Category Archives: Parenting

Apparently, Growing Up Is Normal

I wasn’t going to write another post like this because too many are like this. But some days I look at my kids and I’m overcome. They’re taller. At 10 my son no longer looks like a little boy. He’s something in between now, and every day he amazes me with this new maturity, this new level of knowledge that allows me for thirty seconds to feel as if I’ve done something right in parenting. Then just as quickly he switches back to barely being contained in his own skin. I swear he’d jump out of it if he could. He’s still the boy I remember who wants hugs and plays with action figures and jumps on his bed. He still needs to be reminded to change his underwear. He still doesn’t listen when I tell him not to hang on the banister. And he still looks at me when I’m using my serious voice and lets out the kind of burp only a gaggle of ten-year-old boys can appreciate, then fans it away.

Sometimes seeing him walk across the yard with a longer mop on his head and broader shoulders, seeing him laughing with his friends, seeing him take rare initiative, it makes me realize how far we’ve come. He picked up litter from the yard and threw it away, without prompting. When he gets mad, he cools off in his room for ten seconds, this child who used to sink his teeth into me and not let go. His sister is two and half years younger and in second grade. It’s been a tough year for her. Second grade was a tough year for him. I remind him of that, tell him to be considerate of her feelings. “Yeah, second grade sucked.”

“Watch your mouth,” I say.

“It did.” He may not be able to pinpoint exactly why, but he’s certainly been able to console a moody sister. I’ve caught him just being there for her, sitting quietly with her, hand on her back. He gets it.

For her the first half of the year was rocky, just as I remember his second grade year was. Afternoons of crying and yelling and more crying and not many reasons why. I worried about how much she sat doing nothing. Couldn’t she do something? I walked on eggshells not knowing what would set her off. I remember feeling the same way with my son two years ago. Somehow I still didn’t have enough patience for her. I offered games to play, stories to read, but she never liked my ideas. Homework was an eight-letter word.

It feels like our rocky days are smoothing over now. No emotional bombs wait to go off. Suddenly my little helper is back. She’s smiling again, playing school and assessing my reading. She skips everywhere. She stops to kiss me before she runs up the stairs. She took the reins on a school project and she had really good ideas. And I look at her and still see a bit of little girl in her face, but she’s growing too. How did she get to be so big?

While I was so busy being annoyed and exhausted, dumbstruck and distraught over what’s been going on the past few months, my kids knew what they were doing. It’s all been normal. They were growing, inside and out.

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Redshirting: There Will Always Be What-Ifs

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about our family’s decision to send our daughter to kindergarten on time, to not hold her back a year and give her an academic cushion. That practice, called redshirting, caused a lot of sleepless nights.

When I wrote the post, I thought only a handful of parents like me would read it, parents searching for someone else’s story. A few days later, “60 Minutes” aired a segment on redshirting and WordPress featured my post on Freshly Pressed. Then and ever since I have been getting feedback. I wish I had read those experiences and thoughts years ago when I was searching the Internet for answers. I thought some readers would want a follow-up now that my daughter is in second grade.

My daughter’s late August birthday, days before the August 31 cutoff, means she is nearly a full year younger than some of her classmates, kids with fall birthdays and others who were held back. The thing is, she was always going to be on the line, the youngest or the oldest. My husband and I had a decision to make when she was four: Could she handle kindergarten now? Yes, we absolutely thought she could.

Without sounding like a bragging momma, my daughter does really well in school. She aces her spelling tests. She reads chapter books and understands the content. She can add triple digits and do math in her head almost as well as I can, which probably isn’t saying much. She’s not the smartest kid in her class but she doesn’t have a hard time.

If we had held her back, I don’t think she would be challenged at all. My daughter doesn’t struggle with her work, but she sometimes has to think about it. Since I have an older son, I know this is appropriate.

She certainly feels more outside pressure this year to do well. She’s starting to notice the nasty world of ridicule and shame when kids giggle at others for performing poorly on schoolwork. There’s a fear of being made fun of if she makes a bad grade. I tell her it’s OK to miss things and that she will. Honestly, I don’t know how this pressure she puts on herself will translate as she gets older.redshirtpic

I’ll never know the what-ifs. What if we had held her back? Would she be more relaxed? Would she worry less? If we had held her back, I’d always think her progress was due to her advantage in age. But right now I have nothing but pride in every single thing that she does. She proves that she doesn’t need an edge to get by.

When every new school year begins, I’ll wonder whether she’ll struggle. I’ll always wonder whether this will be the year that her young age catches up to her. I’ll wonder whether every problem she has is connected to her age. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever stop wondering a little, but she proves to me that she’s developmentally on track every time.

Second grade was a trying year for my son, socially and emotionally. He had meltdowns and a total transformation from a sweet, loving kid to a near monster every afternoon. He’s back to being a sweetheart. If I hadn’t known this, I’d be much more worried now about my daughter during this transitional year filled with moodiness, attitude, and tears. Turns out she’s normal.

