Craving “Constants”

As the oldest child approaches senior year of high school and the youngest breezes through junior high not far behind, a mom can get pretty sentimental, y’ know? It used to be that even when the older child went through big changes, I still felt connected to the “younger child years”, because my kids are four years apart in age.  For example, when Allison became “too mature” to enjoy going to the neighborhood pool every day in the summer, I’d still get to sit at that pool on summer mornings, with other moms of young kids, as Emmie took yearly swim lessons.  When Allison and her friends were old enough to go to the mall by themselves, I’d still accompany Emmie on shopping trips.  I had one foot in kid-land and one foot in teen-land.  But this summer I am acutely aware that I have both feet pretty well planted in teen-land now, and it’s kinda sad. They don’t need me as much.  My oldest had an internship at a local theatre from 10-5:30 every day and used public transportation to get there, and is now in New York City for two weeks taking part in a pre-college program for high school students (yes, I did want to bawl my eyes out after helping set up her dorm room, telling her good-bye, and walking away on the streets of NYC alone, but I also was so excited for her, I held it together).  My youngest has been spending a lot of time away from home by babysitting and being on a swim team, and spending her own money at the mall…without mom in tow.  She recently spent a week in Joplin, Missouri, helping her church youth group repair tornado damage.   Whenever either girl is home and has free time, she usually wants to make plans with friends. 

Some may think I should be doing cartwheels of happiness over their growing independence, and I’ll admit there have definitely been days when I do (well, mental cartwheels at least…I’m a lousy gymnast) but at the same time, summer has called up powerful memories of time spent together, and of me coming up with all sorts of camps and activities for them to do, and there’s an underlying sadness that we’ve passed through a certain point of no return (underscore that with the fact that as this summer began for me, so did hot flashes…)

So with all this change happening, I find myself noticing and taking comfort in “constants”—any place or thing or event or ritual that has been around since the kids were born.  Things that have remained pretty much unchanged over the past 13-17 years.  Which have been hard to find, when I put my mind to it.  We don’t live in the same house…most of the girls’ old clothes and toys and games have been given away (with some exceptions—see my last post)…their first pets have gone to pet heaven… birthdays aren’t celebrated with parties as much anymore (“Mom, I’d rather have the cash instead”) and Christmas and Easter celebrations seem to change every year.  Our annual trips to Grandma’s house in Iowa end this summer, as she’s moving to a retirement community not far from our house here in Texas…heck, even Spongebob has “left the building”, replaced by Tivo’ed episodes of “Dance Moms”. Yes, my husband and I have raised our kids in only one community, but a lot has changed within it as well.  So much of what was a part of our family’s early years has either gone out of business or moved away: Paint ‘n Party; Discovery Zone; favorite restaurants; the shaved ice stand; the neighborhood grocery store, where Allison once fell out of a shopping cart (on Andy’s watch, I might add) and where we knew all the checkers’ names… the neighborhood parks are still there, but the play equipment has been updated with newer, safer, plastic versions, or not replaced at all (no more merry-go-rounds, “jungle gyms”, or rocket ship slides)… I used to find comfort in the fact that the city rec center where Emmie still takes a gymnastic class is the same rec center I took the girls to the splash playground and to “Mommy and Me” classes when they were preschoolers…but the wrecking crews recently set up shop in the parking lot and the facility will soon will be torn down, moved and re-built. 

Geez, isn’t there anything that’s remained the same? I did manage to come up with a few stand-outs, listed here in no particular order:

  1. Luby’s Cafeteria.  Still in the same location, still serving up LuAnn platters. And there are those rolling high-chairs lined up in the corner, just like I remember…
  2. Broadway shows and music.  So glad I introduced Allison to this at around age 2 or 3 in an attempt to expose her to music that both parent and child could enjoy together.  Rock was too adult for toddler ears, Barney was too toddler for adult ears, but selections from “Cats”, “Oliver” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” were the perfect fit.  When little sis came along, she couldn’t help liking them, too.  We still all enjoy going to shows together and listening to the music, and both girls have been in community and/or high school versions of Broadway shows as well. I am so thankful that both high school and community theatre is still thriving in North Texas.
  3. The city library…still there, along with the same librarian and her turtle puppet that still entertains children at “Lapsit” storytime…and there’s still a wonderful  Santa’s Village that’s set up outside the library every holiday season.
  4. Our minivan, still running at almost 214,000 miles.  Purchased before Emmie was born.  And no doubt somewhere in a forgotten crack in that van lurks cookie crumbs from a long ago Happy Meal…
  5. Our church–  though new additions have been built and some staff has changed, many  “constants” remain, like the fall pumpkin patch, Vacation Bible School for kids, Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, and lots of people who have watched the girls grow up.
  6. The 4th of July—Every year we celebrate the 4th of July in the same way: driving to watch a morning parade in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas, in the front yard of longtime family friends, and afterwards heading to the park where the parade ends, to endulge in a free snow cone, bottle of water, or cup of beer, depending on preference (and age!) and watch a guy dressed like Uncle Sam hand out awards for the best parade entries.  After that, it’s back to our friends’ home for brisket and a potluck of sides and desserts, alongside many of their other friends and family members.  All their lives, every Independence Day, our kids have sat on the same curb and caught candy thrown from the floats (with the exception of the two times when they were a part of the parade), gathered in the same dining room for lunch, and posed in the same yard for photos.   The same yard where Andy and I sat when we were dating, the same yard where Andy’s late grandmother chuckled as she wore a white straw hat with balloons on top, the same yard where baby Allison and I once wore matching bandana-print dresses.

