Saturday, August 25, 2012

Coming in for a landing

You know what's great about having been a parent for over 17 years? Besides having made it through the years of diapers, potty training, tantrums (for the most part) and 3am feedings? No, what's really great is that after nearly two decades of parenting you finally learn that there is no such thing as a parenting "expert".

Don't get me wrong, I was as much a sucker for those shelves and shelves of Parenting books as the next desperate mom with a screaming toddler wrapped around her leg like a chimpanzee. And, without a doubt, there were occasionally bits of information or words of wisdom that gave me some clarity and something new to stick in my bag of tricks. But let's face it, most of us come into this parenting game with our own style and personality that even the best of intentions will fail to undo.

So, while I openly admit that I have devoured dozens upon dozens of parenting books during my years as a new mom, I am finding it nothing short of liberating to finally be in a place where I no longer seek the advice and opinions of self-proclaimed experts who have never even met my particular child. Because therein lies the problem, there simply cannot be a one-size-fits-all method of parenting.

I have never been a fan of labels and perhaps nowhere do I find labeling to be more problematic than in the arena of parenting and childrearing.

Are you a permissive parent?

An authoritarian parent?

An authoritative parent? (which sounds almost the same as being an authoritarian parent but God help you if you mix up the two in the middle of a parenting seminar)

Or, the label most in vogue right now, are you a helicopter parent?

I dare you to use that term in my presence. Really, I dare you. But if you do then you might want to cover your ears because I will commence a screaming fit so ear-splitting that it will send you running for your dog-eared copy of Your Spirited Child to find the section on "how to stop a grown adult from having a tantrum".

This is what I hate (I know, hate is a strong word...) But what I hate is when experts not only create labels, but they create negative labels, with no agreed upon uniform definition, designed to make the "expert parents" feel superior. Because as near as I can tell, a "helicopter parent" can be anything from...

...a mom who runs back into the house to grab her Kindergartner's lunch box off the counter, even though she reminded him once to put it into his backpack. a dad who threatens to sue the school because his daughter is failing PE after having skipped class 10 times over the course of the semester.

Are these really the same thing??

And aren't we ignoring the reality that sometimes the unique needs of our individual children require a wide range of perfectly acceptable parenting responses?

I have two sons.

My boys were born to the same parents and raised in the same household. Both of them had the advantage of a healthy birth and no developmental delays or challenges. They are both fortunate to have strong, capable bodies and have experienced no serious injury or illness in their lives thus far.
And yet for all of the ways they have both been born into good fortune and privilege, one struggled academically during his early years of school, and the other sailed through without even the slightest bump in the road.

The advice you hear these days is all about how children need to feel accountable for their own work.  Parents should leave them to do their own work and allow them to fail when necessary. Providing a child too much assistance or support will only enable them and they will eventually end up unable to perform even the smallest task for themselves.  In short, if you help your kid with his homework you are on a direct path to having him live in your basement until he's 50.

But how does that theory play out with the two boys mentioned above?  Certainly the boy for whom school already comes easily will have no trouble being told to "work it out for himself" or "it's your schoolwork, not mine." But what about the boy who already goes to school and feels like he's staring at a brick wall that he's being asked to climb with no rope in sight? How will he discover he really is capable of learning new and challenging things if someone isn't there to break it down into more manageable steps, while providing him a shoulder to stand on, until he can climb that wall on his own?

I once attempted to have a candid conversation with an educator at my son's school.  She worked in the Learning Resource classroom and I was confiding in her how difficult it was for my son to complete his homework each evening without considerable support.  Not necessarily because the material was too difficult but the sheer quantity of work was enough to render him helpless.

She shrugged and said, "Well, you know, this is probably a good age for you to just let go.  He really needs to sink or swim." (I could almost see the accusing words "helicopter parent" etched on her forehead).

I let her words penetrate for a moment, took a deep breath and said, "Honestly, I'm pretty sure that if I tell my son he can either sink or swim he will just throw his hands up and drown."

Again, she just shrugged.

My son was 10 at the time.

That's the best advice we have for parents with kids who don't naturally excel academically? At the age of 10 they are either college-bound or they are all washed up?

Fortunately, I have a Masters in Teaching myself so I'm not as easily cowed by the opinions of other educators. I am well aware that even among teachers there are vastly different thoughts on how children learn. So, I learned to ignore the "experts" and went with my gut.

My gut told me that my son was one of the many boys for whom time and maturity would work wonders. But in the meantime, what we couldn't do was to allow him to sink into the abyss of "I'm just not good at school..." or "I'm just stupid..." or "It's all too hard..." We continued to be his cheerleaders, his tutors, his coaches and his biggest fans all while looking for ways each year we could step back more and more and let him take the lead.

