What Are the Chances?

What are the chances?

Reliving College Humiliation:

I never thought my utter failure to understand statistics or probability in college would ever become a parenting issue. I haven’t thought about the red, hot “D” I received in a college statistics course more than once or twice in the two decades since I matriculated.

I always did well in math – geometry, trig, algebra – bring it on. Statistics ruined me.  Sophomore year, first semester, PTSD (post traumatic statistics disorder). I didn’t even consider getting a tutor at the time, but I am now.

Third Grade Stats:

Until tonight, I’ve been able to answer our daughter Ava’s math questions with ease, something I’ve felt a perverse pride in considering she’s only in third grade (look at me, I’m a whiz at multiplication … you should see my long-division skills, baby!). Here’s the question from my daughter’s practice exam that stumped me:

What is the likelihood of drawing a seven in a regular deck of cards?

Here’s how my brain works:  26 cards in a deck, 4 seven cards, probability of drawing a seven card? Who cares? Or 4/26. BUT, that’s not the right answer. WTF?!

Brain Bleed:

I hate not understanding something. And now my brain (or is that my pride?) hurts.

I will conquer statistics. Or not. What I want tonight is permission to never need to understand probability – I don’t gamble, don’t care about over/under betting or sports spreads and apparently will never be a third grade math teacher. Yet I do want to understand how to think through and solve questions like this.

My daughter didn’t know the answer (and soon lost interest in finding one) and my husband who understands this stuff was out-of-town. So I turned to the internet. I was determined to figure it out – on my own, damn it (you know, for Ava’s sake, of course). And I did, finally, but in doing so completely ignored both my daughters and perhaps taught them one or two choice swear words! (What’s the probability of those words coming back to bite me?)

Tutor Wanted:

Can you find my mistake? Does my stubborn insistence on finding the answer count as teaching my daughters perseverance? And most importantly, would I have aced statistics in college if Al Gore had invented the internet a few years sooner?

I suggested to Ava that she ask her teacher to review the basics of statistics and probability again tomorrow. Ms. Phenner, will you teach me too?

Of Chickens & Children: Free Range?

A Teachable Mom’s dream & fear: “See ya, tonight, Mom. We’ll be at the park!”

I’m a worrier. Not one of my favorite traits, but I come by it honestly. Cultivated in my family for generations, worry has been handed down as lovingly as my grandmother’s mouth-watering Italian focaccia recipe and my grandfather’s tips for concocting near-lethal homemade wine.

I tell myself worry is part of my DNA, like the genes responsible for my crooked smile and propensity to grow wiry black hairs in random places. (That I never inherited the gene, dominant on both sides of my family, to cook like Ina Garten and sew/decorate like Martha Stewart is a bitter topic I’ll save for another post.)

Having children has only intensified my worry (and given me myriad ways to justify it). In the parenting department, I lean more “helicopter” than “free range.”

I remember when Ava (8) was a toddler and my husband, Mike, and I would play with her at the park. She was perfectly happy to wander off on her own. With every step away from me, I worried about her safety.

Instead of enjoying the sunshine and delighting in my child’s willingness to explore, I calculated how long it would take me to run to her if she fell or wandered too close to a dog. Or whether Mike could outrun a kidnapper if one swooped in and ran away with her. (Surprisingly, Mike’s assurances and recounting of his high school track career highlights did little to assuage my terror.)

As you may have gathered, I am no stranger to catastrophic thinking. Thankfully, Mike’s miraculous joie de vivre balances out my fatalistic anxiety. Mostly.

While my worry about random abductions has lessened over the years, I still tend to be overprotective. At the same time, I have my moments (okay days) of wondering where I can take my kids and leave them. Until recently, I never considered the local park to be an option. Last Saturday was the third annual “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day,” organized by Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Parenting movement.

