Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

in the car

So, I was feeling a little guilty the other day for how many dinners my kids eat in the car. Mostly, this happens on dance class nights; I pack an after-school snack and a “snack dinner” for each kid.They sit in the back with their lunchboxes, and I drive. (Or Conor does.)

They both end up doing their homework in the car, too. We have a “homework box” with paper, pencils, pencil sharpener, glue stick, scissors, etc.

Anyway, I was thinking, isn’t that lame? I mean, family dinners are supposed to be around the table. And we’re all supposed to be there. And eat together.

But then I thought about it a bit more, and I realized that the dinners in the car are great. I just hadn’t thought it through.

For one thing, while I think snack dinners would get boring, the kids love them. Sometimes I wonder, “Who would want to eat turkey, a roll, and sliced vegetables for the three hundredth time?” But then I remember that the answer to this question is “Mary and Wesley.” They are totally happy to eat the same thing over and over again, and they’re willing to eat healthfully as long as I pack healthfully. It seems boring to me, especially because I prefer my food hot, but they eat well and they’re happy, so who cares?

More importantly, though, I have also realized that the lack of a table doesn’t matter: they tell me about their day, have conversations with each other, and generally do all of the things that a family is “supposed” to do during dinnertime.

Sometimes I ask them to relate the best part and the worst part of their day (Wesley’s “best” part is usually the food he’s eating).

Sometimes we talk about what they learned in school. Or they discuss a movie or a book they like. Or we talk about their homework or their friends or what we’re going to do this summer.

The best part is, I’m driving. I’m not feeling like I need to be putting in a load of laundry or grading a paper. Driving means that I can have a conversation, but I can’t do anything else. So I’m not distracted from what they have to say (unless, for example, someone cuts us off on the highway–but then we can talk about safe driving or good manners or the appropriate–and inappropriate–use of curse words).

So I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. It’s nicer on Fridays when all four of us are in the car, instead of just one parent, but in any case, it’s a family dinner. It counts.



So, I got each of the kids a Very Special Present: a little scrub brush, a tea towel, and a spray bottle of water.

They have been happily scrubbing everything I let them scrub for about an hour and a half now. The front of the refrigerator is spotless; the trim all around the kitchen from kid-level down is gleaming; and Mary is cleaning the bathtub.

This may be my finest parenting moment.

oh, the endless questions

Parents all complain about the “why” phase–you know, that part of the child’s normal development (and it is normal, it is, I swear, even if they’re asking things like “why is ham from a pig butt and not a horse butt?”).

I always felt a little smug about this, like I was way more enlightened and patient than average because I never resorted to saying “BECAUSE!” It wasn’t that annoying, after all. Just a bit repetitive.

And then I realized that Mary was just behind the curve.

She’s been asking “why?” for years, of course. But apparently for most children this behavior peaks around age 3. Not for Mary. She’s 5.

I had no idea–none–how annoying this could be. On the one hand, it’s awesome. She’s a sponge. She wants to learn everything. And she DOES learn everything. If I say it, or if she reads it, she remembers it.

On the other hand…oh my God. PLEASE STOP ASKING QUESTIONS BEFORE I HAVE TO GO TO A MENTAL INSTITUTION (and leave you to make your own sandwiches and take the lids off your own yogurt cups).

The dividing line between “Good question!” and “Huh?” is basically this: is it a question that anyone can answer? Because if it’s a question that no person on this earth can answer, it’s an annoying question.

And therein lies the problem: to a 5-year-old, most things are equally mysterious. For Mary, these questions all have the same likelihood of getting a rational response:

“Why are we turning left?”

“Why can’t I have a Popsicle?”

“Why is that guy’s car brown?”

“Why is Wesley only a little shorter than I am?”

“How old are you?”

“How old is thirty-one?”

“Why does my teacher like purple?”

“How long is a year?”

“What’s a month?”

“Why are TVs rectangles?”

“Why is a rectangle a rectangle?”

“Why is it called a rectangle?”

So I try to answer as many as I can. Sometimes I think I’m very clever, as when I tell her that “rectangle” comes from the Latin word for “right,” because the corners are all right angles.

Then she asks, “Why is that the word for ‘right’?”

And the thing is, while I know that she’s asking all of these questions because she’s trying to make sense of the enormous load of data that comes in from the whole world–there are also moments when I am 98% convinced that she’s just fucking with me.

I’ve clearly failed somewhere.

