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.


Chatting With Lexi: On Chickens

funny kfc cartoonMy wife and I switch off on bath nights, but tonight was my second in a row (which I was glad to do), and needless to say last night was no picnic. So, I had no real preconceptions about what tonight would hold, except to say that I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the previous night. I was both right and wrong.

I let the girls have their toys for the first time during my bath nights in quite a while and they were appreciative. However, their play time created a little lake on the floor, which didn’t please me, especially since some of the water made its way onto my pants. Yeah, not pleased. But the conversation, it was interesting as usual.

Lexi: Why is a chicken up first in the morning?

Me: That’s a rooster.

Lexi: But isn’t a rooster a symbol for a chicken?

Me: I heard no cymbals.

Lexi: No! Not cymbals. Symbols!

Me: Yeah, they make good noise, but I don’t see how you would strap them on chickens.

Lexi: No! No! Symbols! Symbols!

Me: I know, like chickens.

Lexi: Like roosters, right? Continue reading “Chatting With Lexi: On Chickens”

Chatting With Lexi: On Being a Grown Up

quotes-about-friends-growing-upSometimes I swear I’m talking to a 20-year old when I have conversations with my daughter (who will turn eight in less than two weeks). She honestly says some things that are beyond her years. And then she’ll let out a whoop and swear the aliens are coming in the near future. I try my best to reconcile the fact that this is the same person. Regardless, today we had one of those really good talks, this time about growing up…

Lexi: When will I be a grown up?

Me: When you don’t have to ask me that question anymore.

Lexi: Huh?

Me: Never mind.

Lexi: No, tell me!

Me: What I’m trying to say is that you’ll know it. No need to try and speed it up.

Lexi: But I want to be grown up now!

Me: Don’t rush it. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Lexi: When I’m an adult I can have my own daughters and give them money.

Me: Are you asking me for money?

Lexi: [laughing] Well, there is this one doll I want…

Me: You don’t even play with dolls.

Lexi: I would play with THIS doll. Continue reading “Chatting With Lexi: On Being a Grown Up”

Chatting With Lexi: On Love

thMy daughter, Lexi, is the epitome of the inquisitive child. From the moment she learned how to speak (her first word was “book”) she has been asking questions seemingly nonstop, and her questions make me think. Sometimes I’m able to answer them easily, (“Daddy, what’s a touchdown?”), and other times I’m stumped, (“Daddy, who makes the eyes for stuffed animals?”), but I’m never bored with her. Believe me. Some times it drives me crazy, I’ll admit, because for every answer there’s another question, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what makes her special, and what makes her my daughter.

This week we had a conversation about love:

Lexi: Daddy, what’s love?

Me: Well, love is when you care about somebody a whole lot.

Lexi: But I love the cats.

Me: Um, animals count too.

Lexi: But animals aren’t people.

Me: It’s okay. If you care about anything a whole lot you can love it, or them.

Lexi: I thought love had to be something that can be returned to you.

Me: What do you mean?

Lexi: Like, I love you, so you love me too.

Me: You know I don’t love you because you love me, right?

Lexi: So, if I didn’t love you, you would still love me? Continue reading “Chatting With Lexi: On Love”

Tracing Scars

every-scar1It is late evening and we sit together on the couch — she fresh from the bath and in her footie pajamas, me in my voluminous robe. She climbs into my lap and I notice the heavy lids that presage a sleep so deep no one will be able to awaken her for hours, but for now she is just a snuggle bunny. In these times, in this late evening haze, her actions are mysterious, as if she is a small prophet foretelling the future, and I study her intently, this girl who shares my genes but who is still as unique as the oncoming night. Tonight she sits on my lap, and she traces my scars.

When I was 7 years old, in my elementary school playground, I was chasing Kareema Perkins around the perimeter when I somehow got my left hand caught in one of the barbs on the fence. It ripped a chunk of skin out of the back of that hand, and others told me I sounded like a girl with my high-pitched screams. Amazingly enough, no stitches were necessary, but it left a thick scar that has faded noticeably in time.

