Flipping Upside Down for Kids’ Activities

Should parents encourage kids to do whatever extracurricular activity “floats their boat”, or encourage them in skills they can enjoy as hobbies later in life? For example, volleyball or running? Cheerleading or swimming? Skating or dancing? Football or golf? And once the choice has been made, do we think about what that will eventually mean to our families, time-wise and dollar-wise, if they progress?    

My husband and I have been thinking a lot about this topic lately as our youngest daughter recently was accepted onto the city gymnastics team.  She’s always been agile, climbing and hanging on everything, always been tiny for her age, so I encouraged her to take classes way back when. (What was I thinking?!)  She’s been taking classes at a local city rec center for several years since then and most of that time, dreamed of being on “the team”.  Each time she tried out, she didn’t make it. I really thought she’d move on to something else, like tennis, her second favorite sport.  But this summer she worked hard in building up her strength (Andy even helped her put a chin-up bar in her bedroom doorway) and she finally passed the team tryout.  We were then faced with the reality of a gymnastics team workout schedule: 3 1/2 hours every night, four nights a week.  There goes the family dinners I’ve long tried to fiercely guard, I thought, and there goes any other extracurricular activity for her (except piano lessons, of course).  “PLEEEEEESE,” she begged as I frowned at the new schedule.  “I’ve been wanting this for so long.  I’ll piano practice in the morning and do my homework right after school.” 

So far, we’re taking an approach not unlike something you’d see on The Brady Bunch– let the child go for it, because she realized a long-sought goal, but at the same time, figuring that the heavy schedule will be too much to handle and the child will decide on their own that it’s not worth it:  
Cue the 70’s sitcom jazz orchestra background music as the young girl sits on her bed, eyes beginning to well up with tears, bottom lip quivering, facing her parents, who also sit on the edge of her bed.
Mom: “Honey, what’s wrong?
Girl: (bursting into tears) “I hate myself! I’m a failure!”
Dad: “Why would you say that?”
Girl: “Because it’s true.  All the other girls on the team like spending fourteen hours a week at the gym, going to the competitions, plus handling the pressure of homework and studying for tests…but I don’t! I hate this schedule. I miss my family.  I don’t have a life anymore!!” Girl sobs and buries her face into her mom as Mom wraps her arms around girl.
Mom: “Aw, sweetheart, you’re not a failure (mom takes her hands and cups her daughter’s face, looking into it).  You’re a human being.  A 10-year-old human being.  No 10-year-old has to handle that kind of pressure. ”
Girl: “But why did you sign me up then?”
Dad: “Because you set a goal and made it, and we wanted you to experience for yourself what being on a gymnastics team really means.  You have to give up so much and be focused pretty much on one thing. But you have other gifts and talents! You can sing like no one else! You can play piano, and you taught yourself how to play guitar!” 
Mom: “You won Player of the Week at Tennis and Swim day camp, not to mention Best Belly Flop!”
Girl smiles.
Dad: “And you like to go on bike rides with your Dad, and that’s just as important as being at the gym– more important, I think!”
Girl smiles again.
Mom: “And you don’t have to give up gymnastics– you can still take a class, and keep up your skills, and maybe be on a team another time, like in high school. Not being on the team now won’t mean you’re a failure. Like we’ve said before, it’s good to be a well-rounded person.”
Girl: “I love you Mom and Dad.”
Mom and Dad: “We love you too, sweetheart.”
Cue music. 70’s sitcom jazz orchestra plays as the three hug. Fade out.  Roll credits.

But what if she likes the workout schedule? What if she can handle it? She started working out with the team this past Monday, the first day of school.  So far, her reviews of practice have been glowing, even though she’s felt a little sore.  And she’s packed her gym bag and piano practiced at 6:45 a.m. every day, just as she promised, and done homework after school.  Once school gets into full swing, we’ll see…it’s definitely going to be a test of her organization, dedication, and stamina (as well as a test of my meal-planning skills!). 

But, for what? She’s already said her goal is not the Olympics.  She doesn’t want to teach gymnastics someday. And, you can’t do a flying dismount from the bars when you’re 30 (unless you’re Wonder Woman and working out at a gym every day)!

I think she wants to prove she can be good at a team sport, since she’s very tiny for her age and hasn’t been a stand-out in soccer, basketball, softball, or volleyball, the team sports she’s tried with her friends.    So it’s a confidence booster, probably at an age (and development phase) when she needs it.  And, she’s very happy– her face gets such a big smile when she talks about the team! 

