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A Theory

November 1, 2012

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.

So far, so good. I guess.

September 7, 2012

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.

A Non-Hellish Trip to a Hell of a Town

August 4, 2012

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.

Two from Priority Level A

July 28, 2012

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?

Give and Take

July 21, 2012

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.

And my profit on’t is, I know how to ask earnest questions

July 7, 2012

I am a feminist. Freud pisses me off. But as a parent, I know that my children aren’t my clones, and what I imagine for them may not be what happens to them or what they make happen.

Still, I was pretty bummed when, at an early meeting, Honey Badger’s therapist, He of the Soothing Voice, told my peerless spouse and me that Honey Badger is desperate for connection and that he is so afraid of rejection that he pushes people away rather than risk being the one who’s pushed. Which is to say, “fort da.” Honey Badger is playing fort da. If he announces that he knows all women really want a penis, I may lose it. But I let the “fort da” thing slide because HSV’s explanation did seem to make sense and also because I have learned that disagreeing with HSV results in a very long discourse on how what HSV said is right and what I said shows how misguided I am. I care less about the explications of my wrongness than I do about the fact that the meter is running and he is spending $75 of my money to deliver a long-winded rebuke. (I wish there were a short rebuke option, but we’ve never been offered that.)

During the most-recent parent and therapist catch-up session, we talked about homework. I said that I asked Honey Badger as we walked home from the bus if he was going to do his homework. HSV told me that asking that way was failing to show my expectations, that asking if he was going to do it gave him the option of not doing it, and that if his not doing homework was not OK with us, I should ask him something else: Did he want a snack first, was he going to do his homework before or after dinner, or any of a dozen things that I had already tried and that did not work.

I suspected they wouldn’t work when I asked them, but I live in hope. My lack of faith, however, was based on long experience.

When Biff was younger, I discovered that if I gave him two choices, he would usually pick the latter one. So if I wanted a particular response, I would phrase my question accordingly, and he would fall for it, and I felt like I had invented the world’s most brilliant approach to dealing with two-year-olds. Eventually I read Ames & Ilg, who burst my bubble, but even if I hadn’t invented it, I had something that worked, and I was happy.

But when Honey Badger was two, if I wanted him to agree to X,  I found that there was no way to make it happen unless he already wanted to do X. If I asked, “Do you want to do Q or X?” he didn’t miss a beat before replying, “I want to do 6.” The boy sees a world of possibilities, is what I’m saying, and it seems pointless to attempt to promote what I want by pretending that what he wants doesn’t exist. Not doing homework is, in fact, an option, and it’s one he often chooses. It’s also one with negative consequences, and I would just like to get to reminding him about them as efficiently as possible rather than pretending that this is the first I’ve ever heard of a child not doing homework.

Similarly, everything I’d ever heard about the value of pure declarations of empathy as a bonding technique was useful with Biff and seemingly pointless with Honey Badger. When Honey Badger announced in first grade that he didn’t want to do homework, he wanted to play outside, it didn’t help to tell him that yes, I know he likes playing outside more than word study, playing is really fun, it’s such a nice day. And he would say that if I really knew that, if I really felt his pain, then why was I telling him he needed to do his homework? But guess what HSV suggested we do, years after we’d learned it was not going to fly?

I am perplexed by the improvement in Honey Badger’s behavior, honestly. Why does does it help to spend 45 minutes a week with someone who does not seem to be wise to his ways? And why are we occasionally brought in to talk to HSV so that he can tell us things we already know and ignore us when we try to tell him that we read the standard books about how to relate to children and if they worked, we wouldn’t be in his office?

At least the books let me figure out what to say when HSV was informing us how important it is that we not accept Honey Badger’s refusal to do homework. “‘Not accepting it,'” I repeated, nodding my head slightly. “What would that look like?”

It’s One of These

May 20, 2012

It’s the first sign a serious problem, and you have to nip it in the bud.

Or

It’s a phase lots of kids go through, and you have to wait it out.

* * *

You need to let your kids play to their strengths.

Or

You need to encourage your kids to move beyond their comfort zones.

* * *

It’s going to be jarring to people, and your child may be wounded by their reactions.

Or

Accommodating an irrational bias lets that bias flourish.

* * *

Other people have rights.

Or

You’re people too, and so is your kid.

* * *

We need to look out for each other.

Or

People need to stand up for themselves.

* * *

Trust your judgment.

Or

Other people can see things you can’t.

* * *

He has to learn sometime.

Or

He’s just a kid.

* * *

Living with the consequences of a mistake helps you learn not to make it again.

Or

We all need to help each other out and cut each other some slack.

* * *

Maintain your standards. Consistency is important.

Or

There’s no award (or reward) for “Most Rigid Parent.”

* * *

That’s what parents did when we were kids, and we turned out fine.

Or

I can remember being unhappy about this when I was a kid, and I don’t think it helped my relationships any.

* * *

Being a good parent means you often need to put your kids’ needs ahead of your own.

Or

You didn’t stop having needs just because you came a parent.

* * *

Kids are going to be who they’re going to be; you can’t turn them into your vision of what they should be.

Or

You need to help your kids figure out how they fit into the world.

* * *

Good enough is fine.

Or

There’s always room for improvement.

_____________________________

Do good parents flip coins?