Yes, I Know How It Happens

I have mentioned that there is something about me that invites people to say awkward things to me.  Sometimes it’s annoying; often it’s just an amazing gift of someone else’s lack of better judgment that I get to enjoy.

I’ve been waiting for the comments.  I’m 31.  I’m pregnant with my fourth child, which in this day and age, makes me a young mom.  In fact, when I was pregnant with Henry two years ago (whoa… my kid is going to be two soon…), I actually had a woman yell at me for being irresponsible for being an unreasonably young mother.  Literally–she yelled at me.  At her own garage sale.  I didn’t buy anything.  I tried to thank her for clearly assuming I was younger than 29, but she was too busy judging me and showing off her lack of verbal control.

I don’t remember all of the times that it has happened with this pregnancy, but two have stuck out.  An old friend (for whom I used to babysit when I was a teenager), when he found out that I was pregnant again, said, “Do you know how that happens?”

And then, again today, I was dropping my kids off in the child care area of my gym so that I could take my zumba class.  A man was dropping off his three children, and commented that we both had three.  I patted my belly and said, “Three and a half, actually.”

He said, “Oh.  Well, you know how that happens, right?”

I know it isn’t meant as an insult… I hope it isn’t meant as an insult… In any case, I don’t take it as an insult.  It’s a “clever” response to finding out that someone is having more than the average number of children.  If you overthink it, it is offensive… but I’m going to give these men the benefit of the doubt and assume they were joking.

That said, I am not one to let those comments slip by if I can be quick-witted enough in the moment.

The first time I was asked, I responded by saying, “Nope.  Will you please explain it to me, in detail?”

Today I said, “Yep.  And it’s super fun.  Don’t you think?”

28 weeks pregnant!

28 weeks pregnant!

Annoyed with Magazines

As a general rule, I love magazines and have ever since I first sneaked a peek at my big sister’s copy of Seventeen.  My reasons have changed (I don’t need information on menstruation or how to flirt with boys, for example), but the love has remained.

I like to read magazines in between novels, so that I can decompress from one and prepare to get emotionally invested in another.

I like getting a wide variety of information from magazines that I can then further research if it is interesting, or not feel guilty for skipping over if it isn’t.

I like reading parenting magazines for strategies on how to be a better mom, tips for practical problems, recipes, and ideas for arts and crafts (which I am absolutely horrific at doing, but I do have lofty dreams of being that mom).

I like reading gossip magazines for the pretty pictures of pretty people and the salacious gossip, and to see how far they can possibly distance their source from the subject matter (‘the uncle of a friend of the agent of the hairdresser of the trainer of the person they sat next to once in kindergarten’).

But lately, I’m annoyed with magazines.

First, it seems like these days magazines are just pages of advertisements for things you can buy.  That trendy fall outfit at under a hundred dollars?  It’s under $100 per item, y’all.  And no, I won’t be spending $85 on a set of bangles to accessorize it.

But seriously—we are in a recession.  People are struggling financially.  Why not write articles or put together outfits that really are affordable, instead of pretending that $800 is a reasonable amount to spend on one day’s worth of clothing?

And unfortunately, it’s not just clothes.  It seems like every page is full of things that you should buy.  And hot new products that you need.  Because who doesn’t need a machine that will mix your baby’s formula for you, like a pod coffeemaker does for your coffee?

My second pet peeve is scare articles.  This is a time honored magazine article, usually featured in some way, that is put in there to scare you.  Whether you should be paranoid about mold in your walls or the perils of letting your family use materials that are not BPA-free, the scare articles just serve to incite paranoia in the hearts of parents, and give hypochondriacs and self-centered people something else to be certain will affect them.  I realize that the issues that are brought up in these articles can be potentially life-savings in some instances, and that a lot of times they relate to issues that people might not be aware of otherwise, but the heavy-handedness gets on my nerves.

Another annoyance of mine is fairly specific to parenting magazines or articles.  In the same breath (sometimes the same page!) that a magazine reminds you that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under age two have zero screen time (TV, computer, smartphone, etc), and kids older than two have less than two hours a day, the magazine will also tout apps and websites that are great for the toddler set.

How about you play with your kid instead of simultaneously stare at a screen with them?  Why don’t you remind me about all of the wonderful things that my kids and I can build with blocks or legos, or how to build forts out of furniture so we can transport ourselves to other worlds using our—gasp!—imaginations?

Instead of a scare article about super-bacteria, why not an article on how the hell squeamish parents can go about catching bugs and worms and roly-polies with their kids?  (And PS… I bet that if more people were outside playing in the dirt in their backyards there would be fewer super-bacteria because our immune systems would be stronger.)

