Parenting For Tomorrow

“Be the parent today that you want your kids to remember tomorrow.” ~Anonymous

We hear all this talk about living for today, about being in the moment, about doing what we want right now because tomorrow is never promised to us. But, as a parent that’s not quite the way I view life. For me it’s about making sure the future is as hospitable place for my children as it can be, and that my children are as prepared to survive in that future as they can be.

I’m what you might call an “involved” parent. I’m the one who is at the school whenever there is a small issue, whenever there is a big issue, or just because it’s a Tuesday sometimes. I’ve been known to bring another sandwich because I was worried the first sandwich wasn’t as fresh by lunch time as it should have been.

But I don’t think I’m an overly involved parent. I don’t take my children to school because I don’t trust the bus system, or anything like that. I’m a concerned parent because I know that what happens to my children right now can have a huge effect on how they envision their own future, and on how the world sees them. I believe in the “teach a kid to fish” philosophy. Continue reading “Parenting For Tomorrow”

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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

Six Candles

A sixth birthday can be somewhat daunting. I mean, it’s the first one that you will probably remember for the rest of your life. You’re in school, too, so you’ve got little school friends who are actually your friends as opposed to children of your parents’ friends. And because you’re in school it behooves you to throw a party so all of your newfound friends can come and enjoy themselves on your parents’ dime.

My children have been no different. When Alexa turned six we threw a huge party for her and her kindergarten friends at the local movie theater. It was an extravaganza featuring large foam truffula trees, pinning the moustache on the Lorax, and lots of cheap pizza. Then it was movie time, with popcorn, drinks, and 3D glasses that were supposed to make things cooler but just complicated it. Imagine twelve six-year-olds fumbling for their glasses throughout the movie because they kept slipping off.

Madeline just flipped the calendar past six years old and her first official party was at the Family Fun Factory, a snazzy place with bounce houses, fun carnival-type games, an air hockey table, and party rooms to help corral the kids when it’s time for cake. And it was so exciting to see her with her little friends, enjoying all of the activities, taking imageturns, and being her rousing self. I guess that’s because six isn’t just an age of remembrance, but it’s also an age of maturation. When they turn six they’re not our little toddlers anymore. They’re on their way to middle school in a godawful hurry.

Six years old is the time when first best friends come and go, when everything is full of drama, and when you realize the world is a little bit bigger than just your house and neighborhood. I look at Madeline now and I can see her making so many connections she wasn’t able to make before. She’s speaking in longer sentences, and when she looks at me I can tell her brain is moving so much more quickly than it used to before. She’s growing up in front of my eyes, and that’s what six can do. It’s that shifting time. I saw it with Alexa, and now my youngest is going through it too, and it’s both sad and glorious at the same time.

There are six candles in the drawer, wrapped in cellophane, reminders of that shifting time, of those parties that brought together friends and family, and of our family dynamic changing the way it’s supposed to change. Next year we will add one more candle to the tally as we place them on the new cake, symbolic of so much more. But we will always remember six.

Sam

Written in the Cards

merry_christmas_cardI received a Christmas card from my mother today. In it were two photographs — one of my nephew from his graduation party, and the other of my children, a copy of a photo my wife sent her earlier this year. On the back of the picture is the caption, “Alexa and Maddie, ages 8 + 5.” I did a double take because I recognized the picture automatically and I wondered why it was returning home. My wife realized the full portents of that image before I did, explaining how my mother sent out cards to everyone with pictures of her grandkids because she is proud of them. We were simply included in the mass mailing. I just had to laugh because it sounds exactly like something I would do, or something I have done before. The apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s all about convenience, I guess you could say, which is fine. My mother likes to get all her ducks in a row, so she probably copied all of the photos at the same time, signed all the cards at the same time, and mailed them all out with two weeks to go before the big day, assuring that they arrived on time, even to the remotest of places. She probably even picked out the stamps in the most auspicious way, by asking to see each of them in turn and choosing the most festive style. That in turn makes it all convenient, the whole process, once you break it down into its component parts, and that’s also why she didn’t pause for a second when sliding those photos into the cards to remember that we sent her the photo in the first place.

I find as I get older that I’m all about convenience more and more too. It’s so much easier to do mass mailings, to slot in names instead of writing out individual messages to each person. After all, who really reads the card anyway? And if you’re that important to me I would have personally talked to you several times between the time you sent out the card and the time I received it. So the people who know I care despite the mass mailing don’t mind it at all, and the people who are fringe anyway get some lovely photos and don’t even recognize that it’s a mass mailing. Win-win.

