Category Archives: Everyday Life

Hold My Hand

We walk through the parking lot headed to dinner, a store. My son runs ahead, jumping, shouting, and getting off a bit more energy before being confined to a brick box and shushing and rules. Without looking, a hand slides into mine, never breaking the rhythm of my arms’ stride as I walk. My daughter’s warm hand fits perfectly, holds me firmly. I don’t look at it or say anything. I just take in the simple moment. For however long it lasts, she’s still my little girl and she still wants to hold my hand. Tomorrow she may not want to.

When my daughter was younger, I’d grab her hand to cross the road and she’d yank it away. “Let go!” she’d yell. She was a big girl at two. She could do it. It was always a battle. But I learned she wouldn’t run off. She stayed with us without holding anyone’s hand. I’d have to live with her independence, heartbreaking as it may be.

Sometimes I just wanted to hold her hand, to feel her still-soft baby skin nestled in mine, to feel her squeeze my hand tight and reassure her. Sometimes I just wanted her to reach out because I knew that whole handholding time was short. I didn’t want to be gypped.

But I let it go. That time came and went. It was never something she liked, not at two, not at five. Until now. Now, at eight, when I’m not looking and that hand slips into mine. For a moment, everything is good and she’s not too old just yet.

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Raising Kids Who Are Pleasers

I want my kids to break rules. It sounds crazy, but my husband and I agree. We want our kids to not be so straight-laced and tightly wound that they crumple like a dry leaf when they get in trouble at school. That doesn’t happen often. My kids put so much pressure on themselves to do right. They put pressure on us to follow the rules. Drive five miles over the speed limit and my son will tell me I’m speeding. He’ll repeat it until I slow down, that quake in his voice lets me know he’s worried.

At some point, my kids need to learn that people mess up and it’s OK. They need to know that some rules aren’t hard and fast. They need to know that some rules are stupid.

My kids follow the rules because we taught them to. But I don’t want my kids to be so scared that if they break the rules, the world will end. We’ve created pleasers. My kids don’t want to let anyone down. They don’t want to tell anyone no, even a friend who wants to trade them for their favorite toy pony or bracelet. “Sure, you can have that one,” my daughter has said, only to cry about it later.

My son will let someone demonstrate a cool trick on his arm, giving him a burning mark in the process. Then he’ll let them repeat it. “Why didn’t you tell him to stop?” I ask, inspecting the redness. He liked it. I think he’s afraid that saying no will spoil the friendship.

He’ll give in to a friend who begs to eat his chips every day. But is that really just bullying at some point? Fifth-grade teachers are strict about bathroom time this year. One girl has already wet her pants. My son has already been denied several times. I gave him strict instruction to break the rules over peeing on himself. This is a stupid rule. “Don’t wet your pants,” I told him. “Get up and run to the bathroom.” No fifth grader will live that down. “But I’ll get a check,” he said, terrified of the thought of a tiny checkmark at the teacher’s desk proving he broke a rule.

I know where my kids get this from: the mom who can’t say no. I am easily talked into some PTA committee I should have walked away from or agreeing to a friend’s favor I didn’t want to do. But I figure I’m available or I’ll already be at the event, so why not help out?

Being a pleaser isn’t a good thing. I’ve never gained anything from it but headaches. I’ve rarely gotten the return favor that helps me out. I’m learning to say no more and not give reasons. “I can’t” must be enough.

I want my kids to be more assertive. My son can’t always be the nice guy. My kids don’t need to be perfect. I tell them that. “Get a checkmark,” I told my son. If a teacher wants to give him a checkmark for going to the bathroom, let her be the bad guy. I’ll deal with her.

Shouldn’t I be proud of good, nice kids? Sure. But I was a kid once. I see cause for concern. When my son is older, what would he say to a friend who asks him to hide a mysterious bag in his locker at school? What would my daughter say to someone who asks for the answers during a test? What would either say to someone who wants to vandalize school property? Those consequences are damaging.

The truth is, there will be times when I want my son to be a jerk. He can be cool for sticking up for his beliefs and still be kind to people. It takes guts to not follow the crowd. And girls need to know that a lot of women broke stupid rules and made history. Being a pleaser never got anyone anywhere. No is the most empowering word I can teach them.

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What Is a Picture Worth?

