Category Archives: parenting

The Old Bear Way: Under-Scheduled and Doing Just Fine

In parenthood, sometimes we don’t get what we want. Like babies who sleep through the night, toddlers who hold hands in parking lots, or kids who wear pants.

Sometimes we do get what we want only to figure out we were better off without it. Like when your kid learns to tie his shoes and you’re never on time for anything ever again. Or when your kid is finally potty-trained and wants needs to poop in every bathroom within a 50-mile radius of your home. Or when your kid at long last shows enthusiasm for extra-curricular activities and you go from being under-scheduled and wondering if “YouTube connoisseur” will impress college admissions officers to being over-scheduled and googling, “Do Dutch parents deal with this crap?”

For years, we dabbled. Karate. T-ball. Ice hockey. Art. Basketball. Ninja warrior. Cooking. Chess. Soccer. Nothing stuck. If you’ve ever heard a kid say, “I can’t go to soccer practice because my finger is sunburned,” or, “I don’t like karate because flexibility is terrifying,” you’ve met my kids.

I’m decidedly not a Tiger Mom.

Then, all at once my boys wanted to do all the things. Cross country, soccer, guitar, drums, swimming. Add to the schedule the activities everyone loves to hate, like vison therapy, tutoring, and nutritionist appointments, and we were suddenly as busy as everyone annoyingly says, but for realz.

This fall, we had to be someplace—and in some cases multiple places—every day of the week, including Tuesday mornings before school and Friday evenings. For the love! And there was no rest on the weekends. Swimming lessons and soccer games swallowed Saturdays and early morning cross country track meets stole Sundays and all my hopes for and dreams of a hot cup of coffee.

I recently read an article about Dolphin Parenting. Coined by Shimi Kang, M.D. in a book called “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids—Without Turning into a Tiger,” this viewpoint encourages parents to abandon a perpetually striving, exhausted, and over-scheduled lifestyle for a more balanced, natural approach. Kang suggests our current parenting method has replaced free and spontaneous play and time spent with family with too much structure where the “minivan becomes the kitchen table.”

This speaks to me. Loudly.

Why do we spend as much time in the car after school as our kids spend at school? Why are we so worried about our kids turning into quitters if Irish stepping dancing, platform diving, or Mandarin Immersion isn’t their jam? Also, band practice before school and track practice on Friday nights is preposterous, amirite?

No wonder we’re all tired, anxious, overwhelmed, and drinking “mommy juice” from a straw!

We bit off way more than we could chew this fall, and the endless loop of obligations broke us. We’re out of gas, literally and figuratively. The activities everyone originally wanted to do became a burden about which everyone, including me, asked, “Do I have to go today?” and “When is this going to be over?”

Did I make a mistake saying yes to too much in the first place? Probably, but it was hard to say no when my kids finally wanted to do something besides watch “try not to laugh videos” in the basement.

The silver-lining of our demanding autumn has been that we sifted through the muck and discovered the activities the kids truly enjoy. We also figured out what we value as a family— extra-curricular activities in moderation, lots of free time to play and relax, and pajamas. We are pajama people to infinity and beyond.

My kids want to linger with friends on the playground after school. They want to play Minecraft online with their friends, and they want to make microwave popcorn and watch “The Simpsons.”

I want my kids to do their homework without rushing or melting down. I want them to have time to build Legos and practice the instruments they love, and I want to listen to the details of their stories while I cook dinners they don’t want to eat.

I’m digging the Dolphin Way, but now that the trees are nearly bare, the air is frosty, and it’s dark by five o’clock, I’m taking my parenting strategy to the next level.

In Kevin Henkes’ children’s book, “Old Bear,” Old Bear falls asleep for the winter and dreams of the beauty of every season. He dreams of flowers as big as trees in the spring and blueberry rain falling from the sky in summer. He dreams of yellow, orange, and brown birds and fish in autumn and the sky blazing with stars of all colors in winter. He sleeps and dreams and sleeps, and when he finally wakes up he thinks no time has passed. He pokes his head out of his den and it’s a gorgeous, warm, and colorful spring day and it takes him a minute to realize he’s not dreaming.

That’s right, Tiger moms and the rest of you wild (or Dutch) parenting beasts. I’m putting on my comfy pants and settling in for a long winter’s nap. I’m hibernating with my kids and dreaming and sleeping and dreaming… and slowing down the passage time… and paying attention… and enjoying my kids while they’re still kids… and hoping no one wants to play little league baseball in the spring because that seems like a lot of work.

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Filed under anxiety, parenthood, parenting

Uncomfortable

What’s the best parenting advice you ever received?