But, it’s a face I now only get to see about three hours every weekday, and my husband gets to see for one, if he’s lucky…. ###

Yahoos and Boo-hoos

I cried yesterday on the first day of school.  I didn’t think I would.  I mean, I’ve been looking forward to this day.  As a work-at-home mom with two kids, back-to-school means I can get more work done.  Peacefully.  Back-to-school means I can go back to my exercise class.  I can play my own choice of music at my desk without it clashing with the theme song to The Suite Life With Zack and Cody– and sing along if I choose!  And I can clean the house in my underwear (not that I would, but it’s nice to know I could).  But this back-to-school was a mixed bag of emotions, since it was the first day of high school for my oldest daughter, Allison.  Almost as emotional as the first day of kindergarten. Maybe, in truth, moreso.  Only, sadly, there’s not really a proper place for moms to cry on the first day of high school.

With elementary school, it’s different.  It’s almost expected, at least for kindergarten and first grade.  Even Dads are able to get misty-eyed without embarrassment.  Teachers stand ready to share one of the many boxes of kids’ Kleenex stacked against the wall.    Our school even had a parent gathering one year in the cafeteria, after the bell rang on the first day, called “Yahoos and Boo-hoos”, kind of a reception to ease the pain and welcome the school year for new and returning parents.

But with the tremendous milestone of entering high school, I knew we parents were supposed to act like it’s “no big deal”.  I knew, before she told us, what Allison expected of us on the first day: No pictures taken at school, only Mom would go along, and I was to just drive up and let her out.  (And drive away quickly, so as not to look like an overprotective parent, and so less people can see our embarrassing minivan.)  Just like with the first day of Jr. High.  (And parental crying, of course, is a big no-no.)

So I found myself shedding my “high school tears” in the bathroom as I got ready for the day.  Darn, why did they have to start just as I was about to put on mascara?  Maybe it was because I was facing myself in the mirror, kind of like facing my conscience: “This is it.  This is high school.  The beginning of the end.  She will be out of your life before you know it.” WAHHHHH!  I had to turn my back and grab a Kleenex fast because I heard her coming. She wanted to share the bathroom mirror. I knew she had first-day jitters, and seeing me cry would only make them worse. “My contacts are giving me fits this morning,” I said. “I don’t know why!” Luckily she paid no attention as I finally put on the mascara and she began straightening her hair.

After Andy and I took her younger sister to start 5th grade (complete with a photo by the school sign and a hug in the classroom), we arrived back home and found Allison in the kitchen, all ready to go, with plenty of time for her to eat breakfast and re-arrange the contents of her new book bag a few times. (I wondered to myself if this would be the only time this year that she’d be ready a full 45 minutes before the start of school!)  My husband kissed us good-bye and left for work, and then it was time to go.  Upon arriving at school, I missed the turn-in for the carpool line (Aw, Mom!) but it was just as well, since it was stacked about 10 cars deep. We managed to get close to the door anyway, in an adjacent parking lot that wasn’t crowded, which gave us the opportunity to pause as long as we wanted.  “Have a great day,” I said, and– she let me give her a hug!! And she smiled!! (And I didn’t cry!!) Wow, maybe this is the dawn of something new and different!!

A fleeting hope.  As I called out after her as she exited the car– “Pick-up is 4:10, right? Right?!”– she frowned.  “STOP YELLING!” she yelled at me, then turned in a huff, and walked up the sidewalk. I kept myself from crying once again.  She’s just uptight about her first day, I thought.  And then I smiled as I drove away, knowing that next time I get drop-off sass, I’m going to do what I once did when she was in Jr. High, which effectively makes future good-byes so much sweeter (at least for awhile): As she walks into school, I’ll simply roll down the window, wave wildly and sing out, in my loudest, best mom voice, “BYE, ALLISON!! I LOVE YOU!!”  

(adapted from a recent post I made at neighborsgo.com , a local community news and blog site)


Emmie starts 5th grade

Allison poses in the backyard before heading to freshman year

The Big “But”

I’m throwing in the towel about…well, about throwing the towel.  And the clothes. And the shoes, magazines, old shopping bags, old Kleenexes, and everything else that my teen manages to throw on her floor.  See, I’ve decided, with the high school years dawning bright and early on Monday, that I’m giving up the battle of the teen bedroom. I’ve decided that my daughter is truly not a morning person and I’m tired of deducting allowance every time her bed isn’t made or her clothes aren’t picked up by noon.  Like I said in a previous post, she always has to pick up her room if friends are coming over, but the rest of the time, it’s her choice to keep it clean or not.  And get allowance or not.  And most of the time, she chooses “or not”.  