The afternoon sun catches my son’s face, his often-serious tone. He’s lost in a thought, about chameleons or frilled lizards or some other scaly beast he yearns for. I snap a photo. He looks up at me. A wave of brown hair covers one hazel eye and he flashes that boyish grin that melts my heart. Snap. Got it.

My daughter chomps ice on the front porch, pretending to ignore me, looking everywhere but at my camera. Quickly she shoots a smile toward me, the ice as her teeth. Snap. She smiles again and crinkles up her freckled nose. She has the best smile, the kind that uses every muscle in her face. Without realizing it, you return the favor. Her smile is contagious. Snap. Snap. Even a photo can’t capture the beauty of it sometimes.

My kids complain that I take too many pictures. For all the moments I capture, there are tons more that I miss. First steps. That stink eye my daughter used to give us before bursting into a fit of giggles.

Do I need a picture of every moment of my kids’ childhoods? No. But I’m a sentimental person. I document in many ways to keep memories alive. Pictures fill in the holes of a memory that fades more each year, like a quilt airing in the sun. Even more, I want my kids to see themselves, to see how I see them.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my early childhood. Sure, there are plenty of those awkward years that I’d like to forget. But I’d give anything to have more pictures of the good stuff: random shots of my sister and me playing in our rooms, snuggled in bed together every Christmas Eve, playing at the beach where we went every weekend, dressed in any Halloween costume. All of those memories are tucked in my head where I can show them to no one.

I want to see the old house where my grandparents used to live. The kitchen where my grandmother ate ketchup sandwiches and peaches and cream. The room that held the old fridge where I’d squat and decide which flavor of Nehi I wanted that day, or the upstairs bedroom where at age five I’d sit and talk to my great-grandmother in her bed. We’d rub our hands over the patches on her quilt and discuss our favorites. She told me I could have that quilt when she died, and it wasn’t long before I found it on my own bed. I wish I had just one picture of her and me together.

nehi

The bottles are smaller but oh, the flavor takes me back.

I wish I had pictures of a lot of things but I don’t. We simply didn’t take a lot of pictures. So I do it for my kids. I want to remember.

I look at pictures of my kids and I’m transported. I hear their voices, their giggles. I remember the moment. I snapped a shot of my daughter tasting sand in the sandbox and her brother giggling at her toddler stupidity. I treasure the image of the two of them snuggled in her crib after her nap. When she woke up, he’d race into her room and jump in with her before I could even stand up. I’d stand in the hall and listen as they giggled, so happy to see each other after two hours. Six years later, those few photos are all I have of those lost moments. Bedhead and sleepy eyes and dimpled grins, my son looking adoringly at his sister. And knowing my memory, fleeting moments like that in childhoods that pass too quickly would soon be forgotten, taken over by the next cute or funny thing.

So to me, ten thousand pictures is not too many. Nor ten thousand more. When you put them together, they’re a reminder of the beautiful life you are living.

lighthouseme

I even take pictures of myself from time to time. Usually I’m behind the lens.

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Honesty and the Price of a Fish

Three fish darted frantically around the plastic bag squatting on the counter. The cashier punched in two codes, and then announced a total.

“You forgot a fish,” my son said, looking up at the woman. “There are three fish in the bag and you only rang up two.”

He was right. She had missed a $6 fish that he would be paying for with his own money. She rang it up, he paid, and we left.

“That was a nice thing you did in there,” my husband said. “Not many people would have pointed that out.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether I would have pointed it out. I hadn’t even noticed the cashier had missed a fish. Maybe I would have figured it evens out with all the fish that die within a week and we never bring back.

Not a fish in my son's tank but one he'd like.

Not from my son’s tank but a fish we had to stare at for a long time.

My son is a fairly honest boy. He’s never been a good liar. Oh, he’s tried. But I can look at him and he caves. His guilty conscience gets him. Faulty cashiers aside, I have the guilty conscience of a hundred nuns. When I know I did something bad, my guilt eats away at me like a fleet of gnawing rats. I punish myself worse than anyone else ever could. I see this trait in my son. While I grew into it, he seems plagued by it now.

He follows rules. He gets antsy when he notices from the backseat that I’m going five miles over the speed limit. When left with his grandparents for an evening, he’ll remind his sister that they can’t have ice cream again because they already had some that day.

