Busted By The Art Police

Art appreciation is hugely subjective. Especially when it comes to kids’ art.

As new parents, we naturally pore over every scribble, finger painting and nascent stick figure with enthusiasm, curiosity and caution. Will my kid be a future talented artist? What does this picasso-esque rendering of our family reveal about my kid’s psychological state? Why is Mummy’s head so much bigger than Daddy’s?

We proudly stick these pictures to our walls. We photograph their artwork, we post them to Facebook and Instagram. Heck, I even created an online gallery of my son’s best works.

But, really, seriously people: there’s art and there’s art. The reality is that 90 percent of the “art” that our kids bring home from daycare and school is junk. Go on, admit it.

Just recently, a good friend posted on Facebook that she had been “busted by the art police” – again!  Discussion followed with other parents about their strategies for clandestinely disposing of crappy art work, including these cunning maneuvers:

  • in the dead of night, I remove all traces immediately to the outdoor recycle bin
  • I fold them into tiny pieces and stuff them way down at the bottom of the big can in the kitchen under the icky wet coffee grounds
  • I hand shred and place them into old envelopes that bills came out of
  • I wait until recycling morning, then put it all out at the curb after they go to school

Genius! Me, I wait till they are in bed, rummage through their backpacks and then if there’s a roaring fire ….. Alternatively, if they come out of school or worse still, after the craft table at Papa Gino’s on a Thursday night, proudly showing off the paper doily decorated toilet roll snow man they just made, then I put it on the passenger seat of my car as we drive home. Inevitably, as they bundle out of the car and into the house, said artwork nonchalantly slips into the trash can in my car ….. and nobody ever seems to notice. Lucky me.

Parents, trust me. There’s a time to ooh and ah over your kid’s latest masterpiece and there’s a time to find a way to get rid of it.

What to do, however, if your kid insists of keeping his or her drawing? Well then, I’m not above grabbing some tape and sticking it to an assigned wall somewhere. But don’t overdo it or the kids will insist that their art is plastered everywhere. Better to finesse your sneaky disposal habits, trust me.

Have you been busted by the art police?

P.S. For greats tips on how to talk to your kids about their art, check here.

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The Facebook Post That Made Me a Terrible Mother

by Kristin Parran

I can’t keep it in any longer. I must be the worst mother ever. It doesn’t matter that my not-yet-3-year old son adores me. Or that he climbs in bed with my husband and I and tells us we make the best team (then asks for high-fives). Or tells me he loves me more than cars. CARS! None of that matters.

Two things I have read today make me believe that despite all of these things, I must be a terrible mother. First, I read a blog post about breastfeeding. Or, rather about not breastfeeding. The author shared her honest feelings around the disappointment – and subsequent judgment – around not being able to breastfeed. The point was that mothers should leave other mothers alone – breastfeeding or not. Funny, though, all of the comments from women who felt judged about not breastfeeding came from a place of not being able to breastfeed. I didn’t see one from a woman who CHOSE not to breastfeed, like I did. It’s hard as a new mother to not feel at least a little judgment with every decision you make – even if it’s self-inflicted judgment. But, I am increasingly finding that mothers like me – those who choose to bottle feed for one reason or another – don’t exist in public forums. They sit back, try to stay unnoticed and feed their babies the best way they know how. Some choose the expensive organic formula. Some pay for soy-based. Some do extensive research to understand which product is best for their babies. But the thing that connects all of these women is that they love their babies just as much as breastfeeding women do. I love my son no less than the next woman. I firmly believe – and would argue til I died – that in the way I know how, I have given my son the best chances for a life full of love, happiness and health. But it’s hard to find people like me out there. At least those who admit it.

The second thing I saw was on Facebook. This kind of thing usually doesn’t affect me the way it did today. Maybe it’s because I’m more sensitive, or because my stepdaughter is visiting and that always has my emotions doing somersaults. Either way, it hit me. An old acquaintance just went back to work and posted that she’s missing her babies more than ever. But that’s not it – it’s what she said next that hit me: “I know every working mom would rather be at home with their babies all the time.” I dropped everything and started this post. I couldn’t help it. My brain is screaming. You ARE a good mom. You ARE a good mom. But, am I? Really? My response to that post was not: “Sister…you are so right! I would so much rather be at home with a screaming toddler, playing with cars and arguing about naptime Every. SINGLE. DAY.” Rather, instead my response: “That’s BS! While I LOVE my baby, I also LOVE my job. And the people I work with. And the opportunity to be ME. And the socialization. And that I contribute something financially to my family. I love having both. I NEED to have both.”

