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.

 

 

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

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?

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