, my new frame of mind doesn’t mean she gets to ride off into the sunset to Slobland, unbridled.  Au contrare. I’ve just decided to “loosen the reins” a bit and put her on a different path, hoping she will “turn it around.”  I’m taking the advice of my sister-in-law, Amy (and no, she doesn’t own a horse!).

I’m going to tell Allison, “Guess what? You don’t have to worry about allowance and clothes shopping trips being tied to keeping your room clean.” She’s going to be so happy to hear that!  Then comes the great big “But”, the grand caveat, the wonderful “however”:
But, I’m taking a couple minutes each morning after you leave, to scoop up anything left on the floor and put it into the hamper.” Keep in mind, this isn’t just any hamper– she has one of those retro hampers built into the wall that goes directly to the laundry room, one floor below– kind of like Willy Wonka’s bad egg chute (ah, the similarities she has with Veruca Salt never cease to amaze me…).   
So it should be somewhat of a hassle when she has to walk downstairs to fish clothes out of the laundry room chute every morning or evening, and who wants clothes to be as wrinkled as they can get in there? Throw in stinky socks and a wet bath towel and it’s a delightful fabric soup…slowly simmering.  It just may lead to her keeping her clothes picked up every day. If it doesn’t, I will at least have the satisfaction of looking into her room and seeing a clean floor. (As for allowance, it will continue, it will just be dependent on the rest of the things on our “list”– like turn off lights, take your plate to the sink after mealsno eating at the computer, and no hitting your sister!)

As for an unmade bed,  Amy says I ought to strip it and also put the sheets, etc. down the hamper, so she’ll have to make it every night if she doesn’t change her ways.  But I know my kid, and I know she’d probably be happy to sleep on the bare mattress with a stadium blanket or a jacket for a cover rather than make up her bed at night (she once slept on top of her perfectly made-up bed for a week in order not to lose allowance).  I think I’m going to let go of harping about the bed, and again, she’ll heave a sigh of relief. “BUT,” I’ll say, “you know that new queen-sized bed and headboard you’ve been wanting, and all the new bedding?” She will no doubt nod a yes– she still sleeps on the firm, twin mattress she’s had since she was 5.  And then I’ll say, “It doesn’t make sense to invest in a new bed like that if you can’t keep a smaller one looking nice.”  We’ll see what happens. Either she’ll get a new habit and get a new bed, or she’ll keep the bed unmade every day and we’ll save hundreds of dollars. 

Meanwhile, usually all I have to do to get my 10-year-old to pick up her room and make the bed is to just ask.  Or say, “No breakfast until your room’s done.” My teenager would rather starve! ###

And the winner is…

Just got word that UncoolMom.com won “Best Local Blog” in the Dallas area, in Nickelodeon’s ParentsConnect.com Parents Picks Awards 2009!!!!! Thanks so much to everyone that voted– I know some of you voted every day! What a great way to end the summer and an inspiration to keep on writing blog posts.  Watch for a new blog layout coming soon– and THANKS AGAIN!!!!


It’s A Different World…

This has been a week of eye-opening experiences that has made me think a lot about the state that I now call “home”.

On Friday night, Allison and her friends introduced me to a TV show called “Toddlers and Tiaras”, a documentary-type look behind-the-scenes at child beauty pageants.  I watched in horror as a tiny three-year-old who looked exactly like a pint-sized version of Anna Nicole Smith was forced to endure a photo session while she was sick with fever.  Her red, thickly-lipsticked mouth quivered and drooped as a photographer went through histrionics trying to get her to smile. I just wanted to bust through the TV set and rescue her. The pageant she was about to win was in Texas, and most of the “stage moms” highlighted were from Texas, too.  It figures, I thought.

On Tuesday night, my husband, Andy, and I took Emmie to south Dallas to listen to her former piano teacher, Mark Meadows, play with his band in a jazz club called Brooklyn’s. (Check out my blog’s MP3 player, on the sidebar, to listen to Mark.) She loved watching all the musicians and studied them intently.  It was also a learning experience for her in another way.  We were three of only about 10 “white people” in the entire place.  On the way home, she asked us all sorts of questions about segregation and what kinds of things went on in Texas not so long ago.  “I feel so sorry for black people when I see the movie, Hairspray,” she said.  I told her there were even better movies that show more history of the Civil Rights movement that we’ll have to watch someday.  As Andy talked about segregated drinking fountains and swimming pools (he grew up in Dallas), I was feeling proud to be from the North, and a bit homesick as well.