The event idea is literal – leave our kids (age 7 and up) at the park unsupervised for the day (or an hour, several hours, etc.); the intent laudable – provide an opportunity for kids to experience the joys of independence and self-reliance. (And to think I’ve been wasting thousands of dollars on babysitters all these years!).

My initial reaction to learning about this event was awe. The parents who participate must be brave, open-minded and fearless; unconventional advocates for their children’s growth and autonomy! (That this was the third annual event implies that the children who participated in the first two came back safely, right?)

My second thought:  Ava is doomed. While I love the idea of her having adventures without parental constraints or interference (and god knows I love the idea of an extra week hour or two of “me” time), given my temperament, I don’t see this level of letting go in our near future.

I tell myself the benefits to Ava would not outweigh the toll such an experiment would take on me. I would need my entire support team (and a year’s supply of Xanax) to keep me and my binoculars from setting up a state-of-the-art observation post on the roof of the house nearest the park. I’d likely pay less attention to my child if I was sitting in the park on a bench texting on my cell phone like I usually do!

Perhaps free range parenting is for those blessed to be born without the insidious worry gene. While I let go every day, sending my children off to school, play dates, sleepovers and car pools, I do worry wonder what they are missing out on growing up in a big city with a black-belt worrier for a mom. If letting go completely is the goal, it will take generations to eradicate worry from our gene pool.

In the meantime, I need your help thinking of ways I can loosen my parental grip and bring more free range into my parenting (while at the same time increasing the benefits to me!). So far, I can only think of three:

1)      Free Range Dining:  (When my desire to write overrules my desire to give them nutritious food) “Girls, eat whatever you find in the fridge that doesn’t smell bad while I type up this blog post.”

2)      Free Range Grocery Shopping:  (When my laziness wins out over my fear of strangers):  “Ava, I forgot the salsa in aisle six. Please run back and get some and I’ll meet you by the bananas.”

3)      Free Range Library Book Drop-Off:  (When I still have my pajamas on and don’t want to get out of the car):  “Ava, run in with our overdue books and pay off our fines while I wait in the car.”

I need more than three options! Can you help? Is Ava doomed? How do you let go and foster your children’s autonomy and independence? Is a “Take Our Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day” in your future?

Get Your Own Damn Tissue!

parenting, parents, parenting tips, martyr mom, child, family

Mom, why won’t you get me a tissue?

I hit bottom today. I hope. This morning, my daughter Rhys (4), sneezed. She reached for the tissue box, her fingers poised over the puff of white, “Mom, will you get me a tissue?” she asked sweetly. Without thinking, I walked over from the other end of the kitchen, “Of course, love. Here you go!” I replied as I  handed her the tissue. Our eyes met and widened. We both knew what had just happened. I had fallen off the wagon.

Old patterns are a bitch to change. And one of my most insidious patterns is my need to do things for my children that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. Whether it is retrieving a tissue, a spoon or a pair of socks, somehow I’ve internalized the belief that mother equals sherpa, butler and server in our family. Unfortunately, I’ve reinforced this pattern with my children for several years.

When Ava (8) was in preschool, her teacher pulled me aside one day at pick-up time. Mr. Chris explained that while Ava was a compassionate, caring child, her tendency to jump up whenever someone sneezed and dive over the other kids in her eagerness to grab her classmate a tissue was disrupting to the class. My first thoughts:  Disrupting? It’s not like you’re teaching them calculus! My child is helpful and caring! How can one precious four-year old (mine) disrupt a roomful of snot-nosed kids playing peek-a-boo? Please!

Then the shame crept in … Realizing I was busted, I explained that Ava came by her behavior honestly (as if Mr. Chris hadn’t already guessed). I modeled the same behavior for Ava, anticipating each sneeze and producing the necessary tissue with flourish. I had always thought this attention to my child’s every need was the mark of a good mother. While my belief in what makes a good mother has changed over the years, my actions have yet to catch up.

