Taking Off The Training Wheels: A Mother’s Perspective

She’s a lot like me. A little cautious, a tad fearful. Prefers to set her own pace. Doesn’t take criticism awfully well. But determined, so determined.

Last year, she really tried it but took a spill. And that was it. Her confidence was grazed, never mind her knees. She decided she didn’t want any more of it. The wheels went back on. We didn’t push it.

A year later, things are different. After all, just look at the glee in her big brother’s eyes as he crazy speeds up and down the driveway, purposefully weaving this way and that, doing tricks? Taking spills but getting back on. She wants some of that action.

If I were the only parent, she may have never learned this. I’m the mother than cannot watch as they struggle to gain balance, take off and then wobble. With my breath catching in my throat, I put on an eager, supportive face but my insides are jelly, my nerves are screaming, waiting for the inevitable swerve and crash, tears and wails, grazes and bruises and hopefully, really hopefully, nothing worse. I’m terrified but I’m still cheering her on.

Fortunately, there’s him. Cool as a cucumber. Instructive. Determined and patient. Under his steady eye and hand, she really works at this, confidence building like a three-layer cake. And something clicks. She gets it. And she’s off, a little wobbly at first but she’s off. Self-propelled, balanced. Proud. The pedals turn, kinetically building energy, speed and conviction.

As she practices, her balance becomes stronger. The thrill of the ride shines in her eyes. “Wooohooo,” as she picks up speed. If she wasn’t wearing a helmet, the wind would be buffeting her hair, locks streaming out behind her like the dust Road Runner leaves in his wake.

I’m still terrified, of course. It’s the mother in me. But so proud of her hard work and grateful for his steady determination.

Of course, there will be spills, grazes and tears. But she will deal with them and get back on. She will learn when to switch into a higher gear, to look out for bumps in the road, to enjoy coasting, and when to apply the brakes.

And if that isn’t a metaphor for life, then I don’t know what is.

 

 

Don’t Buy Me Stuff

Back in my 20s when a good friend and I both lived in London, we used to take each other to the theatre for our respective birthdays. We both loved musicals and drama, and it was a wonderful and generous way for us to treat each other. It also helped that our birthdays were several months apart, so we got to see new shows every six months for a couple of years.

Fast-forward 20 odd years. Through good fortune and hard graft, I am lucky enough to have a beautiful home and a lot of stuff. More stuff, in fact, than I truly need. My family also has a lot of stuff, especially my kids. When stuff breaks or gets outdated or replaced by a newer better version of stuff, we get new stuff. Old stuff gets donated, recycled or thrown away.

So.Much.Stuff.

Too.Much.Stuff.

I’d being lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the stuff; that the fruits of our hard work enable us to acquire things. Some of these things we need, or at least we claim we need. Most of it we really don’t need, but we like to have, own, use, show off.

I feel guilty about all the stuff. Compared to others that are not as fortunate. I’d like to not only give away more stuff to those with more need but I’d also like to not acquire as much new stuff.

Charity starts at home, as they say. My kids need to learn that stuff doesn’t really matter. They don’t need to constantly buy or be bought new things. The need to understand the value of what they already have. And understand that being generous doesn’t always mean giving stuff away, though it’s a start. It’s our job to set this example, practice what we preach.

I’m thinking about this topic as my birthday is approaching in a few weeks. Birthdays, especially for kids, become the epicenter of getting more stuff. Often nice stuff. Maybe stuff we need but won’t buy for ourselves.

So here’s the thing. Please don’t buy me stuff. I have more than I deserve already. If I want, ‘need’ or desire something, I can go buy it myself.

Instead, treat me to experiences. Take me to the theatre. Let’s have a day trip. A picnic on the beach. Let’s do something unexpected and crazy and fun. It may cost money but maybe not.

You see, the more stuff you have, the more it collects dust. It becomes hard to find the one bit of stuff you value the most when there’s a whole big, dusty pile of stuff.

