Category Archives: Helicopter Mama


When I began working at Casa Valentina, I knew the foster girls we served struggled with employment, school, money, and health.  No surprise there.  They’d spent their entire childhoods being shuttled from one dysfunctional home and school to another.  They had no stability or consistency and few positive role models in their lives.  Of course they had a hard time applying for jobs, cooking healthy meals (or cooking at all), and understanding concepts like “overdraft” and “credit.”

The thing that blindsided me were the small things they had no idea how to do, like mailing a letter.  I remember the staff meeting where our program director described to us (with our jaws dropped) an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old girl who had no idea where to write the outgoing or return address on an envelope.  No one had ever taught her how to do it.  No one was ever around or cared enough to show her the simple and important act of mailing a letter.

It’s been several years since I worked at Casa Valentina, but I think about the girls often as I go about the business of raising my boys.  I am, quite literally, the opposite of the mother figures most of the girls at Casa Valentina knew.  My children are the center of my world.  I cater to their every whim.  I often joke (but it’s true) that I serve at the pleasure of my adorable and demanding children.  One might even describe my parenting behavior as helicopter-ish.  I live for my kids.  I do everything for my kids – so much so that if I’m not careful, I’ll end up with two grown boys who lack simple – and important – life skills.  Like knowing how to mail a letter.

A few days ago, Dylan made a picture for his cousins who live in San Francisco.  When he was done, I asked him if he wanted to mail it to them.  Of course, he did.  I could have easily sealed, addressed, stamped, and mailed the letter the next day while he was at camp, but I thought about Casa Valentina and did the opposite. I let Dylan fold the picture and slide it inside an envelope.  I showed him where to write his and his cousins’ address (I helped with the writing), and then he sealed the envelope and he put the stamp in the top right corner.  Yesterday after camp, we went to the post office together to mail the letter.

Standing proudly outside the entrance to the post office:

Mailing his first letter!

After he dropped the envelope in the slot, I said, “Congratulations Dylan!  You mailed your first letter!” which prompted a few people standing nearby to snicker.  (I like to think they thought it was a cute rite-of-passage rather than an exercise in silliness by an overly enthusiastic Mama.)  The whole thing was a bit corny, but you should’ve seen the smile on Dylan’s face (and mine) as he mailed his very first letter.

The point I’m trying to make here, besides providing some damning evidence that I’m a Wonky Mama, is that even though we want to do everything for our kids, we can’t.  It’s often easier and less messy, like putting straws in their juice boxes so the juice doesn’t squirt everywhere or putting toothpaste on their toothbrushes so the sink doesn’t end covered in the sticky stuff, but if we always do these things for them, they’ll never learn how to do it for themselves.

The next time you write a thank you note, mail a letter, fill out a bank deposit slip, or write a check, involve your kids in the process.  Someday they’ll thank you.  Oh, and don’t forget to teach them to say please and thank you or else they won’t know how to do that either.  And there’s nothing more annoying that a grown-up with no manners.  There’s also nothing more heartbreaking than a kid on the cusp of independence who doesn’t know how to mail a letter.

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Filed under Helicopter Mama, motherhood, parenting, Uncategorized

Brown Bag

A few months ago, a friend of mine took Riley to a birthday party for me because neither Mike nor I could go, and It. Felt. Strange.  It’s not that my kids have never been somewhere without me.  They’ve been dropped off at preschool since they were (not quite) two years old, they’ve gone on excursions and been left overnight with family, and I trust my Mama friends unconditionally with my kids. Yet, I felt like I missed something when my baby went to that birthday party without me.

In actuality, his going to that party without me (or Daddy), without separation anxiety, and without any accidents (he was newly trained at that point) was a milestone, which made me wish I’d been there even more.  I know that would’ve defeated the purpose, but there comes a point on the journey of motherhood when a Mama realizes her children – who she often complains about being too needy – suddenly and without warning need her (gulp) less.  When a Mama starts to feel this subtle disentanglement from her offspring, she’s allowed to have irrational, illogical thoughts.  For some Mamas, this is the period of time in which they consider having another child.  For me, it’s when I make sure there’s plenty of cold Pino Grigio in the fridge.

This week at camp, Dylan went on his first-ever field trip.  To get to the local children’s art museum (this week’s field trip destination), he rode a big yellow school bus for the very first time.  Without me.

