The Book

Unhelpful Hints and Teasers

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It is part of a parent’s duty to engage in good-natured ribbing with your kids.

This is MRB Chapter 12 (Just Because…) and, to a certain extent, Chapter 9 (Education. Yes, really – I think this leads to a certain level of mental gymnastics that is helpful to figuring out other things).

Our kids have sort of embraced it. They’ve started with the puns and sarcasm and ribbing of their own.

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At Eldest Progeny’s request, here is her list of Unhelpful Hints for Gift-Giving Occasions (her words; my comments are in italics):

Kid: Mooooom, what did you get me?

Parent: Here’s a hint:

  • Not an elephant.
  • Not a giraffe.
  • Not a house.
  • Not a swimming pool.
  • Not a hippo. (My addition – this is the point where I would probably start singing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.)
  • Not a home on Mars.
  • Not a bowling ball (flat presents only).
  • Not extra homework.
  • Not a huge spacecraft headed to the moon as we speak.

Kid: Daaaad, what did you get me?

Parent: Sweetie, I got you nothing but…..

  • socks. (I would start singing that MLP classic Nothing Says Christmas Like a Pair of Socks)
  • pink fluffy unicorns (for boys).
  • shoes (for girls). (She’s young, and doesn’t appreciate the value of a perfect pair of boots under a Christmas tree...)
  • a wolf.

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And, that’s what life is like in our house. I’m so proud.

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Temporary Inconveniences for Long-Term Benefits

Raising kids is a long series of TILTBs.

disney cookbook

Click for the Amazon link.

The kids have the Disney Royal Recipe Collection cookbook, and their favorite recipe in it is for Sandy Scoops (brought to you by Ariel and her Under the Sea Snacks). Invariably, this results in cinnamon and sugar on the table and the floor, and dirty measuring spoons, cutting boards, and cookie sheets on the counter. (We are working on making dishwasher-loading part of the kids’ kitchen expertise, but that’s a whole other issue.) But it also results in the kids using measuring tools in two different sizes, cutting tortillas by themselves to the size they want it to be (they favor pizza cutters for this, so they are also learning to differentiate between what tools are best and easiest for them to use), and safely removing a hot pan from the toaster oven (if I have been slow on dishwasher training, I feel like I’ve made up for it on ensuring that they remember to turn the toaster oven off).

But it’s more than making a tasty snack all by themselves. Sure, there’s the mathematics-education value of how 1/4 vs. whole-sized measuring spoons compare to one another. There is some science value in observing which pot holders insulate your hand against heat better, or even our discussions about how reflexes keep our extremities safe. And all of that is wonderful, but what it really comes down to, is that my kids can feed themselves. And they know it. They are becoming increasingly comfortable in the kitchen (and we aren’t neglecting the grocery store, either), and I know that whatever else is going on in their lives – they can eat.

There are lots of things that are important life skills, and I have forgotten that there is so much to learn. I don’t think I realized at the time that I was learning life skills, but now I am acutely aware that the kids need to learn these things to be the confident, capable, and successful people it is our privilege to help them become.

Sugar on the floor, crumbs in the butter, tomato sauce splattered on the stovetop, strange ingredients in the fridge, and a pile of dirty dishes are inconvenient. But the benefits are so worth it.

Sick Days

Kids’ sick days  – they’re inevitable. And I think they should be respected. Not only because you don’t want to be that parent, but because kids need to know that they are important, and that they matter, and especially so when they’re sick. It’s nice to know people are there for you when you feel yucky.

So, what to do?

Not the mental gymnastics involved in making phone calls, canceling plans, and making apologies. I’m talking about once all that is done, and you’re settling in, and have to figure out how to handle the day.

It’s one thing if you know they’re sick and feel bad. You’ve been thrown up on once or twice already or the digital thermometer freaked out or whatever. That absolutely calls for board games and stories read ad nauseam and watching that movie again.