Having an older child has helped me see her future. I know that if she doesn’t test into the academically gifted program next year, I’ll wonder if it’s because of her age. I’ll wonder if holding her back would have helped. I’ll know some other kids who maybe had an advantage because of their age, and I’ll hate that for her. I’ll know it’s not a big deal if she doesn’t get in. And I’ll know she’ll be hurt anyway—because I know her.

Her age can never be an excuse, for her or for me. Pushing oneself to succeed is something I was never able to pull off. Watching my kid do it is something I’m not sure I’m strong enough to handle. But my daughter shows me her strength every day. Just when I doubt her ability, she’ll do her work with such ease. I marvel at her attitude and wish it would rub off on me. She is capable. She is smart. And I have no regrets about not redshirting her. My only hope is that my fears never stand in her way.

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After 10 Years of Parenting, I’m Still Learning

When your daughter mentions from the backseat that her stomach hurts, throw her a bag and stop the car. That’s all the warning you will ever get.

When your kid who doesn’t like beans loves hummus, don’t screw it up by telling him hummus is made of beans. Keep that little secret to yourself.

Sometimes I’m still not that sharp when it comes to my kids, even after ten years of surprises and managing chaos on the fly. I guess I’m still perfecting my technique.

By now I hoped I’d be much more of an expert on parenting. With a son who just turned ten and a daughter following in his footsteps, I at least thought it would be easier with her. The truth is, I stumble through every day as much as I did when the kids were young. Sure, it’s nice now that the kids can talk about their problems and fears, but those problems and fears are real. They rival my own. They are big. My job has gone from chasing and wiping to tutoring and therapist. I feel like a babysitter who’s been promoted to principal without all of the qualifications, a bit out of my realm.

Sometimes you get your training on the job. And in motherhood, there’s really no other way. Here’s what I’m still working on:

My kids were complex people from the time they were born. I think I had an idea that I could make my kids do things or be things that I wanted them to be, mold them into the dream I imagined. From day one, their personalities emerged. They are who they are. I have to remind myself constantly that it’s my job to help them understand what’s part of them and to embrace it. It’s much harder than I thought it would be to merely guide.

Every bad thing that happens to my kids is not my fault. I can’t take responsibility for a diagnosis. When my kids get sick, it’s not because I am a bad parent. When it’s something more, I hate telling my child I don’t have the answers. When my kids don’t get picked for something, don’t get invited to a friend’s party, or lose something they really wanted to win, I have to remember it will make them stronger. They didn’t miss out because I wasn’t better friends with the other kid’s mom or because I didn’t prepare them better for the contest. It’s about their relationship and their performance.

My kids know more than I give them credit for. I was a kid once. I was capable of handling pain and fear and grief and mean kids. Sometimes I just have to be OK with letting my kids experience the world. I don’t cushion them from the bad stuff, but I certainly worry more than I should about it. I have to remember that mean kids made me tough. I learned to stand up for myself. Tears helped me shed my pain. I learned through my mistakes and my successes. It’s hard to watch my kids mess up and not know the answers, but I know the value of what they’ll learn from it. After all, I’m still learning every day.

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Bedtime Books I Wish I Could Read to My Kids

When my kids are at their worst, it’s hard to take the high road. But I do my job, doling out punishments like a lunch lady serving stale bread. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t seem to get the point across. A teensy part of me would like to say what I’m really thinking, like “I told you so” or “Duh.” Sometimes I just want to tell my kids how their silly fears are driving me nuts, to just put some stupid clothes on already—any clothes—to end the tears, or that I’m going to throw all of their toys away if they can’t clean them up. Would I be a bad mother if I told my kids that burping at the table causes warts on their tongue? Wouldn’t that put an end to naughty behavior, make my kids finally listen? What if I read them books about it instead?

Bedtime books I wish I could read to my kids:

• A boy who always pulls the shower curtain back before he’ll use the bathroom one day really does find a bad guy hiding there.

• The girl who throws a fit over what to wear is sentenced to a month of wearing her brother’s stinky socks and underwear that he has worn for an entire week. Pee-ew!

• The child who never sleeps is given chores to do all night while the rest of his family snoozes soundly in their beds. Even when he finally tries to lie down, he finds he can no longer sleep. His hands turn to sponges and his feet into mops.

• The kid who picks his nose all the time gets his finger stuck in his nostril. His mom has to sew special clothes for him. He can’t play baseball. And he always fears he will get his other finger stuck. Yes, little Timmy cannot learn his lesson.

• The girl who throws fits suddenly starts talking in that high-pitched squeal all the time and can no longer walk but only stomp and thrash her fists. The only thing that will cure it is a thick, bubbling, stinking concoction of frog’s guts and squid tentacles taken in huge gulps.

• Kids who don’t clean their rooms wake up tied down and taken hostage by their own toys. Barbies build Lego racks to torture their owners. Minifigure armies pull and twist hair. Robots shoot Nerf darts at the kids’ noses. Dolls scribble on walls and the kids will be blamed.