Yes, amidst all the changes, I’m so glad that some things stay the same.  I don’t know what the experts would say about the value of raising your kids in one to
wn, or keeping the same die-hard car, but plenty has been written and discussed about the importance of traditions, and how if you don’t have any, you should start some.  Traditions “enhance children’s emotional well-being by helping to create feelings of security, continuity and identity,” writes Leah Davies, M.Ed., former Child Development instructor at Auburn University, at her website  I couldn’t agree more. But I would expand that to say that traditions are important to everyone’s well-being…especially menopausal moms of teens.

How To Help Your Teen Be A Successful Babysitter

Now that my 13-year-old, Emmie, is a bona fide, certified, babysitter (she took a course at a local rec center in May), she’s been trying to build her business and get jobs (saving for an iPhone can be a powerful incentive…).  After she created a flier, gathered email addresses and sent out the flier, she has started to get calls. So I thought it was time to pass on to her what my childhood friend, Trisha, passed on to me and what I’d already passed on to Allison: the secret to successful babysitting. Trisha was a very successful babysitter; I took her advice and was booked solid almost every weekend evening (at least a Friday or Saturday night) during my junior high and early high school years , and in summer, some weekdays and evenings as well. 

So what’s the secret?  Bring your own “stuff”.  Yes, that’s it in a nutshell—bring a bag with toys, games and books that you used to play with. And if you have enough stuff, you can bring something different each time, for awhile.    It’s a wonderful thing, and the kids you are babysitting LOVE it. And so do the parents.  It sets you apart from other babysitters, especially the gum-smacking, I-really-don’t-want-to-do-this, I’d-rather-text-or- watch-TV bunch of babysitters.  ‘You care enough to pick out special books and toys from your own closet and bring them along?’ marvel the parents. ‘You’ll share your toys with me and I don’t have to play with the same old stuff?’ marvel the kids. The kids will rave about you to their parents and the parents will call you again.  It happened for me, it happened for Allison and it has already happened for Emmie.

Which is why we parents shouldn’t throw (or give) all of our kids’ childhood stuff away as they get older. Do you have a potential babysitter among your children? I was already saving a few of my kids’ toys for my great-nieces and nephew to play with when they come for a visit, so I saved a little bit extra just in case my kids were babysitters:  some toy cars and a plastic play mat emblazoned with a town and roads; classic board games like Chutes and Ladders; Colorforms; wooden puzzles; some dress-up clothes; lots of books; a tabletop puppet theatre…

There’s also a lot of kidstuff still in the house that I meant to get rid of but haven’t gotten around to purging, that has turned out to be great for babysitting…when Emmie got a job the other day as a mother’s helper and needed to accompany a parent and two kids to a doctor visit, she looked in our old “road trip” cabinet and hit the mother lode of all kinds of magnetic toys– Magnadoodles, magnetic “paper dolls”, and a game called Tickle Bee, to name a few. They were perfect for her to entertain the kids during the long car ride to the doctor’s as well as the waiting room…When she got a job watching a child at a baby pool (while the parent was nearby watching another child), I climbed a ladder in our garage just before she was to leave for the job and found a bag of our old tub toys on the shelf, which thankfully hadn’t been put in a recent garage sale.  Emmie picked out several things which the child (and every other kid in the pool) thoroughly enjoyed: a small inflatable fish, a “whale pitcher” with a “strainer hat”, an empty plastic “Mr. Bubble” bottle that doubles as a boat…

Though one might think that the novelty of “someone else’s toys” wears off, I don’t remember that ever happening, since the toys aren’t stored at the kids’ homes.  You just rotate them to keep things fresh.  Kids start requesting certain favorites. And, hopefully their positive feedback will inspire your teen to find even more creative ways to entertain kids, such as food art (like pepperoni pizza “faces” and cutting lunchmeat and cheese with fun-shaped cookie cutters for open-faced sandwiches), throwing a birthday party for a doll or pet, and photography.  One family still remembers the time I dressed up their kids in wigs and western wear and tried to snap a frowning “tintype” style of Old West photo… It didn’t look so great taken with a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, but it was the thought that counted…