Category Archives: Being a Better Parent

Whose Room Is It, Anyway?

Amid all the news hysteria yesterday about the runaway balloon over Denver and the possible 6-year-old pilot on board, another news story about another Colorado family quietly got my attention: the mother of one of the Columbine High School shooters has broken her 10-year silence.  In an essay for O magazine (naturally), Susan Klebold reveals the constant guilt she’s felt over the years, the many letters she’s written to victims’ families, the shock over finding out her son had been suicidal and wasn’t necessarily looking forward to prom like she’d thought.  “We didn’t know that he and Eric had assembled an arsenal of explosives and guns,” Susan Klebold wrote.  My heart goes out to her and any parent who has lost a child.  Her experience and those of others whose children have led a secret life are a wakeup call to parents on many issues, one being “privacy and kids”. The idea that a kid’s room is his “private sanctity” is heinous. 

I agree with what a local radio talk show host said this week about the subject: “When you start paying for the space, it’s yours.  Until you do, it’s mine.”  And that means I have the right to walk in my kids’ rooms at any time (well, I do knock first to make sure they’re dressed).  My teenager huffs and puffs about this rule, especially since I’ve started throwing anything left on her floor down the laundry chute each day while she’s at school.  But when I explain that not only do I own her room but have paid for just about everything I’m throwing down that chute, she (amazingly) is at a loss for words.  Some parents whine about how giving kids privacy is so important, that they have to call something their own– who the heck taught them that? These are the same parents who usually let their kids have a TV and/or computer while ensconced in their bedrooms, another parenting move which I think is wrong and another way to further remove parents from having insight into their kids’ life (and which I blogged about at 

Not sure who started it, but this notion of “kids’ almighty privacy” is no doubt exacerbated when parents never have to clean their kids’ rooms, but rather employ hired cleaning help.  Or those who always let their kids do (or not do) the cleaning.  While anyone who has read this blog for long knows I’m all about kids and chores and cleaning their rooms, parents need to be the ones to clean their kids’ rooms at least once or twice a month, preferably when their kids aren’t home.  It’s an easy way to see into their lives without being overly intrusive. Are they sneaking food into their rooms? I know one binge eater’s mother who might have been tipped off to this problem if she’d been the one to empty her daughter’s trash or flip her mattress.   Susan Klebold might have found the guns and ammo.  While I haven’t made earth shattering discoveries, I have found, while cleaning, overdue library books, notes from school that should have been given to me, outfits I’d purchased still in the bag and past the return date…

Modern homebuilders have also encouraged the “separation of parents and children”.  My husband and I spent an entire year looking at prospective homes from 2005-2006, and I’d say 99.9% were designed with a “split master”– i.e., master bedroom downstairs, kids up.  Or master bedroom in one wing of the house, kids far away in another, “because parents want to be away from their kids,” explained the realtor, laughing.  Huh? I have to wonder if the houses in Littleton, Colorado were similar.  The house we finally decided on, with the master and kids (shock!) on the same floor, had been on the market, sitting empty, for a year.  “It was not having that split master that made it hard to sell,” a neighbor once said to me.  Sad.   As much as my kids can drive me crazy, I would not want to marginalize them like that.  If they’ve got a fever in the night, I don’t want them to have to walk  to Egypt to find me.  If they’re sneaking in past curfew, I want to know.  I’ve had parents tell me, who live in houses with the “split”, that their kids’ rooms are a disaster because they rarely go upstairs.  “What happens up there, stays up there,” one mom told me.  “I get lazy.” 

Well, it’s too scary of a world out there today to “get lazy”.  Not only should parents peruse their kids’ rooms whenever they want, they should have access to their kids’ computer, Facebook page (either as a “Friend” or simply whenever they ask), etc. and not be averse to looking in a kid’s journal if other signs point to trouble (and keeping quiet about it unless there’s a life or death situation).  Susan Klebold admits she might have been able to intervene in her son’s life had she seen his suicidal writings.  Knowing what kind of music and movies your teen likes, and I mean really knowing, doesn’t hurt, either, although I’m averse to punishment for what you might discover. (You cannot legislate taste!)

Teens need more choices and freedoms, not more privacy, to give them a sense of “ownership” and independence.  Like the choice to wear what they want (within school dresscode limits), the freedom to babysit or mow lawns or do other jobs to earn their own money, the choice to make good grades or not, the freedom to be at the mall with friends without a parent in tow.  And they need to be talked with, often, about anything and everything, at the dinner table, in the car, wherever, instead of treated like they’re some alien being whose silence shouldn’t be pierced and who need to be “left alone”.  Teens may say “Get away from me!” but they’re all crying out on the inside for their parents to keep paying attention to them, just like when they were toddlers.  And though they may not be putting marbles in their mouth anymore or skinning their knees, we have an even bigger job of “watching out” for them as they get older. 
We just sometimes have to do it in private.