The opposite happens with experiences. Each experience can be treasured both in the moment, and after. Experiences can be shared. Experiences don’t degrade with time. Every time you unwrap them in your memory, they are lush with emotions, vivid with detail.

So, please don’t buy me stuff. I don’t intend to be ungrateful. I know there’s pleasure in selecting a gift for someone. I’m sorry if this request denies you that pleasure.

How’s this for a deal? I’ll treat you to an experience too. That’s way we’ll all have memories to cherish instead of piles of more stuff.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Summer Camp

School’s out, summer’s here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?

I hate summer camp

I hate that we have to be out of the house a whole hour earlier than during the school year, in time to catch the bus to camp. Our already-challenging mornings become even more compressed and panicky because, no matter how well prepared we are, kids just want to play – not pack their lunches, find their towel, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, etc etc. It’s the fear of missing the bus and having to consequently drive 40 minutes in the opposite direction from my workplace that fuels these mornings.

I hate that, no matter how well I’ve organized the camp clothing procurement process with the goal of having a sufficient supply chain of shorts, T-shirts, socks, swimsuits and towels, I still end up having to do laundry every single night. Because camp clothes aren’t just a little dirty – they are sweaty, sandy, muddy, dank, stained with arts and crafts and bug spray. They require boiling. I hate that stuff always gets lost, no matter how well labelled. Towels, water bottles, sun screen, swimsuits, lunch boxes, goggles, underwear.

I hate camp songs. Sure, they are cute at first. But when your kids sing them over and over, morning and evening and all weekend – especially those “repeat after me” songs – it’s enough to drive me loony.

I dislike “dress up” or theme days. Nine times out of ten we just don’t have the right costume, color or accessory just hanging around the house. Or, most likely, we forget. Then as we arrive at the bus stop and see other kids in whichever theme of the week attire it is, my kids are inevitably disappointed. (Side note: if they cared enough about it, they’d make an effort to remember. Right?)

I dislike family night. Not because I don’t want to experience my kids’ camp, meet their counsellors and friends, hang out and have fun – but because of the damn mosquitoes that see me and think “mmm, dinner.”

I hate the cost of 8-9 weeks of summer camp because, as a working parent, what else are you going to do? I also hate that I have to start reserving my kids’ spot at summer camp in January, for fear that it’ll book up really quickly and then we’ll be royally screwed.

I hate that many of the fun, smaller or specialist camps are not only crazy expensive but they also finish at 3 or 4pm? What’s a working parent to do?

But …. I love summer camp.

I love that my kids spend their days outside at camp running, playing, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, learning outdoor skills and much much more. It’s how kids were meant to spend their summers: carefree, making new friends, trying new challenges. Happy as pigs in …. well, you know. I love how my kids’ camp – the YMCA – provides sufficient structure for a camp of 800 kids but at the same time encourages discovery, expression and free-play.

I love how my kids’ bodies become firm and lithe during summer camp, their little arms and chests becoming toned and muscular thanks to twice daily swimming. I love how, every summer, their swimming skills get stronger. I love their stories of new friends and adventures. I love the relationships they build with their counsellors. I love their farmers’ tans, the healthy glow that bursts from their happy faces. I love how they grow every summer, not just in height but in strength (inner and outer.)

I love that they come home tired, filthy, and hungry. They eat their body weight in food for dinner and then sleep soundly for ten hours. I love that they are spending less time in front of screens. I feel like our money has been well-spent and my kids are making memories every year, building layer upon layer of character and confidence.

So yes, mention summer camp and I’ll both smile and grimace.  And yes, soon enough, the time will come that they go to sleep away camps for several weeks at a time. Then, I’m sure, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Three Bonus Skills to Teach Your Kids

This is not a post about teaching your kids to dress themselves or tie their own shoelaces. It’s not even a post about ensuring your kids tidy their rooms and put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Or take out the trash and pack their own lunch. And shocker, it’s not about kids picking up their effing Legos. It’s not about teaching reading, manners, social skills, negotiation, independence or any of that.

