A Decade of Parenting Lessons

Parenting Tips, Parenting Advice, Free Parenting Advice, Parents

This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 10. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.
Some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, like how it’s not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed.
Others, I’ve learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.
In honor of our daughter’s 10th birthday, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far:

1.  Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive

Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2.  Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body

Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3.  Stop trying to be the perfect parent

I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no?

Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in. Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

Our Kid:  Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

Therapist:  How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

Our Kid:  Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4.  If you think you’re in control, think again

I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe.  Preferably when I’m rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn’t care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*

For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer – safe and convenient!

*Caveat:  I assumed our ten year old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6.  Make peace with your kids’ disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure)

I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four or five years old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7.  Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate) 

Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn’t I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters “get what they get and they don’t get upset.”  (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8.  Make peace with the “H” word

I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

9.   Look in the mirror

Our kids reflect our best and worst qualities. Both of our daughters are loving, kind and responsible. They’re creative and dramatic, bright and persistent. They’re also impatient, stubborn, opinionated and dictatorial. From their dad’s side.

10.  Stock up on support & self-care

I get by with a little help from my friends. And when I say “a little” I mean the daily, near constant, sanity-providing support I get from my peeps, spiritual groups and overpriced therapist. I credit them with the rare glimpses of sanity I string together. They remind me to put the oxygen mask on myself first and make time for myself and dates with my husband a priority.

None of this parenting stuff would work without support. And babysitters.

What are some of the best parenting lessons you’ve learned? Although I’m now a certified parenting expert, I’m entering the tween years, so cough up the good stuff in the comments. 

Tangled: Our Silly Putty Hair Solution

Silly Putty Hair, Silly Putty ClothesAs the gold medal slipped over my head and the opening notes of our national anthem filled the stadium, the crowd’s screams slowly dissolved into screams of despair. I reluctantly emerged from my delicious dream as my brain registered real life screams coming from our daughter Ava’s bedroom.

Now awake, my mental calculations began. Emergency or bad dream? Did our daughter’s screams qualify as a one- or two-parent alarm?

I rolled over to jab my husband awake.

“Is she being abducted?” I said.

“Doubtful. Fire?” Mike said.

Ava’s screams reached a crescendo.

“I don’t smell anything. You go. You have longer legs,” I said.

“There better be a wild animal in there,” Mike said as he jumped out of bed. “You owe me.”

Wishing I could reenter my Olympic dream, but too agitated to sleep, I glanced at the clock. 12:50 a.m.

I yelled to Mike to tell me what was happening.

“She’s bleeding from her head!” is what I heard.

Oh, god, not again, I thought as I sprang out of bed and clamored for my glasses, lost among the detritus on my nightstand.

As I ran to her side, I chided myself for ignoring her initial screams.

“How bad is she hurt? Where did she fall?” I said between pants.

“She has silly putty in her hair.”

Not registering Mike’s response, I peered at my daughter’s head.

Apparently she’d fallen asleep playing with silly putty and woken up with the puke pink-colored goo matted to hunks of her thick brown curls. I’d never seen anything like it.

Although I assured Ava we wouldn’t have to cut off her hair, the matting was so severe I feared she’d soon be sporting a one-sided mullet.  Not a great look for a fashion-conscious fourth grader. And not a haircut this mom was willing to live through.

I turned to my trusted friend Google for advice.

Apparently, since time immemorial, silly putty and kids’ hair have attracted each other like fingers and electric sockets. Fortunately, parents around the globe have tried countless remedies ranging from peanut butter to WD40 and documented their success with each on the internet.

We decided on olive oil for our triage in the beauty ER and massaged half a bottle into Ava’s matted web of curls. I couldn’t help giggling as Mike combed out the now liquefied goo with the studied precision of a brain surgeon.

Ava, however, did not appreciate my punch drunk humor and berated me for being insensitive, which launched another fit of giggles, especially as I realized we now had to get all that olive oil out of her hair.

As the clock struck 1:45 a.m., Mike and I finished our task, hugged Ava and settled down enough to sleep, grateful for our parenting success. My only regret?  Not photographing Ava’s head before and after. And she refused to put more silly putty in her hair for the sake of this blog. That’s the thanks I get.

This mom had the presence of mind to photograph her daughter's silly putty debacle! Bless her!