I get the sense that a lot of mothers will read my response and gasp. GASP. HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT!?! How could you say you love your job AND your baby? How could you not want to spend every single waking moment with your child? The answer for me is simple. Being me – the me who loves my job and my husband and my son and my friends and my time alone – makes me the very best mother I can be. Whether or not that mother meets standards set by others is something I can no longer judge myself against. I wish I could say that feeling follows me everywhere, every day. But, it obviously doesn’t. Rather than reading that post and saying: “There are mothers of every color, and I happen to a bright pink” I took it as a jab. A knife turning in the heart that is still trying to heal from post-partum. So, I’m not perfect. I do let some things get to me. But after the initial crazy self-judgment and guilt wear off, I once again see that I’m not such a bad mom. My son is an incredible human being. And, at the end of each day, I have to believe that I have something to do with that.

Kristin Parran is a mother of one (nearly 3-year old) boy and wife to a husband who anchors her in peace. Wise enough to know life can (and should) have balance, brave enough to listen to her gut – but not always smart or Zen enough to stop sweating the small stuff – she recently moved her family 1,100 miles to give everyone the best shot at equilibrium. She spends her days working from home for a tech PR firm and shedding tears of gratitude for newfound peace – which is soon interrupted by the impatience of reality. Each time she leaves her house, she secretly hopes to be discovered by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley as a (silent, yet energetic) back-up singer. Or, to someday see her name on the cover of a book.

KP

Fortifying The Mommy Shield

One evening last week, within less than an hour of us all coming home from work and after-school activities, I managed to make both kids cry.

Without boring you with the mindless details, in each case, I snapped. In the first scenario, I expressed my disappointment with a situation which caused my five-year old to break into tears, lamenting her sorrow that I had hurt her feelings. In the second, I yelled loudly right into the face of my eight-year old who was tuning me out in favor of messing around like a clown when he should have been getting ready for his bath and I had already asked him more than three times. The shock on his face was blatant, followed by a fierce onslaught of hot tears and accusations.

I hate myself when I lose it with the kids.

I’m supposed to be the one that lifts them up, the one who makes everything silly, who keeps everything marching forward smoothly. Not the one that bears down on them with outbursts of negativity.

The good news is that this really does not happen that often because I try to work hard to fortify my Mommy Shield. It’s the Mommy Shield that stops you from driving off the road when the kids are squabbling at high-frequency in the back seat of the car. It’s the Mommy Shield that makes you take a deep breath and calmly reach for the paper towels when your kids spills his or her milk for the gazillionth time. It’s the Mommy Shield that helps you sit quietly on the couch while the kids run around and around and around with increasing velocity and volume and you know that, any moment now, someone could get hurt but they are having so much fun. It’s the Mommy Shield that lets you know—most of the time—which battle to pick.

But there are days when my Mommy Shield is frail and easily penetrable  Days when I pick the wrong battles. Days when I can’t take a deep breath. Days when yelling at them actually feels really, really good (at first.)

After the tears are dried, hugs squeezed, apologies offered and everyone is happy again, I try to figure out what I could have done differently. Often, it’s not about the heat of the moment but the events leading up to it. When I feel that, at any moment now, the Mommy Shield is going to blow, I try to deploy one few of these tactics to change the energy and hopefully reduce the odds of my snapping:

  • Playing loud music to drown out their shrieks or whining or squabbling.
  • Taking a bath. They can duke it out to their heart’s content without me in the room.
  • Wine. Takes the edge off.
  • Sending them outside.
  • Sending myself outside.
  • Using Facebook/Twitter to vent/distract.
  • Breaking into a silly dance.
  • Look at photos of them when they were babies.

How do you fortify your Mommy Shield?

Coffee or Wine?