Yes, yes, these are all important to their well-being and development, to the orderliness of your household, your mental health and the general good of society and all that. But there are a few extra skills which, quite frankly/selfishly, are the icing on the parental cake. Let’s call them bonus skills.

Teach them:

  • How to give your neck and shoulder massage nice, firm massage. Their little bony fingers can actually dig in to your tight sore muscles better than an expensive masseur.
  • How to use the coffee machine. After all kids love to push buttons so popping a K-cup into the machine is a breeze.
  • How to drive. No more chauffering them plus you no longer have to always be the designated driver. (Of course this doesn’t apply to parents of the under-16 crowd but we can dream, right?)

What other bonus skills are you teaching your kids?

 

Third Graders Ask “What If?’

As a working Mom I don’t manage to spend much time in my kids’ classrooms, something I try not to guilt myself about too much. But I aim to be there for the things that really matter to my kids – like when they are making a presentation to the class and other parents. The excitement and pride fairly sparkles in their eyes when a parent is there to watch them. And I admit it, I always get misty-eyed too.

Last week, following several weeks of prep and some last-minute panic over a suitable costume, my son and fellow third graders presented the fruits of their biography project. I was beyond proud to watch my son, dressed as Paul Revere, deliver his essay about this freedom fighter to the assembled kids and parents.  One by one, his fellow classmates each stood up and educated me about the character they had selected. Not just facts but their interpretation of why each person mattered, how he or she contributed to society and changed the world forever. In less than five short minutes, the kids explored the character traits and motivations of their selected biographical character, and how they felt inspired by their achievements. From Susan B. Anthony and Marco Polo to Nelly Bly, Steve Jobs and Louis Braille and more — I was truly impressed.

But the icing on the cake came at the very end when all the kids gathered together to present a poem they had jointly written. “What If?” explores how gravely the world would be different, were it not for the contributions of each of these individuals they had studied. I’m posting an abbreviated version of the poem below because I really think the entire school project (which lasted roughly six weeks) culminated in these kids not only learning some solid history but also realizing that they too have the potential to do great things. For this, I laud their teachers.

What If?

What if Marco Polo

Never explored

Or Walt Disney

Never built more?

What if Paul Revere

Never sent the call

Or Charles Lindbergh

Never flew at all?

What if Louis Braille

Never become blind

Or Dr Seuss

Didn’t have a creative mind?

What if Nelly Bly

Never travelled to write

Or Martin Luther King Jr

Never had a dream in sight?

What if Steve Jobs

Wasn’t so smart

Or Princess Diana

Never used her heart?

What if Susan B. Anthony

Never marched for  a woman’s right

Or Wilma Rudolph

Didn’t run with all her might?

What if you had a dream

And held it inside?

What if you had a dream

And never tried?

Paul Revere: TIME' Person of the Year

TIME Person of the Year: Paul Revere
by Gabriel McGarry

Three Lunch Box Strategies

My early memories of school lunches were very formative. From age 5 to about 12, it was all very Hogwarts-style. Long tables, steaming bowls of overcooked cabbage, ghastly steak and kidney pudding and sloppy semolina for dessert. Teachers staring down at you, ensuring you ate every last bite – or else. Being made to eat crisps (chips) with a fork because young ladies don’t eat with their fingers. Once we were into middle school, things became a little more modern. A cafeteria approach with less discipline and doom and more choice. I cannot remember if there was a salad bar or fresh fruit available – but I do remember the wonderful rhubarb crumble and custard. Most kids participated in the lunches provided by school, though a few (a lucky few?) brought in packed lunches, as we called them in the UK. (I don’t remember why my sister and I never had packed lunches: was it a parental mandate or our own choice? Note to self: ask Mum.)

Fast forward several decades and now I’m the Mom, pondering the school lunch landscape. Fortunately, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Michelle Obama’s program, school lunches here in the US are not as dire as they used to be and there is far more awareness of what constitutes a nutritious lunch, despite push back from school departments and economic challenges, especially here in Boston and Framingham.

