So school is . . . a thing. But I don’t even know where to begin talking about school, whereas I know I hate going on vacation as a family. I have tried not to. I made a color-coded chart to figure out what everyone liked to do, and it turns out that my kids would be perfectly happy going to baseball games and going up in really high buildings. I’m guessing we can’t fill up an entire day with those two activities unless we make the kids take the stairs, and I don’t think that’s allowed.
I hate being confronted by my children’s refusal to cooperate. I hate they way they don’t want to take turns doing what each one wants. I hate that they want to eat oodles of crap, no matter how crummy it makes them feel (just like at home! you have brought the same digestive system with you!). I hate that we waste so much time resolving conflicts on a trip we have been discussing for weeks, strategizing about for days, only to be splashed with a slimy bucket of reality: Really? You think this is going to be the day we all change our minds about everything and just bow to your every whim? Well then, it’s time for the latest round of “working through disappointment in a way that will make the people in the next room hate us.” Well done, sir.
You know what all the things I hate stem from? From their understanding of vacation as a Super Fun Time When You Get to Do Things You Don’t Usually Do. No matter how many conversations I have with them, they don’t seem to grasp that this does not mean getting to do whatever you want, all day, every day.
Occasionally, I mention my . . . distaste . . . for family vacations to someone who feels the need to talk about how she enjoyed her vacations as a child. The implication is that only a fiend would deny her children these magical memories.
There must be people out there who think vacation is a big fat waste of time and money. Where are they? If the norm were staycations, I would fit right in. And while I would try not to join in when people start smugly announcing that their kids are capable of having fun at home — Why, they just need a box of Froot Loops and a trip to local museum and maybe a friend to sleep over, and they think it’s the best day ever! We’re making memories! — I would be so very grateful to know that I don’t have to commit a couple of weeks every year to something that doesn’t seem to serve anyone’s needs.
We’re in a phase in which we’re making memories I don’t want: memories of my children bickering and me snarling.
And this very weekend, my Peerless Spouse is away with one kid. They’re having a great time. And I am home with the other two, who are also having a great time. There’s no baseball at the moment, and our house doesn’t count as a really tall building, but we’re managing. It’s nice. Maybe not Magical Memories They Will Cherish Forever nice, but still. I like nice.
Despite that, and despite the title of this post, this summer we’ll be going out of town in search of fun. Yay.
I hear from people who don’t live with him that Honey Badger is doing much better. I think so, too, but things aren’t perfect and maybe it’s just a temporary respite or maybe I’m seeing what I want to see or…
Parenthood isn’t the first situation that gave me a vast array of opportunities to second-guess myself, but parenthood took those opportunities to new levels of fretting.
Calling in a professional helped us deal with Honey Badger’s self-defeating patterns. Calling on certain of my friends helps me with mine. I’ve got a core group among my friends that I think of as Team Sanity. They have my best interests at heart. They think I’m a good mother. And each one of them has a child who has required therapy. So when I fire up the Crap Signal, they provide informed perspective on how crappy things are, whether what I did made things worse, and what can be done to improve the situation.
I can never ever thank them enough — I try, I do! — but I’m throwing out some gratitude into the universe to unnamed women on an anonymous blog. Maybe some of it will reach someone else’s Team Sanity. I’d hate to think I’m the only person who has one, although it doesn’t bother me that mine is the best. I need a Team Sanity. It’s not my fault I’ve got the best one possible. (Is it? Maybe I’m being greedy. Wow. I am terrible.)
My MIL and BIL are firmly on one side of the political spectrum, and my peerless spouse and I are on the the other.
My MIL will not stop trying to persuade us to see things her way.
My BIL just talks about other things to us.
My MIL has . . . is it still a reason if it’s illogical? Because that is why she’s voting the way she is. In other words, I know the motivation behind her vote, and wow. She is not doing her side proud.
My BIL has a consistent philosophy for why he votes the way he does.
So here is my theory: If you have a carefully reasoned basis for your vote, you don’t have a frantic urge for validation from other people agreeing with you.
My other theory is that if you are rational enough to come up with an philosophical perspective that explains your vote, you are also rational enough to notice that other people are not going to change their votes if they likewise have a philosophical basis supporting it.
I e-mailed Honey Badger’s teacher to ask if last year’s therapy scheduling would be OK (HB has to miss a little school to go, and I am trying to minimize the damage). And I got a thumbs-up, and a question: “He told me he likes to be called ‘Anthony.’ Is that true, or is he having fun with me?”
Honey Badger’s name is nothing like Anthony.