But sometimes, the fever broke at 2am, and she has to be fever-free for 24 hours before you can send her back (you tried to fudge that one, once, only to get called by the school nurse halfway through the day when the fever returned, so you are not trying that again), even though she is bouncing on the bed and singing the most annoying song she can think of.

What to do with those days?

Or the days when you kind of feel like you let yourself be convinced to keep them home.

Maybe someone just needs a “mommy and me” day. I hate to think of brushing that off. Sometimes, a kid just needs to be close to Mama (or Daddy). And that’s okay, because it works the other way, too – sometimes Mama just needs to hug her baby. (Insert Daddy/his as appropriate – I know it applies, but it was hard to put both in and still make the sentence pretty.) How do you balance that with the need to not miss school? I try to work in as many Moments outside of school as we can, but then there’s also homework and extracurriculars and dinner has to be cooked and dishes have to be done and there’s the laundry, and, and, and.

There are less cuddly reasons, too. Maybe it’s 30º outside and they don’t like wearing a coat, or it’s 85º out and they don’t want to wear pants. Maybe they didn’t study for the spelling test. Maybe the movie they’ve been wanting to see just popped up on Netflix or maybe they’re 2/3 of the way through HP7 and they just have to find out what Harry and Hermione and Ron are going to do next and they tried to stay up all night reading but now they’re exhausted and if they stay home then they can sleep in and then finish the book.

(Though really – what book lover hasn’t had that idea? It sounds like a little slice of heaven, really, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the Mommy Rule Book somewhere that I’m supposed to tell the kids  that education is important and they’re supposed to go to school.)

Where do we draw the line between being supporting and loving, and boring? I want to be comforting, but not make “sick” days so much fun that we start seeing more of them.

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And there’s this to consider, too:

Education is important. Being responsible is important. But taking care of yourself is important, too.

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. -Ferris Bueller

How do you teach balance Indulgence and Responsibility? I think it’s a hard thing to do well, and I want to help my kids learn how. I think they’ll be happier for it.

And I somehow feel we start with how we approach Sick Days.

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Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I think I have a date with a maybe-or-maybe-not-too-sick kiddo, and Pete the Cat.

Policing Bedtime

I’ve been pondering the idea of education a lot lately. Cultural, social, formal. But two different conversations, with two different neighbors, from this past week have propelled me in a direction that I hadn’t thought of in an educational sense: Practical.

I don’t remember how it got started, but one neighbor and I discovered we have a pet peeve in common – helplessness. Whatever task you are attempting might be difficult, and you might need assistance, but you are NOT helpless, and we both refuse to allow our children to feel helpless. No whining allowed – don’t stand there and be pitiful. Figure out what you CAN do, and DO IT! Chances are, that by DOING, you will discover that you are capable of more than you thought you were. If nothing else, it will propel you into discovering new resources. (Help is a resource, but I’m not going to do 100% of anything for you anymore – you have to at least show me that you tried.)

Fast forward a few days, and another neighbor called to inquire about a slumber party I was hosting for my daughter and several of her friends. “What time,” he wanted to know, “are you going to send them to bed?”

I explained to him that I did not intend to police bedtime. However, if the girls wanted me to put in a movie for them after midnight, then it would be Fantasia, since it is a rather calm and somewhat soothing film that they would be likely to fall asleep during.

It might be worth noting that this particular gentleman has mentioned in the past that bedtime is bedtime, regardless of the circumstances. Not surprisingly, they opted against attending the sleepover.

I will admit, this post is a little bit about what I wish I had said. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that both of these conversations are related.

I am an advocate of helping kids learn from their own experiences. Yes, by staying up until almost midnight the kids were all tired the next day (they were determined to stay up later, but just couldn’t do it). And I’m sure that at their next sleepover, they will do exactly the same thing. Eventually, though, the cause and effect will catch up with them, and they will understand that staying up late will result in being tired the next day. This is a lesson that I want them to learn now, rather than at 16, the night before a road trip. Or at 20, the night before a big final exam. Now, at 8, when they won’t be hurt by the consequences of the action.