Those feelings came back last night as we sat at parent orientation in the auditorium of our local high school, where Allison will be a freshman in less than two weeks.  They have a (gulp) country-western dance team that wears (gulp) cowboy hats, and we learned the first school dance of the year is called “Howdy” and has a country-western theme.  The football coach got the biggest round of applause of any teacher that spoke.  Some moms came onstage modeling homecoming mums as big as flying saucers, decorated with more trinkets than a Joan Rivers segment on QVC.  Both girls AND guys will be wearing them for homecoming in a few short weeks, and people have been working all summer getting 1,300 ready for sale. Made me want to run back to Iowa and hide in the cornfields with Shoeless Joe.

Yes, even after 25 years of living in Texas, I still sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land…no, make that often feel like a stranger in a strange land… but I cope by thinking about all the things I love about being here.  Like the fact that you can go to the beach, mountains, flatland prairie and tall piney woods all in one state, though maybe not all in one day.  That some of the world’s best authors, playwrights, artists, entrepreneurs, chefs, actors, and musicians have, at some point past or present, called Texas home.  That the word “y’all” is acceptable anywhere (I happen to think it’s a pretty useful word).  That certain gorgeous flowers still show their faces in the midst of dire drought, and that real fried pies are not something that comes in a cardboard sleeve at McDonald’s.

Next Tuesday, my Girl Scout troop will be doing the flag ceremony when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison stops in Dallas for her announcement tour in her run for governor.  I’m sure I’ll see a lot of cowboy hats there, but hey, what a great role model for the girls to meet, the first female U.S. senator ever elected in Texas (and that’s a pretty big deal, considering married women in Texas couldn’t even own property until 1967 and that prior to that, employers couldn’t legally hire them for a job without first consulting their husbands!).  I just hope I don’t hear any music played that includes the words, “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”… because I just might start fantasizing about running away and hiding again.  Only I don’t think the Iowa cornfields will protect me from that
Smiley Face Cowboy Emoticon

When Mom Dresses Like A Teen

I once bought jeans a few years ago from Limited, Too– for myself! No, I’m not a size zero.  Just a busy mom who never has time to shop for herself, yet gets dragged to the mall on numerous occasions by her oldest daughter so that she can shop. So there I was one day, bored, waiting while my then pre-teen daughter was trying on clothes (and I kept waiting….. and waiting…..) and sick of listening to the pounding pop beats played nonstop in that store, and I started thinking “outside the box”.  Hmmm, I wonder if I might find some jeans on the clearance rack in a size 16 plus-plus or 18 that would fit me? (Ahem– keep in mind these are GIRLS sizes) And sure enough, I found some.  I took a few pairs into the dressing room next to my daughter’s. 

“MOM?” she called out in a shocked voice.  Not sure how she knew it was me, other than maybe she recognized my heavy breathing, as I was attempting to try everything on as fast as I could so no one would notice…  Much to her chagrin, she found nothing that fit, and I did– a pair of bell-bottomed jeans embellished on the top 1/4 of one leg with charms and painted-on chains.  They were really cute, and ever since I purchased them I’ve received numerous compliments, mostly from adults. 
I made sure to wear them with an “adult” looking sweater and jewelry, however, because I hate it when adults look like they’re trying hard to look younger. I remember I once did a double-take while watching a mom coming out of a movie theatre with her kids–it was hard to figure out who were the kids and who was the adult– she was wearing tight, skinny jeans, flipping her bleach-blonde pony tail and smacking her gum with the rest of them. Sick and weird, I thought.  But then again, in the area of fashion, what choices do moms have, especially moms in their 30’s and 40’s? I’m petite, so most of what’s offered up to me in department stores looks like something my 85-year-old mother would wear.  The other choices look like, well, close to something my now-teenaged daughter would wear.  So that’s what I buy. And now that she’s grown into a beautiful girl with fantastic fashion sense (who has quit shopping at Limited Too), I find myself asking her for advice. We sometimes even…gulp… share jewelry and shoes, or should I say, we “borrow” eachother’s jewelry and shoes when the other’s not looking…

So I have recently come to wonder, have I become one of those moms who looks like she’s trying hard to look younger? I really don’t want to.  I’m proud of my age and the fact that I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, not the 90’s. I’m proud that I have some gray hairs, laugh lines, spider veins, breasts that nursed two children and a scar on my belly from a C-section. Yet I also don’t want to buy clip-on earrings and double-knit pantsuits in colors like aqua and salmon.