Life-Changing Moments

Did anyone see the million dollar hole-in-one golf video going around on the Internet last week? Jason Hargett, a restaurant manager from Provo, Utah, decided to enter a charity golf tournament in spite of a hurt wrist, using his brother’s clubs. As in many charity tournaments, each hole is sponsored by a business or organization and often there are prizes for that rare possibility of a hole-in-one. This video shows the shot and his reaction after he makes it.  It’s fun to watch because you can just feel the joy leaping out of your computer screen. I want to dive in and jump up and down with him.  This is the kind of stuff we need to see in the midst of so much worldwide bad news.  This is the kind of joy everyone needs to feel at least once in their life, and I think it’s especially important for kids and teens.

Allison got to feel it a couple days ago.  She tried out for a part in her high school’s fall musical production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and found out she got the part of Snoopy, which is not only a big part, but big for a freshman to get with less than a month of high school under her belt.  Emmie felt it when she made the gymnastics team after trying for so long.  I felt it the first time I found out I was going to be published nationally. It was a poem printed in a United Methodist Church Sunday School “magazine” for kids– I think I was around 12 or 13 years old, and I ran all over my house screaming and jumping up and down. Ditto when I was elected President of my 4-H Club in Jr. High when no one under high school age had held the office, and the time I was asked to the Jr.-Sr. prom when I was a sophomore.  Anything like that does loads to help a kid’s self confidence and self esteem.

But what about the opposite? Should we also secretly hope our kids experience some setbacks? That’s a tough question.  As a parent, you want everything to be wonderful for your kids.  And tweens and teens can take setbacks pretty hard.  We’ve all read or heard about teen suicide after relationship break-ups.  Or the kid who gets a bad grade and shoots his teacher.  There’s also anorexia, self mutilation, drugs, drinking, and numerous other unhealthy ways kids cope when dealt a tough blow.  Many years ago, I watched the drama unfold as a former supervisor’s teen daughter went downhill after not making the basketball team in Jr. High. She immediately decided her former group of friends, many who had made it on the team, were “stuck up”, and she began hanging with a “bad crowd”.  Then my supervisor was getting calls at work that his daughter was caught sniffing markers to get high in class, and skipping school.  In high school, she ran away from home, got back on track enough to graduate, and immediately got a job– as a stripper.  (“The money is too good,” she told her dad.)  All possibly beginning with a defining setback in Junior High.

Shielding kids from failure and sadness is not the answer.  These parents who go before the School Board in anger, demanding a new tryout or reinstatement because their child didn’t make this or that squad– unreal.  Or people who refuse to talk about death or let their child attend a memorial service– more tragic than death itself.  Helicopter parents prevent their children from developing valuable coping skills as well as detract them from learning empathy toward others– maybe even toward their future children!

So I think all rational parents would agree that to be a balanced person, our kids should experience some discomfort– it’s just “How do we prevent their angst from going horribly wrong?” that is the better question.  And I don’t have the answer.  Sometimes a parent can do everything right and kids still make bad choices.  They’re their own unique person, after all.  But I do know that the more encouragement and opportunities kids get for learning new skills, the better their chances for a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence from reaching a goal in something (Allison was bummed when she didn’t make the 9th grade cheerleading squad, but got over it pretty quickly, saying that she had other interests to pursue.)  I do know that parents need to empathize with kids during setbacks instead of being judgmental, indifferent or impatient (I remember my mom was annoyed that I was still sad weeks after my dog was hit and killed by a car, when I was 13) (on the other hand, she shed a few tears right along with me in high school after a boyfriend broke-up by telephone…and she told me about a similar situation she’d gone through…that meant a lot to me.) And I do know that involving kids in community service on a regular basis, really good, get-in-the-trenches-and-work-face-to-face-with-those-in-need kinds of service, helps kids put their troubles in perspective and enables them to feel needed.  At a stage in their life when they sometimes feel powerless and invisible, they realize they really can make a difference in the world, even if they’re not scoring touchdowns on the football field or being voted Most Likely To Succeed in the senior poll.  (And if their parents get in there and help right alongside them, they grow as well, especially if they’ve lead a “charmed” life.)

It might also help to let kids know that overcoming an obstacle is even more reason to jump for joy than when everything is always rosy.  You really don’t appreciate Prince Charming as much unless you’ve kissed a lot of toads.  Membership on a team means so much more after you’ve “fallen short” at the tryouts at least once.  The boy who becomes a drummer in spite of physical challenges is having a much better time in the marching band than probably any other member.  And if kids can’t wrap their brains around this concept, or believe it, there are lots of books and movies that can help.  I remember as a teenager reading a paperback autobiography by Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who was paralyzed in a lake diving accident right after graduating from high school, but went on to become a famous inspirational speaker and artist, drawing with a pencil in her mouth.   There’s the story of Wilma Rudolph, the movies “Miracle” and “The Rookie”, even the book “The Glass Castle” is inspirational (for teens).  As far as fiction, the movie, “That Thing You Do” has a great scene when the band first hears their song on the radio after stumbling through previous pitfalls and rejection.  The happiness is contagious! Again, it makes you want to jump into the screen and yell or honk your car horn right along with them.  

So, here’s to moments of life-changing joy for everyone, and an even bigger cheer when it happens after times of life-changing setbacks!

