting small children?  The days are long but the years are short?  If these 6 years zoomed past like so much rain slipping down a dashboard how fast will the next 6 years fly by?  Sigh.

Except for the conception part, nothing about motherhood came easily or naturally to me.  Listen Big A, I've finally got the hang of this whole out-of-control madness and it seems you are on this (totally normal) path of growing up...a path that will eventually lead you away from your father and me. Every birthday is a bittersweet reminder that you're another step closer to sleep-away camp, a driver's license, going away to college and then moving out for good.

But let's celebrate!  You with your friends, your cake, your presents. Me, trying to figure out a way to be at peace with the passage of time, as all of the mothers before me have done and as all ones who come after me will do.  Happy Birthday my dear one, thank you for making me a less selfish, more caring person than I was before you came to me.  Thank you for choosing Daddy and I as your parents.  Thank you for humbling me by granting me the privilege of experiencing a love that is extraordinary, overpowering and completely unrelenting.  I will honor what I have been given by letting you go when the time is right.  But not before. Dammit.

So until then, I'll be the one pretending there's something in my eye as your blow out your candles.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"For children, summer should be a time to decompress, to explore at their own pace, to do absolutely nothing. To imagine, perchance to dream..."  Ellen Nicholas Rathbone

According to a recent article printed by The Atlantic free play is a marvelous and vital part of summer that's often being swallowed up by a jam-packed schedule of events that's sometimes even busier than the school year.  The article argues that the LESS time children spend in structured, adult-directed activities, the better it is for their self-development, ability to reach goals and their imaginations.  I decided to put this theory into practice today to see if things would quickly deteriorate into a shit show.

Wednesdays I watch my niece and nephew (10 and almost 8, respectively) for 8-9 hours. Add my toddler and my 6 year old to the mix and that's a lot of unstructured play. I scrapped plans today to take them to mini golf and the park, I put away the stack of board games I was going to play with them and I put a ban on screen time OF ANY KIND. And then I sat back, added water and watched the fun.

It turns out that they were just fine without my interference. Better, actually, I'm embarrassed to admit.

The kids found an old magic set and started learning tricks to show me as I folded laundry. They built with legos and created a castle of k'nex.  When I went out to water the garden, they offered to help which soon became a hilarious, beyond fun water fight.  They found the other hose attachment, rustled up buckets and worked as a team to soak me and each other. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard or got such strange looks from my neighbors.  Keep in mind that I didn't say "Okay, children, put on your bathing suits. We will now have a water fight."  It happened organically and spontaneously. I had to put all their clothes in the dryer afterwards but so what?

We sat in the dining room and ate sandwiches and fruit for lunch.  They asked me to tell them a story about the worst thing I did as a child. (A food fight I poorly chose to initiate.) They asked if we could bake cookies. I said yes and got out all the ingredients. They chose which ones to put in (sprinkles and chocolate chips yes, coconut or almonds definitely not).  The played Zingo and The Memory Game. I told them I would need a half an hour to send my editor a book review that was due and the four of them went upstairs to read to themselves or one another and draw.  At this moment they are playing a game called "Fort" in which they have made my entire sitting room into...well..a fort.  They are delegating who is guarding what exit and doing some kind of push-ups as part of their training.  "We will defend our base!" they yell at some common, invisible enemy.  "I have a very bad feeling about this." I hear my son say.  They are laughing.  I ask them if they need anything.  "More blankets" is the answer.  I didn't teach them the game "Fort". I never even heard of the game "Fort." But they are so excited and having a grand ole time.

I don't mean to paint any kind of an idyllic picture of "free play" here or insist it's some kind of utopia. I'm shocked that there hasn't been one scuffle. However, I am humbled by what a ball the kids are having when they are given a safe space to freely decide, create and direct the action.  This is not something they get to do all year at school. 

I stress more times than I like to admit thinking of how to challenge, delight or otherwise occupy my children. I try to plan outings, play dates, visits to interesting places and neat events. I try to plan time for reading to them, movie nights, picnics on the beach.  It turns out I've been wasting my time and energy here. What fools we modern day parents can be.

So today we did nothing.  I took them nowhere.  I organized zilch.  But they are loving every second of this not-so-lazy day of summer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Say Cheese?

My second favorite thing to view on Facebook is pictures of people's children, especially those kids whom I barely get to see because they live far away.

