Tag Archives: Kids

We Learn From the Tough Stuff

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “I think you’re old enough now to make some of your own decisions.” I remember looking at my dad and thinking, “Are you kidding? Just tell me what to do.” I didn’t really want to make this decision, but my parents suddenly thought I was capable—at 13—right or wrong, whatever I decided was it.

It wasn’t a life or death decision, but tough on the social life of a teenage girl. I was deciding between going on a field trip that would last until late evening or going to a friend’s dance recital that same evening. I had already told my friend yes when we found out about the field trip. Of course I picked the field trip. Twenty-six years later, I still feel bad for letting my friend down.

I made other bad decisions. I shed some tears over them. I learned my lesson.

I faced many situations I wished I didn’t have to face. How could I deal with the girl who kept picking on me? Why did I admit that I liked Billy Bentley? Why did Tiffany seem to like Beth more, and what could I do about it? How could I face a boy who just broke up with me?

Those struggles helped me to be brave later. They helped me to know that I did have limits and I could stand up for myself. That sometimes a friendly smile is the best revenge after being dumped. That saying good-bye to a toxic friendship is the best cure. That I do have morals. That I actually could start over again and again.

But being the parent, taking a step back and letting my kids make their own decisions, it’s tough. I want to protect them. Sometimes the Mama Bear advice I want to give isn’t appropriate. But my kids know what they need to do just like I figured it out when I was their age.

All these years, it’s been the tough stuff that I’ve learned the most from. The lesson is just getting to a decision.

I’ve seen my kids make some tough choices, whether they knew it or not. A friend who makes fun of you maybe isn’t the best friend. When my son got glasses and his friend made fun of them every day, I noticed he hung around that friend a lot less.

My daughter had a tough choice this week: dissect a fish or don’t. And that left me with a tough choice: encourage her to do it or don’t. She worried the smell would make her sick. She thought it was gross and said she wouldn’t do it. Stress and drama overshadowed what I thought was a great opportunity for a third grader. I told her that maybe she could just leave the option open.

Where do I draw the line at encouragement and telling her to try, and being too pushy and making her decisions? I thought of all those choices I had to make growing up. Sometimes I didn’t want to make them. But I did and I did OK.

She knows in her gut what’s right for her. In the end, I told her to do what she needed to do.

This week, she did dissect a fish. She showed herself what she can do. She showed me what she can do—and I never thought removing an eyeball was on that list. I certainly don’t like watching the struggle, but the growth makes a mom proud.

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Two Can Ay-Play at This Game

There has been a lot of talk in my house lately that I just don’t want to hear. Your kids reach a certain age. They begin to understand certain things. They’re capable of using words in ways that you just hoped would never happen.

“Euss-gay at-whay?” my son says to me.

I cringe. He then rolls out an entire sentence without stumbling using the most annoying invention known to parents—Pig Latin.

Oh, yes. I know we’ve all experimented with it. We tried it. For most of us, we just didn’t like it. Too much work. My son likes the control. He likes how my shoulders jump to my ears every time he belts out a sentence or two, flawlessly. He loves that it seems to pierce my ears like nails on a chalkboard and blind my eyes like bright white sun.

Make it stop. Make. It. Stop.

If I hear it one more time, I’m going to eam-scray.

“Om-may, an-cay I-ay atch-way e-thay ame-gay?”

“I’ll answer you when you can talk the right way,” I say. Or I ignore him. Or I scream inside my ead-hay.

It’s been going on for weeks. I’ve heard it so often that I can sometimes decipher his long sentences with ease. And I don’t want to. This morning I found myself thinking in Pig Latin. Epressing-day. It is rubbing off on me. I’m afraid I’ll answer another mom at school or a client on the phone in Pig Latin. “I have an 11-year-old son,” I’ll say and hope that clears things up.

But I think I’ve come up with a solution. It’s going to take some practice.

Ewokese.

Yes, the language spoken by Ewoks. He won’t even know what I am saying but he’ll want to know so badly, it will hurt.