I am not just raising children. I am raising children to become adults. If I just tell them that not getting enough sleep will make for a bad day tomorrow, they will never fully grasp it. It’s like teaching them not to touch the oven – they didn’t understand what hot meant, until they touched it anyway. But staying up late, and being cranky and tired the next day – now they’ve got it.

I trust my kids, and  I believe in them. I trust and believe that they are intelligent beings, who are capable of learning from their decisions, and building on that lesson in the future.

(Please note: we DO have regular bedtimes in our house. Part of the purpose of a slumber party, though, is to break routine. Also, while I believe in allowing the kids to make their own mistakes, I also believe in letting them fail safely – therefore, we do require bedtimes when we know that not having one is trouble.)

I believe that lessons kids teach themselves stick better. Sleep deprivation might not be a huge life lesson, but it’s one example of self-teaching. I want the kids to get into the habit of learning from everyday experiences. To realize that everything is capable of teaching them something. And it’s this habit that will, hopefully, keep them away from helplessness.

 

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.  – Benjamin Franklin

Minimalization

The things you own end up owning you. – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I think I am at the nexus of MRB Chapters 2 (Hygiene) and 12 (Just Because, That’s Why).

I’m decluttering.

Or, I’m trying to.

I’ve been seeking out some advice on this.  Wow. Google “minimalist.” The results are staggering.

I have some favorites.

http://www.theminimalistmom.com/category/getting-started/

http://happyherbivore.com/2013/11/minimalist/

http://zenhabits.net/about/

And then, one day, it clicked. It was well past time to dust the bookshelf – truth be told, I was putting it off, because it’s tedious. And I realized, that if I didn’t have so many books piled haphazardly, it would be easier to dust. So I pulled some off. No, I pulled a lot off. Put them in a box.

And then Dear Husband took it to Half-Priced Books. (To my horror, I recently discovered that Half-Priced Books doesn’t exist everywhere!  This is a used bookstore. If there isn’t one in your area, I’m sorry. You should get one.) Anyway. I was initially irritated. In fact, I found several reasons to be irritated. But, you know what? I only remember one or two of the titles that were in that rather full copy paper box. He got a whopping $14 for them, by the way.

But we really got more than $14. The shelf is kinder on the eyes – less visually cluttered. It’s easier to dust, so that’s a bit healthier, since now I’m doing it more often. But even doing it more often, it’s still a time saver, since I don’t have to take the time to move a whole lot of stuff out of the way. I also have to admit, I got a little peace of mind – our oldest child is a voracious reader and I had a large selection of, well, brain candy, and now she won’t stumble across some of the racier novels that I got rid of (that’s not to say that I got rid of all of them…..).

I feel a little bit inspired by that. Though I still have a long, long way to go.

I find the word “Minimize” to be a little intimidating, to be honest. So many different viewpoints on this. One subset of folks say that to be truly minimalist, you have to have fewer than 100 possessions. Yeah, I threw that one out the window. I think a lot of people cheat, anyway. I saw someone who considered his “library” to be a single possession. I have no idea how many individual books constitute a “library.”

Then there are the – How Little Stuff Can I Have? – people. The people who successfully travel the world with their newborn and the contents of two backpacks. Wow. Cool, but not for me.

I found a reference – I don’t remember where – that described minimalist living as just meaning that you don’t have to be quite so organized. Because it means that you don’t have enough stuff to NEED a complicated filing/organizing system.

I like that idea.

Sort of like the bookshelf. It’s friendlier.

It’s going to be a long road, but I have a goal: I want us to be friends with our home and stuff, instead of fighting with it all the time.

Feeding Kids – I’m Failing This One

Before Oldest Progeny was born, I had quite a bit of trepidation on how to feed her.  We had determined that breastfeeding was worth trying, and were going to make a go of it, but I was nervous.   And though there were tears and difficulty, we ultimately did alright.  I wish I’d known how comparatively easy feeding an infant is.  Fast forward to now, seven years later, and I have no idea how to feed that child.  Well, I know exactly what she wants me to feed her, but that ain’t happening.  It is well past time for things to be changed.  The MRB is about to get a workout.