Unlike me, this mom had the presence of mind to photograph her daughter’s silly putty debacle!  Photo courtesy of http://www.sarcasta-mom.blogspot.com.

Place Your Bets: The “L” Word

Cuddled on the couch with my boyfriend, his sturdy chest a pillow for my head, I was enjoying a lazy Sunday morning reading the The New York Times and licking Cinnabon frosting residue from my fingertips. Sedated by the sunshine and carb overdose, I felt all shades of happy, the two of us the picture of young, uncomplicated love.

Life was good. My new job was proving to be challenging and promising, my relationship of four months, steady and fun, and most importantly, my previously too tight jeans, loose and comfortable, the result of a bonus new relationship weight loss. I had it all.

“I’ve read this article on Iraq invading Kuwait twice, and I have no idea what I just read,” I said.

“I told you Cinnabons were dangerous. All that sugar is rotting your brain cells,” he replied.

“Do you even know where Kuwait is?” I said.

“I did before I ate those two buns.”

Laughing, I enjoyed his warm embrace and scratchy day-old beard on my cheek.

“God, I love you!” I said.

I gasped aloud as his body stiffened and my breathing stalled. Did I just say that out loud?

Several moments passed as I registered the horror of my words. Denied an exhale, my lungs burned and the hairs on my arms stood up in declarations of danger.

Maybe he hadn’t heard me.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Oh, he heard. Shit!

My mental tailspin was as immediate and unstoppable as a bullet tearing through flesh. I’d done it – used the “L” word first. It was a rookie mistake, and I no longer qualified as a rookie.

“I meant to say, ‘I love this.’ This. Spending  Sundays with you. This,” I stammered. My face grew red as my discomfort expanded in lockstep with my lie. The moment for me to shut up was right then.

“I love this too,” he said, his tone imperceptible to my ear.

The sound of blood rushing in my head blocked out everything except the wall-rattling, soul-jarring noise of the El train rumbling past my apartment at its appointed quarter-hour. I couldn’t turn around, couldn’t look at him. If I’d had a bookie or any savings, I would have placed a substantial bet then and there on the outcome of our relationship.

Hey, Ace, put ten grand on Over Within a Month to win, place and show.

Place Your Bets! Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Place Your Bets!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Instead, I erupted in uncontrollable giggles, either from lack of oxygen or complete humiliation. Or both.

Without turning to face him, my back still against his chest, I announced, “Yes, I said I love you, and now that it’s out of my mouth, I want to take it back. But I can’t. So deal with it.”

His response? A deep laugh and a bear hug.

There, I thought. Now we can move on. Right?

I would have lost my shirt on Over Within a Month. Turns out, Two Weeks was the winning bet.

My Big, Wide Road …

Do you ever find yourself obsessing over decisions, turning seemingly small choices into life-altering ones? Does the entire future of your existence ever rest on choosing the right summer camp for your kids or picking the perfect nail polish color for your not-often-enough pedicure? No? Just me? Apparently all of you have actually learned not to sweat the small stuff? Miraculous!

If, like me, you lean perfectionistic and tend to talk to yourself less than lovingly (like this perhaps?) …


head over to Christine Carter’s place, The Mom Cafe, to read the rest of my guest post, My Big, Wide Roadwhere I talk about tightrope walking and what happened when I made all “wrong” choices for a day.

Christine is such a loving, inspiring woman and a talented, generous writer. I always leave The Mom Cafe feeling uplifted and encouraged. I’m confident you will too. Enjoy!

Rote Route

I drive the same route to and from our daughters’ school at least twice a day. Five right turns, four left; eight traffic lights, five stop signs each way, plus a brief salute to the policeman directing traffic at Jefferson and Van Buren. I can drive the route in my sleep and given my affinity for multitasking, likely have. This route is as ingrained in my memory as my daily brush and floss routine; the auto pilot of my mind. As of this writing, mental cruise control is neither illegal nor regulated. But perhaps it should be.

While driving home this morning, I witnessed a horrifying car accident. The black sedan in front of me changed lanes and collided with a white delivery van. The force of the impact sheared the front end off of the sedan and flipped the van onto its passenger side with awe-inspiring ease.