• Kids who talk back to their parents are rewarded with pet birds that never shut up and whisper creepy things that no one else can hear, like, “Don’t go to sleep, Mildred.”

Think it will work?

robot

Get ready, kids. The toys take over when left out too long.

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Relaxing My Fears About Potty Talk, Germs, and Kissing Shoes

It always seems to happen around the table. I’m biting into a forkful of food and my son begins a story about the boys’ bathroom.

“Is this appropriate?” I interrupt.

“Yeah, yeah,” he assures me. It’s usually appropriate in the manner that it’s not about him.

I know far too much about the boys’ bathroom already. A mother shouldn’t know these things. Boys rolling on the floor amongst the filth splattered between misses each day. Boys flushing pencils to see if they’ll go down. Urinals for every day of the week. The bad words scratched into the stall doors. Urinals that are too tall. Stall doors that don’t lock and the surprised kids behind them. Boys who have christened the porcelain bowls with wet tongues. And really, you don’t even want to know what gets clogged in there, or so I’ve heard. No, the boys’ bathroom is no place for anyone over 13, the stories not for the weak.

Whenever my son starts a sentence with “Today in the boys’ bathroom,” I cringe. Part of me doesn’t want to hear it, but another part of me wants to know if I need to rush my child in for shots.

I’ve always thought a dog’s mouth was disgusting, but elementary school has shed some light on boys and what they do with theirs. They follow their turkey on soft bread at lunch with a slobbery swipe of their tongue across the sole of their grimy shoe. In truth or dare, that seems to be the better option over giving up the name of the girl you like.

I’ve seen how kids wash their hands. The foaming action doesn’t resemble mine. The nails and areas between fingers don’t get scrubbed. The soap sits in the palm and gets blasted off the second water makes contact. Little disinfecting goes on.

clean hands

Not what usually goes on in the bathroom sink.

I’ve come to terms with this I think, but I don’t like it and the girl part of my brain still can’t understand it. The mom part of me still insists on soap and water every afternoon before my son touches anything in this house.

I’m learning to let go of germophobic tendencies. So far, the CDC hasn’t come knocking on our door. While my son rolls on a public floor proudly marking his territory, his sister fears the crusty bits stuck to the pages in her books. I’m learning not to be so reliant on a little bottle of sanitizing gel. While one child invites germs to every meal, the other has an increasingly unhealthy fear of them. I can’t help but think I’ve contributed to this in some way. Each time I’ve flinched at dirty hands or used my foot to prop open a public door, my daughter took note. Kids shouldn’t be so afraid of germs. I’ve read the articles. They need exposure to ward off sickness.

Since my family manages to be reasonably healthy, I need to relax and let go of my fears, let my son be a boy, and help us all find some middle ground for sanity’s sake. I’m not saying we should kiss the bottom of our shoe as thanks for every meal, but maybe I shouldn’t fear everything my kids touch. We can’t live our lives under the covers, even though sometimes I’d prefer it to sitting in a crowded room with coughing strangers. I’ll still tell my son he doesn’t have to touch every nasty thing he sees. And I’m still not letting him kiss me with that mouth, just in case.

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Santa Is Real If You Know Where to Look

I’ll never forget it. I was in fourth grade, December, cheerleading practice after school in a room full of bubbly girls. One minute I jumped with excitement, innocence. The world was a good place. The next minute, Anna walked up to me, got in my face, and stared hard at me with her enormous eyes. I wondered what I had done to tick her off.

“Did you hear?” she asked.

“What?” I cowered.

“Santa isn’t real,” she said. With those three words, my childhood was crushed. I never doubted her. She was a fifth grader after all. I was stinkin’ mad. “Why did you tell me that?” I growled back. The magic, the possibility, the awe—she yanked it away like my favorite baby doll and ripped its head off. And I’ve always kind of hated her for that.

I never mentioned to my parents what Anna said. I played the charade, spent several Christmases pretending I believed because I didn’t know whether I would still get presents, but Christmas morning just wasn’t as fun anymore. (Turns out, you do still get presents.)santapic

And it turns out the magic didn’t really go away either. It just took me a long time to find it again. I never got it as a kid, that whole thing about giving is better than receiving. I’ve found in my older age that if I can do a little something extra every year for at least one person, that’s what the season is about. It’s about giving to someone in need, giving to someone you love, giving to someone you don’t know, making or doing something a little extra special for even one person. In a world where there’s never enough time to stop, this is the time of year when I try to go out of my way anyway.

That’s what I try to teach my kids, but it’s hard when I’m also trying to get them to pare down their Christmas lists. I don’t know if they get that, but one day they will. And I don’t mind them wanting some Christmas magic too. I know how important it was to me as a child, daring to dream of bigger things.

So when my fourth-grade son asked me yesterday, “Is Santa real? I think it’s you. Please tell me,” it was hard for me. I thought about Anna and how I didn’t want to be that person for him. But I told him the truth because one thing I’ve learned after all these years: Santa exists, in all of us.

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