My first favorite thing to view on Facebook is pictures of people's food.

Lately, I've been getting some slack (albeit loving slack) because I don't post enough pictures of my kids, Big A and Little D on Facebook.  It's true, I don't post a ton of pictures of my children, although I feel I come through for holidays and other events like tooth losing or "eating a giant ball of cotton candy".  Today I went out of my comfort zone and posted a picture of Big A at the bus stop with his homies. 

When I'm chided by friends to post more photos (generally by those whose kids are grown, live far away or those who don't have kids) I feel warmed that people care enough about my offspring that they want to keep up with their progress.  And yet, I'm probably not going to increase the volume of my photo posts. A few times a month is all I can manage.

Some parents are wonderful photographers.  They have kickass cameras and they are amazing at capturing the moment.  Two moms I know, Heidi and Catherine, were such a amazing amateur photographers that they are now professional photographers. My friend Beth is a fantastic amateur photographer, and some of my favorite beach pictures have been taken by her, when I had no idea I was being photographed. In the below picture I was pregnant with my daughter while my 3 year old son had fallen asleep trapping me in a beach chair for two hours. This photo is incredibly meaningful to me.

But I don't possess the same flair for capturing the moment when it comes to my own kids.  Here's why.

My phone is my camera.   I try very hard not to have my phone with me at all times, but particularly when I'm spending time with my children. (This HAS NOTHING to do with the fact that two previous phones were destroyed due to Little D drooling on them and my insurance was cancelled.  Nothing whatsoever.) My phone, with it's bells, whistles, texts and connection to Upworthy is too irresistible of a distraction.  This is why I miss calls all the time and I'm even worse at checking my voicemails.  So my phone is never close enough to capture much of anything in a timely fashion.

I used to really try to scramble for my phone and snap up something cute the kids were doing. I would rush around for my phone, zip back to my kids and yell "Okay, hold that pose!  Put your arm around her again!  Smooch her head like you were before!"  And then sh*t got weird like those pictures of naked babies arranged in flower pots or rugs...cute...but staged.

It was around then that I noticed that I am not someone who is able to capture the moment and still be present to what is happening.  When I'm stopping to document something happening with my kids, I am not as good at remembering it.  My memory seems to give up, kick back and eat a bag of Cheetos, it would seem, replacing my memory of that moment (and its accompanying emotions) with whatever picture came up on my phone. 

I figured out that I was forsaking actual memories for documentation.  And it's not that I take NO pictures of my children, because I certainly do. It's just that I take LESS pictures of my children these days because, ironically, I seem to bear better witness to their photo-finish-worthy hijinx or precious moments when I don't remove myself from the situation and get behind the camera.  Strange, but true. My sister Chrissy doesn't post too many pictures either...but when she does they are usually awesome so everybody generally pays attention, wildly slapping the "Like" button like a bunch of sugar-crazed children at Yestercades.

When a woman from my writers' group, Barbara, wrote an exceptional piece about this topic a few months ago, ( I wish you would share it on FB!) I found myself nodding along and fighting the urge to yell "Amen!"  She wrote that if you're taking TOO many photographs or videos from OUTSIDE the moment, there's really no way for you to be inside the moment, really experiencing it.  It's because of this that I often offer to take over the camera when I'm at a friend's child's birthday party.  The mom gets to experience the celebration for her child and be IN THE PICTURES rather than behind the camera and out of the action like we all usually are. 

It would be ideal if my husband was a whiz with a camera or loved to take pictures but he is much, much worse than I am about taking pictures.  When Big A went off the kindergarten this past Fall, my husband shocked the hell out of me (and probably himself) by capturing this completely candid photo where both my son and I were unaware that we were being photographed.  I was walking Big A to the bus stop for the first time.  While  I'm moved, touched and inspired by the fact that this photograph exists, I'm glad to know that I didn't have to drop my son's hand and remove myself from our walk to take a picture, hence ruining the moment.