Which reminds me, we haven’t mailed off our cards yet. Last year I think we waited until the very last possible minute, standing in a long line at the post office on the 20th or 21st with our fingers crossed that they would arrive when they needed to and not a moment too late. There’s nothing worse than knowing the cards you sent out are spending the holidays in post office boxes around the country instead of on mantels or on dressers, brightening someone’s day. We do have a variety of cards too, some for people who we’re close with like family and close friends, some for others who are relative acquaintances, and still more for those who we knew way back when who send us cards every year so we reciprocate. We’re cool like that.

And guess what? That first level of close friends and family will receive heartfelt messages from us in their cards, while the second and third groups will instead get a lovely printed message and our names signed at the end. But everyone gets photos, so congratulations if you made the cut. Alexa and Maddie are 8 and 5, respectively.

Sam

Little Girl Gone

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“I’m not a little girl anymore, daddy. I’m a big girl, and I’m getting bigger every day.” -Alexa (my daughter)

When I look at her I still see that little girl who was placed in my arms a little over eight years ago in the hospital. She was so tiny then, like a baby doll, with lungs on her to raise the dead. But she was so sweet, with this little smile that reminded me of her mother from the second she first smiled at me. She was wrapped up in these huge blankets that completely dwarfed her by comparison, and she could fit comfortably in one of my arms. But as she herself so aptly put it yesterday, she’s not that little girl anymore.

I saw it in stark contrast this morning when I went to her school to watch her participate in what they call Unity Day, a coming together of the entire elementary school to celebrate togetherness, to engage in contests aimed at helping the kids and faculty work as one and increase the sense of, well, unity. And from what I saw it was a success. When I arrived Alexa was working hard in a group of kids to figure out how best to solve a possible problem. You should have seen her leading the discussion but listening to others’ opinions too.

She was so intent on her group that she didn’t even see me for a few minutes, so I got to do something I rarely get the chance to do: watch her interact with her friends without her being on “stage” for me. It was at the same time both wonderful and sad to see. I could see, for maybe the first time, this girl at 10, at 12, at 18, and on into adulthood, existing independently of her mother and me. It was wonderful because that’s what I want for her, to grow into herself, to be an independent thinker, to have her own life and dreams, but she’ll always be my dream too.

“This is why we have to enjoy these moments. You do realize in just ten more years she will be going to college.” -Heidi (my wife)

As parents, how can we separate those two wishes? I mean, Alexa has been so dependent on us for her entire life so far, but she’s starting to make decisions for herself, and it only gets harder from here. But Heidi is right. In ten short years she will be going to college. She will be forging her own path, and the nature of our relationship will change, in fact it’s already begun. As she becomes more independent it automatically means she will be less dependent on us. Yes, we do indeed have to enjoy these moments, because none of them is promised to us, and before we know it they will be gone, and will only live on in memories and in photographs.

But as our relationship changes, I begin to see more of that individual I have always wanted her to be, which is magical in its own right. So even though my little girl is gone, I’m getting to know this big girl, and she’s pretty cool too. She just can’t fit in one of my arms anymore, and that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Sam

Childbirth Memories: 2006

mpinkinitialtrpng_square_canvas_pillowBack in early 2006, my wife and I found ourselves at a childbirth class. Now, I had seen about a bunch of them, but only on TV shows, and usually those shows were treating the class itself in a comical light. Sometimes there were slick watermelons, or fathers fainting while watching the birthing video, and always there was an animated instructor who seemed like she should have been teaching a Zumba class instead. Things were a little different in real life.

For one, the class was in Cooperstown, which is an hour and a half drive for us, so we didn’t sign up lightly. We were both completely on board since it was our first pregnancy, and since we were both just a little bit nervous about what would happen when the time came, when labor started. My wife had read all the books (she always reads all the books) but reading about it and going through it are two entirely different things. We figured it would be helpful to go through the process of learning along with several other couples at the same time.

So we took the drive on a frigid late January morning, with two pillows in the back seat and an open mind for whatever was going to occur. When we got there the building looked a lot like an old church to me, minus the steeple (and the priest). Other couples were already there milling about on the lawn, carrying pillows, so we figured it was the right place. Then the instructor arrived, and we found out pretty quickly that she was a registered nurse who had been through about a metric ton of live births. We were in good hands. Continue reading “Childbirth Memories: 2006”

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