The Cousin Connection

Just got back late last night from our latest family reunion in Iowa.  It reminded me of one of my favorite children’s picture books, “The Relatives Came”, although we didn’t sleep on the floor, overlapping each other– but sometimes the dogs did! There were 14 adults, two kids, two dogs, one active toddler, one baby, and one on the way, at times all crammed into Grandma’s tiny house at once, and there were lots of hugs, and food, and chatter, and music, and games, and bike rides, and golf cart rides…   And then after a few days, we piled back into our minivan (it made it!) with our kids, and our dog, and Emmie’s guitar, and all of our bikes, and drove 13 hours straight home, all day and into the night, only stopping for fast food and bathroom breaks.   

I was the main “planner” for the reunion, so it was a lot of work, but a lot of fun for everyone, and it left me thinking a lot about cousins. 

My friend Jenny, if I remember correctly, has a cousin which she’s as close to as a sister.  Same for my friend Teresa.  I never had cousins exactly my own age, but I had one four years older and her sister was five years older, and some of my cherished childhood memories are those of summer weeks spent at their house in Springfield, IL. What fun we had, exploring their neighborhood, buying candy and “Flying Things” at a nearby store, playing with the Mattel Thingmaker in the basement and watching a TV show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, starring the late great Bill Bixby. (I can still hear the theme song, sung by Nilsson.)  They taught me how to knit, how to appreciate Archie comic books, and we even saw a real funnel cloud together.  I got great writing practice when my cousins and I exchanged many letters, often decorated with psychedelic ’70’s stickers.  But as my cousins grew older, the age gap seemed to widen and the visits (and letters) stopped.

Many years later in 1998, when I was married and had one child, our “thinking about having a second child” turned into action when my sister-in-law Marti announced she was pregnant.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a child that has a cousin who is the same age and grade?  My plan worked.  Cousin Ted was born in August, and my Emmie was born in November. She and Ted became fast friends, and were blessed to have another cousin their own age when Andy’s stepbrother and his wife had a son later the same year.  When those three cousins get together, it is pure joy to watch.  Whether jumping on the trampoline, playing Guitar Hero or spraying each other with the hose, they have a special connection.

For Allison, my teenager, her nearest first cousins (other than the younger ones mentioned above) are six and seven years older, which has sometimes meant a playmate at family gatherings but hasn’t quite meant weekend sleepovers and endless correspondence, and, just as I experienced, the age gap has widened with age.  At this latest reunion, Allison watched as the college-age cousins left to “hit the local bars” at night.  She stayed back at Grandma’s, reading a book.

I regret she has not experienced the fun of a close cousin.  Oh, it’s hard to time everything right for cousins in family planning, especially with me being so much younger than my siblings, and waiting until my 30’s to start a family.  But I think we should have tried harder in Allison’s younger years to make more connections with the many second and third cousins close to her age found on my husband’s side of the family. 

Maybe it’s not too late.  Now that I’ve planned one family reunion, I should be an expert at planning another– right?  And most of this other bunch lives less than five hours away.  Only it’s not my side of the family, so I’ll definitely need help.  And we’re talking about several teens and ‘tweens being a part, so it will be a challenge getting them to interact.  And, of course, there’s no guarantee that they will!  But at the very least, it will give my husband and his sister the chance to reconnect with their own cousins, with whom they share lots of childhood memories.

Bring on the cousins! Let the family reunion planning begin again!!

(R to L) Allison, 14, shares a smile with her first cousin Erin, 31, at the family reunion.

Emmie, 10, sips “pop” with her first-cousin-once-removed, Jetta, age 2 1/2.

Yes Days

Our pastor, whose children are grown, was telling those of us in his Sunday School class a couple weeks ago that he used to have “Yes” days with his kids– a day once in awhile where Dad would say yes to every request.  “What kinds of things did they ask for?” I asked him. “Oh, it usually involved ice cream,” he said.  “We’d go for ice cream a couple of times in one day.”
How fun, I thought, but if I tried that with my kids, I think I’d be broke pretty quick. No, make that, I know I’d be broke pretty quick, with a teenager who thinks it’s a bargain to pay $15 for a tiny cosmetic sponge.  I think the key to a successful Yes day, for me, would be not letting them know.   Without a lot of fanfare, say yes to a lot more things, within reason.

As I sat there in Pastor Jack’s class,  it occurred to me that my kids have actually been having a Yes summer.  And luckily, I don’t think they fully realize it.  

Usually, I “let down my guard” when we go out of town on vacation, but for some reason, this summer the vacation began with the final school bell.  It’s been ongoing. In the last month, I’ve bought…gulp…real junk food (“Mom!!!” screamed Emmie from the kitchen on a recent morning. “This is the best breakfast ever! You bought Pop Tarts that weren’t Whole Grain!!!”); I’ve taken a certain teenager to the mall more than usual without complaining, and not minded that she stays up ’til 2 a.m. watching TV and sleeps until noon (I remember doing the exact same thing at her age); I’ve allowed sleepovers with more than one friend at a time; gone back-to-school shopping 6 weeks early with Emmie; I even invited Allison to get a pedicure with me one day (I definitely detected a brief look of surprise in her expression when I announced that!). Without homework or lessons or meetings that we usually have 2-3 nights a week during the school year, we’ve been renting movies and playing games, going on bike rides…my husband even took Emmie and a friend ice skating last night after dinner.  Things are definitely a lot more relaxed around here, and I would venture to say there is even less kid sass flying around.  So as of today, I am officially not looking forward to the start of school.  And usually I’m counting down the days.