Minus a camera and a beaming director screaming “cut,” the scene was movie perfect. Miraculously, the two drivers and their passengers exited the cars unaided, visibly shaken but moving all their limbs. Several drivers from nearby cars and a group of young pedestrians ran over to check on the victims. Someone called 911.

I joined the group of good samaritans and offered my assistance, consisting of a gaping mouth and careful avoidance of the fluids leaking from the sedan’s engine. Within minutes, the police arrived and began directing traffic. I returned to my car and joined the procession of other cars inching away from the scene.

Although I was driving mere feet behind the black sedan, I can’t describe exactly what I witnessed. I can replay the moment of impact in my head in dramatic, slow motion detail, but can’t visualize what happened in the moments before the accident.

I wasn’t talking on my cell phone (though I often do) or texting while I drive (which I don’t) or even picking Raisin Bran detritus out of my teeth. Instead I was mentally plotting the myriad tasks I wanted to accomplish today, down to the phone calls to return and the ingredients needed for a cheesecake I’m baking for my husband’s birthday. My driving was on auto-pilot; my mind everywhere except in the moment.

The sound of screeching tires and crunching metal broke my reverie. If it hadn’t, today would be like any other day, and I wouldn’t remember a single detail about my drive home. I don’t need drugs or alcohol or texting to impair my driving. The scattered daily machinations of my brain impair me enough to be a danger to myself and others.

I’m sure I’m not alone. With our busy lives and multitasking superpowers, I’m confident many of us aren’t as present as we could be while operating heavy machinery. Our brains are racing down the German autobahn while our bodies are stuck in rush hour traffic.

This auto pilot mode scares me, especially when we’re transporting precious cargo, but also in more mundane ways.

When I’m wielding a sharp knife to chop vegetables later today, I’ll likely be thinking about the dress I keep forgetting to return to Bluefly. When I’m playing my requisite seven minutes of Barbies this afternoon with my daughters, I’ll likely be thinking about all the Yeah Write posts I could be catching up on. Harmless? Perhaps. But I’d like the ability to be where my body is and take in what’s offered in the moment. For someone who hates to be left out of anything, I may be missing out on a boatload of joy. At the very least I’m at risk of losing my fingertips to a merciless Ginsu knife.

I guarantee that for the next day or so I’ll be more present while I’m driving, forcing extraneous thoughts from my monkey mind. I also guarantee that before long, I’ll slip back into my auto-pilot pattern. Perhaps the next generation of auto safety features can address this issue. I’m thinking a haunting, disembodied voice that periodically reminds me to pay attention and zaps me with an electric current would work well.

The best I can promise is that today I’ll be grateful for all the times I’ve driven safely and pray my guardian angels keep up the good work. However, if you see me on the road, please consider honking or throwing a rock at my window – anything to jolt me back to my life.

Linking up again with the supportive community of bloggers who write and the writers who blog over at Yeah Write. Click on the badge to read some great writing and come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites. And be sure to say Happy Birthday to Flood!

My Valentine’s Day Post

Don't You Forget About MeI hate to be left out of anything. Whether that something is anything I really want to do is beside the point. Everyone in blogland is posting something about Valentine’s Day today. I don’t have any surefire libido-revving recipes, any devastatingly romantic plans for the day or any genius tips for surviving as a single person on this emotionally-fraught holiday.

Instead, today I have a raging head cold and the focusing-ability of a gnat. And a husband who is out of town. So what will I do? I’ll write something Valentine’s Day related anyway. Cause I hate to be left out.

My need to be included in all things is causing me trouble today. Apparently, my sense of self is fragile. If I’m not included in every party or outing or get together, I get itchy and scratchy and anxious. Anxiety is like bed bugs – nipping at you when you’re most vulnerable and expensive to eradicate. (And what could be more romantic in a Valentine’s Day post than mentioning bed bugs?)

But when I am included in everything, I more often than not feel overwhelmed and anxious (see a pattern here? If not, I’ll draw you a diagram.) I get resentful and ornery when I have too many commitments.

The flip side to my need to be included is that I feel guilty if I plan or attend something and other friends aren’t included. And I believe I have to protect their feelings by not mentioning the plans that I do have. For example, my family gets together every six weeks with two other families for something we lovingly call Suppa Club. I love Suppa Club and wouldn’t change a thing about it other than my guilt.