Your dental hygienist knows a lot about you, I’ve discovered. During my first few years here in the US, when I was either single and partying, or dating my soon-to-be-fiance, or enjoying the life-before-kids times, my dental hygenist would often remark about the red wine stains on my teeth. “Hey, I’m young (ish) and having fun,” I’d retort. And yes, I’ll brush more thoroughly, I’d promise as she hacked away at the stains with her evil implements.

(On a side note, may I just say that dental hygiene here in the US has been a real revelation to me. Y’all are way more serious about having sparkly whites that we were/are back home in the UK. I now feel it a necessary part of my acceptance into American society to have remarkably white teeth. But I digress.)

Dental visits over the last eight years have painted a different story. In large part, because the red wine stains on my teeth have mostly been replaced with coffee stains. Strong, black coffee stains. My dental hygienist always points this out and then, with an almost nonchalant non-sequitur, asks “So, how old are the kids now?” She knows, she gets it.

The thing is, my relationship with red wine has changed. Flash back to 1997-2000, three glorious years living in France when the wine was abundant, cheap and good. I became more knowledgable about wine regions and my preferences but, quite frankly, if it was red and in my glass, I’d drink it. Lots of it. No matter how much it cost or where it came from. And then I went and married someone in the wine industry. My supply of good wine became perpetual! Hoorah! And I became better educated and much more picky and wines I like and wines I don’t.

And then I had kids.

Child birth will do strange things to your palette (among other things.) After kid #1 was born, I went off red wine altogether, much to the chagrin of the husband. Fortunately, after kid #2 “popped out” (hahahaha) my desire for wine slowly returned and, in the almost six consequential years, has remained. But with new terms and conditions, namely:

  • I only drink the wines I like
  • I can only drink when eating
  • No more than a glass and a half or I get heartburn and/or an upset stomach
  • There will be wine on Friday evenings when I crave it most—or else
  • Cheese = wine

On the flip side, my relationship with coffee has remained consistent. While red wine is a select pleasure, enhancing specific moments, coffee is my lifeline. I cannot start the day without coffee. It is the very first thing I think of the moment I awake. I cannot exist without a large steaming cup of strong black coffee within approx 10 mins of my neurones firing up.

I was pondering my absolute and profound need for coffee the other morning and comparing it to my relationship with red wine. If I had to, I wondered, which would I give up? The answer was quite simple. But, just to be sure, I thought I’d conduct a brief poll with a few of my Twitter and Facebook pals. So I lobbed the seemingly innocuous question out there. Within nanoseconds—maybe even less—I was met with a barrage of visceral reactions! Before I share them, here was the final count:

  • Votes to keep coffee: 5
  • Votes to keep wine: 7
  • Undecided: 4

But it was the comments that cracked me up the most, including:

Are you kidding?

Is nothing sacred?

What am I being threatened with?

If my world no longer included those things, it wouldn’t be much of a world ;)

I feel like this is a trick question somehow.

I don’t know this Samantha but I don’t trust her ;)

I plan on giving up both…shortly after I give up oxygen.

So, you, yes you over there sipping your Sunday morning coffee – which would you give up, if you had to: coffee or wine?

P.S. Get your teeth cleaned.

Every Parent’s Morning Mayhem

Kids awake, brimming with energy and awesomeness.

Parents arise, groggy, potentially irritable before the coffee infusion.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to get dressed.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to eat breakfast.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to brush their teeth.

Kids want to play/fight/whine/negotiate. Parents want them to get their backpacks ready, shoes and coats on.

Repeat over and over and over and over. Tick, tick, tick.

Parents check emails, tweets, FB posts …. distraction.

Panic!

Where are my library books?

I have swimming today!

Oops, I forgot to do my homework.

Do I have lunch money?

Honey, can you pick up the kids tonight, just realized I have a meeting?

Tick, tick, tick.

Repeat Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

Sound familiar?

I’m Just Not as Young As I Used to Be

Stamina has always been my Achilles heel. As a school child, staying awake to complete hours of homework was a challenge; I usually had to wake up early to finish it and to study for tests and exams. As college approached, I embarked upon the opposite of sleep training so that I could stay up late and party.

