Parenting In Between The Lines

Pick up any book about Mom-ing or Dad-ing and it’s usually full of the deep, dark, and diabolical bits of parenting. Temper tantrums and teen angst. Potty training and puberty survival tips (mental note: post idea). All important, but there’s a lot more that goes into this parenting malarkey than just the big stuff.

I want my teen to sail through the hormonal tsunami that is puberty…or wait..is it just menopause? Anyway I want him to be a grounded teen but I also want him to be able to tell a joke. I want my ten year old to use a knife and fork, but I also want him to know what to do or say when Great Aunt Betty gives him socks for his birthday.

This is parenting in between the lines.

Things like…

Telling a story. The other day my teen came home and told us a tale. And it was funny. Properly funny. And it wasn’t just funny because the subject matter was amusing. It was funny because he told the story well. He didn’t get hung up on every tiny little detail. It wasn’t peppered with “ums” and “likes.” My husband and I looked at each other over the silverware and one of us may have wiped away a tear.

Story telling, or how to keep your audience from stabbing their eye with their fork is in the style of Oedipus is something we work on with our kids. 3 salient facts and move on. And while we don’t have an actual gong or one of those giant, shepherd hooks to yank them from the dinner table, we have been known to make a buzzer noise and tell them to move the story along. Small, but important life skill. Not just with stories, but imparting any important information. Just like….

Dealing cards. Someone had to teach you to always deal to the left, didn’t they? Bet you never thought of it before. But it’s one of those things you realize how wrong it is when you’re kid starts dealing willy-nilly across the table. You have to learn skills like that, mostly so that you don’t make an ass out of yourself the first time you pretend you know how to play poker. Skills are important. As are facts. Facts like…

Where food comes from. A while back I read a statistic which blew me away. 7% of Americans think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. After I picked my jaw up off the floor and cleaned up the coffee I spat at my computer screen, I finished the article and realized something I’d never thought about before. Someone has to teach you where food comes from. No wonder kids think chicken comes from Market Basket and ground beef from Netto. If that’s all they’ve ever seen, heard, or known. There’s no a priori knowledge about the fact that your juicy double bacon burger was once Bessy the cow and Peppa the pig. Someone’s got to teach you that milk comes from cows. And that chocolate milk comes from Nesquik. Teach your kid where food comes from. If for no other reason than to avoid being an embarrassing statistic. Speaking of embarrassing…

Joke pacing, another not so crucial but handy life skill. Knowing how to pace a joke, how to read your audience? It takes practice. Practice with your kids. You know why? Because no one finds “knock knock who’s there turtle poop in a tree” funny after the age of three. After three you can also work on teaching them things like…

How to get out of eating a meal you don’t like. We keep trying to tell our kids that politeness and compliments may not get you everywhere, but they’re going to get you pretty far. So, if you ever have one of my kids round to dinner and you hear, “Wow, this looks delicious, thank you so much, you must have worked really hard,” there’s a good chance they’re trying to tell you thanks, but no thanks, I hate fish.

I’d say I’d like to teach them how to know which one is a fish fork and which one is a shrimp spoon, but well, I don’t know myself and it’s hard to teach something you’re pulling out of your own ass at any given moment. But luckily there are plenty of things I do know. And not just that chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows.

Now, let me tell you a story…

 

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An Open Letter From a Parent Volunteer

chaperoneDear Parents,

I volunteer at my children’s school a fair amount. I do it for a lot of reasons, but believe it or not, I actually enjoy spending time with school age kids. Most of the time. I complain about it and I’m often exhausted by it. Often times it’s thankless. Sometimes it’s downright appalling how badly you’re treated. Sometimes spending time with kids not your own makes you come home and appreciate the ones you’ve got a little more. After a few trips around the field trip block, there are a few things I’ve noticed, things your kid is doing or not doing. Because the majority of them are. Or aren’t as the case may be. Things that are easily fixed…and taught.

Teach your child to say please or thank you to the parent volunteering in their class or school. When I volunteer for a school event, it means I’m giving up time I could be doing something else. Napping, food shopping, trying to sell my novel, starting the next one. Doesn’t matter what. It means I’ve given up a portion of my day. Usually it means I’m doing it because no one else would. When a child demands, or don’t even bother to say please or thank you? You can be pretty sure I make sure they’re the last to get whatever it is I’m handing out. You may think younger kids are the worst offenders, but you’d be wrong. It’s the older ones who seem to have lost their manners with their baby teeth. And it’s most of them.