I thought my confession to Father Mr. Chris would change my pattern. Wishful thinking. Flash forward four years: Ava would no sooner jump up to grab someone a tissue than share her last bite of birthday cake, but she still will earnestly ask me to get her something that is within her reach. And if I respond, I often feel angry and resentful, neither of which are smart strategies for good relationships with my children. Or for sanity.

I like to think I’m improving, but my “do it yourself” muscles are as weak and flabby as my neglected core muscles. And no amount of side-planks and crunches are going to fix this pattern.

I’m clear my tendency to anticipate and fulfill another person’s needs isn’t for the other person. It’s for me. I get to feel in control – useful, needed and important – a paper towel here, a spoon there, a refill of cereal for you and a freshly-sharpened pencil for your sister! I’m like a short-order cook on crack – faster, faster, faster! Gosh, I’m great! (All this multi-tasking counts as exercise, right?)

Keeping my children small and dependent is also a great way for me to stay busy so I don’t have to focus on my own life adventures. And running around attending to my kids’ real and imagined needs assuages my insidious mommy guilt. (Here I am typing away on this blog while my beloved daughter’s boogers go unattended. The horror!)

Unless I’m on a quest to resent my kids as much as possible, something has to change. And apparently that something is me. So I decided to start today. Here’s how my redo with Rhys went this afternoon:

Rhys: “Mom, could you get me a spoon?”

Me: “No. ”

Rhys: “Mom, would you please get me a spoon?

Me: “Thank you for the ‘please.’ And no.”

Rhys: “Mooooooooom, why won’t you get me a spoon? I’m starving, my yogurt is getting cold and I need a spoon!”

I was tempted to reply: “My darling daughter, ‘no’ is a complete sentence. I want you to have the experience of satisfaction and self-esteem that comes from doing things for yourself. I want to model for you that there is no shame in refusing a request, especially when that request will bring resentment. I would rather say “no” now rather than resent you later.”

I resisted the urge to explain. I would have lost her attention at “darling daughter” anyway.

Instead I replied: “I hear you need a spoon. I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

Rhys: “Fine.”

Not a drop of resentment in me. And I didn’t have to stand up. Unfortunately, I’ll probably burn fewer calories if I stop jumping up at every request!  Perhaps I can fill my newfound time with side-planks.

Do you struggle with doing things for your children or others that they can do for themselves? If so, I’d love to hear. If not, quit gloating and share your secrets already!

Collaboration and Kids: Guest Post on The Joyful Mother!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of collaboration. An article I wrote entitled, A Room of Her Own, about collaborating with my daughter, Ava, appears on The Joyful Mother’s website today. I’d love it if you checked it out!

I witnessed a beautiful example of collaboration on the playground recently. A four-year-old girl had bravely climbed to the top of a rope tower and called her mom for help when it was time to climb down. If my almost four-year old, Rhys, were at the top and asked for my help, I’d rush over to carry her down, or tell her how to climb down step by step. No problem there. I assume both are fine instincts.

Yet I was drawn to the following interaction:  This mom said, “I hear you’re scared. You’ve climbed up higher than you ever have before – how exciting! Can you think of some solutions to get down from the top of the tower?”  The little girl thought for a moment then replied, “I could put my foot here and my hand here.” The mom continued this conversation with her daughter all the way down the tower, at times making suggestions when her daughter was stuck, empowering her daughter to face her fear, think through and make decisions.

The little girl beamed with pride. I was inspired. Not inspired enough to actually try something similar with Rhys. Honestly, it’s easier, faster and less aggravating to do things for her or tell her what to do. But I’m thinking about it. I’ll keep you posted!

Stumble-d Upon: Guest Posting on Scary Mommy!

Hi, everyone! I’m guest posting today on Scary Mommy (internationally-renowned mommy blogger/author/Twitter star, Jill Smokler’s site). She’s featuring my story, Sex and the Intruder, today. So … unless you’re my dad, mom, mother-in-law or easily offended, please check it out!

I’d love to hear … share your Stumble-d Upon (or near miss) moments in the comments section!