On the other hand, I got to see him in class after the back-to-school coffee, and he was sitting next to a kid who sprawled. I think the kid would have sprawled no matter whom he was sitting next to, but the sprawler was sitting on Honey Badger’s left, and HB is a southpaw, so it was really noticeable. Such are my expectations at this stage that I was thrilled to see my kid working away, textbook in his lap, left arm from shoulder to elbow clamped to his side, not getting distracted by someone else’s behavior and not being a distraction himself.
Yes, they need to swap desks, and I hope that if the teacher doesn’t notice, HB will suggest it nicely. But in the interim. HB is sucking it up and dealing. Yes he is.
Honey Badger and I went on a trip and it was pretty darned awesome. Things went right, things went wrong, and it was all manageable.
I realize “it was manageable” doesn’t sound like a rave, but every time I look back on the trip, I smile. I want to do it again. Honey Badger cooperated. He was a trouper. So although he lost his will to sightsee before we made it to the Transit Museum, the Central Park Zoo, or the Empire State Building (all of which he had wanted to do when we were planning the trip), and we didn’t go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Natural History Museum (supposed musts for trips to New York with kids), we still did a lot. Thanks to Swistle’s principle of comparing down and my own determination not to be a control
freak enthusiast on a trip that’s supposed to be all about the kid, I was able to realize that we were doing a lot more than we’d do at home, and I did not brood about the things were weren’t getting to. (Well, I didn’t brood much.)
Things we did:
- Got upgraded to a suite. Fancy!
- Went for delicious burgers
- Went to late-night but family-friendly improv place
- Saw glass-blowing and 19th century baseball
- Bolted off the subway when I told Honey Badger this was the stop for the burger place we’d been to the night before; had midafternoon burgers because we could
- Did most of a tour of the Tenement Museum (and then I noticed that HB was a lone gray face among the overheated red ones)
- Lolled about in our bathrobes with hotel monogram
- Went nuts making coffee with the room’s Keurig (HB) and happily accepting cup after cup (me)
- Watched more than a season of The Big Bang Theory — on the train going up, while lolling in the hotel room, on the train going home
- Saw Jim Parsons in Harvey
Seeing Jim Parsons in Harvey was the original purpose of the trip, and I’m glad we did it. But I’ve come to realize that while outings and events are a perfectly lovely part of parenting, what I really like is the hanging out part, just chatting with my kids while we play board games or run errands or go for ice cream. HB would have been happy to make me coffee at home (if we had a Keurig). We could have worked our way through boxed sets of BBT at home. At home, though, there’s always something that has to be accommodated — a brother’s plans, a home repair that I’ve put off too long, several cubic yards of laundry. In New York, for a weekend, it was just HB and I, him trying not to let me down, me trying not to be the sort of mother who could be let down by a kid who had preferences and needs, and, by the end of it, a fever of 101.
Riding back home next to my little andiron and listening to him laugh about what happens when your social skills aren’t as impressive as your IQ, I didn’t have to talk myself through my feelings about the trip, firstworldproblems, countyourblessings. I just felt lucky.
I know that a lot of how my kids turn out is out of my control. But because I know I can influence them, I arbitrarily decided that I could pick two values I could pass along, and I’ve chosen the traits I’d like them to have: I want my kids to be responsible and kind.
It seems like pretty basic stuff, and sometimes I think I see signs that it’s working.
Other times, I think about what parents I know have chosen, and it seems as though they’re having more luck than I am. Or did they just choose better? One family seems to be pursuing Public Recognition and Self-Esteem as the things they most want for their child, and the kid is everywhere. Photo here! Made the travel team! Admittedly, a lot of the recognition comes from one of the parents, whose Facebook page seems like something a grandparent would produce. Still, his face is out there and he thinks a lot of himself.
Oooh, judgy, huh?
I know that there have been plenty of occasions when people have had a chance to see one or more of my kids misbehaving, and I assume some of them formed opinions based on insufficient data. I try, I really do, not to make the same mistake. I know bad behavior is not always — maybe not even not usually — the result of a bad kid or bad parenting. But at some point, I am going to be sending my kids off on their own, and I would like to think that I will be sending out people who are likely to make the world a better place.
Responsibility is something that kids learn through natural consequences, but the process is slow and painful. Responsibility takes so many forms, and the full consequences of irresponsibility can take a long time to make themselves felt. Waiting for my kids’ bad decisions to bite them in the butt and seeing the actual chomp, well . . . . I cringe. I flinch. I think of Monk saying, “You’ll thank me later.”
When I talk to people about what we do and don’t allow, or when I read posts about what battles other parents are fighting, I know that some people probably think I’m unbelievably lax.
“You have to make them do their homework!” No, actually, you don’t. You can provide incentives for kids to do their homework, but if the only reason they’re doing their homework is that you’re sitting on them, you’ve made the grades the priority. And that’s your call, but if my kids want to blow off their work, that is a choice I allow. And the sucky grades that result? Not my problem.