Teach your kids to listen to the adult volunteer in charge. Many kids talk over, ignore, and in some cases even mock the adult who is there to look out for them. The behavior ranges from rude to downright dangerous. If I’m responsible for your child on public transportation or outside of school grounds, you’d better make damn sure they know to listen to whatever I’m saying and the instructions I’m giving.

Teach your child to have realistic expectations, the old ‘you get what you get’ platitude. Not everyone is going to get their first choice. Not everyone is going to get what they like. Pitching a fit, ‘accidentally’ on purpose dropping it, or just plain lying gets your child nothing but a reputation as that kid.

Teach them to appreciate the fact that so many adults in their life are willing to give up their time to help out.

The one who brings cupcakes into class or chaperones a field trip to the recycling plant, the one who organizes a group gift for the teacher (and the six teacher’s aides, four coaches, and seventeen admin assistants who grease the wheels of your kid’s day)–they’re not doing it for the glory. Or the money. Make sure your child thanks them.

The one who plans a Halloween event, helps out with the stupid holiday craft or spends hours decorating a barren hall. No, volunteers don’t have to do it, though truth be told, sometimes the only thing standing between the planned field trip and a classroom full of disappointed kids is the one parent everyone knows will say yes. Your kids need to thank that person. You should too.

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Your child should be pleasing and thanking just about everyone in their life considering how much is done for them. Not just a parent volunteer or two, but the person serving them lunch and the one cleaning up their mess (and trust me, it’s disgusting). The person who cleans the toilet five times a day because, well…kids often miss. The secretary who calls home and the guy who makes sure they don’t get run over in the morning.

Sometimes there is an event to say a formal thank you to all those people who keep your child’s day running smoothly. And that’s nice. But if you want to know the truth, it’s not even close to being enough. So teach your child to say please, to say thank you. To listen respect, and appreciate the people behind the scenes as well as the ones who don’t have to be there, but are anyway.

It goes a long way.

Love,
Me

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til Someone Being An Ass Makes it Clear

screaming-womanRecently I had, for lack of a better word, a situation, with another mother. This situation resulted in me, to put it bluntly, losing my shit.

I am not ashamed to admit it. I was seething. I was practically vibrating with incredulity. I furiously messaged my husband who was away at the time, my fingers flying over the keyboard.

Who does she think she is???” I typed. There were lots of ALL CAPS and copious !!!!!!!!

“What kind of mother thinks it is ok to say to another mother that her child isn’t good enough? What kind of person is too stupid not to at least come up with a plausible lie?” Followed by more !!!!

I had fantasies of marching the offending mother through the school yard with a Game of Thrones bell, tolling Shame! Shame! Shame! behind her as she made her way into the cafeteria. I composed scathing emails filled with righteous anger. I authored imaginary text messages using words like What and The and others that end in uck. My thumb hovered over the send button.

More than anything though, I dreaded telling my son he wouldn’t be attending a party he had been talking about for weeks. A party the rest of his group of friends would be attending. A party he had been originally (apparently conditionally, provisionally) invited to. I prepared myself for his upset.

Then something funny happened. When I told him, he shrugged. My son merely shrugged. He said it was ok. No big deal.

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“Did something happen between you two?” I asked him. He shook his head. My son is a good kid, but he’s not a cyborg. If he’d done or said something to offend his friend, enough that his friend didn’t want him to come to party they’d planned and talked about, well, then I needed to know. Yet he could think of nothing and nor could I.

And in that moment, my ten-year-old son, with nothing more than a shrug and a shake of his head proved himself to be more mature than both the other mother and me.

For that alone I owe the other mother a thank you. Her actions reminded me my children continue to surprise me, each and every day. Sometimes they surprise me with their tenacity. Sometimes with the solutions they imagine, solutions I could never dream of. And sometimes they surprise me with maturity that belies their years, with a forgiveness which outstrips my own.

This was one of those times.

So for opening my eyes once again to the goodness in my child, for his capacity to forgive, I thank her.

We spoke about the whole thing for a while.

“You know what?” I said to him. “Your friend is an ass. And so is his mother.”

