Tough Parenting

As a parent, I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing the right things, if I’m making the right decisions for my children, if I’m helping them to eventually do those right things and make those right decisions for themselves. That’s the thin line, isn’t it, doing just enough to guide them in the right ways so that they’ll continue to go in those ways when they come of age? Sometimes I just don’t know. I hope, and I pray, and I act on what I feel is best.

Isn’t that all we can do, really?

Before I had kids I was constantly judging my mother for the sheltered life I lived as a kid, growing up with such stringent rules and restrictions. I thought she didn’t need to rule with such an iron fist, that I knew what was best for me. I was a kid, and then a young adult, who needed just that type of guidance, but I rebelled against it. I felt I knew what was best, and only when I came of age and made a series of mistakes did I start to realize just how much my mother had been trying to mold me and help me be better equipped to handle those things she knew were coming.

Now, I’m not saying to shelter your kids. Far from it. I think kids need to know what’s out there, that they need to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter, so that they’re better equipped to handle them in appropriate ways. It’s one thing I wish my parents had done more to prepare me for, but my mother did what she felt was best, my father was pretty much a specter, and I learned from those mistakes. I told myself when I grew up, when I had kids, I would be different, and in many ways I am. Fundamentally, though, I’m the same kind of parent my mother was to me, which is a good thing.

Yes Mom, I just said that.

Seriously, though, she was doing the same thing I’m doing now, trying her best to teach me to be a better human being, and to make my own decisions. When I was the age that Alexa is now she was fighting to make sure that, as a single parent, she gave me what I needed as a boy. I know that was tough, as I try to deal with Alexa and her issues now. There’s something to be said for having a partner who can deal with the “feminine” problems and feelings, and for that I am so grateful to my wife for everything she does to prepare our daughters for life. But my mom didn’t have that. I’m sure raising a boy by herself wasn’t a picnic.

I wasn’t easy. Kids rarely ever are. I was highly sarcastic (still am), a dedicated introvert (that sure changed), and a writer in the making. It didn’t help that my relationship with my sister wasn’t the best either, and having a largely nonexistent dad who was generally out of town (and out of the picture) just made things worse. But my mom taught me to be independent, to learn from my mistakes, that love doesn’t always win out in the end, and that being the bigger person is very important. She gave me all these tools I didn’t even realize I had until I needed them myself and they were there to help me.

My children have issues. Right now, in fact, Alexa is in her room screaming like a banshee because she doesn’t feel she’s being treated fairly, because she has the idea that this world is black and white when I’m doing my best to try to show her all its varied shades of gray. That was what I always loved about my mom. She didn’t sugarcoat things. If she wanted us to learn a lesson she talked to us about it. Nothing snuck up on us because we weren’t prepared for it. She didn’t let us wallow in our misery and perceived slights. She talked it out with us, even if we were still mad. It’s what I’m trying to do for my children as well.

But being a parent is tricky. Think about the number of kids who grow up to hate their parents. Think about the legion of kids who say their parents were never there for them. And while I do feel that way about my father, I have to say that my mother was as solid a foundation I could hope to find in this life. I hope I’m the same kind of solid foundation for my own children.

Sam

Advertisements

The New House

“We’re heading home,” I told my youngest daughter, and she gave me the broadest smile. It’s the one that shows all her teeth, and my favorite as well. There’s just something about her showing enjoyment that warms my heart.

While still smiling, she responded, “To the new house, dad.” And — you know — she’s right. We were heading to the new house, which is our home.

bee4fa54e8953da02a57738c9e1a4c05--doodle-quotes-short-quotesWe were boarders for 18 months, caught in the circadian rhythms of another household, of another system. It was the longest I’ve ever held my breath, waiting for it all to end, to finally be in our new house. And here we are, ready to take on another fall and another winter, our first of both seasonal varieties ensconced in our dream made real.

Madeline likes to call it “the new house,” and I correct her by saying it’s “home,” but perhaps we are both right. I think she likes knowing it as “the new house” because it helps her distinguish it from the other places we’ve lived. It reminds me once again how her brain works, of the organizational structure with which she lives her life. For her everything is cut and dry, black and white, stark in its edges with nothing on the margins. This is the new house now because it wasn’t here before, and now it is. And now we live here.

But she doesn’t change her designations either. It is the new house now, and that much is true, but in four or five years’ time it won’t be so new anymore, but to her it will still be the new house. To her it will still be the new one because it can never be the old one, and I love the way her brain sees it. It’s as simple as can be, this reliance on a phraseology that distinguishes for the moment but also for forever. I wonder what she would call this place if we ever moved again.

I told a friend today, when she asked how the new house was treating us, that waiting to be in was endless, but now that we are in I can’t really remember not living here. It’s the same way with my children. That’s probably the only thing I can really compare it to, life before my kids getting hazier by the second. I think it’s because this house, just like my children, is a permanent part of my life now, because now all of my memories from here on in will include this house in some way, shape, or form.