This year both of my boys will be in high school.  One will be a senior and one will be a freshman. I can't tell you how much joy I feel in thinking about this year ahead in which my sons will spend one year together in the same high school. They had just better get over their complaints right now because there will be a first day of school picture of the two of them.

It also gives me great joy and pride to say that I can look forward to this year and know that both of my sons will be more than capable of handling their own schoolwork, papers, tests and projects. I'm here for proofreading or to quiz them on vocabulary if needed, but otherwise, I know they have got it covered. And, even though there might have been a few hairy moments along the way when I questioned my own instincts, I really always saw this day coming.

Helicopter parents, unite! As long as you are slowly working toward that day when you can bring it in for a landing and shut down the propellors, there is nothing wrong with a little hovering now and then.

Take it from this "expert". Because...really... aren't we all?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Teenage Boys are from Mars

I gotta say... Superdad and I have really stepped up our game.

We are both on the same page of demanding encouraging more responsibility and participation in household chores from our crew and all of our nagging effort is really starting pay off.

Dishes are routinely being cleared to the sink.  We are working on Step 2- putting the dishes in the dishwasher- which we've discovered will require a series of home management lessons entitled: How to Determine if the Dishes in the Dishwasher are Clean or Dirty. Who knew that was such a puzzle?

Timothy appears to have established his own once-a-day routine for gathering all of his water bottles and garbage from the downstairs and depositing them into the appropriate receptacles.  Once-a-day is totally A-Okay with me.

While Annie and I were spending time with family on the Other Side of the Mountains again, the boys were given the responsibility of keeping the pup adequately exercised and loved. They performed their duties admirably and seem to have developed a deeper bond with our fluffy, funny guy as a result.

We have yet to tackle meal planning and preparation but those tasks will be easier to incorporate into our routine once we have a routine again. In other words, once school starts.

So, I'll say it again...we are making progress around here!

But part of being able to celebrate these baby steps toward greater independence is accepting that success may not always look exactly the way you envisioned.

After our "failure to communicate" and providing a bit more "education" as to what a clean room entails, Jack promised he would give it another go in the very near future. True to his word, I received a text while I was away, complete with photos, of his new and improved room.  Not only did Jack make great strides in getting his room picked up and reorganized, he went one step further and cleaned out his closet and dresser of all the clothes that no longer fit him. When he informed me that he had a bag of clothes ready to be donated, I sent him back a text telling him where he could take the clothes and drop them off.  Next thing I know, I receive another text informing me that the donation drop off was complete.

I told him, You know what that's called, Jack? Finishing the job!! Woohoo!!

I'm not sure his level of enthusiasm matched mine.

The photos of his freshly cleaned room were definitely a pleasure to behold. I particularly appreciated that he included a shot of his windowsill, devoid of plastic bottles and soda cups. He really hit all the angles so I could see that he hadn't just piled all of the garbage into a corner and then photographed the rest of his room.

The kicker is that in the process of cleaning his room, Jack also decided to do a little rearranging of his furniture.  This has occurred several times over the years and I am always impressed with his creativity for coming up with new arrangements in a relatively small space.  A particular favorite of mine was when he came up with Mega-Bed which involved pushing his two twin beds together and turning the mattresses horizontally across both beds, resulting in a quasi-queen-size bed.  It didn't look comfortable to me but he left it that way for a good six months, so he must have thought it was just fine.

But this new layout really takes the cake.

Standing in the doorway of his room you wouldn't find anything amiss...

But take a few more steps into his room and you would know for certain that you are in the dwelling place of a teenage boy.

Because a teenage boy, and ONLY a teenage boy, would think that this is a good idea...

Monday, August 6, 2012

It's all true

Of all the cliched motherhood statements I have heard over the years, the one that rings most true for me is the one that goes something like this:

The days are long, but the years are short.

I am not so far out of the early years of parenthood that I have forgotten the exhaustion that comes with parenting a child through infancy and toddlerhood. You will never hear me say to some haggard young mother with an infant screaming in the grocery cart,

Enjoy it, sweetie. It all goes so fast.

All of the mothers I have known have been acutely aware of the preciousness and brevity of childhood, but that still doesn't mean there is anything to "enjoy" about the desperation that comes with only snatches of sleep and toddler tantrums. I loved my little ones with the same all-consuming love that every mother feels and part of me hated to see them inching closer and closer to grade school and bonafide "childhood". But once you grow accustomed to a full night's sleep and increasingly independent children who don't hang on your pant leg while you try to cook dinner, you can't help but realize that the passing of time does have its advantages.

And, the reality is, you can't stop time anyway so you might as well try to embrace every age and stage along the way.