But, have no fear, all these yes’s have not put me into the “cool” category in the eyes of my children.  In order to go to the mall, have friends over, etc., there are still chores to be done. Lots of chores.  And it seems like I will never cease to be embarrassing.  Last night, after the ice skating outing, as Emmie and her friend sat down to play “Clue” with Andy and me, Emmie was mortified when I came to the table in my super thick terry bathrobe and flip flops. “Mom, pleeeese tell me you’ve got pajamas on under that robe!!!” she begged.  I changed the subject.  After all, I’m having a Yes summer, too. 

Friendship 101

Do you have friends you’ve kept up with since childhood? High School? College? First job? If you’re a parent, who among your kids’ friends do you think they’ll still be close to when they’re in their 40’s and beyond? I think one of the best gifts we can give our children, and ourselves, is to help foster and nurture deep friendships.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, as I count down the days until my teenager starts high school (66 as of today– I can’t believe it!) and watch my kids spend their summer hours.  Having “best friends” in childhood, college and beyond is an important component in weathering the ups and downs of life. I’ve been fortunate to have had really good friends, friends who will drive (or fly) a long way to be at (or in) your wedding, attend your father’s funeral, show up on a moment’s notice when you’ve just moved to the ‘burbs and are really depressed about it, send you a “gorilla gram” for your birthday…  a lot of these friends have known me since elementary school, one since preschool, and I’ve wondered lately, who among my two daughters’ friends will be their Best Friends Forever? 

From reading this blog, you probably wouldn’t think my teen is very much on the shy side, but she is.  It’s always been hard to get her to call up “new friends” and ask them to do things.  Still, I’m noticing a few good signs of her establishing strong friendship “foundations”– a certain group of friends (people she’s known a long time) that consistently come over to spend the night; inside jokes and good times they “reminisce” about; lots of laughter; funny photos they share with eachother on Facebook.  I try to help them make memories when I can, by suggesting fun activities and accompanying them there, like outdoor exhibits, concerts, etc.  Things are looking good for my other daughter as well– she has a tight-knit group of school friends (there is only one classroom of her grade level at our neighborhood elementary school so they’ve all been together since kindergarten), and no matter where she is, she collects phone numbers and addresses of new friends (just like I used to do). It’s my job to help her find these scribbled scraps of paper, encourage her to put them in an address book, and try to arrange get-togethers, providing transportation when necessary. 

But as adults, do we put as much effort into nurturing/fostering friendships for ourselves?   We get busy with jobs, family, community…our BFF’s from our younger years are often not in our own neighborhood anymore.  We call them maybe once or twice a year.  Send a birthday card.  A holiday “form letter”.  (Luckily, Facebook has greatly helped increase opportunities for communication!) If we’re lucky, we might see them in person once in awhile…
We try to make new friends, but it’s hard. When you’re married with kids, or married with older parents to care for, you tend to “circle the wagons” and focus inward. There’s a lot to be done as a family and there’s hardly any time for anyone else.  Or at least, we don’t prioritize and make the time.  I see it time and time again, not only in my own family, but in others, among men as well as women.  How sad, huh? And then when we really need a good friend to talk to, someone outside the family, we’re kind of “on an island”.  Oh, sure, you talk with other moms at soccer games, birthday parties and PTA board meetings, but that’s not quite the place (or enough time) to make deep friendships.  If you’re lucky, you might be blessed with neighbors who become your good friends– my husband once had that kind of next-door-neighbor, and then our neighbor passed away.  For women, the concept of “retreats” has sprung up to help meet their needs for friendship– opportunities to “get away” from their families and hang with other women.  Around here, on any given weekend, there are scrapbooking retreats at country B & B’s, church ladies’ retreats at lakeside conference centers, Girl Scout volunteer retreats at wooded campsites, babysitting club retreats,… if I went to all of them, I’d never see my family! So I rarely go to any of them, because I’m too busy

Just as we help our kids nurture friendships, we need to model friendship, show them that it is important to our own health, happiness and well being, by making time for our friends.  I keep telling my teen, when she’s feeling bored and lonely, “Friends don’t just happen.  If you want a friend, you have to be a friend.  You have to nurture that friendship.”  It’s time I took my own advice!