And then we laughed. No, it’s wasn’t my finest let’s-not-call-other-people-names moment, not my best turn-the-other-cheek lesson, but it was a moment of raw honesty with my son. And yes, I admit in my moment of pettiness, it made me feel better.

For that moment of unfiltered honesty I shared with my son, I thank her.

“It’s no way to treat a friend, is it?”

“Nope,” he answered.

“I think you’re a better friend than that.” I said to him.

“You don’t need to worry about me,” he said. Then, in true ten-year-old form, he asked if he could go on his iPad.

Sometimes it takes someone acting like an ass to remind you of what you’ve got. My son is better than pettiness. He is a good friend, one who goes out of his way to make friends with the new kids. Every year I’ve had parents seek me out and pull me aside to whisper their sons were grateful for his friendship, that he made them feel at home. In fact, she herself was one of those parents not that long ago.

Sometimes as a mother you forget, you forget how kind and nice and decent your own kids are. You get caught up in the sibling fighting and the bedtime struggles, the day-to-day whining and constant demands.

So thank you for the reminding me what a great kid I’ve got.

Shocked woman on telephoneAt the end of the day, as my son reminded me, it’s really not a big deal. I can see now that my reactions were exaggerated, my indignity a bit over the top. A bit. Maybe she just doesn’t like my kid. That’s ok, I get it. There are kids I’ve met along the way who have rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe she was nervous about numbers. Maybe she doesn’t like me. Maybe she doesn’t like how often I swear or my tattoos or whatever. I’m sure, in her mind, she was trying to do the best by her own child. I can’t find fault with any of that.

Thing is, you can do all those things without putting another child down or stepping on their feelings. It’s never ok, never classy or tactful or advised or any other big word you can come up with to say to another mother, sorry, your kid didn’t make the cut. Your child isn’t good enough.

And for that I thank her too, because the message–both the actual one and the one it implied–made it clear to me that for all my tiger mom feral anger, for all my Game of Throne influenced fantasies, I am better than that.

I’m raising my sons to be better than that too.

And it’s working.

 

 

This Woman’s Work

1941 Conference on Day CareWhen my first son was a baby, just learning to goo and gaa and blow little baby raspberries, he would look at me all goo-goo eyed and say:

“Dada”

“Mama” I would say to him, making sure to enunciate.

“Maaa-Maaaa”.

He would bobble his giant baby head and smile and say, yet again, “Dada”.

I’d been a mother for less than a year and already I could see how this parenting gig was going to turn out.

There are all sorts of ways you get shafted when you’re a mother. You sacrifice–sleep, a career, bladder control, sleep—but it’s never enough. You make a fool out of yourself on a regular basis. You wear your ass numb watching recitals and football matches. You routinely put back the expensive stilettos in favor of guitar lessons. You forgo sick days and vacation days and you work all the hours that God sends. And in the end? In the end, if you’ve done your job right…they leave.

It’s like doing all the research and grunt work on an 18 year project just to have someone else take all the credit when it actually works.

It seems cruel and unusual that right around the time you should actually start to reap the benefits of all those sacrifices–all the canceled plans, the dreams on lay-a-way, the stiletto free shoe cupboard–your children are ready to move on. Just when you should be able to sit back and enjoy a conversation with the intelligent, respectful human being you worked so hard to shape and mold, they up and leave, bestowing their lovely manners upon the rest of the world.

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The whole point of parenting is to raise a functioning human being. One who is able to step out into the world unafraid and live the life of their choosing. One who is able to wipe his own backside and make her own decisions and screw up and love and dance his way across the spectrum of emotions we call life. If those little beings, the ones who looked you square in the eye and called you Dada when you were really Mama can eventually do all that, it means you done good.

It means you did your job.

Still, seems like a kick in the pants, doesn’t it? By the time you’ve caught up on enough sleep and sex and shoes to really enjoy their company without having to worry about their table manners or whether they’re eating enough protein, they’re not around to anymore.

Doing your job means setting them free for the rest of the world to enjoy. What kind of suck-ass job is that?

That would be parenting.

My oldest son is ten going on eleven and already I feel like I never see him anymore. I know it’s only going to get worse. It seems like only yesterday I was trying to get him to say Mama. As he steps further away, with more confidence in his gait, with surety in his step, I know in my heart that even if I’m not Mama  anymore, on some level, I’ll always be Mom. I know I’m doing what I am supposed to do, what I signed up for. I know I’m just doing my job.

This woman’s work.