Why most of our parenting mistakes won’t leave a scar

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This is a photo of Neve’s right hand.

I took it to remind myself that the vast majority of mistakes I make as a parent, and regularly beat myself up about, are minor missteps that won’t permanently damage my 2 daughters.

Here’s the backstory: last year, on Mother’s Day (thanks, Painfully Ironic Universe!), I was stealing a few minutes to read a section of the New York Times on our sunny back porch – which we’d just started to use again, thanks to climbing springtime temps – when Neve, then a couple of months shy of turning 2, explored her way into a functionally dead food processor. (We’d temporarily parked it on the porch, so that we’d remember to take it out with the garbage.)

Neve’s hand found, and clutched at, a blade; blood appeared in a small, awful smile across the side of her palm, and she screamed.

Being terrible in a crisis, I freaked out, wrapping my arms around her and crying as Joe fetched a wet, cold washcloth. We held the cloth against her hand, and Joe called his father, who’s a doctor; he recommended applying butterfly bandages, so I ran to the CVS down the block, frantically searching the aisles. When I returned, we did our best to clean and cover the wound, then we discussed our next move.

Or Joe threw out options while I hyperventilated. It’s all kind of cloudy now. You know how it is. Continue reading

Barbie: If you can’t banish her, do a funny photo series

A few years ago, I wrote about how Barbie entered our home, despite my attempts to keep her out.

But since that time, I’ve decided that if these impossibly skinny, mostly blond dolls are going to be my roommates, I’d at least have a little fun, chronicling their adventures in my house by way of a photo series. (My rule is I can only photograph them as I find them, so there’s no posing on my part.) Enjoy.

It was some kind of awful pact...

It was some kind of awful pact…

Awaiting the paternity results.

Awaiting the paternity results.

Frat guy dream.

Frat guy dream.

The lost years, when Barbie converted to Rastafarianism, sold nickel bags and worked on her hacky sack skills. (These are little Neve's socks, by the way.)

The lost years, when Barbie converted to Rastafarianism, sold nickel bags and worked on her hacky sack skills. (These are little Neve’s socks, by the way.)

Continue reading

The power, and limitations, of memory-laden objects

At a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we'd come to bury my mom, this frog arrived in a crib delivered to our room.

At a Holiday Inn in Terre Haute, Indiana, where we’d come to bury my mom, this frog arrived in a crib that was delivered to our room.

January 9, 2014 marked the five year anniversary of my mom’s death.

And perhaps because we’re programmed to mark anniversaries that end in a 5 or a zero as more significant than others, I found myself honing in on objects and memories from the time of her death.

The squeezy plastic frog that has Holiday Inn stamped in script on its stomach, which arrived with a crib in our hotel room in Terre Haute. (My mom was buried in nearby Clay City, Indiana.) Lily, 8 months old at that time, loved the frog and often held it in her little hands, and I felt ridiculously grateful for this small gesture.

The snug, plain white ankle socks that I borrowed from my mother’s dresser drawer, in North Carolina, because I’d packed our bags in such a rushed, harried state that I’d packed no socks for myself in the coldest month of the year. These same socks are rolled up in my dresser drawer now. Pulling them onto my feet always makes me remember the trip. How we didn’t make it in time to see her alive on final time, despite our best efforts. How her life ended in the time when we were all hurtling through space toward her hospital room. How I knew, upon returning to the Asheville Airport’s car rental counters from the bathroom, that she was gone, simply by the expression on Joe’s face as he walked toward me. How, based on reports of my mother’s condition shortly before her death, I quickly decided that her timing may have been for the best. That the relatively casual, “How are you?” phone conversation I’d had with her days before would serve me well enough, since it ended with, “I love you.” Continue reading

A feminist mom makes peace with pink, Disney Princesses and Barbie

Lily's aluminum can houseboat - though it more has the feel of a pontoon boat, doesn't it?

Lily’s aluminum can houseboat – though it kind of seems more like a pontoon boat, doesn’t it?

I’m ending 2013 with a bald confession: I’m a feminist, and yet my two young daughters, ages 5 and 2, play often with Barbies (particularly in the bathtub, for some reason); they adore Barbie and Disney movies; they like the colors pink and purple; and they eat many of their meals on Disney princess plates.

Does this make me a failed feminist mom? Aren’t I worried about the potentially corrosive effects of conventional, “traditionally” gendered media/toys?

A little. Sometimes. But frankly, not really. Because my daughters also like playing with Legos, and Lincoln logs, and marble raceways, and face paint; and they like watching “Word Girl” and “Wonder Woman” and “Pippi Longstocking” (and Lily’s currently addicted to hearing Nancy Drew chapters read to her each night); and they like all kinds of different colors, not just pink and purple.