In Defense of Summer Camp

Growing up, I was a huge fan of summer “sleep away” camp.  I went, year after year, to a small one that sat on the bluffs above a wide bend in the Mississippi River near Montrose, Iowa, and I liked it for all the reasons you’d think someone would like camp: New friends (that became lifelong friends), fun stuff to do, nice counselors, new skills (I learned synchronized swimming, macrame’ and tetherball, to name a few), campfires, crazy songs, and being surrounded by nature, for a whole week.  But when my teenager first went to the same camp when she was nine, she loved it for a different reason: “I loved the freedom,” she said.  “It was like your own little community where you could come and go as you pleased.” I’d never thought of it like that before–  but campers there were responsible for getting to meals and classes on their own, listening for their counselor’s whistle and following their own printed schedule, with breaktime in between. And they had a lot of free time in the afternoon, when they could swim, nap, go to the camp store or participate in tournaments.  Upon talking with her further, her comments underlined what I’d already been thinking: There is truly something inside modern-day, big city kids that is yearning for freedom and independence.  That even though today’s kids have never known the kind of freedoms their parents had, they miss those freedoms.   I’ve heard it from my younger child as well, when we go visit Grandma, who lives in a small town.  There, both girls get to “roam” (my hometown neighborhood is kind of secluded and almost in the “country”) and when they return back to our home in the Dallas suburbs, the little one is always bummed.  “Mom, you were so lucky when you were a kid,” she always says.

Summer days for my husband and I, when we were kids, (as I’m sure was the case with many people our age) were spent riding our bikes all over the place, finding friends without having pre-arranged “play dates”. He grew up in a big city and I grew up in a small town, and it was the same experience.  My husband would often be gone for hours and his mom wouldn’t see him until supper.  When I was nine, I’d ride my bike down the street to the pool and stay there all day.  When my friends and I turned 13, it was a rite of passage to ride the bus downtown, on our own, and go shopping.

Our kids definitely don’t enjoy freedoms exactly like that.  When you live in the “Metroplex” that gave birth to the Amber Alert system, you think differently about things.  Also, suburbs tend to have busy, 6-lane streets criss-crossing through neighborhoods, streets that are not friendly to young bike riders.  I think good parents today have to find a balance between being safety conscious and still allowing freedoms.  (Sorry, there I go again talking about balance, but this is a different kind.) Our 10-year-old can ride her bike, just not outside our neighborhood.  If she walks to a friend’s house that lives a couple streets away, she takes a walkie talkie and she and the friend meet up halfway.  She does get to meet friends at the neighborhood pool and stay there by herself, only I drive her there. And when she rides her bike to school, I ride part of the way alongside her (and, unbeknownst to her, watch her ride the rest of the way.)   My teenager definitely enjoys a few more freedoms due to her age, maturity, and proficiency with a cell phone. 

Some of you are probably thinking I am too restrictive, but the few freedoms I try hard to give my kids are considered a no-no by many area parents I know.  Letting a 10-year-old child (who is a good swimmer) stay at the small, neighborhood pool without a parent, even though she knows most of the lifeguards as well as the families visiting the pool, and even though the posted age for being there alone is 7? Horrors.  Allowing a teenager to be at the mall with friends to go shopping, by themselves? Unheard of. (And, you let her pick out her own clothes? Unbelievable.)  You let your nine-year-old go into Braum’s and order an ice cream cone and pay for it by herself, while you wait in the car just outside the door? No way. While on vacation, you let your four-year-old child have fun making friends from all over the world at the supervised, highly rated Kid’s Club at a resort while you and your husband spent a fun afternoon alone? Never.  You let your teenager bike to a nearby sandwich shop, and cross a busy street by herself? How wrong.  (One of my teenager’s friends has never even been taught to ride a bike, let alone been allowed to own one.) You let your child attend “sleep away” camp at age 9, and go to Costa Rica with the youth group on a church mission trip at age 13? Are you out of your mind?

No, as I’ve said before, I’m just trying to give our kids whatever independence I can, within safe parameters. And the naysayers can always come up with all sorts of reasons why what I’m doing is not safe.  But keeping your child on a short, virtual leash is not safe, either.  At some point, you have to ask yourself, is it worth taking safety-consciousness to the degree that it denies your child the chance to grow and develop normally?   “A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half-Lived” is the motto from “Strictly Ballroom”, one of my all-time favorite movies, and I think it’s a good motto to live by. (And, as I’ve said many times, the kids who are the most restricted in their formative years are the wildest once they get to high school. Or college.)

Today I’m a supporter of “sleep away” summer camp more than ever.  (My 10-year-old will attend one in East Texas for the first time in July.) Even if a camp doesn’t have all the freedoms of the one I attended, it’s still good for an older child to be away from home and make decisions on their own.  And it’s a growing experience not only for the child, but for the parent as well.  The other day, one of my friends, whose daughter is also signed up for a sleep away camp for the first time, called me in a panic to ask, “If the camp instructions say no cell phones, computers, or other electronic devices– how am I going to keep in touch with my child?” I hope I wasn’t too blunt in my answer, but basically I told her that while the camp does have a telephone, parents aren’t supposed to call unless it is an emergency. (And I think this rule has a lot to do with lessening homesickness as much as it helps a child have a bit of freedom.)
“But I’ve never not been in contact with her every day!” she said, sounding a little defiant.   That’s what the U.S. mail is still good for, I told her.  You write to them before they ever get to camp, so letters will be waiting for them at the first “mail call”.  And they write to you. (Thank God this particular camp still champions “Letters from Camp”!) 
“This is going to be so hard,” she said. 
Ah, but so worth it– especially if it’s a good camp experience for her daughter.

