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.

 

 

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?

Kids versus Grown-Ups

We try to co-exist in harmony, but the plain truth is that opposing forces are at work. No wonder parents feel exasperated all the time while the kids just rolls their eyes at us. It’s as if they are from Mars and we are from Venus. Like powerful magnetic fields, we are drawn to each other until someone turns the magnet around and it does that weird avoiding you thing. And apparently, it’s our job to convert these strange creatures into law-abiding grown-ups.

While we parents slave at trying to keep things calm, orderly, socially-acceptable, pleasant, clean, polite and educational, they are doing the exact opposite, including:

  • Distributing teeny pieces of Legos all over the house.
  • Picking their noses and wiping it somewhere that you are likely to find hours later.
  • Not flushing the toilet.
  • Writing on walls
  • Yelling like Clone Wars invading banshees while you are trying to rest.
  • Really really really really really wanting to buy new toys.
  • Leaving dirty clothes wherever they happen to discard them.
  • Stuffing their faces with sugary snacks 30 mins before dinner.
  • Trying to fly ….
  • Pouring a big glass of milk and justing drinking a little sip of it.
  • Using the floor as a trash can.
  • Using their top or sleeve to wipe their mouth and nose.
  • Wearing your makeup.
  • Eating play doh.
  • Spreading [insert unsavory/messy item here e.g. powder, ketchup, diaper cream, lipstick, poop] wherever it’s not supposed to be spread
  • Bringing their worm collection into the house.
  • Saying “fine” or “whatever” and stomping off.
  • Waking up early when you want them to sleep late.
  • Sleeping late when you need them to get up early.
  • Eating Jello on the couch.
  • Creating light sabers or guns out of anything. Seriously, anything.
  • Squirting way too much ketchup on their plates.
  • Pushing each other’s buttons.
  • Ignoring instructions.
  • Stuffing their gobs too fast, then burping like a trucker.
  • Eating food slower than a snail. Molecule by freaking molecule (especially if you are in a hurry).
  • Default = I want.
  • Finding a Sharpie & writing on the couch ( despite the fact you have 100s of washable markets !

Sound familiar? What’s a parent to do?

If you are reading on, thinking you’ll find the answers here, then I am sorry to disappoint. Fear not though; the glass is half full. See here’s the best part: we are all in this together!

And at some point, somehow, they become adults, no matter our attempts at restraining their beastly ways.

Four Great Parenting Tips That Work For Me

Advice about parenting is everywhere. From the grandmotherly types who tell you your baby is not dressed warmly enough while you are waiting in line at the grocery store, to whichever Tiger or French Mom book is the parenting manual du jour. Or maybe you actively seek out advice via blogs, magazines or from other Mom at groups, schools or the playground. I know my circle of Mom friends have been utterly indispensable, helping me navigate through and survive the poop, teething, tears, bed-wetting, picky eating and tantrums over the years. Sharing our stories, offering a shoulder to cry on and a good belly laugh, ideally over alcoholic beverages, have helped a load too.

Sometimes, just when you think you’ve really nailed this Mom thing, along comes the front cover of TIME magazine asking are you “Mom enough?” Thanks so much TIME for making us even more insecure than we already were. (And by the way, if ever doubt your “Mom-enough-ness,” I recommend you read this great post by blogger Sharon DeVellis over at YummyMummyClub.)

For me, there have been parenting tips that have worked and some that have bombed. There are those that sound great in principle but just don’t fit my kids, our lifestyle or my threshold for yelling. I also find that the hardest part is remembering to actually use these tips, especially in the midst of a meltdown in Target or Friendly’s.

The following are four parenting tips that have worked for me — when I’ve remembered to use them. Some came from friends, some from my own Mom, some from parenting articles and blogs. They may or may not work for you. That’s your call. To each their own.

