What parents learn from kids’ lessons

photo (1)When your kids are little, it’s so hard to know when to let them make a decision; when to nudge them push through challenges that they’re already resisting – because things are getting hard and they’re scared – and when to let them just walk away.

The conflict arises often when pre-paid extracurricular classes/lessons are involved.

Last fall, we signed Lily up for a gymnastics class – largely because her best friend was in it, and the girls wanted to take the class together.

Lily’s a few months older than her friend, though; so when spring rolled around, the girls’ teacher recommended Lily for the 6-9 year olds’ class, but Lily’s friend would probably not yet be moving forward.

I had a complicated, delicate little dilemma on my hands – which caused me to start questioning our own reasons for repeatedly signing Lily up for these classes. Continue reading

How new underpants, a giant stuffed snake and a Tigers announcer can utterly ruin an evening

underpants

Sometimes your not-quite-3 year old, still awake an hour past her bedtime, briefly stops crying – specifically, about how you forgot to grab Snakey (a giant, purple-and-pink stuffed snake) from her preschool cubby – to make you feel just a little bit more guilty.

“Why did you talk to Daddy like that?”

Because, sweetie, sometimes, the crushing sense that all you do is never, ever enough drains your patience reserves.

Like, you stop at Costco on the way home from work (after getting stuck in traffic) to get individual hummus packs and underpants for both your 3 year old and your 6 year old; and then hours later, the 6 year old throws a screaming, weeping tantrum because you got her one pack of underwear and got the newly-potty-trained 3 year old two packs. (Because, you know, the 3 year old only has a few pairs, and is likely to have some accidents as she gets used to underwear. But when confronted with this reasoning, the 6 year old wails the equivalent of, “ATTICA!!”)

Like, you finally arrive home from Costco with a little time to spare, and you spend it bringing your purchases inside; shutting windows and turning on the air so everyone’s comfortable when they arrive home; moving the laundry – including the sheets and mattress cover your 6 year old peed on the night before – into the dryer; and ordering your daughters’ dinner.

Like, you pick up and deliver their food, and you give them plenty of time to eat it and read a few books with you before leaving for gymnastics. But because you’re so focused on getting them fed and across town, and this is the first night on this particular schedule, you uncharacteristically forget to clear their cubbies of lunchboxes and beloved stuffed animals (see: Snakey – plus Neve’s equivalent of Old Faithful, Doggie). So when your 3 year old, after sabotaging bedtime in every way possible, finally lies down on her bed and asks for Snakey, well, you’re S.O.L. Continue reading

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

photo-24

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