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I have a lot of studying to do.

“Che womok! Na goo. Noot.” (Beware! Stop now.) And while he’s at it, “Amoowa manna manna seeg toma jeejee.” (You have a food on your face.) Because that’s just a given.

I think sometimes the suffering is worth it when you can beat your child at his own game, right?

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The Magic of a Snow Day in the South

Snow day. When I was a kid, those words were like music to my ears. I didn’t hear them often growing up near the southern coast of Virginia. We didn’t have snow boots or snow pants or even a sled. When it snowed, we just put on tights under our jeans and played outside until our skin stung. I’d peel off wet layers to reveal cold, red legs that could only be warmed by pj’s and blankets and playing Barbies on my shag carpet.

When I was really little, I wore my Snoopy rubber rain boots in the snow, the ones that said “Good” on the left foot and “Grief” on the right, except I could never remember whether it was “Good Grief” or “Grief Good.” I wasn’t a Snoopy fan really. The snow was pretty deep one year and when I ran, those rubber boots stayed in the snow and my stocking feet came out. I guess I grew into those boots before I grew out of them. Later I’d just wear tennis shoes in the snow and I never remember the snow being higher than the laces most years anyway.

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There’s nothing like making those first footprints in the snow.

We didn’t have hills to sled down. When we made a snowman, the trail the ball made exposed the grass in the yard. I always hated that. If it had snowed enough to even cover the grass, it seemed like a pretty good snow. It was something. A dusting was a disappointment. It could be all you got until next year and that was a long time to wait.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I saw a lot of snow. In the mountains, we got feet of snow and I loved it. There were hills for sledding. And trash bags and cafeteria trays made the perfect vehicles for getting down those hills fast. Sidewalks became ice slicks and the only way down was to crouch down low and slide or lie on your belly like a penguin and laugh because who knew getting from there to here could be so much fun?

As a parent now, snow day sometimes means other things, like dread. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame I sometimes, for a moment, forget about the magic of snow. I want my kids to have the same fun I did. In the South we don’t get snow very often. We certainly don’t get a good snow every year. It’s a gift. So we miss a few days of school. (OK, so we miss a few days of school for an inch or two of snow.) But there is nothing better on a cold gray day than watching snowflakes fall, hearing the excitement in your kids’ voices, and knowing you actually can go out in the snow and play with them.

Today they are waiting to play in the accumulation we got yesterday that barely covers the grass. “Will we be able to sled?” We’ll sure try.

Yeah, I hate the cleanup. I hate the slushy puddles on the floor when we come in. But I love that I can get my work done and run upstairs and play a game with my kids or snuggle and watch a movie while we thaw. My husband has an hour to play in the snow before he has to brave snowy Southern roads and go into work. We’ll sled. We’ll throw snowballs. We don’t get this chance every year. And even if it disrupts grown-up life for a little while, we have to remember to get out there and be kids again. That’s part of the magic too.Southern snow mominthemuddle.com

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The Owl Search That Delivered a Moment

The first time I heard the owl, I thought of Owl Moon. Many years ago I had read Jane Yolen’s picture book that describes a father and child owling on a cold winter night. “Oh, to have that moment,” I thought the first time I read it. I didn’t even have children at the time, but the story moved me.

Wishes of seeing the owl that was hooting somewhere near my house penetrated dreamy half-slumber. But at 3 a.m., I wasn’t about to climb out of my toasty bed and trek into the cold to go owling myself. Maybe it would come at a time that fit my schedule better?

Many times over the course of a year, we heard the owl, then two owls calling back and forth, then possibly three. Sometimes they were far away. Sometimes we’d swear they were in our yard. At 4 a.m., their calls kept us awake. Still, I never left the comfort of my bed to find them. So much for Owl Moon. I looked up owl calls online, trying to figure out what kind they were. Still unsure, I settled on the Great Horned Owl. That’s a pretty big bird, with a body size of 18 to 25 inches.