At 11 years of age I received another blemish while at the Laurel Lake Camp for the summer. Tony Wentz had brought a knife to camp against the rules and would whittle every night. It was so cool to watch him create shapes out of tree limbs and branches. I was so jealous, so one evening after dinner while the counselors were in a meeting, I asked Tony to borrow his knife. It was going well, too, until a particularly knotty piece of branch. I ended up slicing halfway through my left thumb, which did require several stitches and also left a scar. That one was devastating because I wasn’t able to get my swimming certificate due to the stitches.

Just this past week I have added to my laundry list of scars. My job requires me to work quickly and sometimes my hands get caught on fixtures while stocking food, or I get a paper cut when folding boxes. While these mishaps don’t amount to much individually, they do add up to having several scars on my hands and knuckles by week’s end.

But I had forgotten about each and every one, my memory designed to shade out those moments and focus on ones that had lasting emotional effects instead. Yet my daughter, in her hazy half-asleep trance, always zeroes in on each and every one when she is on my lap, and she does the same now.

Her little hands trace my scars one after the other in a kind of ritual, a dance that she seems to know by heart, and each touch reminds me. Every tracing motion brings back vivid memories I thought had been buried forever. And each time she finds a new one she exclaims, “Daddy’s boo boo,” mystified that there aren’t only the ones she remembers. But just like a homing beacon the next time she will remember the ones from yesterday and add them to her list and litany.

And it lulls her to sleep more often than not, tracing my scars, drawing those connections that were severed, and bringing us closer together. I will miss it when she isn’t so fascinated by them, and by the closeness they bring us.


Our Children. Ourselves.

I believe the biggest mistake parents make is thinking their children are miniature versions of themselves. I will readily admit to making that mistake as a new parent, too, and even now sometimes forgetting that one simple fact, but I strive hard to be better at it.

When I first found out I was going to be a parent, I remember feeling apprehension for several reasons. I worried that my child would be just like me, and I also worried that she would be absolutely nothing like me. I know that seems strange to have oppositional worries, but both were extremely strong. While I wanted her to be an individual, to have her own interests, and her own personality, I couldn’t help also wishing for a mini-me, someone I could identify with because of the similarities. So, of course, when she came, neither one of the wishes I had came true. Instead, it was in the nefarious gray area. She was definitely her own individual, but I could still see so much of myself in her.

And I realize now that this gray area is perfectly fine, that she should fit into this category. Too many parents find themselves seeing those similarities and playing them up, trying to fit their child into the mold they created when they were children themselves. The major problem with this approach is that it stifles the child’s own creativity and drive. If they’re just being a better version of you, why couldn’t you just change yourself to fit the ideal you have instead of trying to live vicariously through your children?

I was watching the movie “Robots” with my youngest child yesterday, and one thing that always strikes me about the film is that each robot is made from parts the parents put together, but for them to grow they need new, larger parts, that are specific to them. When those parts start to decay, they get new ones. That’s a beautiful metaphor for human children, in my opinion, because as children get older they do indeed change, but the change isn’t structured by you. It’s the natural progression, like them getting their “big kid parts,” which in turn become “young adult parts,” and so forth. By the time our children are adults, they have gone through any number of revisions to become individuals, to become their most perfect selves.

So, is it okay to see some of ourselves in our children? Absolutely. Indeed, that’s one of the most special parts of having children, getting to see that smile that is a mix of you and your partner. To hear that laugh that is just as fake as yours. To have that perfectionist streak so she’s not satisfied with mediocrity, just like you. It’s only natural to see those things and feel nostalgic for our own childhoods, but that’s as good as it gets. To stay focused on those things negates everything else your child is that isn’t specific to what you are. Enjoy and embrace your children for every part of their personalities, because before you know it, they will change, and you will have missed this special time.


On Parenting and Parenthood