My kids’ school district)has made good strides in providing healthier launch options and I commend them. Still, I’m not altogether sure that my kids would always make good choices or appreciate the food on offer (see below – roast turkey fricassee, anyone?) So every day they go to school with a home-packed lunchbox. Except Friday because pizza.

Have you ever done a quick search on Google or Pinterest for lunch box ideas? There are thousands, offering suggestions for alternatives to the tired PB & J, strategies for lunch planning and prep, and ways to create artistic masterpieces that will convince your kids to actually eat celery sticks.

Given that I’m not the artistic kind when it comes to food prep and taking into account the standard morning mayhem in our house, fancy sandwiches and sculpted vegetables were never going to be in our repertoire. In fact, in the spirit of divide and conquer, my role has always been on the grocery shopping/provisions side of the equation while my husband (a professionally trained chef) handled the actual prep. However, we kept on hitting three chief problems:

  • Not enough variety – we’d always default to the same foods
  • Both kids didn’t like the same things – son would eat the ham and cheese and leave the bread; daughter would eat the bread and leave the ham and cheese
  • So much wastage – their lunch boxes would always come home with loads of uneaten items.

So, in order to ensure their little tummies were full, their taste buds challenged and that we weren’t tipping all the leftovers into the trash every evening, we decided to try out three different approaches.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Theory: This phase involved cramming their bento-boxes with lots of different choices. Call it pick ‘n’ mix, the theory being that hopefully they’d eat a little bit of everything and get a well-rounded meal.

Conclusion: Failure. The kids ate what they liked, left what they didn’t and good food went to waste.

Shock and Awe

Theory: Surprise “baba ganoush and black beans” for lunch! We assumed that they’d be so hungry at lunchtime that they’d surely eat whatever unexpected delight they found in their lunch boxes.

Conclusion: Failure. It appears that kids would rather go hungry than eat suspicious food stuffs. Meaning crabby kids at the end of the day and yes, wastage.

Do-It-Yourself

Theory: A few months ago, I was struck by the realization that unless we stop doing stuff for our kids, they will never be able to do anything for themselves. So we decided they could make their own darn lunches every day (except Friday because pizza.) We provided some basic ground rules, like you must include protein and vegetables and the ratio of sweet stuff must not outweigh said protein and vegetables. My husband even taught them how to slice their own cucumbers which terrifies me despite the fact that my seven-year-old proclaims she is now “good with knives.” Oh joy.

Conclusion: Other than the daily concern of finger amputation, success! The kids are making good choices (see below), taking responsibility for feeding themselves, and best yet: they eat everything. Plus, my husband has an extra 10 mins in the morning.

My only regret is that we didn’t go the DIY route earlier. The next challenge is to get them to mix things up a little (my youngest picks the same foods almost every day) but all in all, DIY has been the way to go. Lunch box dilemmas solved!

School lunch mneu

School lunch menu

Kids lunchboxes with healthy food choices

Kids pack their own lunches for school

 

Dear Kids Clothing Retailers From Parents Everywhere

(This post originally appeared on Huffington Post Parents)

My 7-year-old needs new shorts. The ones labeled 4-5 have lasted us two years but they are now worn and stained. We could probably squeeze one more summer out of them but there’s a high probability of a wardrobe malfunction at camp. So I went out and bought her a few more pairs of shorts from Gymboree. The label said 7 with a parenthesis saying 6-7 so I assumed they would fit. Wrong. Too big. (P.S. Gymboree, it’d be really helpful if you had a changing room so we could discover this before buying the shorts and coming home.) Then I realized that, this time last year, I did exactly the same thing. Bought her two pairs of shorts from Target labeled 6-6X. She was six at the time so I figured I was safe. But no, those were also big too and, for the record, we tried them on last week and they are still too big.