So, basically, instead of what I’m reading these days, I want a magazine that gives me strategies to realistically save money instead of tell me what new gadgets I should spend it on, that empowers me to be a better person and parent than tries to scare me about things that are largely out of my control, and that doesn’t try to convince me to try out the latest app for my iThing that will spontaneously turn my child into a genius just by sliding his finger across a screen.

Lessons Learned

image

Things I learned from my kids today:

1. Little things bring a lot of happiness.  Oliver was so excited today when I ordered him a pair of jeans that came with a belt. His first belt!  He was also thrilled to be able to use a little lamp I just clipped onto his bed to read just one more book before going to bed.

2. If you teach your mono-lingual child about false cognates, and he comes up with a Nintendo DS being a false cognate for diez-the Spanish word for ten-you should just go with it.

3. Sometimes, having someone else around to help you change your underwear and sheets after you wet the bed can make your whole night better. (And major props to Kullervo for his ability to change sheets lightning fast! If there were parental superpowers, that would definitely be one of them.)

4. If you tell kids that their Auntie E really misses them, they will pose for a picture to make her day.

Gun Talk

All Oliver can talk about is guns.  Nerf guns.  Water guns.  Real guns.  He desperately wants a Nerf gun for his birthday.

Now, in principle, I am okay with toy guns.  My concern is that in a society for which violence has become commonplace and not a big deal, without a lot of care and due diligence (for lack of a better term) by the parents, that same casual attitude is passed down to our children.

I think it’s a big cognitive leap to understand that playing with toy guns in a game and pretending to kill people (!) is okay (and is it?), but playing with real guns where people really do get hurt or killed isn’t.  We’ve avoided this, in part, in the past, by having games that we play with him that do involve shooting be able shooting marshmallows and getting each other so sticky that you lose the game (totally Kullervo’s imagination at work there, mind you!).

I’m not going to pretend otherwise–real guns make me really uncomfortable.  I’ve had some bad experiences in my life associated with them.   I lived in a house once where the gun that was there (not mine) that was for self-protection was turned on us, and we were sort of held hostage.

At the same time, my baggage is my baggage, and not something that my kids need to live or deal with.  And part of being a responsible parent, in my opinion, is recognizing that, and thus teaching my kids appropriate caution without terrorizing fear.

So, for now, we talk about it.  We talk about real guns and toy guns.  We talk about how they are different, by a seriously huge magnitude.  We talk about killing, and death, and hurting people.  These aren’t fun conversations to have, but important in the context.

And I have to figure out–or rather, Kullervo and I have to figure out–what sort of play is okay.  Kids have been playing cops and robbers for ages and ages.  Is it bad to pretend to kill a bad guy?  Is it wrong?  What do we allow?  On the one hand, when kids pretend to kill things, it’s downright creepy.  On the other hand, death is a part of life.  And, for worse (not for better), killing and hurting other people is a part of life.  And exploring difficult, complex, and philosophically deep ideas about life and death through play seems appropriate.  We are supposed to role play to teach our kids how to handle things like smoking and bullies… is it okay to role play to teach our kids about death? About the darker nature of man?  If I tell him that he can play with toy guns, but he can only pretend he’s hurting someone, not killing them… does that make death seem like this big, terrifying thing?  What do we do, then, when our enormously-fat-probably-won’t-live-forever-seven-year-old-cat dies?

I’m sure that a part of this conversation also has to go into religion.  Which means I’m going to have to prayerfully figure out what the heck I teach my kids about hard questions like that, religiously.  This probably belongs in a whole separate post, but I feel like Jesus’s way was wholly different from the instinctive response to this.  For example, bullying.  I want to teach my kids that if someone bullies them, or hits them, they should hit back.  Knock a kid out.  Bullies only respond to strength.

But Jesus didn’t teach that.  I don’t want my kids to hurt… but I do want them to follow Jesus’s teachings.  Those two might be mutually exclusive in some circumstances.  And I need to spend some time with God figuring that out, and then with Kullervo to make sure that we are on the same page in terms of raising our kids inter-faithfully.

Another aspect of the whole gun issue revolves around hunting.  I respect that it’s a sport, and that lots of people seriously enjoy it.  I personally find it repellent, but I can see and understand where other people would feel differently.  And Kullervo loves going shooting (not hunting, but shooting).  He was an infantry soldier, and he’s a good shot.  It’s something he excels at.  How does that fit into all of this?

In addition to the concerns about Oliver playing with Nerf guns, letting him do it exposes Hazel at a much younger age to them.  Which means that she needs to be a part of the conversation as well.  I don’t think she’d show as much of an interest in them, but I think it would be really easy to have the conversations with Oliver, and then just assume Hazel picked up on it, when her cognitive development is that of a three year old, not a five year old.

