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.

 

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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.

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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

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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.

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yet one more way to use a mason jar

 

 

Good Boy

Although my title for this post is tongue in cheek, and I like humorous and food porn blogs above all others, this post is, alas, a serious one. I’m troubled by the hate rhetoric towards the fairer sex that I’ve seen in spades lately, and I gotta write about it. But I’m not going to rant. I’m going to share my plan for attempting to change things, one boy at a time. That one boy happens to be the one I call son.

As an aside, I want to note that it’s possible what’s gnawing at me may have been compounded recently by an evening gleefully spent binge watching Mad Men after the kids were in bed. I can’t say for sure. Whatever the prompt, the societal hate vibe I’m feeling addressed toward my gender is making me wonder: How I can teach my son to respect women? A lot. Sincerely. The way he does or will respect most men implicitly, by virtue of their gender.

I don’t mean the kind of respect that entails holding doors open and saying pretty things. Those are surface gestures with a complicated past, present, and future. I’m talking about deep-seated, honest-to-goodness, unbiased respect.

My son is bright, and sweet, and thoughtful, and  I’m extremely proud of the young man he is becoming. That said, I’m nervous about the implicit bias, to borrow a word, he absorbs from the world around him. Even from inside our home. I am the primary caregiver, the homemaker, the part-time worker, and the one who does most of the compromising in our house. What messages do I unknowingly send him?

It’s a role I’ve taken on gladly because I love my children. I love them the way you love something so perfect and succinct you didn’t know it was possible the day before it arrived, neatly like a package on your doorstep. Only it was a baby, not a package, that came with a lot of effort, mottled pink skin, a cone head, and tear-stained sticky cheeks.

But now that my son, this person who is part of me but clearly not me, is growing up, I recognize how important my role is in helping him become a feeling, caring, thoughtful, empathetic man who treats women as equals. So, how do I help him to see me and all other women on a level playing ground? Talk about it. If we don’t talk about it, nothing will change.

  1. Talk about it. Instead of sweeping it under the carpet, I am resolved to talk to my son about sexism. I don’t think I have to share all the gory details of the unfortunate things I have witnessed and experienced in my lifetime (there are many). If you’re a woman, you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this. A great starting place is to discuss exactly what it means to respect women. Followed by a big dose of empathy building. I heard this on NPR one morning, and I love the message. In short, bullies can have manners when they want to and still lack a fundamental understanding of empathy.
  2. Talk about it.  After we have a good understanding of what it means to respect women (actually ALL people), then we can discuss how to resist peer pressure because it is real, fo sho. I realize my son is young, and this might be wishful thinking, but it’s worked with some other peer pressure issues we’ve faced. And I’m hopeful.
  3. Talk about it. If and when things feel out of control, or we’ve gone off the mark slightly, bringing in a little professional guidance can’t hurt. Kids sometimes (read: almost always) listen to other adults (teachers, school psychologist, coaches, etc.) more readily than their parents. And I’m okay with that.

At the end of the day, we’re all human, all imperfect, and all striving for something. Let’s listen to what this crazy time in history (or so it seems) is telling us. What I hear is this: We need to work on empathy big time. And it can start with something as simple as a short conversation on the ride home from school.

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Just a Few Resources for Teaching Empathy:
Harvard University Make Caring Common Project
Edutopia’s 5-Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empathy, and Connection
UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center

 

 

Raise ‘Em Up

I’ve been noticing stories about women lately knocking other women down in overt and covert ways. And I can’t help wondering, WTF. Isn’t it hard enough being a woman without getting clobbered by the sisters who should be lifting you up? Ladies, don’t we have enough on our plates already?

The stories have always been there; I know that. But they seem louder lately: a cacophony buzzing relentlessly in the background like audio feedback. Or, worse, like the theme song to a horror film turned down low enough that you can just hear it and feel the anxiety it’s supposed to produce.

The buzz I’m hearing is nothing like the warm, nurturing song of the cicadas I grew up with in the South; their songs rise and fall predictably, lull you into a happy state of nature-filled nostalgia. There is nothing happy or soothing about the buzz I’ve been noticing lately and it’s impossible to ignore.

Around the neighborhood, I hear stories. At work, I hear stories. I read stories in the news. I see it on social media. I see it at the f’ing grocery store. What it comes down to is this–we judge each other. We critique and criticize, sometimes out loud and sometimes only in our heads. But we all do it. I’m guilty of it in ways I’m sure I don’t even see.

Last year, when my youngest started school full time, I decided to rediscover my passions, find a part-time job, in a nutshell, put myself out there. And I’ve learned something that is so important I gotta share it. I have learned to have more empathy for women. Yes, even the twenty-three-year-old who interviewed me and asked if I was comfortable working with twenty-year-olds, cause, ya know, I’m so old.

Let’s face it, being a woman is hard. Beautiful, but hard.

So, you might catch me gossiping from time to time (working on that one). But I can’t say it enough. Let’s support the mamas (read: all women). Yep, all of them, in whatever endeavors they choose, wherever they are in life. All of them. Every day. Raise ’em up. Think about it. Just sayin’.

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these made me think of a grove of women, supporting each other, hanging out, having fun

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.

 

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my fourth birthday party-note the ugly cake and cheap party hats

 

 

 

What’s Dragging Us Down?

Something has been needling my conscious for the past few weeks. I can’t pinpoint what, exactly, brought it to the surface, but I ‘m glad it came to light, and I need to get it off my chest.

I try hard to support other women. I go to female doctors. I support companies run by women. When a female friend or acquaintance starts a new venture, I go out of my way to support her, because life can be hard and women are, let’s face it, the underappreciated sex.

That brings me to what’s eating me up. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I struggled to keep the daily routine together, forget about finding the time and energy to make friends. Despite my sweatpant-clad, hair-in-a messy-ponytail facade, another mama at pre-school felt compassion and reached out to me; I grabbed on.

She was my lifeline so many times during those crazy, sleepless, joyful, exhausting years. When my son’s preschool teacher told me that he was not like other kids, and that, in her words, he’s, well, so smart, and, you know, gifted kids sometimes have other challenges, my preschool-mama friend was the first person I called. My husband couldn’t understand the anguish those words made me feel. But my preschool-mama friend did.

Over the past few years, I’ve lost touch with her, and I miss her friendship–a lot. I have other mom-friends now, and we get together, drink wine, alternately complain and brag about our kids, and I treasure each of them. But they weren’t in the trenches with me like she was.

Reflecting on why we’re not friends anymore made me realize that I’m not as supportive of the women in my life as I think I am. I judge, even when I try not to, I gossip when I shouldn’t, and I suck at reaching out to other women, letting them know how amazing they are.

If I’m honest with myself, I can see that she was a better friend to me than I was to her. That’s not an easy thing to think. However, I’m convinced it will help me work on being more supportive.

I’m not going to beat myself up–what good does that do? Instead, I’m going to learn something and try to walk the talk when it comes to supporting other mamas.

As I dig deeper, determining which direction to go, one thing really bugs me. I wonder what exactly it means to support other women? Why isn’t it innate for me (and a lot of other women)? Why do we tear each other down? Why aren’t we building the scaffolding to raise each other up, singing each other’s praise as we work?

 

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weathervane in Quebec City