  • “When … then …”: Example: “when you finish [insert chore/request/food item] then you can [insert reward/positive outcome]. It’s essentially a form of tit for tat. You do for me, I’ll do for you. Works like a treat with my daughter. Especially if I offer to do a silly dance as the reward.
  • Pick your battles: An oldie but a goodie. Knowing when it’s worth digging in with your kid to make a point, or just letting it go for the sake of peace. Case in point when my three-year old once threw a wobbly over the T-shirt I had selected for her one day. I decided to stand my ground. That T-shirt or no T-shirt. She opted for the latter and so I sent her to preschool topless. Was I mean? Maybe. Did she learn who the boss was? Damn right. Does she still challenge me? Every day! Ah well.
  • Get on down: I can often be found yelling down the stairs, issuing commands from another room, negotiating peace treaties. But nothing works better I’ve found than getting down to your kid’s level, making eye contact, talking with and listening to them. It must be so much nicer for them than being shrieked at from a distance. It also helps you appreciate the view from their perspective, quite literally.
  • Collaborative consequences: This is a new one for me, but my seven-year old has bought into it (so far). When a recent infringement was discovered, I asked him what he thought the proper consequence should be. He proposed a thoughtful and reasonable “punishment” which resonated with him. I tweaked it a little and we were good to go.

What parenting tips have saved your sanity and kept everyone happy, nurtured and safe? You’re more than welcome to borrow mine, if you think they could help you and your family. Just keep paying it forward so that the Mom species survives.

Confessions of a Yo-Yo Exerciser

I love exercise.

I could sit and watch it all day.

If I had all day, that is. And given the choice, I’d rather be eating or sleeping than exercising. Admit it, you feel the same.

Fact is, when you are a working Mom, time is a very precious commodity. Between working, commuting, rallying the troops, groceries, laundry, school drop off, school pick up and trying to stop your house from looking like it’s been invaded by little monsters, there’s barely time for anything. And quite frankly, I’d rather be eating, watching TV, reading Christian Grey or sleeping, than torturing my doughy tummy and dimpled thighs.

Before kids, well, that was different. While no-one could have called me an athletic or muscular type, I enjoyed exercising. Dance, step, Pilates, gym, running, weights. I went to the gym at least twice a week for decades. For many years, I even had a personal trainer come to my home. In fact, this was the key to my success. Given that I am a lazy so-and-so, the fact that I’d paid some to show up at an appointed time and put me through my paces was the best formula to make exercise actually happen.

Fast-forward to the last seven years of motherhood and I have turned into a yo-yo exerciser with sporadic bouts of commitment to various forms of exercise. Since having kids, I can no longer afford the luxury of a personal trainer (see ‘The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent.’) These days, the best time for me to squeeze in a”workout” is between 5.45-6.30am, i.e. before the kids wake up and the morning mayhem starts. There’s no time to really go anywhere so exercise, when it happens, is in my basement.

My random attempt at getting into an exercise regime have, at best, lasted 2-3 weeks and have usually been thwarted by sleep interruptions, vacations, business travel and injury – as well as defeatism, boredom and the overwhelming desire to go back to sleep after the alarm goes off so damn early. Here’s what I have tried:

  • I’ve walked on my treadmill, listening to my iPod, watching the morning news or, more recently, random movies from the 80s.
  • I’ve pedaled on my mini-elliptical machine. Ditto. But after 10 minutes I really want to quit.
  • I’ve done several videos taught by various annoying, lithe, energetic women. The last time I did one though, one of my kids surprised me and I turned around too quickly and wrenched my back.
  • I bought one of those infomercial kits with a DVD and resistance bands that promised me I’d burn 300 calories and tone my core in just 20 minutes. I did it twice and for some strange reason, could barely move my arms after (while my flabby middle never felt a thing!)
  • While I was out of work/working from home for three months, I had more time and was able to go to  Zumba classes 2-3 times a week. It kicked my butt. I loved it.
  • Most recently, I’ve been walking in the mornings – now that it’s light again – with a girlfriend and this has been a great success, as long as our schedules have meshed, our kids have slept, our husbands haven’t been travelling and it hasn’t been raining. It’s so nice to be chatting away with a friend and not even realizing you are exercising!