I used to answer this question with, “Expect the unexpected.” It’s a damn good of piece of advice because parenting is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, but almost 11 years into this gig, I’ve come up with a different answer. “Get ready to be uncomfortable.”

Pregnancy is uncomfortable. 
Pregnancy loss is uncomfortable.
Pregnancy after pregnancy loss is uncomfortable.
Childbirth is uncomfortable.
Bringing a tiny human home from the hospital is uncomfortable.
Not sleeping for a decade is uncomfortable.
Asking for help is uncomfortable.
Not going back to work is uncomfortable.
Going back to work is uncomfortable.
Leaving your baby with someone else for the first time is uncomfortable.
Making “mommy friends” is uncomfortable.
Potty-training is uncomfortable.
Taking a small child into a public restroom is VERY uncomfortable.
Carrying the physical and mental load of motherhood is uncomfortable.
Standing in a bounce house is uncomfortable.
Playing Candy Land is uncomfortable.
Catching vomit in your hands is uncomfortable.
The first day of Kindergarten is uncomfortable.
Not being invited to a birthday party is uncomfortable.
Realizing your child is nothing like you is uncomfortable.
Realizing your child is EXACTLY like you is uncomfortable.
Giving a kid medication is uncomfortable.
Letting go of unrealistic expectations is uncomfortable.
Watching your kid disappear down the block on his own to go to school or a friend’s house is uncomfortable.
Seeing your child physically or emotionally hurt is uncomfortable.
Letting your child make mistakes is uncomfortable.
Witnessing the world chip away at your child’s innocence is uncomfortable.
Trusting that everything will be okay is uncomfortable.

Realizing you’re not nearly done on this wild ride and that it will never end is—you guessed it—uncomfortable.

If you dislike being uncomfortable like me, know this: You are not alone. Also, sometimes our greatest and proudest parenting moments result from being uncomfortable.

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The Million Dollar Mistake

“The Million Dollar Fuck-Up” is probably a better title.

Spoiler alert: This story doesn’t have a very happy ending.

The weather in northern New Jersey has officially shifted from fall to winter. Chilly mornings and sunny afternoons have given way to bitter cold, cloudy, and windy days with occasional snow flurries. In other words, it’s time to wear pants.

At bedtime last night, I told my sensory sensitive seven-year-old son who hates nothing more than wearing pants that he would have to wear them to school in the morning.

“Will you pay me six thousand dollars?” His blue eyes sparkled with mischief.

I loved games. “Yes!”

“Will you pay me a million dollars?”

“Of course! I’ll write you a check!”

I didn’t anticipate how easily he would get dressed (in pants!) the next morning. I also didn’t anticipate that he would believe the printable check for kids I found on the Internet was real.

check

Like, really real. Like, he couldn’t wait to brag to his friends. Like, he thought we’d go to the bank after school, deposit the check (“like Mommy does”), and receive a million dollars in cold hard cash (like Mommy does?!). Like, for real.

It seemed like such a good idea the night before. That morning, not so much. When I confessed that the check was fake, my son was heartbroken. He was Lloyd Dobbler in “Say Anything” when Diane broke up with him and gave him a pen.

I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen.

I gave my son a fake check. I gave him a fucking pen.

Needless to say, things got worse before they got NOT BETTER AT ALL. I apologized for inadvertently hurting his feelings and tricking him. Tears squirted from his eyes, he threatened to take the pants off, and he wouldn’t budge from the staircase. Our surprisingly easy morning turned into a shit show, complete with a stand-off, irrational negotiations, and some miserable but necessary tough love.

Outside, the wind whipped. I was desperate. “If you keep your pants on, I’ll take you to the toy store after school.”

“I’m wearing shorts and you’re taking me to the toy store because you lied to me!” Ouch.

This grueling back and forth went on for a long while. In the end, he kept his pants on, but we were late for school and he refused to hold my hand on the walk from the car to the main office, which was his way of giving me a pen (and stabbing me in the heart with it and twisting it in both directions).

Did he need to wear appropriate clothing for the weather? Yes. Did I inadvertently lie and hurt his feelings? Also yes. Did I take him to the toy store after school? You betcha. Guilt is expensive, and for the record, I paid with cash, not a check.

The lessons in this cautionary tale require bullet points.

  • Kids are literal thinkers. Don’t forget this important nugget. Ever.
  • Don’t write checks you can’t afford.
  • Never break someone’s heart and then give them a pen.
  • Don’t judge parents. We’re all doing our best, especially on Monday mornings.

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Filed under guilt, motherhood, parenting, school, sensory processing disorder