Slowing Down

Sometimes I love it when it storms.  Especially on Saturdays. Oh, I know that when that happens, there are crying brides all over the county who were counting on fairy-tale outdoor weddings, but consider an upside to Saturday rain– suddenly all the over-scheduled families have to slow down and shift gears, so to speak,  spend quality time at home.   Should we watch a movie? Play a game? Or (horrors) talk???  Because rainstorms mean youth soccer games are cancelled (or baseball, or any other outdoor youth sport).  For anyone that’s climbed aboard the youth sports train (at least in Texas), it normally dominates their weekend, and for a lot of families, picks up steam and gets faster and faster, until both Saturdays and Sundays are filled, and you’re playing on a “select” team and traveling to other states.  Church picnic? Can’t attend, we’ve got a soccer game.  Girl Scout troop heading to NASA? Can’t go, got a tournament.  Cousin getting married? Can’t be the flower girl, I’m the pitcher.  Many things that used to be a “normal” part of life get pushed aside.  A busy weekend becomes the norm, after having a busy week that involves practices for those teams, not to mention other activities like music lessons, karate, dance, …the list goes on and on.  And multiplies depending on the number of children you have.  Not to mention that school and homework are squeezed in there somewhere.  And not to mention rarely, if ever, getting to sit down at the table and eat dinner as a family– dinner is fast food in the car sandwiched between activities. 

So when rainstorms hit on a Saturday, it’s like God saying, “You’re not always in control, busy people…slow down, relax, and take a break for a change.”

I’d forgotten what weekends could be like until this past year, when our family cut back its schedule.  Though my 10-year-old had played soccer since she was 3 or 4, and my husband liked hanging with the soccer dads, I put my foot down.  She was getting into gymnastics whole-heartedly, increasing her classes to two nights a week for two hours each class, plus starting with a new piano teacher who I knew would be tougher, plus Girl Scouts on some Fridays and church choir on Sunday– soccer would mean practice during the week and a game every Saturday, with a game schedule that’s often not set until the last minute.  Since I would be the one driving her to soccer practice, I didn’t want to fit one more thing into my chauffeur schedule, let alone she needs breathing space as well.  In addition, my older daughter cut back her dance class schedule to make room for homework and new activities that came with being an 8th grader.  So at the beginning of this school year, suddenly we realized that we had something we hadn’t had in awhile– free Saturdays. Those family bike rides I mention in earlier posts could never have happened if we hadn’t cut back our schedule.  A trip to a bark park would have only been a line on a “To Do” list.  My husband and I get to attend Saturday morning exercise classes more often, and he definitely has had more time to work on the house and yard. 

I know that youth sports teach valuable lessons, but sometimes I wonder if the lessons are lost when those sports start to consume your life.  I know some third graders who’ve had games at 9 at night, on a school night.  How dare these coaches and organizations do that to families– but youth sports is a business, and the more teams they have and the more games they can schedule, the more money they make– and as in a lot of businesses, the ethics side takes a backseat.  So parents have the responsibility to put the brakes on things, and I know how hard it can be sometimes to resist your child’s wants.  My child badly wanted to play soccer this year (“all my friends are doing it!”), but kids will fill up their every waking minute with classes and activities if given free reign, and parents have to be the wise ones.  The uncool ones.  The ones who can look at the big picture (and the pocketbook) when their child can’t.  With so many activities to choose from, at some point in a kid’s development parents have to say, “In what do they have a natural talent? What should we be nurturing more?” rather than letting them do everything under the sun.  Or, if there’s no talents to focus in on yet, let them try different things– a couple at a time.  I once did a story on overscheduled kids for the Dallas Morning News, and remember in my research and interviews discovering parents whose mindset (and vision of  good parenting) was to have their kids involved in as many things as possible, “to keep them out of trouble”, as some said.  How helicopter and sick is that???  Like their kids can’t be creative enough to find safe fun on their own, to invent something, to write a story, to help around the house, to learn how to do laundry or cook.  Are parents so worried about the world’s vices that this is the only way to keep them safe? Yes, my teenager can often drive me crazy when she’s around the house and bored, but sometimes, as I always say, boredom can lead to creative things. Parents need to have the tools around the house to help make that happen, like art supplies or a kids’ cookbook, but those kinds of things cost a lot less than signing up for yet another activity.

All this is a long way of getting to a point I wanted to make– that kids staying home due to school closings from swine flu, and having all their extra-curricular activities cancelled, can be a positive thing– a lot like a Saturday rainstorm.  We’ve been out a total of 7 school days so far (we had yesterday and today added on). So far, in addition to stuff mentioned in an earlier post, Emmie and I have made an old-fashioned chocolate soda and pizza dough alphabet letters, both from scratch (which included a discussion of why soda fountains used to be at drugstores); she bought herself an acoustic guitar at Target with her own money and taught herself how to play a few songs; she worked on the Scout Weather Watch badge and I helped her learn to read a weather map and do some experiments, and we visited an old sheet music store so she could further teach herself guitar.  None of this is to brag, just to give parents ideas and encouragement.  I wish Emmie and I could do more– it’s rare having this kind of “down time”.  But gymnastics class is a “go” for this afternoon, and I just got an email from her teacher with homework attached, so it looks like our weekly routine may be getting “back to the old grindstone”.  Only in moderation, of course.