One dark evening just as autumn was settling in, we heard hooting. My husband and I listened at the back door and watched as a large bird flew into our tree and another flew out of it. It was too dark and there were too many leaves to see anything else. It then became my mission to see these owls. When the leaves fell, surely I would be able to spot a large owl among our trees.

Something else had happened since the first time we had heard owl calls. At a local park, a pair of Barred Owls had been attracting visitors daily. While walking with a friend there a few months ago, I tried to show her where I had seen an owl hanging out back in the thick trees. I told her to look closely, but you can often spot them because of their size. We didn’t see one so we walked on.

A few feet away, my friend threw her arms out like an overprotective mother. Three feet above my head, gazing down at me, was a Barred Owl. Being so close to a wild owl was breathtaking, but neither of us wanted to walk under that tree branch. We felt a little like that huge bird would pluck one of us up and fly away. But it was a sight and I wished my kids could have seen it.

barred owl mominthemuddle.com

photo credit: Janet Wright

That made me want to see the mysterious owls in our yard even more. Please wouldn’t they show themselves after all this time?

One night at home, the owls did come early again. At 8:30 I heard the distinct call. Cold or no, this was my chance to go owling. My daughter and I bundled up and walked around the yard, listening to the owls’ calls. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Leaves crunched under our feet. We looked in all the trees, certain we’d see the silhouette of a large owl on the bare branches. The cold air nipped at our fingers. Our breath puffed like bursts of steam. Beyond the moonlight, stars twinkled. It was just us and the sounds of the owls. Then whispers. A flash of movement to the right. My daughter thought she saw something land and take off far away. We couldn’t be sure.

We stood side by side in the cold, still looking for owls. Silent. Still. Just the stars and us. We waited for the chill to take over our bones, for our feet to grow numb. We searched the stars, the branches, one another’s faces. With each frosty breath, we took it all in. Silence. We never saw an owl, but I wasn’t disappointed. All I could think was, “I hope she never forgets this moment.”

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Only a Mother Could Love This

“Mom, you don’t even want to see what the boys do at my table at lunch. You would be so disgusted,” my son says with pride.

“Mmm. Enlighten me.”

My son often forgets that I was ever a child. I know with my maturity level and love of a good fart joke, that’s easy to forget. He bets I can’t guess what goes on in a group of fifth-grade boys at lunch, what they could possibly do to gross one another out, what they could talk about, what they could do to their food.

He describes a pack of bed-headed boys I know dropping the remains of their lunch onto a lunch tray. Some unwanted green beans, leftover taco meat, some applesauce for effect. The boys probably contribute whatever is in their crumb-coated hands at the time. They mix up the slimy school lunch potion, and if all were right with the world, a pop and poof!—at least one deserving kid would grow rabbit ears for teasing his sister or not changing his underwear.

I imagine the teachers stay far away from his table at lunch. I know the girls do. And I know it will get worse before it gets better.

I know because a million years ago when I was young, I sat at lunch with two boys who did the same things to their food. They took everyone’s extra plastic cups that the vegetables and sides were served in and stacked everything on a tray. When their tower was complete, they’d push from the top and watch overcooked pale cafeteria food ooze from every cup like a fountain. “DOOZIE!” they’d yell. It was disgusting. I’m not sure why I subjected myself to the horror every day. Alphabetically their names came right after mine, so I can only assume we had assigned seats.

My son tells me often lately that I could never guess what boys his age do or say. I laugh. I tremble. I remember. And I know what’s coming.

I hated boys his age when I was his age. They were gross. They picked on me. They made me feel bad. They messed up my hair. If I had a zit, they announced it to the class. If they sat behind me, they snapped my bra strap. They’d say, “Hey, let me tell you a secret,” and then burp in my ear. They’d burp on command. If I whispered to them, they’d fan the air like my breath stunk. They farted in class on the hard wooden seats and pointed at me. They stole my papers and held them up high in the air so I couldn’t reach them.