During the school year, we often counted how many school buses we saw on the drive to school (we also clapped when we saw trucks…Riley’s idea).  Once I asked Dylan, “Would you like to go on a school bus?”  He asked, “Will you be with me?”  I said, “No, mommies don’t go on school buses.  Just kids.”  He responded, “I don’t want to go on a school bus.”

This week, he could not have been more excited about his adventure to come.  As soon as he woke up, he hammered me with questions.   “Is today the day I go on a bus?”  “Where will the bus take me?”  “Will I have to wait outside for the bus by myself?”  “Are my friends going on the bus?”

I know it’s beautiful, amazing, and important that he did this all by himself, and I couldn’t be more proud of my big boy for doing something new (and loving it), especially when it elicited so much anxiety just a few short months ago.  Still, like Riley’s first solo birthday party, I wish I could have been there to witness this incredible act of growing up.

On field trip days, we’ve been instructed to pack a brown bag lunch.  At the camp open house earlier in the week, I asked the camp director, “Do you mean brown bag lunch figuratively or literally?”  She said, “Literally.  Everything has to be tossed away at the end.”

No lunch box?  No ice pack?  No reusable, environmentally friendly snack bags? What on earth would I pack for Dylan who eats a perishable lunch of yogurt, cheese, and orange juice almost every day?  If he didn’t open his “Star Wars” lunch box to find his favorite (cold) lunch foods, he would hold it against me forever.  Or, he would run away.  Or, he would melt into a puddle right there at the museum.  I would get one of those terrifying calls from school informing me of the melting of my son.  And I signed a permission slip accepting this dastardly brown bag lunch policy and releasing all liability from this two-bit camp operation!  Do they even have a valid license to care for children!?

Deep breath, Helicopter Mama.

I wasn’t alone.  I overheard several Mamas say, “That’s crazy.”  One Mama said she’d carry her child’s lunch in a cooler in her bag when she was a field trip chaperone (good idea!).  Another Mama said, “Too bad we can’t send peanut butter.”  (It’s a peanut-free camp.)  Someone else piped in, “You could use sun butter.”  And then someone said, “My son would never fall for sun butter.” (That was me.)  That evening on the phone, I told a friend, “Don’t forget to pack a brown bag lunch tomorrow.  No ice packs allowed.”  Her response?  “What?!  I can’t pack a turkey sandwich in a brown bag!  You can’t let turkey go below a certain temperature!”  (She works in the food industry.)

HOLD UP, MAMAS!  (This pep talk is directed at me, too.)  This is it.  This is the moment we allow our baby birds to spread their precious little wings and fend for themselves in the big, bad (brown bag) world.  They will survive the brown bag lunch, and they’ll probably enjoy it.  In fact, I predict they’ll start begging for brown bag lunches every day.

After my initial panic attack, I realized a brown bag lunch is a dream come true – like a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving of popcorn and jellybeans – for my snack lover.  I packed a juice box, breakfast bar, applesauce squeezer, and cheese crackers.  At the last minute, I threw in some orange wedges, which I decided, after careful consideration, wouldn’t be deadly if consumed at room temperature.  I packed it in an actual brown bag and simply labeled it “Dylan” with a Sharpie.

I debated decorating the bag with stickers, but in the end, I refrained.  I have no idea what is or isn’t embarrassing for five- and six-year-old boys in an “all boys” camp cabin, and I want to give Dylan the best shot possible to be cool (and to have a Cool Mama.)  This decision, by the way, wasn’t easy.  It required a level of impulse control that, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I had and I’m not certain can be repeated on a daily basis without long-term physical and psychological consequences.

I’m trying hard to watch and listen to Dylan and Riley’s cues that they want more independence.

Editor’s note to Mamas of teenagers: Please don’t roll your eyes at my naivety.  I know this is just the beginning, but I bet the beginning was hard for you to. 

At three (going on ten), Riley struts into his camp cabin and doesn’t look back.  No hugs, kisses or reassurance needed.  He’s fine.  He says, “Bye, Mommy.  See you later.”  Dylan pretty much does the same.  It takes all of my strength not to kiss his head and say, “Have a great day, Lovebug!” or,  “See you later, alligator!”  But he doesn’t need (or want) it.  He’s busy bonding with the boys and thinking about his next field trip, his next ride on the big yellow school bus, and his next brown bag lunch.  He’s busy (gulp) growing up.

I’m thinking about a brown bag, too.  To stop my hyperventilating.


Filed under anxiety, camp, Helicopter Mama