But then you come to the "letting go" stage, the really big kind of "letting go". Not the smaller steps toward letting go like the First Day of Kindergarten, or letting them ride their bike down the street, or their first sleepover- all of which are monumental in their own way, and in their own moment in time- but the big steps toward letting go are still yet to come.

Watching your child drive a car...alone.

Accepting that it simply isn't possible anymore to know exactly where your child is at any given moment.

Knowing that your child is going to make mistakes and that the consequences of those mistakes can be potentially costly, life altering and even deadly.

Seeing all of the ways your child has been shaped, for better or for worse, by the home and life you've provided him and that your ability to influence his future is rapidly diminishing, as it should be.

Looking at the calendar and realizing that one year from now you will be preparing to pack your child's bags and sending him to live somewhere else.  And yet, right now, having no idea where that will be.

And still, in spite of all of the fears and tears that come with letting go, hoping upon hope that a year from now he really will be leaving.  Because that's what baby birds are supposed to do. They grow up, they learn to fly, and they leave the nest.

It's all true.  All of it.  All those cliches that you may or may not want to hear when you are in the throes of diapers and 2am feedings.

The days are long, but the years are short.

You think this is hard, wait until they are teenagers.

In the blink of an eye they will be headed to college.

You are going to miss these days someday.

Enjoy it, sweetie. It all goes so fast.

It's all true.

Because one day you are a new mom with a fresh faced, chubby cheeked cherub who is simultaneously filling your days with joy and utter exhaustion.

And then you blink and he's this wonderfully aggravating, mischievous, half angel/half devil, full-of-life boy whose passions run deep and energy lights up a room.

And in the next moment he's become the big guy in the room.  The one the little ones look up to and gather round, hoping to catch his eye and gain his attention.

And while you look back and cannot possibly remember all of the days and moments it took to get to this place, you are grateful for every single one.

Because as hard as it is to let go, it would be a crime to hold him back.

Get ready to fly, my boy.

I'll get ready to let go.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Winner, Winner, Meat and Potatoes Dinner

I am pretty sure that I could serve my kids just about anything and I would get rave reviews so long as there were mashed potatoes and gravy on the side.

It doesn't hurt if I serve some form of meat, too. My kids are definitely not budding vegetarians.

While walking the pup this afternoon, I took that opportunity to mull over my dinner options. I'm a terrible meal planner which means that I rarely have more than 2 nights of dinner planned and purchased at a time. Today was one of those days when I had no plan, minimal groceries and a family full of people wanting to eat.

There was no way around it. I was going to have to shop and I was going to have to cook. I do not know why this catches me off guard every. single. day.

Fortunately, the cooking corner of my brain was actually functioning today (it is often in a mildly comatose state) and I concocted a meal plan fairly quickly. I remembered one of my favorite Rachel Ray recipes that comes together quickly and contains meat which therefore meant it had been well received in the past.

The recipe is for Pan Fried Pork Chops with a Spinach and Grape Salad. Quite a tasty combination and one of my favorite ways to prepare and eat spinach, particularly in the summertime.  Also, very low carb if you are so inclined to be watching your carb intake.

My children are not so inclined to be watching their carb intake. In fact, like any good red blooded American, they are quite fond of their carbs, especially when accompanied by meat (in our house we eat very little red meat so pork qualifies as "meat" to my kids).

Knowing their fondness for a nice carb-y side dish to go along with their meat, I quickly realized that the easiest plan of action would be mashed potatoes and gravy. And yes, because I'm not crazy, I do mean the store bought variety of mashed potatoes. I'm not peeling and mashing a thousand potatoes on a random Wednesday night just to earn the goodwill of my children. They wouldn't notice the difference or appreciate it anyhow.

Anyway, as expected, the pork and mashed potatoes got lots of thumbs ups and requests for seconds, while the Spinach and Grape Salad was tolerated and I think a bite or two may have been taken, at least by the boys. Annie might have been masterfully moving it around her plate in a classic 7 year old game of mealtime smoke and mirrors.

I did take a bite! See? Can't you tell?

So, even though the bulk of my children's dinner was meat and potatoes, the gravy seemed to provide enough cover for at least a few bites of spinach to make it into their mouths. I say, Victory!

I'm considering testing my new theory on some other less obvious mashed potato and gravy meals. There is a delicious sounding, packed-with-vegetables pasta primavera recipe I'm itching to try. Maybe a little mashed potatoes and gravy would finish that off nicely? Or, my favorite homemade Pad Thai recipe that no one else seems to be as fond of as I am. Maybe Pad Thai with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy  has a more appetizing ring to it?

This could be the secret to my success. A never-ending string of successful meals that are met with nothing but cries of Yum! and Thanks, Mom! 

All thanks to our All American friends- Mashed Potatoes and Gravy.