My 7-Year-Old Thinks Primping Is Bullshit: I’m Starting To Agree

My daughter equates having her hair brushed to child abuse. She hates it so much that it has become my biggest fear as a parent. I cringe every morning and think about it the whole time she’s eating breakfast. I’ve learned to leave hair brushing until the very last minute before the bus comes. And more or less the following is what happens in my house every morning before school.

She sits down and puts her socks and shoes on, then grabs her backpack. She chatters on about what stuffed animal or Pokemon card she should take for recess. Meanwhile, I’m plotting the best time to spring it on her. I hesitantly eye the mass of golden tangles convinced they might strike at me if I get too close. I wait until she isn’t looking and grab the Wet Brush or the Knot Genie, grasp it nervously at my side and give myself a pep talk inside my head. See, I’m not a threat, I tell myself. I’m a good mom. I nervously go in when she has her back to me.

“Real, quick. I promise it will be real quick,” I beg.

“No!” She recoils, arms swatting at the brush.

“Please, just one quick brush. Don’t you want to look good?”

“No!” She screams.

“Please. I’ll be super fast,” I persist, trying to stay calm.

“What will you give me?” She looks me dead in the eye.

“I’ll let you have an extra dessert tonight,” I plead.

“Maybe. What kind?” Her voice begins to soften, a little.

“Girl Scout cookie?” I say, smiling a big fake please-God smile.

“Fine,” she huffs.

What ensues is a lot of alligator tears on her side and barely suppressed cussing on mine. Then she gets on the bus and I obsess over how f’ed up the interaction was. Bribery on my side. Extortion on hers. There’s gotta be a better way. But, honestly, I’m usually too tired and too busy to change it. Guilt has to suffice.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking that she has a point. Why does it matter if her hair is perfect every single day? I don’t force her brother to style his hair. Why so much emphasis on appearance, and what message am I sending to her–that girls need to be more concerned with appearance than boys?

So, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, but instead of changing anything I wrote a piece for Scary Mommy. Hope you will check it out. I’ll get around to changing the extortion/bribery situation soon. Or I might just buy more cookies.

 

G.Lighthouse
This is before she had long hair. Life was easier.

 

 

 

 

 

For Valentine’s Day, Instead of Flowers Give Me Light

Ah, Valentine’s Day. That over-hyped holiday that sends more people to grocery stores on February 13 than just about any other day of the year. I know because I was just there picking up a fruit tray for my daughter’s class party. And I have to go back in the morning because I forgot the napkins for my son’s class party. I wonder how many last-minute flower and chocolate seekers I will find at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

I don’t hate Valentine’s Day but it’s definitely on my meh holiday list. I love flowers and I am a sucker for dark chocolate (especially Green and Black), but a national day of show-your love-by-spending-a-lot-of-money doesn’t really appeal to me. It might have when I was younger, but now that my days are a mad dash of kids, work, kids, husband, food, occasional exercise (please!), there are other ways I’d rather give and receive love with that cherished, amazing person in my life. Here are just a few of those things.

  1. Instead of flowers, next year, just leave the light on in my home office when I’m working. Even if I walk down the hall for another cup of coffee. Does anyone else live with an energy conserver? I’m a child of the seventies. I get it. I remember President Carter’s save energy campaign. And I’m not an energy whore. So when I’m typing away on my laptop that’s perched on the counter in my makeshift office/laundry room (which has no windows), resist the urge to slip your hand slyly into the room as you walk past and flip the light switch off. Just for one day. Please. It would be cheaper, probably conserve more energy, and mean more to me that roses. Just saying.
  2. Offer to help me with the kid’s Valentine’s Day cards and gifts for teachers. When it’s 10 pm on February 13 and I’m doing a really bad job of tearing cards printed on cheap paper and securing the tattoo (that I bought because the candy gluttony has to stop with someone and this year I decided it would be us but the dye in the tattoo is probably worse for kids than the sugar), instead of flowers, tell me to go to bed and do the kid stuff for me. Please.
  3. And in return for those small but big gestures, I promise to give you an entire day in which I don’t question anything you do and tell you repeatedly how wonderful you are and how much I love you. Deal?