I have created a monster.  I own that.  This is my fault.  I would like very much to spread the blame out, to say that I don’t raise her in a vacuum and that it’s as much everyone else’s fault, too – but I can’t really do that.  I have no doubt that the babysitters ALWAYS stopping to pick up her favorite pizza – even going out of their way to do so – was a contributing factor; that her daddy truly not understanding that it is NOT okay to stop whatever he was doing to make her a jam sandwich was fuel to the fire – but I have been responsible for most of her meals since she was born.  This is my monster. Whether or not the other things hurt or helped, this is my fault.

I started badly.  And I have guilt over that every day, at every meal.  DH (Dear Husband, for those who don’t troll the mommy message boards) and I tend to like food a bit on the spicy side, so I got into the habit of serving non-spicy meals to our beginning eater.  It was fun, at first.  We would go to the deli, and sample whatever they were handing out.  Sometimes she didn’t like it, but if she did, it was added to the rotation – I would have it sliced thick, and we would cube it to serve with grapes and crackers.  There was a time when our fridge was full of plastic storage boxes containing cubes of salami, ham, pepperoni, turkey, roast beef, muenster, cheddar, or swiss.  We would try things that looked interesting from the produce section, too – apples of different types, grapes in different colors, peaches, pears, watermelon, kiwi, star fruit, ugli fruit, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers.  Whatever colors and textures caught our attention, we tried.  I thought that was doing okay, but I feel like it led us down the wrong path.  I should have relegated that to lunch, but I got into the habit of doing it for dinner, also.  And I can’t help but think of that as being where I went wrong.  It became an expectation, that she would get a unique dinner of her choice.

And then.  A sudden refusal to eat roast beef cubes.  Then turkey.  Then ham.  Then chicken nuggets.  And my biggest error was that I went with it!  We are down to shredded mozzarella (not cubed, not sliced, just shredded).  Grilled cheese sandwiches.  Jam sandwiches.  Red grapes. Pretzels. Goldfish crackers.  Plain cheese pizza.  I can count the foods she eats with consistency on less than two hands.

I will admit, part of my problem with this is that it’s embarrassing.  When we had to leave a birthday party, because my then-four-year-old threw a screaming fit that the hostess served cheese pizza without a side of cheese sticks.  And now? she comes and sings happy birthday, and then goes to play by herself.  She would rather be alone than socialize with kids eating something she doesn’t like.  Thank goodness, at least some of her friends understand that she isn’t intentionally being rude, she’s just picky.  It’s odd to hear that kind of insight from a seven year old, but I am grateful for it.

And the defiance!  She has admitted to me that part of this is a power trip.  There are foods that she won’t eat at home, that she will eat at her grandmother’s house.  I have bought the same brands.  I have had her grandmother purchase them and bring them here.  I have brought home the leftovers.  Nope.  I have tried to give her choices for a lot of things, but at home, this is where she’s decided to make her stand (I suspect she has chosen a different platform with Grandmom and Pop).  Unfortunately, I can’t let it go on anymore.  I suspect it’s going to get uglier than it already has, but I’m done.  The irony has not escaped me, that we were very conscientious – even strict, at times – about creating good tooth brushing and bedtime habits – but messed up royally here.

No small part of my frustration is that I am flat exhausted.  I used to like to cook.  I like trying new things.  But I simply don’t have the energy to make four meals every night – who does?  One for me, with the veggies I like.  One for DH – same main course, but no veggies.  One for the Eldest – since the only protein she will now accept is cheese, I feel like we’ll be one of those families who has to hospitalize a malnourished child if I don’t give it to her (if there is a bottom to be hit in the picky eating battles – that’s it – and one I intend to avoid).  One for youngest – as slight a variation on the main meal as possible (I am so afraid of screwing up with this one, too) – who points out that it’s not fair for eldest to get something special but not her.  Given all that, guess whose food preferences are often put by the wayside, to make accommodating every one else easier?  There are a lot of dishes that I really miss cooking and eating, but you know what?  It’s a lot easier to ignore my preferences than it is to listen to everyone else’s complaints sometimes.  It’s not fair, but Hey! I’m only preparing three meals instead of four!  Bonus points if no variations are needed for either of the kids!