It’s the new house because it has transformed us by being here, from some transients into a family with a stable homestead. It’s the new house because Madeline has deemed it thus, and I’m overjoyed to accept her label. And in four or five or twenty years’ time, when she’s still calling it the new house, I will still smile because she will be as right then as she is now.

Sam

Stuff My Children Say

I want to preface this by saying: I love my children. I do. They’re wonderful little pieces of themselves most of the time, and the other times… well, I’ll just say that they’re still little pieces of themselves. They’re just sometimes very difficult to deal with when the dialogue changes, when they don’t get their way, or when something messes with their own opinion of how the world should work. Yes. They’re children. If I haven’t mentioned that already.

It would be so easy to just go with the flow, to allow them screen time whenever they want, to say “Yes!” to every single request they make, but that’s not giving them the best of me and my own experience. Because, see, I’ve been there. Sure, we had a lot less technology when I was their age. (Super Mario anyone?) But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Right?

My children tend to sound like broken records more often than not (“What’s a record, dad?). Here are the most repeated phrases they use these days…

“You’re mean.”

This often follows the word “No.” Can we have tacos tonight? No. You’re mean. Can we watch a show with dinner? No. You’re mean. Can we get out of going to Girl Scouts? No. You’re mean. Occasionally it will also pop up after we’ve taken something away and put it in time out. You’re mean. Continue reading “Stuff My Children Say”

Chatting With Lexi: Knock First

a3b2dae3997d2ee3efd26630150da2c6

It’s nice to be a fly on the wall here sometimes, because I can hear the most interesting things. This morning, for example, the girls are getting ready for school, which is usually an individual experience, with one zigging while the other one zags. But this morning they were in the bathroom at the same time, having a conversation.

Maddie: Close door.
Lexi: You want to close the door?
Maddie: I want to close door.
Lexi: But I want it open.
Maddie: No. Close door.
Lexi: Can’t we compromise?
Maddie: Huh?
Lexi: Compromise. You know, when we both can get some of what we want.
Maddie: I want to close door.
Lexi: And I want to keep it open. Soooooo, we can keep it halfway open.
Maddie: Half way. [She eases the door halfway closed, measuring it like a pro.]
Lexi: Yes. Just like that. It’s called compromise. Can you say compromise?
Maddie: Com pise.
Lexi: That’s pretty good Maddie. Now say the middle. Com-pro-mise.
Maddie: Com-po-mise.
Lexi: Great Maddie! [The sisters hug.]
Maddie: Com-po-mise! [She begins to close the door more, giggling.]
Lexi: Nooooo, Maddie. When we are in our new house we will have our own rooms, and I will sometimes keep my door closed. You can keep your door closed too.
Maddie: Own room!
Lexi: Yes, and when it’s just your door, you can do anything you want with it.
Maddie: Anything I want.
Lexi: Anything! Well, except slam it and stuff. But you can’t come in my room without permission?
Maddie: Mission?
Lexi: Yes, Maddie. If my door is closed you have to knock first.
Maddie: Knock first?
Lexi: Yes, knock, Maddie. You knock, like this [She raps twice on the bathroom door]. And I will ask who it is.

[At this point, of course I am having flashbacks to that Cosby Show episode where Rudy and Vanessa are being taught a similar lesson by their parents. “You say who it is.” “Who it is.”]

Maddie: Who it is?
Lexi: Yes, I’ll ask who it is, and you tell me your name.
Maddie: Mad-uh-lynn.
Lexi: But louder. Scream it because I might not hear you through the door.
Maddie: MAD-UH-LYNN.
Lexi: Just like that. And if I say “come in,” it means you can open the door, come in, and nicely close it behind you. But if I say “not right now,” it means you turn around and nicely walk away.
Maddie: Nicely.
Lexi: Yes, nicely. We can still be nice to each other, even if I don’t want you in my room. That’s why we are going to have our own rooms. And in your room I’ll do the same thing.
Maddie: Knock first. [She knocks on the bathroom door.]
Lexi: Exactly! And you can let me in or tell me nicely to go away too. That’s what’s so cool about having our own rooms.
Maddie: I love new house!
Lexi: Me too! But always remember to knock first.
Maddie: Knock first.
Me: Yeah, it’s time to get ready for school.
Lexi: We’re good. Maddie gets it now.

Sam

10 Ways From Sunday

swear-wordThere’s a thin line between wanting your children to be safely quarantined against the harsh world and wanting them to be prepared to hold their own in a landscape that is shifting, and increasingly for the worse. Someone said “MF’er” in front of my children the other day, and I wanted to slap her 10 ways from Sunday.

How dare she expose my children to something so harsh, so incendiary, so soon! After all my time of saying “fudge biscuit,” “shnikey,” and “Jehosophat,” how could someone hand my children the very verbal weapons I was trying to keep from them at all costs?