Since I make a conscious effort not to take too many pictures, when friends or family members capture something beautiful on film, it is all the more poignant to me. Because a gifted photographer I am not. When I remark "Say Cheese!" rather than whipping out a camera, I'm more likely to be grabbing a box of crackers and calling everyone in for a snack.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Savor this

Today a new mom asked me for some advice.  As usual, I began to sweat profusely and grimace as I do when anyone asks me for parenting advice. Like most moms, I am doing the best I can and yet I don't feel fit to advise a newt on parenting.  I look around and always notice that everyone seems to parent better/more calmly/more happily than I do and I also notice their offspring are more well-behaved/more accomplished/ better at the cello than my own.  But this mom is in her mid-twenties, full of energy and not used to taking no for an answer.   She pressed me for some parenting advice, not sweetening the deal at all by referring to me as "a seasoned mom". Thank you, young whippersnapper.  So before she shooed me off to the local HoJos to get the Early Bird Special, I cobbled together 4 pieces of parenting advice I felt comfortable sharing based on my own trials and errors.

Forgive yourself. 

I am not going to tell you to "SAVOR EVERY MOMENT".  I'm not going to tell you that because I believe that most moms are already doing that.  The highlight of my day is watching my 2 year old run to her big brother for a bear hug and a smooch every day when he gets off the bus.  I know you are enjoying these moments also at your house.  Of course you are. What are you, made of ice? 

You don't need me to tell you to savor those moments.  What I want to tell you is that you should forgive yourself for BLOWING A GASKET during the less adorable moments. Like when they throw a can of neon yellow slime into a load of white laundry that includes your favorite cardigan, dump chocolate milk on the floor for sport and throw a tantrum because you won't let them stay up until 10 pm to watch a re-run of Wonder Woman. All of which happened this past year in my house.

Forgive yourself for yelling, speaking harshly, shoving them into their rooms or designated time-out spots.  You are human.  You're entitled to hissy fits when you've asked your son TEN TIMES to put on his karate uniform and he's refused to do it and now his ride is here and he's wearing just a shirt and no shoes. You will not always make the right decision as a parent. You will fail.  Forgive yourself for not being perfect because you are doing the best you can.

Forgive Your Children

Are you children the picture of perfect manners? Do you they always eat their greens, never whine, say hello to their aunts and uncles by name and do their homework without being told?  Are they fair to others and never perseverate on the gumball they wanted from Toys R Us when you have just bought them a new stuffed Angry Bird?  If this is the case, please leave this blog and NEVER RETURN!

As a former girly girl, I thought that my daughter would love to have tea parties and play dolls with me. She doesn't. She wants to shoot hoops and collect worms.  My husband thought our son would love surfing as much as he does but he has somehow sired a son that loves water but not getting his face wet.  Forgive your children for not being miniature versions of yourself.  Let them be whoever it is that they are going to be. Forgive your children for sometimes embarrassing you in front of grocery clerks and entire birthday parties because, quite simply, they are children.  Forgive them for not being perfect and sometimes sneaking a box of orange tic-tacs under their pillow that they got from Grandma when you specifically said no candy after 6 p.m. 

Please don't expect these miraculous little creatures to be perfect. You are setting them up for failure.  Expect them to be remarkable and they will always succeed!  For example, it was remarkable that my two year old managed to lock everyone out of the bathroom today, including herself, while the plugged faucet was still running. 

But Don't Be Your Child's Friend

I promise you that if you are very lucky there will come a time in your early twenties when you'll take in a movie with your mom and discuss politics with your dad and you'll realize that the pendulum has swung and your parents are less your care-takers and more your equals...even your friends.  But if you're the parents to small children or teens that time is not now.  Yes, that means being the bad guy. The one that makes them eat the broccoli, says no to the second ice pop, enforces the bedtime and teeth brushing and metes out the punishment when he karate chops his sister because she accidentally turned off Adventuretime.  It means sitting down sometimes and calling your children out on their bad behavior so that they can learn to be happy and productive.

With great responsibility comes great power. Your children may not like some of your rules, particularly limits on candy, screen time and lights out but they sure as hell will respect you for it.  It's tempting to think of your kids as your "little buddies" but they're not. They're a precious gift you've been entrusted to raise and teach until they can make it on their own in this world.  Don't leave them ill-equipped to navigate this world by indulging in their every whim, letting them do whatever they want and, in short, not doing the hard work you signed on for when you became a parent.  Wonderful teachers, Coach So-And-So, Sensei Whomever and their CCD leader may be great role models and part of a loving support network, but YOU ARE THE PARENT.  One kid I know responds to any time-out his mom gives him by storming "You're not my friend anymore!!"  She never was, kid.  Children have plenty of friends, what they need is a parent.