Every time we have one scheduled and a non-Suppa-Club friend asks what we’re doing, I try to avoid the question and feel guilty that we haven’t included non-Suppa-Club friend in Suppa Club. (If your head is now throbbing after reading that last paragraph, maybe you too can take a sick day? You’re welcome.)

When I am included, I feel sad for those who are not. When I’m not, I feel suicidal. How’s that for a win-win for everyone?

I could understand this anxiety better if I were nine or ten years old and juggling a variety of social plans like our pre-tween daughter, Ava. She has more social plans than Lindsay Lohan has citations. She doesn’t enjoy not being included, but she sure doesn’t feel guilty if someone is excluded. She moves on and enjoys whatever is in front of her.

Last weekend she hopped from play date with friend A to playdate with friend B and told both of them about her plans. (Horrors! What if their feelings get hurt? I can’t even write their names in the unlikely event either of them/their moms will read this post!)

Of course I realize everyone can’t be included in everything. Nor would I want everyone to be. (Other than me.)

BUT, I want everyone to want me to be part of everything. Is that wrong? Even if I don’t want to go and would feel resentful having to show up, I want to be asked.

How old am I you ask? Exactly. My brain gets it, but my vulnerable ego hasn’t quite caught up.

Last week, I asked a dear friend to join a writing group that she’s been part of for the past several months. I wasn’t clear in my own mind whether or not I really wanted to be part of it; I just knew I didn’t want to be excluded.

She lovingly and honestly said “no.” She admitted she didn’t want me to be part of that group, but was willing and interested in doing something separate with me. I initially felt devastated and ashamed; the message in my head that I wasn’t good enough to be part of her group. After processing those fun-for-everyone feelings, I moved on to a different point of view.

Her bravery rocked my world. I am so fucking lucky to have grownups in my life, people who will tell me the truth so they won’t have to resent me and distance themselves from me later on. I feel closer to this friend than ever and grateful she’s modeling sane, honest behavior for me.

Fragile ego? Check. Thankfully, I’m aware of my narcissism  and am willing to embrace it by telling everyone who will listen.

So, if you’re having a dinner party or going to an event without me, please make sure I know about it so I can feel crappy and jealous and loser-ish. It will be our version of Immersion Therapy (and infinitely quicker and cheaper than the regular kind).

What marvelous plans are you withholding from me?

Lessons Learned (Vol. Eight)

lessons learned, learned lessons, lessons to be learned, family, lesson learned, words of wisdomWe had an exciting week – unpacking all the crap we brought with us over Thanksgiving weekend, watching Ava’s first basketball game (a victory!), finalizing plans for our upcoming Disney trip, shopping and decorating for Christmas, getting haircuts all around and visiting Santa. And that was just over the weekend!

Other than discussing uteri with our four-year-old (and likely devastating her young friend Tomas), I’m not sure I learned much last week except that most days I need a nap. And a massage. Santa wasn’t particularly hopeful he could fit those gifts in my stocking this Christmas. But I think I increased my odds (and his motivation) by slipping him $20.

On to some of my favorite lessons:

  • The only way I could have loved Steve’s essay comparing writing to sex more would have been if I had thought of it. And I’m planning to steal his idea in a few months and change it up a bit – I think I’ll compare sex to writing instead. Good, huh? (Brown Road Chronicles)
  • When I first read John’s funny essay reminding me about life with a newborn, I felt a longing in my heart for one more kid. Just one. A little one. However, after our four-year-old woke up five times last night because of a cold, I’m over it. (Ask Your Dad)
  • Adrienne found the surprisingly perfect place to escape her parenting duties and kindly shares her secret fort location with the rest of us.  (The Mommy Mess)
  • Laura’s moving essay about needing a vacation to spend time connecting with her husband and children really hit home for me. With our hectic daily lives, my husband and I often find ourselves discussing logistics rather than sharing feelings and stories. My favorite part of our trips to Michigan to visit my husband’s family are the car rides – uninterrupted time for Mike and me to connect, laugh and remember all we’re grateful for. (Close Families)
  • Finally … if I can’t get daily naps and massages for Christmas, I’ll take Lisa’s simple, lovely prayer for Peace. (Mommy OM)

What did you learn last week? What do you want for the holidays? Happy Monday!