But after holding my tongue, and thinking about it some more, I realized that it’s not such a bad thing for them to hear such words. It’s the context that those words are in that is important, because then it becomes a teachable moment instead of something full of chagrin.

Pretending that this woman didn’t say what she said would have been foolish because kids pick up things even if they don’t talk about them. The key is to talk about it in the moment. So, five minutes after the incident, I sat my oldest down and talked to her about bad words, about why people say them, and about how we shouldn’t say them. It turns out she had heard what the woman said earlier. She just hadn’t mentioned it.

That’s the glory of having children, honestly. They take in so much more than they let on, hording everything until such a moment when they deem it worthy to share. Most of the time the moments they choose are highly inappropriate. So why not take those times that fall into our lap, instead of wincing and hoping they didn’t hear, to educate them on the words we should use and the ones we should avoid?

My mother was all for leaving it alone, for pretending it never happened, and as I got older I faulted her for this. I knew the whole cadre of words, but I never said them. I held them all inside, until I became a teenager, and I got a few friends. That’s when they call came tumbling out, and at the worst times. That’s how I know it happens. I know what she thought, that she was shielding me from the harshness of the world, and I am grateful for her motives, but the world gets in anyway.

And maybe it’s just the world we live in nowadays too, the widespread belief that anyone should be able to say anything to anyone at any time without fear of reprisal. Perhaps it’s the me-first mentality that permeates our nation and our world. Or it could just be the parents who swear at their children every single day, who see nothing wrong with using that language. Whatever it is, though, our kids are exposed more than we were growing up, so there are more moments to be there for them, to explain why those words are wrong to say, to teach them how to stay on this side of that thin line.

Or we could simply go with our baser instincts and slap that woman 10 ways from Sunday. That’s still an appealing choice to me even though I know it’s wrong. I blame the world we live in.

Sam

Chatting With Lexi: Grizzly Love

guess-how-much-i-love-you

When Lexi was a toddler, I remember reading her a mountain of books in rotation, but her favorite by far was Guess How Much I Love You. She liked it so much because I would stretch out my arms as far as they would go, and I’d ask her if that was enough. After squealing with laughter watching my fake strain, she would always shake her head and say, “Daddy, you love me a lot more than that!”

As she got older she realized the inadequacies of the book even more. “How can you say love is only as big as two arms stretched out?” she would ask me. That’s when I realized she needed a much more concrete understanding of love, of just what love for a child, what love for your family, should be about. But I honestly had no clue of what I could do to show it instead of just saying it’s abstract until this morning.

Poppy George was hiding behind a giant tree when we walked outside to wait for the school bus, but the girls didn’t know it. He made some strange moose sounds, and we jumped for a second before realizing it was him…

Lexi: I knew it was Poppy George the whole time!
Me: Then how come you jumped?
Lexi: I didn’t want to make you feel dumb.
Me: Ohhhhh. Kay.
Lexi: Really dad! He never scared me!
Me: But what if it had been, like, a grizzly bear or something?
Lexi: Then I would have run away.
Me: I wouldn’t run.
Lexi: Why not? Then the grizzly bear would eat you!
Me: I would do it to save you and your sister. I would tell you to run, and I would throw myself at the bear to give you time to make it to safety.
Lexi: But then it would eat you.
Me: Not if I’m crafty enough, but it wouldn’t matter either way to me.
Lexi: You wouldn’t care if you died?!
Me: Well, yeah, I would care if I died, but I would care a lot more if you died.
Lexi: How come?
Me: Because I love you more than I love myself. That’s how it’s supposed to be with parents and children. You are our children, and we want the world for you. We don’t want you to ever have to experience pain, and if we can save you by sacrificing ourselves we would. And your mother would do the same.
Lexi: But then I would grow up without a father.
Me: But you would grow up. Which is the point.
Lexi: I would stand right here with you.
Me: Then my sacrifice would be for nothing.
Lexi: I still don’t understand what you mean.
Me: It’s… instinct, I guess. The instinct of a parent to protect its offspring. I wouldn’t even think about it. I would yell at you two to run, I would hope you did run, and I would take on the grizzly.
Lexi: So if you love me enough to take on a grizzly bear, then that’s real love?
Me: That’s how much I love you.
Lexi: Ooh, like that book! Yeah, a grizzly bear is a bit bigger than your arms stretched out.
Me: Just a bit.
Lexi: I still don’t want you to die, but that’s amazing, how much you love me and Maddie like that.
Me: That’s how parents are supposed to love their children. Don’t get me wrong. I would do everything I could to distract the grizzly bear without getting eaten. I want to be around for you as you grow up too.
Lexi: Then we would run when you told us to, but you’d better be faster than that grizzly bear!
Maddie: That grizzly bear!
Me: I’ll work on my outrunning bear skills.
Lexi: That’s a thing?
Me: Well, now it is.

Sam

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: