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Archive for the ‘There’s no exam to be a parent’ Category

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Nutritious breakfast or bitter fruits of labor?

I’m going to quote me back to myself, from one of my long-running and excellent parenting groups on Facebook.

Parenting middle grade kids is basically endlessly wheedling them to display their competence even though it would be so much easier to do it (whatever “it” is) yourself.
(Unlike toddlers, where it’s easier to do it yourself because they are NOT competent.) ~ Sept. 15, 2018

(The real post contained profanity. Because it was borne of frustration.)

This tension occupies way too much of my life. I have worked really hard to start my kids on the road to independence. This means they can navigate from home to their grandparents’ house in another city via bus. They can launder their own clothes. They can do dishes, clean bathrooms, sweep floors, take out the trash. They can order at the cheese counter and at the butcher. They can handle themselves at the dentist!

But the gap between checking the box of competence in theory and in reality, every day or every week, is enormous. Let me translate: If you’re wondering how many times my children will pass through the kitchen, where the clean dishes are perched on their racks in the dishwasher-that’s-ajar, and not empty it, the answer is infinity. Which is coincidentally the number of times they will move a pile of clean clothes from the couch to the love seat and back again, rather than a) folding it and/or b) putting it away.

I mean, come on, they already used up their energy fighting over who could use the computer at 6:25am, and I wish I were kidding about that. (The answer is: Nobody – nobody – should be on the computer, playing worm.io or watching Miraculous Ladybug, at this hour or really any hour if you haven’t even cleared your dishes or brushed your teeth or are risking being late for your transportation to school. If you know my super-cool tween internet references, well, here’s a fist-bump – and I am so sorry. *bump*)

It takes a lot of energy to run a house, and I frankly don’t have the right kind, or enough, or whatever. I am not neat, organized, thrifty, motivated, or any other adjective that would indicate that I am enjoying this part of adulthood. The endless cooking, cleaning, straightening, organizing, and harping at other people to just do what I asked, Jesus, it’s not that hard.* Be careful, you might trip over my standards. Thankfully, I am way past thinking that this makes some sort of statement about my parenting. Nobody would accuse children of being poor excuses for kids because they can’t manage to keep their clothes off the floor, or turn the lights off when they leave a room.

A flashpoint in this whole schematic is, and I am not being dramatic, granola.

Years ago, I came down with an edict that We Don’t Eat Cereal Every Day. It’s expensive (here) and a fair bit of sugar for the beginning of the day (Cheerios have given way to a combination of Cheerios + sugary Cheerios +  Honey Bunches of Oats). Alternative days involved yogurts and cottage cheese or leftover pancakes or fruit or “no, it’s not a cereal day so have something else.” A while ago I started making granola as an alternative. It’s expensive to put together (nuts, peanut butter, maple syrup), but makes a lot of servings. It’s sweet and carby but also protein and whole grains, so please let me have my fantasy  of Good Mothering, ok?

It also creates a lot of sticky dishes, and I have panic attacks when the kids leave soggy leftovers because WASTEFUL and also the dishwasher will never clean that properly unless you RINSE?

I have taught my children how to make this granola; they know where the recipe is. It’s not hard. But somehow they’re never motivated to make it, just to ask me to make it, and to ask me at 6:15 in the morning (currently, this time is before sunrise) why I didn’t make it last night after they went to bed?

NB: Children ages 12 and 14 never go to bed. Actually, that’s not quite true; the 12-year-old will go to bed an hour Before Never, but he is not happy about it, you know?

Yes, they have long school days. Yes, they have to travel to school. But they also have enough hours to sit and be served before I beg them to lend me a hand for 30 seconds or five minutes. I am almost sure this is normal, but wow, is this going to drive me over the edge.

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Put on your seatbelt and stop touching your sibling.

Then my husband eats bowls of this granola for snack. After dinner. And cannot understand my fury. I feel petty and small, yet unmoved. It is the granola of my discontent.

With apologies to David Lebovitz, who is innocent in all of this. You too, can bring this contentious recipe into your life! Here.

* True story: Just today, I asked my daughter to do about six minutes worth of dishes while I was at the pool. “Sure,” she said, staring intently at her phone.
“Are you going to manage to do them before I get back from the pool?”
“I don’t know.” **
Which, I mean, points for honesty.

** She did not. But did them when I asked her to, again, upon my return from the pool. “Did you make granola?” she inquired, inspecting the many bowls in the sink.
“Yes, I did.”
“Oh, good.”
“It is for breakfast.”

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what we can “give” to our kids versus what they develop on their own.

In some cases you lay out all the tools you possess right in front of them and wait for them to pick them up. (Manners, I am looking at you.)

[It’s kind of fascinating, if you have the distance to look at it like a documentary filmmaker. My internal narrator is nothing like David Attenborough, though – rather someone who is light on research and heavy on sarcasm.]

Anyway, this is a post about AM. He’s 11 now, more than halfway to 12, and has more than his share of self-possession. He’s passionate about math, games, and…tennis.

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AM has been playing tennis for 2 1/2 years. His universe begins and ends with Roger Federer. He was kind of alarmed a few weeks ago when Taxman and I listed all the tennis stars we could think of, stretching back to the early ’80s. You mean, there was professional tennis before Roger Federer? (Not sure he believed us when we told him that racquets were made out of wood not that long ago.)

I used to play extremely casually from maybe age 10-14, meaning I would accompany my mom and stepdad to the tennis court as they played (also casually), or play on brick walls. I played at summer camp. I had an average forehand, a terrible backhand, and could volley decently. Somewhere along the line I learned how to serve, but could never put a lot of power behind it.

This casual approach to tennis is not something my son can understand. He’s in a group class twice a week with several friends. But class is only 45 minutes, so he shows up 45 minutes early and plays on an empty court with a buddy. Most Sunday afternoons, when he has nothing happening after school, he calls a friend and goes to play for an hour or more. After he burns through his screen time on his phone (which is restricted, BADLY), he plants himself in front of the computer to watch videos of…Roger Federer. Oh, and also Hawk-Eye shots. (The first time he mentioned these, I made a joke about M*A*S*H, but like I said, this kid is suspicious of anything that happened before 2005, so he refused to engage.)

A month ago he fell on his left hand as he was chasing a loose ball and sprained two fingers. He called me, crying, as his fourth and fifth fingers turned indigo, and we bundled him off to urgent care. Two weeks in splints. But no matter, he was back on the court the next week.

This weekend, he won his division (of 23 kids) in his tennis school’s fall tournament. He passed through the first round with no trouble, then had closer matches in the semi-final and finals. (Not real games, but scoring individual points on a narrow half-court – which actually requires a lot of control to stop from going wide.)

But here’s the thing: He’s not a natural athlete. He’s in good shape because he bikes everywhere and runs around like a lunatic at recess, but he is not gifted in this way. He’s not tall, nor exceptionally strong. Yet he’s managed to claw his way to the top tier of some athletic things. He captured the last spot on his school’s tiny track team – six 5th and 6th grade boys – and competed in our city’s road race in November.

Same for tennis: He’s put in hours and hours and drawn himself by sheer will to the next level of play. He’s not a graceful player – just fierce. He has a great forehand, but his backhand fails him sometimes.  He’s had to learn to contain himself in order to put the ball between those restrictive lines. He sometimes gets furious with himself or his opponent (though this is improving). He’s less Federer and more McEnroe, sometimes. (Ema, Ema, he would sigh, McEnroe is left-handed. I am not left-handed. My literal heart.)

He has grit. This isn’t something we taught him; he just has it. (It’s not going to turn him into a professional tennis player, though, so eventually I hope he will direct it elsewhere.)

It makes me a little jealous, as I don’t think I recall ever being on fire for something as much as he is for tennis. Does reading novels on the couch count? Does that take grit? I once plowed through Anna Karenina in four days.

So I just sit and marvel. And overlook the trail of racquets and balls and shoes that line my living room. It seems like the least I can do.

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Zogwarg

Bathtime

I don’t ever want to be one of these “KIDS, TODAY!” people, because we were all KIDS, TODAY! once, yes?

But I realized that one thing my kids are really cheated out of are newspapers. We consume our news in all kinds of ways – radio snippets, podcasts, online articles, television. However, I recall sitting down with sections of the Sunday paper from when I was in elementary school. I lived in the DC suburbs, so we got the Washington Post. Possibly also the New York Times because my parents are  East Coast liberal elites, despite moving away from it in 1991. I definitely remember reading Parade Magazine, and the Washington Post magazine — Dave Barry’s column! — a gateway for The New Yorker.

And there were the comics. I felt so sorry for people who only got The New York Times. Because no comics.

I feel like the “funny papers” helped me develop my sense of humor. Before Buzzfeed or Cute Emergency were available 24 hours a day, there were daily strips, which parlayed to full-color and fabulous on Sunday. The late 1980s seemed to have really glorious comics for a kid like me, smart and sardonic and constantly feeling like a fish out of water.

It wasn’t just me. My 7th grade English teacher showed up one day with now-famous Far Side “Midvale School for the Gifted” panel, posted it on the board, and laughed about it for the rest of the year. (It was an accelerated English class. Of course it was.)

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As much as this applied to me, Miss M would probably win the prize for this.

Nothing could hold a candle, though, to Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin seemed to contain an entire universe within him. So wise, but all id. Hobbes the long-suffering companion, smarter than his best friend but trapped by his own physical restrictions. It was a siren song for all the junior high school lovelorn kids who confessed their secrets to their dog or cat, or covertly continued to sleep with a stuffed animal. (Who, me? Yeah, me.)

Over time, several Calvin & Hobbes collections accumulated in my library. They moved with me to college, to New York, to Israel. My kids came to love them as much as I did.

I hadn’t opened one in years; my reading time is really reserved for novels. But the other night I picked up The Revenge of the Baby-Sat from my floor (one of my kids had been reading it in my bed and dropped it next to the bed, instead of putting it back on the shelf or on my bedside table, which really tells you a lot about both me and them).

And goodness me, guess who I am? I am Calvin’s mom.

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What parent among us has not tried to civilize a child?

Yes, and no. My kids have never had the streak of maliciousness that Calvin does; I haven’t had to worry for their personal safety in the same way. But wow, the rest is quite identifiable. Tempting to eat a new food, begging to do chores, coaxing to look normal for a photo FOR ONCE, OH MY GOD. Calvin’s mom looks pissed in the middle of the night when summoned to answer philosophical questions or wash clothes (!). She looks resigned when paying the babysitter. She looks startled when she realizes it’s been quiet and she’s been sitting down for too long. She looks determined when she’s prodding Calvin into the bath.

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How evergreen is this?

All of these things are universal parent experiences, but of course, you may have missed it upon your first read at 9 or 12 or 20.

It is a rare gem of pop culture that can be delivered on more than one level. I have always cited Sesame Street as one example, but now I officially appoint Calvin & Hobbes to this firmament.

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Purim, 2 years ago

And, as I was composing this post in my head too late at night, I realized that, yes, dumbbell, I have been Calvin’s mom…for a long time.

 

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Want to hear something shocking? My most popular post ever was written in 2009. That was eons ago. Nobody really cares about my thoughts on Israel, my struggles with immigrant parenting, or what’s happened since I gave up breastfeeding.

So yes, seven years ago, almost five years into my parenting – and breastfeeding – career, I produced a ranty-though-cogent screed about breastfeeding that still attracts more than 10 readers a day.

I find this stunning.

Nobody comments on or links back to this post. The mommy wars have cycled back over this debate many times in the years since, but I must have inadvertently had fantastic SEO to keep getting page views. Good for you, 2009 me – who didn’t even work in marketing!

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This squishy newborn is almost 10.

Now that I have some emotional distance from breastfeeding (although, to be fair, I don’t really, because one of my best IRL friends has a pretty new and very squishy nursling RIGHT NOW), I am not really encouraged. Women and babies are still unsupported by hospitals, employers, and governments. Formula companies are still backed by the very deep pockets of drug manufacturers and violate the law when it comes to marketing their product.

But in this decades-long debate, I’ve reached a couple of conclusions.

Conclusion One: Taking Sides

If you dis breastfeeding, you might be:

  • anti-science

Breastmilk seems to be one of the most studied substances in the world. Why can’t we just leave it alone already? Because artificial milk substitutes keep trying to imitate it, that’s why. That’s how badass this stuff is. All our 21st century science can’t capture that lightning in a jar.

  • anti-woman

Let’s allow women to do something with their bodies that’s not pleasuring a man. (This is so heteronormative I don’t even want to bring it up, but let’s look at the messaging coming out of, say, the United States government or mainstream Hollywood.)

  • have body image issues

Pregnancy and breastfeeding will change a woman’s body in ways both temporary and permanent. One thousand percent. That is difficult to handle, sometimes, for both women and their partners.

If you dis formula feeding, you might be:

  • anti-worker

Shift work without pumping breaks is a real thing. Family “unfriendly” jobs and industries are real things. Countries without paid maternity/family leave are real things (the United States, in particular, stands out here).

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Nope, not poisonous

  • anti-reality

Families have all sorts of reasons why breastfeeding is not possible – medical issues on the part of the mother or baby, economic pressures, family realities (a widowed father, a two-dad family, a baby being raised by someone other than his or her parents), or other things. Passing your holier-than-thou judgment on these situations doesn’t make you a breastfeeding advocate. Remember that wet-nursing has been a career choice for thousands of years – largely rendered unnecessary by the advent of formula.

  • paternalistic

Really, women can’t make up their minds and need to be told what to do?

Conclusion Two: Check Your Privilege

If you’re busy on the internets vociferously defending your position, this means you are in a privileged position. If you’re dealing with working and pumping breastmilk (like many) OR traded your paying job with people who wear underwear to be an unpaid manager of people who don’t (like many others), you have a certain amount of economic privilege.

I honestly do not know people who have traded one kind of baby milk for another due to being squeezed for money, but it must happen. Sometimes a paycheck or scrimping on childcare is simply more vital than how a baby gets fed.

There’s more.

If you can safely formula feed, it means you have access to clean water or electricity to boil it or money to buy it.

If you can safely breastfeed, it means your partner is on board with it and you are (probably) physically safe.

If you can work and pump, it means that your state or country or employer protects that privilege.

If you can leave your baby with formula and a paid babysitter, nanny, or day care, it means you can afford it. Maybe you’re just breaking even to advance your career, but others who can’t might stay home and breastfeed.

If you have nursing bras, nursing clothes, access to a breastpump, books, and more, it means you have means. Maybe not a lot of means, but possibly good health insurance. Maybe generous friends. All of these are not to be taken for granted.

SO….

If you want to formula feed, nobody should stop you.

If you want to breastfeed, even for years, even at night, even in your bed, even in public, even without a nursing cover, even in a place of worship, nobody should stop you.

And we need to take our righteous indignation for what’s “wrong” and use that adrenaline-driven excitement to support parents and families. If the idea of going up against the drug lobby gets your motor running, do that. If you want to call or tweet your congressional reps to demand family leave, do that. (Canadians and Scandinavians can take a moment to bask in their glorious rights.) If you want to help a mom who is working shifts, struggling to pump, or cluster feeding every evening from five until eleven, bring her family some dinner and offer to fold some laundry (I guarantee she has some). If you hear of a financially struggling family that has requested formula, go buy it.

Perhaps I have mellowed in my old age – though admittedly there are still plenty of things that get me riled up. But babies who are being loved and cared for are not something to sneeze at, regardless of how they’re receiving their nutrition.

See other adorable mammals here and here.

(Thanks to Gila for the advice.)

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I remembered this afternoon that today marks 8 years that I have been dipping my toes in the blogosphere.

Of course, since I am hardly a blogger anymore, I almost Facebooked: “Oh, shit, I almost missed my blogiversary!” And then the tiny percentage of people there who don’t know that I blog would go: “What?” And I’d say: “Ruh-roh, don’t tell…oh, never mind.”

But I did have this weird epiphany now that it’s 2014. This year, in just under six months, Miss M is going to be 10.

I have no idea why this is hitting me so hard. I mean, on the last day of 2013 it was pretty much exactly the same – in just under six months, my oldest child will turn 10.

But suddenly it is almost upon me, and it feels positively freighted. Perhaps because I remember what a big deal it was for me to go to “double digits.” It’s how the average person spends most of his or her life. There are terribly sad stories of children who don’t make it to 10, and unusual stories of people who live into their second century (we recently lost Taxman’s grandma at age 101), but 10 to 99 is a huge number of years.

So my child is twirling her way to the end of her first decade. It is awesome and terrifying.

At some point we will have to start thinking about her Bat Mitzvah. That’s a lie, of course; I have been thinking about it for ages. It will be so hard to try to encapsulate her in a short series of moments, when she’s wearing a fancy dress, or giving a speech. I want it to be a real commitment: study and service and a creative reflection of her. I’m afraid she will want it to be an ordinary party. She’s so UN-ordinary – so that would be a crime.

We have time, but now that we’ve turned the corner to 2014, it’s all speeding up. First 10, then 12, then into the unknown future.

Luckily, I rarely have the space for such reflection, as there seems to be an endless flow of laundry, meals, and office supply requests. And chauffeuring. For now I will meditate on the everyday and let things slide. At least for a bit longer.

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Miss M photographs the dawn patrol at the 2013 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

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(Oh hiiiii, y’all. School ending was uplifting for the kids, who got great marks and had no end of celebrations, and soul-crushing for me as I ferried them to their gazillion obligations when all I wanted to do was to go to the pool – kids optional.)

I had a revealing conversation with Miss M the other day.