This morning, as I was awoken by noisy, happy kids (is that better or worse than the alarm clock, I’m not sure?) I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The day prior was spent flying to Atlanta and back for a three-hour business meeting – my day started at 4am and ended at 10pm. It occurred to me, as I groggily  got up and meandered through my work day feeling spacey, wan and unproductive, that I just don’t bounce back like I used to. That I used to be able to withstand stressful, long hours at the office, then go out to drink and party – and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, able to operate like the PR ninja that I am.

Not so much today.

The sad reality is that I’m just not as young as I used to be. And when I think more about this, the signs are clear and staring right at my ever-so-slightly wrinkly (those are laugh lines) face. Because:

  • Wearing heels more than 2″ high doesn’t just make my feet sore – it makes my hips and back ache.
  • A stressful day or a late night makes me feel hung over – without any of the fun.
  • More than two glasses of wine gives me heartburn.
  • I can barely see straight when I drive at night.
  • To put mascara on, I have to get really, really close to the mirror.
  • Thoughts come into my mind and then ….. oh wow, I have no clue what I was going to write ….
  • I get into the car bum first, then swing my feet in. And in reverse to get out.
  • Songs I love are now referred to as “oldies.”
  • Fashions I used to wear are now either retro – or making a comeback.
  • The belly pooch is here to stay, no matter what.
  • Several of my work colleagues are technically young enough to be my offspring.
  • Policemen are getting younger and younger (that’s a British expression, I think.)

The good news however, because I like to keep the glass half full is that, despite my age, I am still silly and I don’t take myself too seriously. I can hang with the young’uns at the office and hold my own. I’m down with at least 30 percent of what’s hip music-wise. I will see The Hunger Games and be culturally relevant. I still get checked out from time to time. I’m on Facebook lots (that’s still cool, right?)

And so, despite my advancing years, I guess it’s better to adopt a Mark Twain attitude than complain.

Parenting Payback: How to Get Your Kids to Do Stuff – for You!

I am by no means a perfect mother. I say ‘no’ a great deal, the naughty step is frequently used, I threaten to throw away all the toys that are widely distributed throughout our house, I bribe with chocolate and I’m not above feeding my kids a Happy Meal from time to time. I feel guilty when I put my work – or the next tweet or FB status – before their immediate need for x, y or z. My tolerance threshold for whining is very, very (did I say very?) low. There are many unanticipated realities of parenthood that keep me dazed and confused every day.

Still, there is a lot that I think I might be doing right. When I say I – I mean my husband and I – because it’s a team sport, this parenting business.

Right from the beginning, our wonderfully wise pediatrician told us not to become short order cooks for our kids. Dinner is what’s on their plates. Same thing for everyone. If you don’t eat it, it’s a long time till breakfast. We have tried our very hardest to maintain this policy, even when it’s meant our  four year-old daughter going to bed with an empty tummy and waking up hungry in the night. Call me mean, but the lesson is slowing seeping into her angelic and often quirky grey matter. Last week she voraciously ate swordfish! (Of course, this week she turned it down) It’s worked with my son too –  he now has a man-sized appetite and is (mostly) willing to try new foods.

Beyond the dinner table, we’ve taken this approach further. By that I mean that teaching our kids to do stuff for themselves is an everyday priority. Self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness – call it what you will, but teaching it to your kids from an early age is so important. It was tough for me at first. Being the control freak that I am, it was intolerably painful sitting by and watching my toddler figure out how to get into feety jammies and zip ‘em up by herself. Standing back as your kids pour cereal into their own bowls knowing that, at any moment, the entire contents of the Cheerio box are going to be avalanching out of the packet and cascading onto the floor. Waiting for your kid to figure how out to buckle their own car seat when you are already running ten minutes behind schedule.

The key, we discovered, was to drill this concept of self-reliance into them precisely during the “I want to do it by myself” stage (which starts around three) to the “teach me how to do it” and “can I help?” stages (which are roughly from four to seven – and who knows maybe longer.)

Patience, restraint and several large glasses of wine later ….  the rewards for teaching our kids to be resourceful is paying off. Not only are they doing more stuff for themselves (and feeling proud about it,) now they are finally doing stuff for me! See what I mean? Hooray!

My Resolutions Report Card

Since I committed to putting my resolutions in writing for the first time, I feel compelled to report back after the first month. Here goes:

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