But my biggest problem with this, where I really feel like I am failing her, is that a great deal of social life circles around food.  Even the simple act of preparing a meal together as a family is a miserable proposition, since she not only refuses to taste many foods – she doesn’t want to smell or touch them, either.  She will never enjoy dinner parties.  That first Girl Scout campout, when the kids have the pride of having made the dinner all by themselves, won’t mean anything to her.  What about hitting IHOP after the school dance?  Appetizers with the co-workers after work on Friday?  Impromptu lunch dates with a girlfriend.  Already, I dropped her off late and picked her up early for a sleepover because she would eat neither the dinner nor the breakfast the hostess had planned to serve.  Her capacity to enjoy enjoy any given birthday party is hit-or-miss. I feel like she is and will be missing so much.  How many social occasions can she/we refuse or obviously not enjoy before friendships suffer for it?  And that worry, more than the defiance or exhaustion or embarrassment, just makes me cry.

I’m sorry, baby.  I want – we need – to fix this.  I’ll try – and I’m sorry for that, too, because it’s going to be rough on all of us.

The kids want to SEE the Mommy Rule Book

It was inevitable, I suppose.

“Can I see the mommy rule book?” No.  No, you can’t.

“Why not?”  Because you’re not a mommy.  Yeah, they’re not buying that one.

Speaking of buying…”Where do you buy the mommy rule book?”  You don’t buy it.  “Then how do you get it?”  And that is where I got truly inspired…You don’t GET it.  You LEARN it.

People who are a lot smarter than I am, say there might be evidence to support that.  It’s called “The Internal Working Model.”  My best understanding of that is, that even young babies learn about themselves and how to do things – including how to be a mommy or daddy – based on how they observe the world as infants.  They internalize their infant experiences, and that becomes their working model for how to handle life.

But that doesn’t satisfy the kiddos.  They want something in writing.  I’ve tried to fake it.  Sometimes, I’ve even thrown in chapter titles.  However, when I tell them stories, the kids always call me on it if I change a minor detail or leave something out, so I dare not be inconsistent with this.

So, here’s my attempt at writing down the Mommy Rule Book.  (Inevitably, it’s going to change.  But I’m not trying to be definitive, or make real rules, or even be complete – I’m just trying to keep it straight in my head, and maybe get a couple of more years out of it!)

Chapter One: Because I’m the Mom, and I Said So

First of all, there’s that whole Internal Working Model thing.  We can “say so,” because we’ve learned so.  And because we understand germ theory.  And social convention.  And manners.  And seat belt laws.  And….all that other stuff the kids won’t listen to explanations for.  But there’s often a reason for what we say.  Really, there is.

Chapter Two: Hygiene
Kiddo doesn’t want to leave the playground at McDonald’s, even though urine is in danger of turning the tube slide into a water park? “I’m sorry, honey, we have to leave, it’s in the Mommy Rule Book.” Sweet little moppet threatens a category five temper tantrum over washing her hair? Yeah, I invoke the MRB.

Subchapter 1: Boo-boos. “Yes, it hurts, but you have to let me wash it and put a band-aid on it.”

Subchapter 2: Dentists

Subchapter 3:Barbers/hairstylists.

Chapter Three: Food
It’s hard to explain things like, “In fifty years, when your first bone density test results are awesome, you’re going to thank me for making you drink a glass of milk every day.” Probably, “Because childhood obesity is threatening to cut your generations’ life span,” is a bit much, too.

Subchapter One: things that aren’t food. (Gum, paper, play-doh, whatever…)

Subchapter Two: Inconsistency Loophole. “I know we had ice cream for dinner last night, but we can’t do it three nights in a row…”

Subchapter Three: Yes, you have to try it.  (Subchapter Three has a loophole – things that just about everyone agrees are icky.  “Just hide the….whatever that is….under your napkin, and we’ll stop on the way home.”)