That is a trait he did not get from me. Sure, as a kid I knew what it meant to be reliable and I was scared to not follow rules, but I would have easily forgotten a little thing like extra ice cream. I would do anything to get something sweet. I stole a box of brown sugar from the kitchen and hid it in my room to eat whenever I wanted.

I learned the hard way that lies lead to more lies and that you get caught. I stole my parents’ checkbook and hid it in my doll cradle for some authentic play. I didn’t even fess up when I knew they were looking for it. Finally, I returned it when they closed the account.

I didn’t fear dishonesty the way my son does. My daughter seems to be experimenting with dishonesty right now, testing boundaries with little white lies. Her lies often grow out of competition, not wanting to be left behind. When we heard an owl in the middle of the night, she heard it too. She even saw it from her window. In the dark. Three different nights.

Sometimes being the youngest is hard. I remember. When her older brother describes a movie that’s too old for her, my daughter insists she’s seen it too. We all know she is lying.

“Who’s the main character then?” my son quizzes.

“I can’t remember his name.” Hmm, it is a boy.

“What does he look like?”

“Uh, brown hair.”

“Wrong! He has dark hair!”

“That’s what I said!”

The interrogation continues and so does my daughter’s stubborn will.

But when I least expect it, she shows that guilty conscience too. And honesty. After a normal afternoon, she’ll burst into tears and admit she got reprimanded hours earlier at school.

At some point, I know my son will tell me lies. And at some point, I know my daughter will stop. Honestly, it’s what kids do. One day I may even look out my daughter’s window in the middle of the night and see that owl.

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I’m a Person, Not a Convenience

I am not a coatrack. Or a bookshelf. Or anything else upon which you put things. My kids see my hands or lap as an invitation to hold their things. Yesterday my daughter stared me down, determined that I would hold her books in the doctor’s office. The chair next to her wouldn’t do. I stared back, determined not to hold her load. Sometimes it’s a matter of power. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of habit.

I am not a maid or a servant or any kind of hired help. But I fear the kids see me that way. When the kids were younger, I did things for them because they couldn’t. When they were old enough, I taught them. That’s the part we’ve had trouble with.

Sometimes my kids think my hands work better than theirs. My hands make quick work of putting away toys, cutting neater along the lines, and pouring without spilling. But my hands have had decades of practice.

While driving, I am expected to hold the steering wheel and juggle a wrapper someone threw in my direction, while wadding up a tissue and tossing it swiftly into the backseat. “Mom, you missed.”

“No, you missed,” I mutter under my breath. Can’t they move an inch?

When the kids were small, I didn’t mind taking their chewed sucker stick and disposing of it as I drove. Little did I know what monsters I was creating. At the time, I thought putting used gum away was better than finding it stuck to a seat somewhere.

Later my kids would bypass three trashcans in search of my hands and me. When they would find me, they offered me something—a bit of string, a used tissue. How many times can one be offered a booger? At ages when they want to be independent, my kids sure are fickle about it. My daughter has walked through the kitchen to hand me her dish to put away. At what point does it sink in that they can accomplish this task on their own? “Dishwasher,” I say.

My kids simply can’t multitask like I can, but I’m providing opportunity. Our van doesn’t have automatic doors. Someone has to actually take two seconds to close them. Every day after school, someone leaves that damn van door open. My hands may be filled with bags and keys and a water bottle, but my kids can’t seem to handle an extra task when their load is on their back. I’ve learned to hurry to the house, remind the last one out to close it.

Habits are hard to break, even for a mom who constantly tells her kids she isn’t the family maid.

The kids have come a long way in doing things for themselves. They still need reminders. When they do need me—for a hug or help or to tell me about their day—I’m open.

And every now and then, I still look down to find that I’m holding my daughter’s book, and I wonder how it got there.

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Practice: The I Don’t Like It, Aha Moments

As much as I hate the consequences of what I’m about to say, I nod my head, commiserate for a moment with my defeated child, and take a deep breath.

“You just have to keep practicing. It’s the only way you’ll get better,” I say as gently as I can.

I brace myself. Either tears or a swift crack of the recorder against the chair will come next. “I hate this thing!”

“I hate it too. God, I really do,” I think.

“Squeeeeeee, skreee, skree, squeeee, squraaaa squaaaa-eeeeeeeek—BANG! BANG! BANG!”