I always run into similar issues with pants in the fall with my son, now 9-years-old. He always seems to grow, like, a foot during the summer (an exaggeration, I know, but it’s always when they seem to shoot up) and the pants that fit him fine in the spring are now four inches too short. So out I go and blithely buy him pants that are sized to match his age. And every time I discover they are either enormous around the middle and/or a foot too long.

Now, before you say it, I know that kids come in all shapes and sizes. I happen to think my two are perfectly average. They don’t appear drastically taller/shorter/thinner/fatter that their peers. (I couldn’t tell you their percentiles because their pediatrician never tells us — he’s a firm believer in not labeling kids and I love him for it.) I also know that kids have random growth spurts. One day you can’t get more than a slice of cucumber in them. The next, they’re chowing down on an 8-oz steak and a gallon of milk.

So, dear retailers, here’s a plea from me and, I suspect, parents everywhere: please don’t label clothes aspirationally. I mean we all know that kids are going to grow — it’s their job. But I’d very much like to walk into a kids clothing store and purchase clothes with the confidence that, if it says 7, it’ll fit an average 7-year-old. At least until the next growth spurt. On the flip side, when you label things 8-10 (I’m looking at you Target), that’s way, way, way, too large a bet too hedge.

Because here’s the thing: kids are usually proud of their age. My 7-year-old does not want to have to wear clothes for 5- or 6-year-olds because the stuff labeled 7 won’t fit her until she’s 8 or 9. My 9-year-old doesn’t want to continue to wear pants labeled 7 because they are the only ones the fit his waist: but the ones labeled 8-10 could fit a giant, by comparison.

By the way, we kept my daughter’s new shorts even though they could drop down to her knees with one jiggle too many. Fortunately, we have safety pins that will have to keep them up until her 7-year-old body decides to expand sufficiently to fit these shorts labeled 6-7. Maybe by this time next year, they will fit.

Pacific Specific

Some hilarity during the car drive home today from school. It appears neither of my kids can wrap their teeth around pronouncing the word: “specific.” Their attempts included:

Pacific

Speficic

and such other mutations.

Then I asked the seven year-old to spell it. She thought, and then slowly and seriously said:

S-P-I-F-I-C-I-F-I-C

We laughed and laughed!

Separation Anxiety

Last week my kids offended me.

Not with any rude behavior or flatulence or other biological substances, but rather because they did not give one hoot that I was going away for a few days.

Yes yes I know. It’s a good thing. They are independent, confident, grounded, yadayadayada.

But please, surely one of them could have squeezed out a teeny tear? Or clung to me just for a moment? Maybe uttered the words, “don’t go?” I mean, no one even asked when I’d be back!

Have I done such a thorough job that they have no worries that their every need has been thought through, seen to, anticipated? I really should let something slip through the cracks next time.

Kids: here’s a tip from your loving mother. Please make her feel like you’ll miss her, even if it means faking it just a teeny weeny bit.

Australia

Guest post by Gabriel McGarry, aged 9. Dedicated to Hugo, Milo & Luca Friedman, his Australian cousins.

Australia is a great continent. In other words, going to Australia when it’s in winter in America is like going into a giant hot tub. Australia is a great continent because it has amazing animals and it has great foods. This essay will persuade you that Australia is fantastic.

For example, there are super unusual animals like a white cockatoo and a ququliegh (sp?) bird. Both are so strange. Also kangaroos are unusual because they jump really high. The highest jumping kangaroo is the grey kangaroo that jumps 20 feet high. That’s big. The longest jumping kangaroo is the red kangaroo with a 12 feet jump. That’s long!

Also, my classmate McKayla mentioned that Australia is a great continent. She learned that Australia has animals that no other continent has. One of them is a koala. McKayla knows a lot of information about Australian animals.

Australia is a great continent. For example, it has awesome foods. French fries are in almost every restaurant. One restaurant called Mr. Wolf had so much French fries and pizza. The French fries tasted like fried potatoes and the pizza tasked like pizza.

It is true that Australia is a country and a continent. I hope that everyone goes to Australia in their lifetime.

Why Australia is a great continent

 

 

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