Chapter Four: Safety
“Don’t stand on dead tree branches.” “Wear your bike helmet.” “Buckle the seatbelt.” “Don’t pet strange dogs.” “Change the windshield wipers.” “Drive with the headlights on.” Graphic explanations are for school health class and after school specials.  Chapter Four is for me.

Subchapter One:  Internet.  Because there is some scary stuff out there.

Subchapter Two:  Hygiene, again.

Chapter Five: Inclement Weather
I’m sure I’m not the only mom who sends a jacket to school with her kid, knowing the child isn’t going to wear it, but not wanting the teacher to think I’m the kind of mom who wouldn’t send a jacket.

Chapter Six: Social Niceties
Yes, you have to say please, thank you, and excuse me. No, you can’t run naked through the mall. No, you can’t scream at the top of your lungs in…anywhere indoors. No, you can’t stand on your seat in the movie theater. Etc. Etc. Sorry, it’s in the MRB.

Subchapter 1: Inconsistencies Loophole. That’s for grown-ups or movie characters only. Like why that man in mommy’s favorite TV show says THAT word all the time, but she can’t. “That’s the rule. It’s in the MRB.”

Subchapter 2: It’s not because YOU want to;  it’s because THEY would appreciate it.  Funerals.  Appropriate clothing at weddings (or anywhere else).  Photos at family reunions.  And all that jazz.

Chapter Seven: Social Responsibility
“I know it’s show and tell day, but you have a 101 fever and you’re covered in purple spots, so you have to stay home.” The funnier (if it’s not you) “Don’t pee on the slide.” Also good for sitting in the sick room during doctor’s visits and why you should cover your mouth when you sneeze. The answers to “why” on these actually exist, but are complicated. (Thank goodness for Google and wikipedia. The MRB usually buys me enough time to reference them.) If you have pets, you can throw in leash laws, pooper scoopers, and why you want to prevent your cat from having kittens, too.

Chapter Eight:  Let’s Go.                                                                                         Because my job is to encourage you to try.  So, we’re going to dance class/band practice/football practice/sleepaway camp….

Chapter Nine:  Education I’m doing you kids a great disservice if I’m not helping you learn stuff.

Chapter Ten: I Know You Don’t Like This Rule, But It’s For Your Own Good
Or, rules intuition tells you are good, but you couldn’t say why. Have a bedtime. Don’t eat worms. Do something other than watch TV.  Rules that you know must have a good explanation, but you haven’t looked them up yet, or the explanation is too complicated to make sense to you, so you have no hope of explaining it to them, or filing it neatly somewhere else in the MRB.

Subchapter: I’m YOUR mommy, and I said so – I don’t care if s/he’s allowed to do/not do it.  If I were her/his mom, then s/he would have this rule, too.

Chapter Eleven: Because If Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy                           You are perfectly entitled to Mom’s Night Out every once in a while.  And having your own games on the tablet and phone.  And having an occasional glass of wine after the kids go to bed.  Or cooking what YOU like for dinner, every once in a while.  It’s like that little card in airplanes that tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before helping the kids.  It’s counter-instinctual, but if you pass out from lack of oxygen, then what good are you to them?

Chapter Twelve: Just Because, That’s Why
Sort of the intersection of Chapters Six and Ten.  This is for stuff you just want for the family, but the only explanation you have is the one that feels really corny:  memories. Maybe you want to institute a monthly game night. Maybe you want to take family pictures. Or sing a song in the car. Or whatever. Your husband may or may not understand your sudden need for everyone to decorate the Christmas tree together with handmade strands of popcorn (popped in a saucepan over the stove and strung lovingly in front of a cozy fire) while sipping apple cider and singing Jingle Bells. He doesn’t have to. But you’re allowed the attempt. It’s in the Mommy Rule Book.