Harry Potter Is My Higher Power

Our Family is Blessed By Harry Potter

Scene:  Our kitchen, yesterday morning …

My husband:  “Honey, thanks for making mornings so enjoyable around here. It’s miraculous.”

Me:  “Are you insane? Did you not just hear the apocalyptic battle between good and evil unfolding in Ava’s room?”

Husband:  “Exactly. Every morning used to start that way. Now, I appreciate that those mornings are so rare.”

Me:  “Hmm. You’re right.” (Not a statement I offer often or lightly to my beloved spouse.)

To what or whom do we owe this wondrous morning transformation? What is our miracle method for rousing a grouchy eight-year-old from a deep slumber; turning a recurring power struggle into an enjoyable morning ritual? Want to know our secret? Prayer and meditation, of course!

I’m a firm believer that connecting to a higher power through prayer and meditation is an ideal way to start any morning. My daughter and I share this devotional practice every weekday at 6:30 am sharp. That the higher power we worship is Harry Potter is perhaps unusual, certainly blasphemous, yet undeniably transformative!

Ava and I pray that the evil Lord Voldemort will succumb to the holy trinity of Harry, Ron and Hermione. We meditate on the incredible power of Dumbledore’s loving guidance. (And we giggle at how much Hermione’s bossy ways remind us of me.) My daughter and I have been waking up to Harry Potter’s engrossing hi-jinx for the past year. Five books down, two to go. Every morning, Mr. Potter helps me gently rouse and bond with my daughter.

Mornings at our house pre-Harry Potter:

Me:  “Ava, time to get up. Didn’t you hear your alarm?”

Ava:

Me:  “Ava, wake up. It’s time to get going. Come on, honey. You can do it. Come on, love. Wake up … come on …”

Ava:

Me:  “Ava, I’m going to count to three. You better have your butt out of that bed by three or you’re going to school in your pajamas.”

Ava: “Mooooooommmmmmmmmm. That’s a threat. You said we don’t threaten. Leave me alone. I need five more minutes.”

Mornings with Harry Potter:

Me:  “Good morning, sunshine! Move over and I’ll read you Harry Potter.”

Ava:  “Good morning, mommy! I love you! I’m ready to get up and start my day and I can’t wait to read Harry Potter with you. Let me make my bed first.”

Sorry, I must have dozed off for a moment. Let’s try that again …

Me:  “Good morning, sunshine! Move over and I’ll read you Harry Potter.”

Ava:  “Growl … Moooooommmmmm, you’re squishing me!”

Me:  “If you move over, we can find out if Harry Potter kisses Cho Chang.”

Ava:  “Ewwww.”

Ava:  “Ok.”

Me:  “I’ll read to you for five minutes then it will be time to get dressed.”

Ava:  “Ok, mom. Read.”

Ease. Connection. A gripping tale. What could be better?

Since Harry Potter came into our lives, there’s often laughter in our house in the mornings – deep, connecting, mother/daughter laughter. Before I start rushing Ava to eat her breakfast, brush her teeth and get in the car, we giggle, cuddle and engage in lengthy strategy sessions of how Harry can exact revenge on the cruel Professor Snape.

I was as surprised as my daughter to discover Harry Potter’s myriad charms. I had never succumbed to Harry Potter mania when the books were de rigueur reading. My sister and niece were rabid fans; I had little interest in finding out what the fascination was for myself. Ava had even less interest. I originally pressured her into reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; the rest is family history.

Ava and I have our own secret language indecipherable by my husband and our younger daughter. When Ava yells, “Accio Mama,” I understand she’s conjuring me for a hug. When she whispers, “You’re meaner than Malfoy,” I hear her (and ignore this monumental insult). When she off-handedly announces, “I’m doing arithmancy for my math homework,” I smile before calling her bluff.  This morning, during my drill sergeant routine of “Brush your teeth, get your shoes on, grab your lunch, go, go, go,” she calmly and generously replied, “No, Mom, I won’t. I am not under your ‘imperious curse.’”