(Side note: I have largely accepted my inability to figure her out. I don’t mean to seem like it doesn’t bother me – because BOY DOES IT EVER – but when she is 9 and I have yet to find a way to consistently get her out the door without yelling, I have to forgive the parties on both sides. We’re working on it.)

Miss M: “Ema, how many pounds are in one kilogram?”

Me: “There are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.”

Miss M: “What?! What’s the point-2 about?”

Me (bewildered): “What do you mean? It is what it is. There are 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.”

Miss M: “But why can’t you just say 2 pounds per kilogram?”

Me: “Because it’s not accurate. It might be more convenient, but it’s not accurate.”

Miss M: *disapproving noise*

And, I thought, there you have it. There is a metaphor here for coming at life from completely different perspectives. How many connections are we missing because she rounds down and I don’t?

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Last week was trying for me in a lot of ways, mostly because AM was sick and kindly shared his germs with me. He gets very snuggly when he’s ill, and while I find this endearing, the fever and deep, rumbling chest cough were not appreciated. To add insult to injury, he got a pneumonia diagnosis and therefore got on some kickass antibiotics while I had “clear” lungs and muddled through on cough meds and fever reducers.

(There was also the night when I was so tired I took Tylenol PM and had a paradoxical reaction. And was even more tired the next day. Plus extremely bitter. But “one tired, bitter ema” does not have the same ring to it.)

So, to recap: sick, tired, sick-and-tired. Plus all the usual backtalk from the children, mess in the house, and, you know, life. (Taxman was around a lot, to make up for the times when I just could not leave the house, or drive Miss M to various scheduled appointments, but by Friday he hadn’t thrown in a load of wash either. Bought milk, yes; laundry, no.)

I felt crappy pretty much every afternoon, so in the mornings I tried to do the minimum I had to do for work. Sometimes with company hanging over my shoulder. Or dancing on the couch. Because why go to school when you can stay home and play Fruit Ninja on my phone? Or whine at me to play backgammon until I give in? Because the alternative — is not pretty.

Humans don’t eat their young.

I don’t know why I thought of this so suddenly last week. Perhaps because I’ve been reading a couple of books right now where mice are prominent (The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and Intuition by Allegra Goodman); mice, of course, do sometimes eat their young.

But we are not rodents. We are in this kid-raising thing for the long haul. At first it’s all about how to keep them alive. When they are asleep at night we sigh in relief because we managed to keep them from harming themselves…sometimes with varying success rates.

We are past that stage. Honestly, we had it pretty easy (my toddler nephew is a climber; we never had to deal with that, or lock picking, toilet drinking, street running or other particularly hair-raising toddler things).

Now we are in the long muddle of making our children socially acceptable. Table manners, polite conversation–hell, any kind of two-way conversation–empathy, friend-navigating. It’s harder to score how you, the parents, are doing. The metrics are totally foggy.

  • What if other adults find them lovely but they don’t get invited for playdates?
  • What if they are happy to eat three kinds of raw vegetables but never salad?
  • What if they get great grades but collectively blitz through a box of carefully hoarded pencils from Target in 2 weeks? (Seriously, do they EAT them? Are they not children but beavers? Do beavers eat their young?)

I decided that this is part of why parents are so joyful at their kids’ big events. It means that other people find them socially acceptable and want to celebrate that too. It’s a big cosmic reward for not eating them.

Graduation –> Your kid earned a degree! They applied themselves! You probably only had to do 50% of the work/80% of the cajoling!
Good job –> Somebody else wants to PAY your child to work at something! Someone else is trusting them to be responsible! Let’s hope the job doesn’t entail putting laundry into a hamper!
Wedding –> You’ve been so successful at child-rearing that somebody else wants to live with your child on a permanent basis…and even finds some of your child’s qualities worthy of passing to a new generation. (We hope. Because how else will you exact your revenge?) Cute and breedable! Good job, parents!

This last part occurred to me because an Internet friend married off a child last month. She projects the picture of calm and happy level-headedness, but through some private messaging I know that some of her children have provided a few sleepless nights and therapy sessions in the past. But here she is, walking to the chuppah and sending off to be amazing grownups. So there is hope!

So, no, we won’t eat them. We’ll try to raise them right and turn them into real people. But if anyone would like to, say, borrow a 6-year-old who will play backgammon all day and night or an 8-year-old who is up on all kinds of 19th century diseases (yellow fever, cholera, scarlet fever), just, you know, give me a buzz.

NB: In the time that elapsed between me wanting to write this post (last Thursday) and actually writing it, I served a dinner everyone ate. It was teriyaki salmon and rice. Everyone had seconds. Civilization is coming faster than we think.

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