Lend Me Your (Double-Pierced?) Ear

With parenting, the wrestling never stops.  Wrestling with what to allow and when.  When your children are younger, you ponder and discuss with other moms such gut-wrenching questions like, “Is it time for potty training?” and “At what age should they be allowed to go to a slumber party?” Last week, I got to wrestle with the questions, “Should I let my 14-year-old get her upper ear lobe pierced?” and “Should I let my 10-year-old read Twilight?” 

They were begging me.  I said yes to both, after much thought and investigation.  For the ear question, I said yes thinking it would probably happen sometime in the future, when she’d saved enough money and gotten up the courage (this is a kid who greatly hates getting shots, by the way), so I figured by the time it could happen, she’d lose interest. But, never underestimate a strong-willed child.  Lucky for her, she found an old bank under the mess of STUFF she calls her room and had enough money to get it done. And fear went out the window in favor of fashion. So not only was she ready, she wanted to go get it done NOW.  “And you have to be there,” she told me, “because it requires parental consent.”  Not being one to drop everything and change plans at the whims of a teenager, I used one of my favorite phrases of all time,  “Go ask your father.” I figured that tactic would buy at least a couple weeks.  But, never underestimate a “fun” Dad (I forgot he once pierced his own ear in the punk 80’s, with ice and a needle…) He not only took her, he drove several miles back home from the mall to get a copy of her birth certificate and drive back (he says they required it to prove he was her Dad, not a boyfriend– HAH! HAH!)  So now she has a tiny new hole on the top edge of her left ear (which she says I need to refer to as “cartilege”–but that sounds too much like being at a meat counter, or in an operating room, for me…).

We are the only parents in her circle of friends who are currently allowing it.  I honestly don’t see what the big deal is– it’s one ear, one tiny hole, and all she wants to put into it is a tiny faux diamond. Not a hoop.  Not a claw.  Not a skull and crossbones with the words “Anarchy Rules”, for goodness sakes.  And, she paid for it.  But you’d think I let her pierce her belly button or tongue (both, by the way, which I would not allow).  It’s like when I let her dye her hair.  We’re not talking pink here. It was a just a darker shade of her already natural red. And it turned out beautifully. (And again– she paid for it with her own money!) But jaws dropped and phone lines heated up…

I just think parents need to pick their battles carefully, and these were two battles that didn’t need to be fought. Do parents think if you give an inch it will open the floodgates to tattoos, mohawks, sex, drinking and drugs? I think it’s quite the opposite.  I will never forget someone I knew who was forbidden to watch the insipid TV show “Love,  American Style” while growing up in the 70’s and restricted in many other ways.  She ended up pregnant before her senior year in high school, almost losing her life in childbirth.  And remember all those wild PK’s (preacher’s kids)?!  Parents need to look around and realize that the kids who are restricted the most usually rebel and try to express themselves in ways their parents would have never imagined possible.  In ways the kids themselves sometimes don’t even like– they’re just doing it as a reaction to their parents. (Or, they keep it all inside and eventually turn out psycho.) Giving teens some freedom is honoring their brains, their individuality, their decision-making. The unspoken message is, “I trust you enough to do so and so,” or “I know you’re smart enough to handle this,” or “Your fashion sense is different than mine but that’s okay” rather than “You’re stupid, untrustworthy, and don’t have a clue what to do so I’m going to control everything.”  What a gift to give your child!  Soon, my daughter will be driving a car, and In four short years will be graduating and leaving home (hopefully!), out of my sight far more than she’s ever been before.  The “ties” need to be given more and more slack each year until then, the freedoms need to be granted whenever safely and sanely possible, so that she’ll be ready, self-confident, capable.  Sure, the “what ifs” can be painful and worrisome with each new freedom granted, but I think it’s a necessary side effect of that kind of true love– non-possessive.  Was it hard to let a 13-year-old fly off to Costa Rica with her church youth group last summer to do volunteer work? Absolutely. But at the same time, I knew that the odds were in her favor to come back in one piece, a better person for having taken the trip. I was right.

At the same time, I’m not a nonstop Yes-Mom.  Remember, I’m uncool.  If a privilege is granted and then misused, there are consequences, and the privilege might not get granted again.  And if you read this blog, you’ll see plenty of things to which I say no.  But teens actually want that, as well.  The Dallas Morning News sometimes convenes a group of teens from across the North Texas area to talk about what’s on their minds and then a story is printed about what when on– every time, a lot of the teens speak about (no joke) wishing their parents would set limits for them, follow through with consequences when they do set limits, and give them jobs to do around the house (c’mon over to my house, kids!! )

So I think good parenting is a balance between giving freedoms and setting limits. Wonder what will try to tip the scales next week…

Can Uncool and Fun Coexist?

