Making family life a little bit less of a waste land

We had to work way too hard to give this changing table - still in perfectly good shape - away to someone who could use it.

We had to work WAY too hard to give away this changing table – still in perfectly good shape – to someone who could use it.

While in the midst of another holiday season, the phrase “waste not, want not” has been rolling around my head a lot.

I’m doing pretty well with the second part. Really. Whether it’s a consequence of the perspective that comes with middle age, or with witnessing friends and family members struggle through a recession, or with really taking to heart Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s existential pep talks on the recent “Cosmos” reboot, I’ve now arrived at a place where, when my oldest daughter asks each Christmas, “How come Santa didn’t bring you anything?” I answer, “Well, I’m really, really lucky. I have the things I need, so I told Santa he didn’t need to worry about me.”

And he doesn’t. Joe and I have been fortunate enough to hang on to our jobs through a rough economic time, so we have what we need, and we’re grateful.

But you know what makes the “waste not” thing nearly impossible? Young kids. Continue reading

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Mommy’s temper tantrums

“I wish I hadn’t done that.”

This goes through my mind every time I lose my temper at Lily.

Of course, I was predictably arrogant about the kind of parent I would be before actually having a child. (Aren’t we all?) Yes, I knew myself well enough to know I wouldn’t be the perpetually cheerful, meet-every-situation-with-a-laugh-and-a-smile mom. But I did harbor delusions of unflappability. For I’d always been a driven but generally pragmatic, patient person; so I’d long pictured myself as a woman who would, in the end, be a zen/yoga mommy who’d never lose my cool – who, in the face of a kid’s irrational screaming and baiting, would just take a deep breath and let it all roll right off me, like so much white noise.

I’d never become one of those miserable harridans who loses it at her kid over nothing. Would I?

The problem with picturing what kind of parent you’ll be, before you actually are one, is that you don’t quite realize how much sleep deprivation, domestic tail-chasing (laundry, dishes, bills, etc.), job stress, parenting anxiety, and the struggle to maintain closeness with your spouse while still making a little time for yourself all play into your mood and your responses to any given parenting situation.

And if you bring it down to an even more basic level, I think, underlying a parent’s short temper is an anger with yourself because, ultimately, you CHOSE this chaotic, challenging, all-consuming path. Continue reading

“Rapunzel dollie!” = Kill me now.

My long-haired, sweet nemesis

To tell the story I want to tell, I have to backtrack a little in order to provide context. So bear with me.

Lily is just now getting her first experiences with money. At a neighbor’s suggestion, we recently encouraged her to help us pick up sticks in the yard, and we gave her a penny for each stick. After a while, she’d earned $3, so we took her to the nearby CVS and told her she could pick out something that cost that much or less. (She chose glittery gold nail polish, naturally.)

Plus, a couple of weekends ago, I took her to Toys R Us to pick out a present for a preschool friend who was having a birthday party. In the past, in similar circumstances, Joe had also let her choose something small for herself, so I did the same. But the first thing she gravitated to was a Rapunzel doll that costs $20 (“Tangled” is probably her favorite movie). I told her it was too much money, and she didn’t cry, she didn’t throw a fit. She found other things, and each time, when I explained they were too much money, she put them back without a fight and looked for something more appropriate. We finally settled on a lower-key doll that was $8 – more than I initially intended to spend on her thing, but she’d been so good about all the “nos” that preceded it that I cut her some extra slack – and I told her that Hanukkah and Christmas were coming up, so maybe she’d get the Rapunzel dollie then.

“Rapunzel was too much money,” she said several times on the drive home, lovingly stroking the red hair of the doll we actually purchased. “But maybe I can get it for Hanukkah. When is Hanukkah?”

“Well, it’s several weeks away yet,” I said, looking at her in the reariew mirror. “But if you’re a good girl, like you usually are, I think you’re chances of getting a Rapunzel dollie are good, sweetie.”

OK. A lovely experience, generally, and I was proud of Lily. She hadn’t acted like an entitled brat in the store, and she seemed to be in the early stages of learning the value of money. All good.

Then, last Wednesday night, I’d wished I’d never had this conversation with her. Continue reading

Can’t buy me love?

Costco started stocking toys for Christmas (as well as Hanukkah, in our house) in about September, and though I only visit the store about once every six weeks or so, I’ve still found myself wandering through the aisles out of curiosity, just to see what they have.

And it’s weird. Though I’m not at all one of those super-capitalists who just can’t get enough stuff – far from it – I found myself suddenly tempted to go nuts and fill my cart with everything in the world that I think Lily might like.

I didn’t, of course. The cooler part of my head quickly prevailed. I looked at the prices, paused to imagine how much Lily would really, actually use or enjoy whatever it was, and in most cases, I left them all stacked right where they were.

But I find it interesting that the impulse to shower Lily with gifts lies so close to the surface, despite the careful, thoughtful deliberation I apply to every other choice that I make as a consumer. Continue reading