So, after reading a book in which some ducks play hide and seek, I asked the kids if they wanted to play a round of hide and seek.

They did.

I explained the rules and the way it works. We read the book again to review.

I went to the kitchen and counted to ten out loud. They scampered off to hide.

When I got to ten and announced that I was coming to find them, I turned around and found Wesley. He was “hiding” by standing in the middle of the dining room, waiting expectantly. He was very excited that I found him.

Then we went upstairs. Mary was hiding by sitting in the middle of her bed.

I don’t think they quite get it. Is hide and seek an acquired skill, or what? I mean, it is called “hide and seek,” not “stand in plain view waiting and seek,” right?

don’t be in a hurry

Even though I am a half-assed parent, there are a few things that I have finally figured out, or finally accepted to be true, after being told many times. The most important–and, in my opinion, hardest–one is this: don’t be in a hurry.

It’s hard to remember on a daily basis. But kids don’t do “hurry” very well. Some kids are better at it than others, true, but most of them are a lot easier to handle and more fun to be around if they have more time. For us, allowing 15 more minutes to get ready in the morning, for example, makes a huge difference to Mary’s day. My temptation is to say, “Surely it makes more sense to let her sleep that 15 minutes,” but it really doesn’t.

Giving warning before changing activities helps, too–“10 more minutes in the pool, then it’s time for lunch” is a lot easier for Mary to accept than “Okay, out of the pool!” without warning.

It has taken me a long time to accept this fact. The thing that finally tipped the balance for me and helped me remember to do it most of the time was realizing that adults are like this, too; we just don’t have to arrange those transitions consciously.

Think about it: if you had ZERO control over your own schedule and your own activities (which most kids do; we decide for them), wouldn’t you want a little warning?

Yanking them from activity to activity without warning is like sending an adult to an all-day meeting and not providing an agenda. I know I wouldn’t like it, especially if there was no sense of when the meeting would end, when we would get a break, or how long any activity was going to last.

For example, Wesley’s day: some days, he stays home all day with me; other days, he comes to pick me up from the university with Conor; some days he’ll have dance class. He needs to know what we’re doing that day. And he needs a little warning when we’re about to do something new.

It’s also really tempting to be in a hurry and just yank them from one thing to the next thing because I have things to do, papers to write or grade, errands to run. But at the end of the day, that is boring for them, unless I include them. They don’t mind going to the store if I explain what we’re getting and why we need it and how we choose it…etc. But if I just pull them through the store and ignore their questions, trying to move us along faster, they’re bored and annoyed. And eventually, difficult.

I’m a big advocate of talking to kids. They understand a lot. Talking over them like they’re not there is disrespectful. I’m not saying you should put your adult conversations on hold to discuss “Elmo’s Potty Time” again and again, just that you should talk to them like they’re people when you’re dealing with them. I try to remember that what they’re discussing is interesting and important to them, even if you’ve discussed it roughly 100 times before. They are figuring out the world.

When they ask “why”–for the millionth time–I try to explain. It is frustrating and annoying and time-consuming sometimes, for sure. But there’s a reason it’s an almost universal little-kid phase: they’re absorbing huge quantities of information at an incredible pace. They need more. They need lots of information at the moment they want it in order to make the most sense of what they learn. And taking the time to answer those questions is part of slowing down enough to make things better for them.

Just a thought. The beginning and end of the semester is the most time-consuming, and it’s easiest for me to lose track of this then. Not like any of you are looking for my parenting advice…but it’s just so simple and yet so difficult.

parenting quote of the day

Conor: “I feel like parenting would be easier if our kids were either less cute or less annoying.”

Phrases to strike fear into the heart of a parent

1. “Mama, I’m bein’ careful with the guitar!”

2. “Oops. I need a napkin. I need two napkins.”

3. “Where’s Wesley?”

4. “Our teacher gave us chocolate ice cream right before school ended!”

5. “Mary has a bug! Mary, is that a stinkbug?”

6. “Let’s watch Elmo!”

7. “No, I don’t want to go to sleep–I want to get up now. Let’s get up now! I not sleepy anymore.”

8. “Ew.” (This in particular is horrifying because young children almost never think anything is disgusting–if a toddler says “ew,” it really means “OH MY GOD CALL THE HAZMAT PEOPLE AND BURN DOWN YOUR HOUSE.”)

9. “Mama! Look! I climbed!”

10. “Hold still, Wesley–I’m gonna trim your hair.”