Spend Time With Your Kids.

This is the fun part.  Not counting church, not counting when you're on the sidelines of the soccer game or swim match, not counting when you have a gaggle of your child's friends and moms over, although that's fun.  Spend time with your kids.  Just you and your partner and your kids. Go to the park. Have a picnic. Pop corn and watch movies they pick. Swim with them.  Ride bikes. Draw with them. Play board games with them. Let them help you make meatballs and cookies even though you will have to absolutely vacuum your floor and ceiling right after.  Make your kids feel that they are your priority.  And I hate to break this to you but the clock is ticking. They're not always going to think you're a rock star. Soon your child will be too embarrassed to hold your hand in public and your daughter will think you're the enemy for not letting her wear make-up.  As hard as this time period can be (the time period of having small children) it will also be the best years of your life. Never have you been so loved before and never will you be this loved again.  Don't squander it.

So in short, (dare I say it?)  Savor. Every. Moment.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nothing to fear but fear itself

I am not sending my son to Action Camp. 

Our town has an Action Camp each summer for 5 weeks.  I hear wonderful things about it.  Apparently it is not only safe and nearby but all the campers have a ball.  It's only 3 hours a day too.  The perfect amount of time to get some work done while your kids are off having fun.

But I am not sending my son to Action Camp.

"Aren't you afraid that Big A will lose touch with all the good friends he's made this year?" another Mom asked me.  (Her town has a similar camp and she and her kids love it.)

Until this moment no, no I was not.  But now I am. Now I am afraid he will lose all his friends and become a social pariah. Thank you for that.

"Aren't you afraid that when you get sick of having him around this summer there will be no respite, NOWHERE to drop him?" she asked.

Yes. I AM in fact afraid of what will happen when I run out of ideas, we're hot, grouchy and the kids are having a steel cage match to see who can whine more.  I will have no break. I now possess this fear as well.

"And how about the fun?" she persists. "Aren't you afraid he's going to miss out on a great time?"

I have now broken out in hives.

Note that all three of the questions I was asked began with "Aren't you afraid?"

Yes! Yes...I'm afraid he'll miss out on the fun.  I have a vision of Big A, on the top of the monkey bars in a nearby park as he gazes over at the happy campers. I picture him shrieking miserably "WHY?  WHY DIDN'T YOU SEND ME TO ACTION CAMP?! DAMN YOU, MOMMY! DAMN YOU! OH THE HUMANITY OF IT ALL!"

But all of this fear is not enough for me to send Big A to Action Camp. It's not because of the money. It's not because I want him to myself all summer. It's not even because 1 week out of the 5 he'll be at Vacation Bible School or because we belong to a beach club, even though these are all good reasons.

I'm not sending Big A to Action Camp because, quite simply, he doesn't want to go. 

His summer plans, as he's explained them to me, include not going to school, camping in the backyard with his friends, and a trip to Sesame Place where he can eat "a blue cupcake".  He also wants to go the beach, jump off the diving board "a zillion times" and eat "a blue ice pop".  While his plans may include a high number of of unnaturally blue things, they don't include Action Camp.

When I mentioned a lot of his friends were going he sort of shrugged and asked if they could come over after they were done with camp.  Sounds reasonable.  I think my introvert son realizes that he's had to keep it together all year in the super-stimulated world of kindergarten and he's ready to chill out this summer by having nowhere in particular to be.

He doesn't seem to care that he's one of the few kids not going to Action Camp.  And at age (almost) 6, I may not be able let him decide what time to go to bed, but he definitely can decide this.  If I worked outside of the home, that might be a different story. He might have to go to Action Camp, whether he wanted to or not, because it's a cost-effective childcare solution.  

But to be brutally honest, I was worried for a while about going against the grain and having my son not attend.  Fear is a great motivator. Would he be missing oodles of fun?  Would he indeed lose touch with his new friends? Everyone else seems to be going and having a blast...what's wrong with my kid that he doesn't want to? Fear is so powerful it almost made me override my son's wishes and sign him up for something he specifically doesn't want to do.  And that's when I realized, not just with this small situation but with many future situations that I don't want to be swayed, colored or RUN by fear. 

And so it is written.  No action camp for the Big A this year.  There's always next year.