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

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.

My Kid’s 8 Illogical Picky Eating Habits

Much like me, my daughter loves logic. She likes it when everything follows its designated order and structure. So I find myself perpetually bewildered by her highly illogical picky eating habits which include:

  • Only eating corn on the cob, never off the cob
  • An aversion to most spherical fruits and vegetables including grapes, blueberries and cherry tomatoes
  • “Dry” meatballs
  • Orange cheese only in the form of a square, not in tube/string cheese shape
  • A dislike for raspberries (seriously, how can anyone not love raspberries?)
  • Only muffins that resemble store-made muffins (even though my home-made ones are so much better)
  • Only chocolate sauce – never apple sauce or tomato sauce
  • Peanut butter NO jelly

Now, I’m not a short-order chef when it comes to our family’s meals but I do try to accommodate her, when it makes sense and doesn’t require too much effort. After all this is the girl who is also a self-professed broccoli machine, loves meat/chicken/fish and drinks milk by the gallon.

But seriously, an aversion to spherical fruits and vegetables? That’s just weird.

 

After The Car Crash & What My Kids Are Teaching Me

I could write about how a nanosecond can shatter your self-confidence, rendering you emotionally and physically fragile.

I could write about how I feel like puking at every intersection I encounter when driving.

I could write about my stiff back and bruised clavicle.

I could write about the depths of fear at the possibility of my kids being in harm’s way. And the goosebump-inducing, engulfing relief that they were not hurt.

I could write about the bewildering amount of paperwork and phone calls associated with insurance and personal injury claims.

Instead, I am going to write about what I can learn from how my kids’ have responded to and dealt with last Tuesday’s car crash, when we were T-boned at the traffic lights near our home.

Everyone says that kids are resilient but seeing this in action is remarkable. Yes, there were screams and panic in the moment. Followed by tears and anxiety in the hours following. But there’s no evidence of trauma or emotional scarring. They accept what happened. They understand it’s not normal, that is was the exception, not the rule. They show no fear getting back in the car with me. They defend their Mother. They trust in me.

As we drove our new car home last night from the dealership, my youngest said “It feels good to be in this car.” This, for me, was the most reassuring moment of the past seven days. I too must accept that what happened, and not judge or doubt myself. I must get over my fear. I must trust in me.

 

In Defense of Silliness & Spontaneous Dance Parties

This morning during breakfast, as Bruce Springsteen was playing on the iPod, I jumped up, grabbed my daughter’s electric guitar and rocked out to “Born To Run.” I couldn’t help myself! My six year-old looked at me, wide-eyed, with wonder and glee. After calling me weird, she jumped up and joined in, followed by my husband and son and a spontaneous dance party exploded culminating in us all grooving and giggling to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

Every morning should start off with silliness and a spontaneous dance party. It’s good for the soul, not to mention the cardiovascular system.

Admittedly, it’s a distraction from the “business” of the morning. Making lunches, brushing teeth, playing Minecraft on the iPad, packing backpacks. Yes, we were rushed as the minutes ticked by on the clock ….. but it was so worth it!

Every kid needs to see their parents being silly, every now and then. If we are always instructing, nagging, shuffling them from A to B, focusing on chores and homework, well, it’s all quite dull. The occasional goofiness provides healthy perspective. It tells them that we don’t always take everything so seriously, that we can be light-hearted and laugh at ourselves. Seriously folks, it’s even the secret to my happy marriage!

Silliness defies age. In fact, it keeps you young at heart. Being silly keeps you present and in the moment. If fosters togetherness. And, later in the day, you can reminisce about your antics and giggle a little to yourself.

Silliness has its time and place, for sure. Not every morning is suited to spontaneous dance parties. but, if the music moves you, I say go for it, let it rip. Your kids will start the day smiling and what’s better than that?

Why Am I Doing So Much For My Kids?

“I cannot help you; you’re too independent.”

My Mom said these words to me a few months back. I think she was complaining but I’ll take it as a compliment. After all, I’m the middle child. The older one got all the first son status. The younger one got all the youngest child attention. So I was always determined to chart my own course. Consequently, I firmly believe that happiness and success are my own choice. I alone am responsible for the decisions I make and their outcomes. I create my own destiny.

So why the heck am I doing so much now for my kids? I do their laundry, I clean up after them (I use the word “clean” quite loosely), I remind them (when I remember) to take their swimsuits/library books/signed forms to school, I arrange their playdates, I (sometimes) check their homework. I organize their clothes, get new ones when they outgrow current ones. We buy groceries, new shoes, toys. My husband folds their clothes, packs their lunch every day. We plan and cook their dinners, recycle their trash. We ferry them here, there and everywhere.

Is this not part of the definition and commitment of parenthood?

Yes, they do have some basic chores but inconsistency is ubiquitous (our fault, largely.) Take your plate/glass/cutlery over to the sink when you have finished your meal. Put your shoes/coat/hat/mittens away when you come in the house. Hang your towels up after you use them. Make sure dirty clothes find their way to the hamper, at some point. To me, these are all part of respectfully co-existing in the same household.