angry.cat.JPG

What My Son Has Taught Me

My son turns ten tomorrow, officially making me a parent for an entire decade of my forty-four years. Parenting should be a walk in the park by now, right? Yet I still feel unequal to the task many days when we jump out of bed and rush to get ready for the rat race. A cup of coffee usually helps, but my manchild (he’s almost as tall as me at ten) has taught me a thing or two over the past ten years and almost always helps me rise to the occasion daily. And all those things my parents used to say to me before I had kids like “You never love anything or anyone as much as your child” and “After you have a child your life is not your own”? Yep, they’re all true. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. So what have I learned from my boy? More than what’s below, but for your sake, I’m keeping it short. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years being.

  1. Maybe the most important thing that my son has taught me is to lighten up. He’s bright, passionate, loving, and funny, all qualities I admire in him. I tend to be serious, a lot. And, well, parenting doesn’t always bring out the most fun parts of me. I get stressed and sometimes feel weighed down, but he cracks a joke or burps or sings loudly and we both laugh. And when I’m feeling really uptight, like when we’re running late (one of my biggest pet peeves) he says, simply, “I love you, Mom.” And it works. I realize that it just doesn’t matter if we’re late to music class. What matters is that we have each other.
  2. Being like everyone else is boring and trying to force a square peg into a round hole is a waste of time. My son is unique (he was a World War II history buff at age seven) and he embraces that most of the time. Sure, there are moments that he wants to be something he isn’t, but by and large, he’s comfortable in his own skin. These are lessons that I’m still working on and I’m old. But when I look at him, I have more compassion for myself and others. Was it curiosity or conformity that killed the cat? After spending ten years with this amazing kid, I’d argue conformity.
  3. Patience is more important than we give it credit for being. When I take the time to slow down and give him the time and space he needs (even though it drives me nuts) to get his shoes on, pick up his room, answer my question, the list goes on, I am reminded that being patient with one another is one of the things that builds trust, understanding, and empathy in a relationship. He taught me to value patience–even an old dog can learn new tricks.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
My little guy sitting in my grandfather’s rocking chair.

 

Every January

 

January–it’s the beginning of a new year and new possibilities. And, of course, time for new year’s resolutions. Well, at least for some of us. Roughly half of Americans make resolutions every year, and sadly only 8% of us manage to keep them. I would argue, however, that examining your life and making a resolution is as important as keeping one. A new year means new hope and every January as I set goals and attempt to achieve them, I learn something new or relearn a lesson I already knew but forgot. These are a few of the ones I’ve learned so far this January.

  1. I am stronger than I think I am
    Last year, toward the end of the year especially, I was relying too much on Chardonnay to relieve stress (and commiserating with girlfriends who also have kids plus husbands who travel for work). Three and four nights a week, I was pouring myself too much wine to ease the stress of the day. What can I say? It happens–even to the best of us sometimes; we lose sight of what’s important. One of my many resolutions this year is to quit drinking alcohol altogether in January and to limit myself if and when I decide to drink again. Something important to keep in mind is that stress, like so many things, is often self-made.
  2. Keeping up with the Joneses is self-imposed
    I don’t know about you, but it’s hard, really hard, for me not to covet what other people have. I think I’m not alone here, or it wouldn’t be one of the Ten Commandements. I also blame, at least a little, the more than 180 billion dollar advertising industry (in the U.S. alone) that teaches us from infancy to crave material goods. Just sayin’. It’s something I try not to think about when I’m lost in the addictive roller coaster of coveting my neighbor’s new front porch. But this January, I’m stepping back and reminding myself that coveting, and the junkie’s high followed by the unavoidable low, is self-imposed. I have better ways to spend my time, like yoga.
  3. Life is pretty frickin’ amazing.
    As a new year begins and I take stock of my life, looking for ways to improve it and myself, I inevitably think about how lucky I am. Enough Said.