Plus, something that happened this past weekend only strengthened my resolve to keep encouraging my daughters to play freely with what they want, in the way they want: Lily, my 5 year old, collected aluminum cans from our recycling bin and went on to build – with mounds of masking tape, of course – a houseboat, upon which she seated two of her Barbies.

I couldn’t have asked for a more salient metaphor.

For Lily, left to her own devices, pursued a creative building activity – something for which the Girls in STEM crowd is always advocating – that also incorporated her hyper-feminized Barbies into the mix. She didn’t need a nudge from her feminist mom. She just needed freedom to experiment. Continue reading

“Frozen” and my quest to cultivate sibling friendship

elsaandannaThis past weekend, while watching “Frozen” with Lily and a few of her friends, I sat in the darkened theater, hoping against hope that the “act of true love” needed to save the story’s spunky heroine would involve the young woman’s long-estranged sister instead of the male lead.

Well, wonder of wonders, folks. It DID. And I couldn’t have been happier.

Not just because “Frozen”’s creators deliberately chose to forgo the tired, predictable Prince Charming paradigm; but also because I’m currently doing my damnedest to cultivate a positive, enduring sense of closeness between my two young daughters.

And every narrative that underlines the idea that siblings matter, and are to be treasured, subtly advocates for my cause. Continue reading

Defending against (and taking care not to raise) a “mean kid”

Lily, on her first day of kindergarten.

Lily, on her first day of kindergarten.

Lily’s generally had a smooth, easy transition into kindergarten, but in the middle of the night, after maybe only her 3rd or 4th day, she awoke from a bad dream; and when she couldn’t go back to sleep right away, she started to tell me about what a mean older girl had said to her as she waited for the bus after school.

“She said my teacher was Mrs. Ugly,” Lily said, starting to cry. “And she said I jump like this.” Lily climbed down from her bed and stood, tossing her arms up while her feet just barely left the ground.

Oh, sweetie.

Though my outgoing girl is brave in many ways – she climbed the steps of a 12-foot inflatable slide by herself shortly after turning 2 – she’s about as thick-skinned as a paper doll (as are nearly all boys and girls her age, of course).

And as we all acknowledge, with a slow-boiling dread, the big, bad world is not for the faint of heart, and sending your little one out into that world for the first time is a profound, if inevitable, act of trust.

Which is to say, you best not mess with my little girl, world. But more on that later.

“Lily, your teacher is brand new to your school this year,” I said. “So the girl who said this to you, she doesn’t even know Mrs. M. She probably has no idea what she even looks like. So she’s just calling her Mrs. Ugly to upset you. Same with the jumping thing. This girl doesn’t know what you’re capable of. She doesn’t know anything about you – how well you can paint and draw, and what a great big sister you are, all that stuff. She’s saying these things without knowing what she’s talking about, which means they’re meaningless.”

“But why did she say those things?”

“Well, that’s a hard question. I don’t know why she was mean to you. Sometimes people are mean because they don’t feel good about themselves, and they feel better if they pick on someone else. Sometimes they’re upset about something that has nothing to do with you, but they feel angry and they take it on you. At work, I get people who say mean things to me sometimes, too.”

Lily shifted gears and got concerned on my behalf all the sudden. “Who’s mean to you? What do they say?”

My heart melted even more. Even in Lily’s own moment of distress, she felt protective of me. Continue reading

Trampolining by moonlight

1071570_10151589945942632_184669496_oTonight, I was late coming home, because I’d been asked to talk about reviewing and entertainment writing with an evening journalism class at Eastern Michigan University.

So it was dark, a little after 8 p.m., when I parked on our street and let myself into the house. Lights were on, but the place was silent – in a way that NO house with a 5 year old and a 2 year old in it is silent.

I walked around and checked each empty room, puzzling out the possibilities. Joe’s car was in the driveway, so they had to have walked wherever they went. The nearby café we used to frequent for post-dinner smoothies recently closed, so that left the library down the block as the prime suspect.

I grabbed my keys, locked up, and trudged back out to the sidewalk.

But then I thought I heard faint giggles and voices, coming from somewhere in the area of our house.

Could Joe and the girls be outside, in our backyard, though the moon and the streetlights were the only sources of light at this point?

Yep. As I walked down our long driveway, I spotted silhouetted figures bobbing up and down on the trampoline, and heard peals of high-pitched, little girl laughter.

What the what? Continue reading