Oh, son, I can guess. My son gets himself worked up into a fit of giggles while telling us the gross things he and his friends do. We tell him a hundred times he’s crossed the line. Dinner isn’t the time or place, and honestly, no place with any adult is. But I see something now that I never saw a million years ago, that sparkle in the eyes. That sense of belonging to a pack. That brotherhood.

And I hate to admit it now, but all of that many years ago has helped me to embrace this.

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Remember the Christmas…

I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas in third grade. Or for most Christmases for that matter. Sure, I remember the big stuff. The Cabbage Patch Doll that I hoped I got because I knew they were flying off the shelves. The black-and-white TV set that got me through the grogginess of many migraines with the help of “Dallas” and “Love Boat.”

But year after year as we pull out the box of ornaments for our tree, Christmases past come sweeping back. The green beaded ornament that my kids don’t really like has always been one of my favorites. My grandmother bought us grandkids a special ornament every year for our packages. She picked them out at craft shows and we all got something different. That ornament reminds me of Christmas Eve at her house—a velvet Christmas dress and itchy tights with a crotch that hung near my knees. I remember looking for the lighted Santa on someone’s porch before we crossed the bridge, and coming home and climbing into bed with my sister, the only night of the year I was ever allowed.favorite ornament

Many ornaments on our tree tell a story. There’s the fancy beaded ball my mom made that used to hang on my childhood tree. She used beaded pins to hold sequins and beads in place. Our tree stood in the living room then and I remember a Christmas long ago when my sister picked out a snowman soap for me. I loved snowmen. I loved that soap and it sat on my dresser for years, unused and gathering dust. I think I finally threw it out as a teenager. More than anything, I loved that my sister bought me something she thought I would like.fancy ornament

There’s a golden wreath with a picture of my sister and me dangling from the center. We’re teenagers and I remember that my hair looked decent that day, a true accomplishment. There’s a wooden Revolutionary soldier on a red horse and that’s the first ornament I ever remember being mine. My sister and I fought every Christmas over who had the red one and who had the white one and, more importantly, who would hang which on our quickly dying tree. My parents finally got smart and taped our names to the backs.

When I married, I brought my box of ornaments with me. My husband did the same. And his ornaments tell stories too. His grandmother gave him a new ornament every year, and those were always from some kind of craft venue too. The lid of his box lists each ornament and the year she gave it to him. There’s the little football player sporting a green uniform (no doubt an Eagles player), birds made from pinecones, and a simple Matchbox car with a yarn hanger.footballornament

Every year our kids hang those ornaments on our tree along with the ornaments their grandparents have given them. And while they sometimes make fun of our old, crusty ones and root through the bin in search of “better” things to hang, I know one day the kids will look back at all of those ornaments and have stories of their own.

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Some Big, Tail-Wagging Changes

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am a planner to the nth degree. I am not a spontaneous person, but lately I did something a little spontaneous.

We got a dog. And I say a little spontaneous because we’ve been thinking of getting one for a few months. But the spontaneous part comes in because I didn’t do much as far as reading about training or caring for this creature we have just adopted. We have just taken a huge step and I’m in fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mode.

As a parent, I’ve never been into parenting books. I’ve never once finished one from beginning to end. And what I’m realizing is that this dog ownership thing is a lot like having a baby or a toddler in the house again. I can’t tell you how many times my husband or I have already said to the dog, “Ugh, just tell me! What do you WANT?”

And that first night home? (And the nights after that?) The dog is already sleeping in our bed. Tsk. Tsk. Everyone knows he’ll never get out of it. Sometimes he cries and whines and paces, and we just want some sleep. He settles down a lot quicker than the kids did though.

The dog we got was a rescue dog. He’s under 2 but no one is certain just how old. He’s housetrained. He’s sweet. He loves to play and cuddle. But this is a new home and it requires some new training. He’s had some accidents. I feel like I’m following a toddler in training pants around again, wielding carpet cleaner and Febreeze. I have to make sure he doesn’t put things in his mouth, even though he looks adorable running around with an oversized stuffed animal that is too nice to be torn apart. And I certainly don’t want to hurt his feelings by being too tough. This guy needs lots of love.