“Don’t bang it. You’re going to break it. And you can’t expect to learn it in two minutes. Practice some more.” I leave the room.

recorder

Stuck on one song…It’s Raining, It’s Pouring will never be the same.

My son is not a musical child obviously. At least, he won’t be now because learning the recorder for school has not been a good experience. He was excited for this with his very first squeak. Now, not so much. He won’t be trying out for band in middle school, so what’s the point of learning this thing, he huffs.

I know his pain. It’s exactly the way I felt about math from fourth grade on. I’m sure I threw a pencil or two. When would I ever use math? Little did I know I’d be punished decades later with a job that required me to know those same stupid elementary skills and two children who squirmed through math homework. No end in sight to that last one.

I hate to admit it, but I think my son gets his need of instant gratification from me. I hated to practice. If I wasn’t good at something right away, well, it wasn’t for me. Even though I wanted to write from the time I started kindergarten, I was never one for revisions. I thought my first drafts were perfect. Teachers and professors and editors must have wanted to snap my bony limbs in half. Why did they never call me out on my cockiness?

My daughter reminded me last night that she is cut from a different cloth. She wants to learn to do a handstand. I tucked my shirt in my jeans, raised my arms overhead, and pointed my left toe straight out. Like gliding on roller skates, it all came back. I moved forward and felt my body take over. I proudly did a dozen handstands and I can still walk today. My daughter tried for 45 minutes to do a handstand. I watched as she somehow got her hands stuck under her knees and landed smack on her face. She laughed and she tried again. And again. And again. She still can’t do one.

Practice makes perfect. Unless you don’t want to be perfect at it—if it’s something you hate.

As for my writing, I wrote all the time in journals—practice I never realized I was getting. I knew what I could get away with for a passing grade on papers. I finally started to listen to my editors. Now, revise, revise, revise.

And my son? No, I don’t think he’ll ever master that recorder. He’ll put his efforts into another passion another day. But I do fear he’ll end up with a child who wants to play first violin in the orchestra.

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What I Know About Nos

I tell myself that it’s parenting but sometimes it feels more like I’m getting away with the thing I’m telling my kid not to do.

“You’re not good at taking no for an answer,” I huff.

“I don’t care!”

“Well I do! And that’s the end of it!”

That was our good-bye this morning. No head buried in my chest for a quick hug. No fingers through hair for a quick fix. No I-love-yous. To anyone. Because my son was so intent on taking five books to school and I was so intent on telling him no. We argued about something neither of us was willing to give in to. I could see the stupidity of it as soon as he walked out the door and what-ifs began racing through my mind. In the quiet morning, I felt too dumb to run out in my pajamas and say, “I love you” to my family. I would forever be ashamed if those angry words were the last ones they heard from me. I was surprised when my kids offered limp waves as my husband’s car rolled away.

All year we’ve told our son he doesn’t need to take a stack of books to school. His backpack is thick with a school binder, lunchbox, and those reading books. He can’t even get it zipped some mornings. Extending a good foot off his back some days, he resembles the Hunchback and I worry it can’t be good for him.stuffed backpack

But he needs those books. He needs that fix. One won’t do. He could finish it during the day and then be left without a book to read, the horror! What is a ten-year-old boy to do?

It could be worse. I know it could be worse. And I know I have to pick my battles. I just get so frustrated that he can’t take no for an answer that I find myself standing too firm when I shouldn’t be. No triggers a bad reaction in him, probably every kid. I always feel it’s something he needs to work on.

But when a kid comes at you wanting a chameleon that will eventually require a 30-gallon tank, or next week bats his blue-green eyes wanting a sweet brown guinea pig with promises to keep it in the bathtub until he saves enough money to buy its cage, you become pretty adept at saying no. You get creative. You point out that his father is the one who feeds his fish most days and didn’t he just get those two months ago for his birthday anyway? You never really say the word no, you just point out the facts.

Then during the busiest weeks, the kids spring on you that they want to go to skate night. It’s easy to say no. “No, we had sports last night and we have a game tomorrow night. I can’t do something tonight. No.”

Parenting is full of nos. Maybe I say it too much. Maybe some things can be learned the hard way. I thought a sore back would be the answer to too many books. But I have to stop being so hard on myself. I’m the parent. And when it comes to lizards in 30-gallon tanks, the answer is going to be no.

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