I don’t have any answers at all, just question on question, so any feedback or suggestions are appreciated.  Do you let your kids play with toy guns?  How old were they when you let them start, if it wasn’t always?

BATS

Oliver took it upon himself to teach Hazel how to read today.  He asked me how he had learned, and I told him that we had started with simple letter combinations, like AT, and then built on them, by adding “B” for bat, and “C” for cat, etc.

So, Oliver walked over to his chalkboard and wrote “AT” on it.  His conversation with Hazel proceeded like this:

Oliver:  Hazel, A-T says at.

Hazel:  At.

Oliver:  Good!  Now you can read at!!

(Oliver writes a B in front of at.)

Oliver:  Hazel, what sound does B make?

Hazel:  Buh.

Oliver:  That is correct.  [Note:  He really said that!]  Now, if you put ‘buh’ with ‘at’, what does it say?

Hazel:  Buh-at.

Oliver:  That is incorrect.  It says bat.

Hazel: Bat.

Oliver:  Good!  You can read bat now.

(Oliver writes an S after bat.)

Oliver:  Hazel, what sound does S say?

Hazel:  Ssss.

Oliver:  Right.  Now, if you add S to bat, it says bats.

Hazel:  Bats.

Oliver:  Correct!  You can read bats now.

(Oliver writes a QU after BATS.)

Oliver:  Hazel, what does QU say?

Hazel:  I don’t know.  (walks away.  Oliver grabs her arm and drags her back.)

Oliver:  QU says “kwuh”.

Hazel:  Kwuh.

Oliver:  Good!  Now, what does it say at the end of bats?

Hazel:  Kwuh.

Oliver:  Batsqu.

Oliver then writes a – and underneath it writes the word LINE.  The chalkboard now looks like this:

BATSQU-
LINE

Oliver:  Hazel, L-I-N-E says line.

Hazel:  Line.

Oliver:  Now it says batsquline.

Hazel:  Batsquline.

Oliver (looking at me):  Mommy, Hazel can read now.  I just taught her.

The Bad Parenting Tactics I Might Actually Be Proud Of

Right now, I am a stay at home mom.  I don’t love the term, or the associations that go along with it.  It is certainly better terminology than “full-time mom” (because, really, aren’t most mothers full-time mothers, because no matter the hours they put into their day jobs, they are always on-call for their kids, and always thinking about them), but it isn’t perfect.  I mean, I rarely stay at home with my kids.  If we stayed home most of the time, we’d all go batty.  It also blandly ignores all of the jobs that go along with being the primary caregiver to a child—chauffeuring to school and activities, teacher (of manners, societal norms, the alphabet, etc), short-order cook, etc.  However, for the sake of ease of writing this blog post, I’m going to call parents who don’t work “stay at home parents” and parents who leave to go to work “working parents”, while not ever imagining that the stay at home parent is not working just as hard, or that the working parent is not parenting just as thoughtfully.

When I was going to work every day, I felt guilty.  I assumed that when I left work, the guilt would go away.  It turns out that it doesn’t.  Parenthood = guilt complex.  I feel like having kids is the best way to experience the absolute extreme of every emotion it is capable of feeling—including love, devotion, pride, frustration, embarrassment, and rage.  And when I get frustrated or angry and express it, whether it’s a sarcastic reply to one child or an out-of-control holler at the other, I feel guilty.  Guilt comes with parenthood, probably hand in hand with all that love and gooey stuff (no really—having kids is gooey.  It’s sort of gross sometimes).

I read somewhere once that if you measure quality time (and not quantity time) with kids, kids get about the same amount of quality time from their parents regardless of whether their parents stay home or go to work.  Remembering that has made me work hard at home to try to have a lot of quality time, because one day I probably will go back to work, and I want to know that I made the most of what we have now.  Because what we have right now is made of magic, and I know that I am going to look back on this time in my life and remember it as the happiest and most beautiful and precious time.

You see, I have these two kids.  They are incredible.  Oliver is brilliant and loves Spiderman and Iron Man and Batman.  He loves to read, he adores music, and he loves all sorts of stereotypical boy stuff.  He also loves to carry around his Baby Girl Oliver in a sling that I make for him out of one of my scarves.  He likes to pretend and play board games and cook and do “school” at home.  Hazel is also brilliant.  Her world is made of rainbows and unicorns and our cat, Rags.  She loves her stuffed puppy (named Puppy or sometimes Puppygitchybooboo), the sea lions at the zoo, and My Little Pony and pretending to cook in her play kitchen.  She’s as stubborn as her mother, has perfect comic timing, and memorizes lyrics to pop songs after hearing them twice.  Hazel isn’t interested in baby dolls, but she does have a pretend friend named Crab.