Ultimately, I think taking a little time to examine yourself and your life at the beginning of each year is a powerful opportunity to determine what is and is not working. It’s also an opportunity to give yourself credit for the many things that you accomplished last year. And I think it’s good to talk to your kids about the process of self-examination. It shows them that humans are imperfect, and that’s okay, as well as the importance of improving oneself. I’m not sure I agree entirely with Socrates that, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” However, an examined life is, I would argue, a more enriched one.

frost

 

Literary Mama: Making Room

‘Tis the season for spending too much money on too many things that you and your loved ones don’t really need. Oh, how I’m longing for the holidays to end. Every year I resolve to make things easier the following year. And every year, I still send over 200 Christmas cards, bake at least six dozen cookies, and make plans to see as many family members and friends as I can during a two-week window.

I recently had a blog post published on Literary Mama, one of my favorite mommy webzines, and it’s about making room for moments of being, something we can all use this time of the year. I am going to take my advice over the next few days and chill out with my family–play board games, ski, watch movies. If things don’t get done, so be it. Happy holidays to all, and to all a restful time!

You can read my blog for Literary Mama here:
http://www.literarymama.com/blog/archives/2016/12/after-page-one-fullfillment.html .

Not Gonna Teach My Kids Charity with Conditions Anymore

I have struggled with how to handle street corner panhandlers for years. I think a lot of people struggle with the same thing. You see someone clearly in need. You want to do something. Your heart hurts for that person. Yet you don’t know what the right answer is, so you do nothing.

The holidays are here, the year is drawing to a close, and it’s a time for gratitude and reflection. I have had a lot to reflect on lately. One of those things is this: by ignoring those in need right in front of my face I am justifying and teaching my kids charity with conditions. One of my resolutions for the new year is to break that cycle.

You can read more about what’s driving this quest in my blog post for Scary Mommy.

Scary Mommy and Me. Oh yeah.

Friends and Followers,

I had a blog published on Scary Mommy last Friday. It’s near and dear to my heart for many reasons. It’s about privilege, seeing clearly, the struggle to do so, and the importance of teaching our children to open their minds. It’s also about one of the many people who changed my life. I hope you’ll take a minute to read it here.

Thanks!
Kristin

flag-crane

 

 

Bringing Back the Thankful Jar

America, the past few weeks have been anxiety-producing and downright tough. I’m not going into politics today and in this space. Instead, I’m telling you about the Thankful Jar (again) and why I’m bringing it back.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving last year, I got an idea via an NPR story and Pinterest to make a Thankful Jar. It’s a simple project. You cut up pieces of paper, make your family write down what they’re thankful for daily, and toss them into a mason jar. You can pick any time to read them. We read ours on Thanksgiving last year.

This year, I feel like we need a little extra thankfulness, so we’re going to keep the Thankful Jar going through the end of the year, reading what we’ve written sporadically (read: on the rare night that we’re not stuffing food in our faces and running off to sports or music class).

Why am I bringing back the Thankful Jar? Because we have so much to be thankful for, and it’s easy to lose sight of that. Practicing daily gratitude has many benefits–both physical and mental. And it’s contagious. My go-to website lately for mindfulness and practicing gratitude is Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action.

But back to the Thankful Jar. This year, more than others, America, let’s spend the week before Thanksgiving (one week from today) being thankful. If you want more details about it, you can check out my blog from last year here.

Thankful.Jar
yet one more way to use a mason jar

 

 

A Plea for No More Supersized Birthday Parties

The money. The drama. The time spent planning. But so-and-so had his party at DartWarz. Why can’t I? Because it costs $600 and that’s crazy for a kid’s party. The oh-crap-I-forgot-someone guilt that wakes you up in the middle of the night.

The chaos. The anxiety. Please, God, don’t let anyone clip into the rope swing harness wrong. Does Junglequest have enough liability insurance and would our umbrella policy cover us if anything happened?