“I mean, what’s next, not making them brush their teeth?” Yeah, this one nearly killed me. In high school, I was good friends with a girl whose father was a dentist. When my life feels out of control, I become a hypervigilant flosser. But unless you tie a kid down, how do you force the tooth-brushing issue? Soothingvoiced Therapist told us to let it go and let him get cavities. I told Honey Badger that if he got cavities, we were no longer paying for nitrous, just Novocaine. “They shoot a needle right into your mouth, honey. So you need to decide whether it’s worth it to you not to brush.” And he didn’t brush, and at his next dental appointment . . . he didn’t have any cavities. Whatever. Sometimes you expect your child to experience natural consequences and instead find that you instead were just skipping a pointless battle.
Not willing to be quiet and go to sleep? Congratulations, you’ve just inspired the Last One/First One rule: The last kid asleep is the first one we get up in the morning. It doesn’t cut down on anyone’s sleep that much — they get up pretty close together — but if you’re going to be sleep-deprived and cranky, you aren’t going to be cooperative, and it’s going to take longer for you to be ready to head out the door. Feel free to pretend to be asleep when your parents go up to bed. If you would just put down the book long enough to fake sleep, you’d probably nod off anyway. We all win!
And then there’s kindness, because responsibility teaches you to take care of yourself, but I want them to look out for others, too. That one’s harder, maybe because it should be taught by example, and I am grumpy. (Did you notice the hint of vengefulness in the Last One/First One rule? What do you mean, “It was impossible to miss”?)
Public Recognition Boy, mentioned above? He used an inappropriate term in front of me, and the resultant exchanges did not show me at my best, although I did get to demonstrate the correct way to atone when you have acted like a jerk. But it also reminded me of how hard it is to pass along values that don’t have practical advantages. The term in question is one that reeks of privilege, something his family and ours have plenty of: white, able-bodied, economically secure, and more. I’ve had numerous conversations with my kids about how they are lucky in numerous ways simply because of who they are demographically, and they get it. They’ve told my brother, whom they adore and do not want to criticize, that he shouldn’t call something “lame.”
The same people who think we’re lax in certain areas may well think we’re unduly strict in this. And humorless. And self-righteous. I can live with that. I am willing to wait for the development of responsibility while my kids figure out that they’re only hurting themselves or while I discover that I am worrying too much. I’m not as willing to let them hurt other people’s feelings because they aren’t yet thinking about that consequence. Now if I could just find the line between productive discussions of how to take other people’s feelings into account and relentless lectures about why you can’t always do what you feel like doing even if it seems as though everyone else is doing it, because you are not everyone else and I am not their mother.
Hey, anyone want a cookie?
I keep reading about women who feel guilty about accepting help from friends. They’re worried about being a burden, and it’s nice that they care, but I think the wrong people are worried.
I have seen the relentless takers, and the bloggers I read don’t meet the standards.
I think life is better when we’re all helping each other out, especially if the give-and-take operates on a socialist model: to each according to her needs, from each according to her abilities. In practice, that involves a lot of paying it forward. The point is not to stay in someone’s good graces so that person will keep doing you favors. The point is to understand what you need and what you have to offer. The point is also to think about what other people need. (You don’t get to decide what they have to offer. They do.) Remember: you’re not offering because you expect a favor in the future. You’re offering because you are so grateful for the kindness others have already offered you.
There is a world of difference between: “Let’s carpool! I’ll do pick-up!” and “Would it help if we carpooled, or is drop-off the problem for both of us?”
When you’re thinking about what would make your life easier, are you thinking about things you could do (be more organized, procrastinate less), things that will happen eventually (kids potty trained, kids in school), things you could hire people to do (find a cleaning or a grocery delivery service), or things other people could do for you (take your kids more often, give you another job)? If your reaction to other people’s plans is usually “What about MY needs?” you’re a taker. If something goes wrong and you think, “Ugh. What I am going to do now?” you can feel reassured by your impulse to fix it yourself. That doesn’t mean you have to fix it yourself every time. Self-reliance is an admirable goal, but an unattainable one.
When someone does something nice for you, do you feel lucky to have such kind people in your life, or do you think about what more they could have done? When I was first out of college, I planned a trip to England, where I spent my junior year. I wrote to a friend from my college there, and he told me where to call him during my visit. I was miffed: He wasn’t going to meet my plane? And then I realized that the guy was offering to entertain me for a couple of days and I was being an ungrateful jerk. Similarly, but more recently, an acquaintance complained about friends who had offered her kid a ticket to something pretty rare and very fun. The friend’s response was not gratitude, but resentment: She wanted to know why one of the parents couldn’t give up a ticket so she or her husband could go along.
If you’re that person, you need to get a grip. If you’re not, let someone pick something up for you on her next trip to Target. You’re not a burden.