God, I mean Harry Potter, I love that kid.

What will we do when we’re through the Harry Potter series? Suggestions?

Perhaps there is an equally riveting book series with a heroine who listens attentively to every request her mother makes, dutifully caries out those requests with a pleasant disposition and even manages an occasional “Thanks, Mom.”

Truth is, I wouldn’t trade my rebellious little witch for a Stepford child any day. I am, however, willing to meditate on the idea …

Ms. Rowling, my family salutes you. Should you ever again find yourself destitute or in search of a new career path, consider touting Harry Potter’s mythical powers as a parenting tool. I’ll happily provide your first testimonial.

*Note:  In case you missed the announcement, Amazon will soon offer all seven books in the Harry Potter series as free downloads in its Kindle Lending Library.

Are You Fully Utilizing Your Le Creuset Cookware?

Alternate Use for Your Le Creuset!

Today I learned that my indispensable Le Creuset stockpot has myriad uses beyond a batch of Cinco de Mayo-inspired chicken tortilla soup. I also learned that jealousy is as insidious and painful to an eight-year-old as to her middle-aged mom. Ava is struggling with jealousy of her little sister, Rhys. She’s jealous of the attention Rhys gets, jealous of my husband and my tendency to drop everything to minister to Rhys’ needs and whims, jealous of the free pass Rhys gets on some three-year-old behavior that Ava would never get away with at age eight and jealous of the “isn’t she adorable” comments showered on Rhys by nearly everyone, including my husband and me.

Ava has been letting us know that she is feeling angry, hurt and left out. Ugh! Why didn’t I read (or even open) that sibling rivalry book I borrowed from the library umpteen times over the past three years? I could be an expert by now. Instead, after an angry outburst from Ava tonight over the unfairness of having an “annoying” younger sister, I first chose to argue Ava’s reality. I was determined to convince her that she was wrong – Rhys does not get special treatment – what about all the attention Ava gets?! Life isn’t fair, my pretty! (Insert wicked cackle here).

Helpful, right? I love it when someone tries to talk me out of my feelings and denies my experience. It certainly makes me feel better and feel so much closer to the other person. Truly one of my more nuanced child-rearing strategies!

After more than a few deep breaths and a mommy time out, I realized it was time for an apology and a re-do.

I remembered how often my feelings mirror Ava’s (“mirror, mirror on the wall” …). Just tonight during a dinner party I felt jealous of a good friend who I experience lighting up every gathering she attends. Even little children (and squirrels and birds and the occasional singing mouse) flock to her side and call her name (interestingly enough, not Snow White). In comparison (always a death sentence for me), tonight I felt like a nobody, definitely down several notches on some imagined ladder of self-worth. Apparently, Ava and I have a lot in common. Sometimes this “like mother like daughter” stuff isn’t fair sucks!

I decided to come clean with Ava and tell her how much I relate to her experience. I explained how I feel jealous also and tell myself that everyone likes my friend better. Then I feel lousy about myself. Ava and I decided the little voices in our heads that tell us we are less than someone else are lying, at least for tonight. We decided we deserve kinder thoughts and would put those mean thoughts away for the night. Literally. Away. Ava decided our trusty Le Creuset stockpot would make a sturdy receptacle for our nasty thoughts.

Amidst giggles and hugs, we took turns crumpling up those soul-crushing “less than” thoughts and tossing them under the stockpot’s hefty lid. Ava agreed there was no way those buggers were getting out tonight! Ava enjoyed the show I made of struggling to keep our pernicious thoughts in the pot as they tried to gain sanctuary once again in our brains. I enjoyed her. Isn’t that what this parenting thing is all about?

And Le Creuset execs, perhaps you’ll want to promote your products’ uncanny ability to contain green-eyed monsters … and bring a mom and daughter closer.