But I have decided it’s time for the grown-ups to back-off and for these kids start stepping it up. There is much much more that they can – and should – be doing to be active contributors to our home and hearth, otherwise known as this working Mom’s domestic crisis.

Starting today – albeit gradually and with best intentions – I’m doing less and they are doing more. They are nine and almost seven years-old and I believe it’s time. Maybe even beyond time. It’s going to start with bringing their full hamper down and then folding and putting away their own laundry. We’ll move on to making their own school lunches. Stacking and emptying the dishwasher. Sweeping the kitchen floor. On the weekends, they can make their own breakfasts and lunches. They can call their friends and arrange their own social schedules (checking with parents, of course, who still have to do the ferrying.) I’m sure my husband would appreciate help putting the trash out.

The whining will certainly be loud. Eyeballs will roll. They will be plenty of “fine” and “whatever” and pushback. There will be days when the particular pair of pants he wants to wear are not clean because he won’t have realized that the hamper was full.  They will inevitably say “I’m hungry” and get all stroppy when food does not instantly appear. They will learn. I know other parents who have successfully drilled these duties into their kids’ and I feel ashamed that I am still doing it all for them.

Over time, I’m hoping, these chores will become natural, second nature and hopefully, this household will hum with organization, goodwill and less mayhem. But this isn’t just about making my life easier (though that’s a huge incentive, I’ll admit.)

It’s about getting them to think, anticipate and understand the ingredients of an independent life so that, as they get older and obstacles (emotional, physical and academic) plant themselves in their path, they’ll have the muscle memory to face them. Be responsible for their actions. Take failures and inequity in their stride and ultimately, create their own success – whatever that will be.

Emptying the dishwasher, putting away clean socks and remembering their library books are just stepping stones in this journey. Independence is the goal, but happiness is always a choice.

Puppy Love

Guest post by Vikki Friedman

First there was just me. Then ‘me’ and the love of my life became ‘we’. We became three with the arrival of Harper, our fluffy champagne coloured kitten. The next five years whizzed by in a blur of nappies, sleepless nights and the juxtaposition of joy and insanity that our three unique, loveable and crazy baby boys (Hugo, Milo and Luca) bought into our world. Next came Molly, our fluffy white bunny (formally known as Buster the boy bunny – but that’s another story!).

Life in the Friedman family to this point could be described as semi-controlled chaos. Although my kids had begged us to get a puppy, the answer had always been a resounding “No way!” This was despite having grown up with the most wonderful four legged-friends, our gorgeous Shelties Leo and Ollie.

A few of my reasons were as follows:

  • Dogs are smelly and have really stinky breath
  • They pooh and wee everywhere
  • They destroy everything – your house, your garden and, according to my sister, steal and bury multiple household items including remote controls amongst other things!
  • I would end up doing EVERYTHING associated with looking after the dog!

Pretty good reasons not to get one, eh?

But I remember the day something seismic shifted within in me. My eldest son was having a lousy time getting to sleep and was really worried about ‘bad guys’ breaking in. He seemed to feel responsible for listening out for all the creepy noisy in the house that might mean trouble. That night I had an epiphany – a puppy would bring him the sense of security that he needed and deserved.

Suddenly, I was like that possessed woman who is desperate to have a baby and only sees pregnant women around her! Everywhere I looked everyone had a puppy and my doggy hormones just went into overdrive and I wanted one RIGHT NOW!

But of course it’s not that easy. There is a gestation period involved! First you have to decide on a breed that will suit your situation. We needed a puppy that was low maintenance, child and pet friendly and definitely not fluffy! After hours of research, we decided on a Pugalier – a Pug/Cavalier cross. However, finding one that did not come from a ‘puppy farm’ or other dodgy breeder was a tough task and it took months of research to eventually find a family who we felt comfortable buying a puppy from.

The next consideration was timing – it was important to introduce our new ‘baby’ into our crazy household at the right time, so I waited for the last two weeks of the summer holidays to do this. So, on a steamy 44 degree Melbourne day, Coco (or Puppy as she was known then) took a JetPets flight down from Sydney and flew straight into our lives and we haven’t looked back since.

“So what’s the verdict?” I hear you ask. Well yes, she is a bit stinky. And yes, she is still in the “here is my pooh as a present on the carpet” phase! She is nuts and sometime nips and sometimes steals things she shouldn’t and digs holes in the garden so that the bunny escapes under our back yard deck! She chases the rabbit around the garden and the cat has basically moved out since she took up residence!

But despite all this, she is friendly, loveable, playful, fun, loyal, so cute and has bought endless joy and entertainment to our family life. Our kids adore her. She adores them. They play with her first thing in the morning and first thing when they get home from school. There is less iPad, computer and TV time in our household and more fun and puppy play time. All she wants is love and be loved. And really, what more could any family ask for?

coco

Vikki Friedman is a English mum of 3 boys, who lives in Melbourne, Australia. She works in online fundraising, runs her kids’ school parents’ association and is starting her own face painting business. (Editors note: she’s also my sister!)

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