I came to the realization the other day that I think I really need to take more time to just have fun with my kids.  I mean, yes, I’ve planned some great vacations in the past, and we did all just go to the zoo recently and have fun staring face to face with a gorilla (behind glass, of course) and jump out of our skin when he started banging on said glass, but…

I’m still seen as not only uncool by my kids, but un-fun.  I realized recently I was in a pretty sad state when my teenager said to me in the car, “You know, Dad and Emmie and I are going to the U2 concert in May, at the new Cowboys stadium!”
I thought about that for a minute as she yakked on.
“Why didn’t you include me when you said you were going to the concert?” I finally said.
“You? I didn’t think you liked loud concerts like that,” she said.
Huh? “I’ve been to lots of ‘loud’ concerts,” I said.  “I don’t really like to pay big bucks for concerts in large stadiums, but it’s not because of the sound, it’s because you have to watch a video screen in order to see the show—what’s the point?”
“Well, it’s just fun to say you were there, to be a part of it,” she said.

If that’s what I have to do to be more fun…I think I’d rather stare down a gorilla.  Maybe almost 15 years of being in Mom mode has made me too practical and well…too MOM-like. As my 10-year-old, Emmie, would say, with a silly grin on her face, “Mom, with you, it’s all about nutrition, sunscreen, and bike helmets!”…since I’m the parent who shops organic and makes sure to serve balanced meals, reminds my kids to put on sunscreen when they’re outdoors in the summer, and reminds them to put on a helmet when they go bike riding.  (Emmie even made up a nickname for me: “Nutritious Patricia”, or “Nutrish Patrish” for short!) I’m the parent who always seems to be nagging, admonishing, lecturing, reminding, pleading, yelling, ordering…sometimes at the end of the day, it seems like that’s all I’ve done! (Believe me, when that “Mom Song” first started circulating on the Internet, I got tears of joy in my eyes at knowing I wasn’t alone!)  I’m the parent who makes sure to ask if they have any homework to finish when they get home from school (so that I’m not granting TV and computer time unknowingly), I’m the parent who insists the younger child practices piano…the one who asks her to please brush her hair before leaving the house and keep her fingernails trimmed (which she detests), the one who looks at the shoes she wears to school to make sure they are not three sizes too big (yes, I’ve actually seen that, since there are so many hand-me-downs in her closet!)…who makes sure the teenager cleans her room before having a friend over, gets her homework done before watching American Idol, and stays out of the potato chips (“We’re saving them for your lunches!!!” I remind her.)  And it’s not that my husband doesn’t “take charge”—he’s just not around as much, since he works 9-10 hours a day outside the home
(Would that be a WOTHD? Or just a WOD?)  If the roles were reversed, I would hope that he’d naturally care just as much about stuff like sunscreen and homework, too (although sometimes I imagine my 10-year-old, beet red, hair matted like a rat’s nest, fingernails long and curly like Howard Hughes, teeth blackened and full of silver fillings from eating junk, glued to the TV in a catatonic state, sent home from school since she showed up in a bathing suit and plastic dress-up shoes… J )

So basically, in our family, the parenting dynamic has turned out to be that Mom is the “home manager” and Dad is the person to have fun with. When Dad comes home, he’ll practice volleyball with you while Mom cooks dinner.  If Dad has to run to the store and you go with him, he’ll always buy Oreos from the checkout line for you while Mom will usually say no, no, no, no, final answer- NO!  In the car, he’ll blast loud classic rock on the radio– while in Mom’s minivan, it’s usually an all-70’s station or a book on tape.  On the weekend, he’ll take you to his workout class and on a long bike ride while Mom tries to catch up on all the stuff she didn’t get done during the week.  And after he mows the lawn, fixes the car and paints the upstairs window trim, he’ll take you on another bike ride. And for some reason, society doesn’t think Dads spend enough time with their daughters so it made up a bunch more ways they can have fun together, which I unknowingly encouraged them to sign up for long ago– like the YMCA’s Indian Princesses (oops, I mean “Adventure Guides”), or the Daddy-Daughter Valentine’s Dance held annually in our city.

They all go have a ball while I’m home scrubbing the floors like Cinderella…

What’s an uncool and un-fun Mom do? The very nature of being uncool means that whenever I try to sing or dance along to a CD, my daughters will cry out in agony—“Mom, STOP!!”  And the kinds of things I like to do to have fun on my own, like decorating the house or going to a dance exercise class called Nia, make them yawn.  What I probably need to make more time for are the things I enjoy that they also enjoy, that my husband doesn’t enjoy—things that can be uniquely ours, like making chocolate chip cookies, watching a movie, or reading (my daughters and I used to have “book parties” on my bed or at a park, where we’d all bring books and just hang out together and read). Because if I do something he usually does with them, I’ll probably be too un-fun in comparison– a couple of weeks ago, Emmie and I biked to the library, and I got an earful of “When Dad and I ride bikes, he never makes us stop at every corner and look both ways like you do, when Dad and I ride, he always rides in the street, when Dad and I ride…”