What’s a middle-aged mom to do? Hmmm…maybe check out magazines to see what celebrities who are close to my age are wearing… Let’s see, there’s Valerie Bertinelli (just saw that Jenny Craig bikini layout, so no, that won’t be me); Ellen DeGeneres (I don’t like pants that much); Demi Moore (didn’t she marry a teenager?) and Marie Osmond (a little bit too many layers).  Maybe I ought to get a subscription to MORE magazine for fashion advice– but is that even being published anymore?

In the meantime, my younger daughter has discovered fashion, so after a brief hiatus, I found myself back in Limited Too again a couple weeks ago.  Only now it’s changed its name to Justice. (Yeah, that’s what I want after shopping there…only kidding!)  Same colors, same music, same too-cute stuff.  This time, I found myself in a similar situation.  Bored while she was trying on clothes and realizing I wasn’t going to get to do any of my shopping, I found something in the store that was on my list– sunglasses.  And sunglasses on sale, no less. And with UV 400 protection! I found a cute pair that I liked and that fit, and realized I wasn’t going to find a deal that good even at Target, so I bought them.

Only I have to be careful when I wear them when my teenager’s around, because she is totally, completely, bent-out-of-shape embarrassed with having a mom who wears black sunglasses with Cheetah print on the sides. ###

(updated and adapted from a post I once wrote for the Blogher network)

Just A Spoonful of Sugar…

Heard while walking out of the grocery store yesterday, spoken to me by my 10-year-old, Emmie: “You are so lucky, you get to do this all the time!”
She was talking about grocery shopping. 

It wasn’t that she’d never been to a supermarket before.  I have my share of kids-whining-at-grocery-store stories, or kids-reading-embarassing-magazine-covers-in-the-checkout-line stories, or kids-shopping-together-and-running-their-cart-into-people stories.  Yesterday was different, because for the first time, I let her take a copy of my shopping list and one of those small plastic “carry baskets” and head out into the grocery store, alone, while I pushed my cart around and got the rest of the list. (We’d planned to take along walkie talkies, but couldn’t find one of them, so I trusted her maturity instead. She also knows to scream “This is not my parent!” at the top of her lungs if someone were to try to grab her.)  I’d highlighted what I wanted her to find on the list.  She had a blast and felt very important, getting all the items and coming back to me for another “assignment”.  I asked her why she got the super-sized Ravioli instead of regular. “They were out,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “I asked someone who worked here for help.”   Wow. 

When she returned with frozen lunches for her dad to take to work, she proudly announced that she’d studied the boxes and made sure they didn’t have too much fat or salt.  I kept all of her selections, even though some were pretty skimpy for a guy’s lunch (I’ll eat them, or he’ll supplement).  I told her she did a great job.  She was so happy when she was done, she asked if she could always go to the store with me and help out like that. Absolutely, I told her.  It gave her a great “independence” experience, a great self-confidence booster– not to mention it cut my chore of grocery shopping in half!
Which brings me to her comment as we left the store.  Isn’t it funny how kids often marvel at what we take for granted, or find routine and boring?  I remember when I was a kid, saying to my parents, “You’re so lucky.  You get to drive a car, every day!”  I remember my cousins, when they were around age 10 or 11, standing next to my sister and watching her in the bathroom mirror, as she carefully applied mascara. “You’re soooo lucky,” they gushed.  “You get to wear makeup, every day!” If only, as adults, we could always feel such joy and excitement in doing everyday tasks.

While I haven’t mastered that kind of “zen”, I did come up with a way, not long ago, that helps routine tasks seem a little bit more important: Counting. Putting numbers to what I do.  It wasn’t that hard, one day I just kept a mental tally and then after a task was done, I’d write on the nearest scrap of paper I could find. Stuff like: number of emails dealt with; number of coupons clipped and filed; number of minutes it took to vacuum the dining room rug; number of dishes loaded and unloaded in the dishwasher.  It may sound nuts, but it was actually fun (didn’t Mary Poppins say something about making jobs a game?).  And it was eye-opening.  Who knew I drove over 40 miles a day driving my kids around town?!

I did another count today.  When my husband comes home from work and asks me what I’ve been doing, won’t it sound more impressive to say, “I washed and dried 38 pieces of laundry” rather than “I washed underwear and socks”? Or, “I unloaded 56 cups and plates, 34 pieces of silverware, and loaded in 45” rather than “I did the dishes.”  Or, “I composed and typed 636 words!” rather than “I posted to my blog…”