He doesn’t like his crate. He doesn’t want to be alone. I have places to go. It’s brought back lots of separation anxiety flashbacks. Thank goodness he can’t hug my legs and beg and never let go. And now I have three creatures following me around throughout the day, at least once school is out.

I’ve found myself outside at 10 p.m. in my bathrobe, long johns, and big winter coat. And I really don’t care who sees me. I just want him to poop already.

My kids take turns walking him, or running, whichever the dog prefers. And seeing them like that, it makes me smile.

He’s quiet. He’s smart. He listens. And he’s doggone good. In time, we won’t know what we had ever done without him.

Meet Rowan

Meet Rowan

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How My Husband Raised an Eagles Fan Born in the South

Growing up, I knew no other team than the Redskins. In fact, for a long time I thought they must play the Blueskins, the Grayskins, the Greenskins. I heard a lot of words I shouldn’t have heard and I learned to stay away from the den on Sunday afternoons. There was always a lot of screaming and cheering and the beating of hands on my dad’s old recliner.

If I had a favorite team, the Redskins was it. It was all I ever knew.

My dad walked me down the aisle only because I didn’t marry a Cowboys fan. My husband-to-be rooted for the Eagles, a true born-and-bred fan from Philly who watched the team lose its only Super Bowl appearance at that point in 1981.

When we had our son in North Carolina in 2003 and Eagles onesies started rolling in, I told my husband it was just possible our son could be a Panthers fan. I wanted to plant that seed early. I didn’t want him to get his hopes up.

Through those early years, my son changed favorite teams as often as he changed his favorite color. He liked the Buccaneers, the Titans, the Jaguars, and the Vikings. He liked nearly every team but the Eagles. He’d get excited about football on Sunday afternoons. His dad put game gear on—the same shirt and socks with holes in each foot—and pumped up spirits with “E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!” My son seemed excited about the prospect of watching football, watching TV. But ten minutes in, he climbed off the couch and found something else to do.

More than anything, my husband just wanted my son to watch football with him. “Be careful what you wish for,” I told him.

My husband told my son stories of staying up late watching Eagles football when he was a kid. He told him about crying when the Eagles lost the Super Bowl. He was in third grade at the time. He told him stories about the infamous crowd and how they were known for booing Santa one year.

It wasn’t until around second grade that my son started to pay attention to football. Each year he’d watch the games a bit longer, snuggled into his dad’s arm. Every whistle blown, every flag thrown, my son asked why. Every player down, every player on the bench, my son asked why. Every player’s name, every player’s stats, my son wanted to know how was that spelled again and where is he from? How much does he weigh? What team did he play on before this one?

I’d chuckle in the corner as my husband tried to watch the game and hear the commentators and refs.

During every halftime, every commercial if he had it his way, my son grabbed a football and asked his dad to go outside. He had to play his own version of a game.

The next morning, the first thing my son would ask was the score from the late game. In the car he’d ask me how to spell a player’s name or who I thought would make it to the playoffs. Did I know it was Ronnie Brown’s birthday? My husband had created a monster.

Over time my son began to favor the Eagles, wearing the jersey his grandparents gave him to school every Monday after they played, talking trash with the other kids about their favorite teams.

Now after school, I’m the fill-in for Dad. I can throw a pretty long spiral and it’s only taken two years to get there. My son is a pretty tough coach.

He mentioned the other day that he dreamed the Eagles won the Super Bowl. He keeps up with their stats and thinks they have a good shot at the playoffs this year. Nick Foles is doing pretty well.

He still watches every game on Sunday with his dad. He still asks a million questions. He still knows everyone’s name. Now he keeps an Eagles roster. And he still goes outside to throw the ball around with his dad during breaks. He wears his lucky Eagles jersey, shorts, socks, and underwear when they play. It’s been working, knock wood.

My husband didn’t create a monster. He created a fan. And a bond.

football

Down here, my son gets questioned a lot about why he is an Eagles fan. The answer is always “because of my dad.”

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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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