So what’s this Mom to do? I fully understand the benefits of exercising and, certainly, in my (ahem) 40s, I appreciate the imperative to exercise. But my excuses are many, my motivation is on-again-off-again, and my successes are hit or miss. The good news is that I eat a healthy diet and that my weight has stayed within the same range for the last four or five years. That’s not to say I could do with shedding five, maybe ten pounds.

I guess I should just get off my arse and do it.

Wish I could outsource it.

Now there’s an idea …..

Pushing Buttons

Many years ago, in the Time Before Kids, I witnessed an argument between my husband and his mother. As they were just getting warmed up with the objections and counterpoints, my husband said something to my mother-in-law that I knew would send her off the charts. Which it did. They went at it with gusto. Went to bed furious with each other.

The next morning, it was as if nothing had happened.

Coming from a family where verbal fights very rarely happened, I found this very strange. I’ve since learned that, for many families, bickering and quarrelling is the norm. It’s just the way they converse, debate, process and eventually resolve things. Tempers may fly, accusations may be made but, in the end, everyone still loves each other. Sometimes all the more for the spa-ing.

That night, after he and his Mom went at each other, I asked my husband why on earth he said the very thing that propelled the argument into the stratosphere.

He replied, “Because I love her and I like pushing her buttons.”

Go figure. He was actually egging her on, seeking out a grand old fight. Because that’s how he and she got it done.

I was thinking about this incident today because my kids were pushing my buttons big time. Bickering with each other over everything and anything. Assuming I would schlep their multiple bags, coats and random art projects from school to car to house. Telling me they don’t like pasta today when they loved it yesterday. Demanding “I want this, I need that, I don’t like this, don’t give me that.” (Insert grating, whiny voice.) Objecting to my every request. Being. Generally. Annoying.

“Why do they push my buttons?!” I despaired to myself.

I’m sure all those child psychologists have a lot of theories on the subject. Stuff to do with boundaries, working through conflict, touch points and all that. However those same psychologists might not be taking into account the long day I just spent at work, the fact that I need a glass of wine (stat) or just that my threshold for kiddo nonsense is running low today.

But I’m choosing to go with my husband’s rationale. Evidently it’s because they love me. And just like my hubs and his mother, I may well yell at them when they push my buttons and they will probably yell back – but tomorrow is another day. It’s all good.

Beware Bitchy Mama

It’s been a long week and it’s not over yet. Been doing the working Mom/sick kid juggle a.k.a. trying to do it all and not doing much of anything well. I’ve been Worried Mama. I’ve been Sympathetic Mama. I’ve been Entertaining Mama. I’ve been Tradeoff Mama. I’ve been Sick Mama too. And today I’m Bitchy Mama. My patience has worn thin, I need uninterrupted sleep and to watch TV that is not animated.

These are the zero-tolerance rules that Bitchy Mama has set forth today for the kids:

  • Any sentence starting with “I want” is being ignored.
  • Any request that does not include the word “please” is being ignored.
  • All and any whining is ignored.
  • If you are yelling for me and I am in a different part of the house, you will be ignored. Come find me. Especially if it involves blood or other bodily fluids.
  • If you are fighting, do not expect me to moderate. Work it out.
  • Tattle-telling will get you nowhere, fast.
  • If you do not listen to me, there’s a strong chance I will yell at you.
  • If you need something and it is within reach, go get it yourself.
  • I am the boss of you.

Let’s be clear. These are not rules that were implemented for the first time today. They are a constant – kind of. There’s usually a fair amount of latitude and negotiation involved; some give and take. But today I was The Enforcer. And it felt really good.

Bitchy Mama will hopefully be replaced by Sweet & Loving Mama tomorrow. But the zero-tolerance rules will remain.

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!

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