The sugar hangover that makes your kids alternatively giddy, mean, and weepy, accusing you of being the worst parent ever between fits of laughing so hard they snort and crying so hard they can’t breathe. The massive pile of plastic stuff that you have to figure out how to transport home and then make room for it in your already-too-full-of-plastic-stuff home.

The clean up. The lack of gratitude from your child that makes you cringe as you hear yourself saying things your parents said to you like, “You have no idea how lucky you are!”

The thank you cards that take you two months to get out and make you feel guilty and slightly hostile every time you run into the mom who gets her cards out the very next day.

Remember when a kids’ birthday party was just an ugly cake your mom made, your family, one or two kids from the cul-de-sac, and dollar store party hats? Let’s go back in time. Please.

Three More Reasons Not to Supersize:

  1. We’re creating expectations that are unrealistic, and our children are going to be disappointed when they realize that they are not the center of the world and their friends, boss, spouse, pretty much any adult, isn’t going to spend weeks and hundreds of dollars planning a party for them. Do your future daughter or son-in-law a favor and don’t supersize your kids’ birthday parties.
  2.  Think of all the kiddos whose hurt feelings you will save. I will never forget the tears streaming down my son’s blotchy, tender cheeks one day when I picked him up from school. One of his friends was having a birthday party and had invited all the boys in his class except him. The part that sucks is that we’ve been on the other side of that fence. We have had parties that did not include every child in the class.
  3. At the end of the day, your child doesn’t really care if the birthday party is big or small. Children want to feel loved and cared for, and as long as you do something special for them on their birthday, they will know you love them.

 

K.4th.Bday
my fourth birthday party-note the ugly cake and cheap party hats

 

 

 

A Leg Up for Monarchs

It’s no secret that monarchs are struggling to survive in our rapidly changing world. We’ve seen numbers drop more than seventy-five percent in the past twenty 20 years. Although we saw a small uptick this year in monarchs that winter in Mexico, they are not out of the woods yet, not by a long stretch.

Monarchs are one of the great iconic, stately, wonders of nature (not talking about William and Kate here, folks, although I’m sure they’re lovely too). Preventing extinction of this miraculous pollinator is paramount; more than stunning, they contribute to the health of our planet.

The plight that these extraordinary animals face, whether they are east or west of the Rockies, is monumental, and can be a valuable teaching tool for children. The epic migration they undertake, one of the wonders of our world, is perilous and becoming more so as their food sources en route disappear.

Involve your kids in saving the monarchs and you’ll teach them a variety of valuable skills in the process. empathy, persistence, teamwork, problem solving are but a few.

 

monarch.caterpillar
a monarch caterpillar my kids named fatty

 

What can we do to help?

Fortunately, there is a lot that we can do to give monarchs a leg up. If you undertake even one of these suggestions with your kids, your kids will no doubt carry the torch for future generations (and learn a ton to boot).

  1. Plant milkweed in your yard, school garden, anywhere you can. Monarch caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed and milkweed plants are rapidly disappearing in North America. You can get free seed packets from the Save Our Monarchs Foundation. Keep in mind that milkweed is poisonous to humans so read up on the plant and take any necessary precautions. Different varieties thrive in different regions, so make sure you’re planting the best variety for your region.
  2. Plant a butterfly garden. Butterflies feed on nectar from various plants. Take a trip to your local nursery and ask them what native species you can plant to attract monarch butterflies to your yard and give them sustenance for the long journey.
  3. Make or buy a butterfly feederA quick Google or Pinterest search turns up a ton of options here, some as simple as a plate of rotting fruit set outside. Another option is to wet brightly colored sponge squares with a sugar water mixture (1:4 sugar/water ratio) that has been boiled and cooled.

We’re all short on time, and we’re bombarded daily with opportunities to do something to help or improve the world around us. Some days it overwhelms me–pretty sure I’m not alone in that. So if planting a garden is too ambitious, make it simple. The next time you’re about to toss out the too-mushy-to-eat watermelon from last weekend’s cookout put it on a plate and set it outside instead. You might make a monarch’s day.

 

monarch.lake.2
monarch crossing Lake Michigan