All this build up, and now I’m going to talk about some of my bad parenting strategies.  Perhaps this is going to result in me justifying and rationalizing in order to feel better about myself.  Or, you know, maybe with the kids that I’ve got, the things that I do will work for them and it will all be okay.  In any case, I am through feeling guilty or ashamed of the parenting that I do, because I do it all thoughtfully and on purpose, even if it is unorthodox at times.

Bad Parenting Strategy #1: Coffee Time

I let myself have an hour or two every day that are just for me while Kullervo is at work.  In the morning, after he leaves, I let the kids watch some DVRed TV and play downstairs by themselves while I drink coffee.  I often pay the bills then, but I also will read a magazine or a book, and just take the time for me.  I feel like this is a bit selfish, but I’ve decided that I’m okay with it.  And while it isn’t much and is often me just wasting time, it’s time that I’m taking for me, and that’s important too.  I wind up feeling guilty about it because it’s quality time that I’m not spending with my kids.

At the same time, sometimes I have to wonder if we don’t all have completely unrealistic expectations for how much time we should be spending with our kids.  I don’t remember my mom spending every waking moment by my side, or playing every game I wanted to play.  And I don’t think that was a bad thing.

Bad Parenting Strategy #2: Sibling Sparring

When my kids start fighting, I often try to keep out of it.  So long as it isn’t coming to blows, I figure that their sibling squabbles will help them develop conflict resolution and working with other people in the future.  Also, sometimes I just don’t have the energy to break up every battle.

Bad Parenting Strategy #3: Friends

Oliver has watched almost every episode of the series Friends with me.  Yes, much of the show is inappropriate (and I did skip “The One With All The Porn” for the record) for his age, but I let him watch it anyway.  I would watch it while I ate lunch when Oliver and Hazel went down for naps, but Oliver has long since stopped napping. So he’d sit with me.  He often played with Superhero toys or we’d set up a racetrack for him to race cars down or whatever.  He didn’t understand or ask about most of the sexual innuendo, but sometimes we would talk about what was on TV.  In one of the early episodes, Ross and Rachel sleep together and wake up the next day naked under animal furs at Ross’s museum.  Oliver asked why they were naked, and I told him that some people like to sleep naked.  This started a period of a few weeks where Oliver wanted to try sleeping naked, which we let him, and which he liked.  (In fact, we suspect that the only reason he wears pajamas to bed is because when he comes into our room in the middle of the night, we won’t let him snuggle with us until he puts on some clothes.)

I think that Friends is one of the best and funniest sitcoms that I’ve ever seen.  And I like that watching it with Oliver exposed him to the sitcom genre, and we were able to talk about humor and what he found funny.  Oliver really liked the physical comedy portions, and anytime they called each other by silly names.  And the only time that he really didn’t like the show was during the episode where Phoebe shows off Gladys, and at the end of the episode Rachel sneaks into Joey’s room at night to scare him with Gladys.

Friends is just one example of shows that are out of his age range that he has seen.  While I don’t let him watch anything graphic—whether is violent or overtly sexual in nature, or even just grotesque, I steer clear.  So, no hospital shows, no Gossip Girl, nothing from HBO.  But he has seen a lot of Gilmore Girls, a few episodes of classic Star Trek, and I’m considering starting The West Wing soon.

Bad Parenting Strategy #4: Target dollars

A long, long time ago, I started letting Oliver get a toy every time we went to shop at Target.  Not my greatest (or favorite) decision.  Kullervo and I started calling it our Target tax.  The rule that we (mostly) stuck to was that he could only spend a dollar—so he could get a Hot Wheels or Matchbox car, or some random dollar item.

However, this led to an insane amount of greed and feelings of having a right to get whatever he wanted, wherever we went.  So when he saw Hot Wheels cars at our local grocery store, he insisted I buy him one.  And I didn’t.  (Phew!)  And we all survived.

And then, I decided that it wasn’t too early to learn delayed gratification.  So, before the next time we went to Target, I told him that he could get a $1 item.  Or, if he chose to not get anything, when we got back to the car, toy free, I would give him $1.50.  Which meant that the next time we went to Target, he could buy something that cost up to $2.50.  He didn’t take me up on it the first few times I offered, but I always offered.  And then one day, he did it.  He woke up and when I said we were going to Target, he said that today he wanted to save his money.  And he held to it, and when we got to the car, I gave him $1.50.  He was so excited.  And to really drive the point home, I later realized that I had ‘forgotten’ to get something we needed, and we went back and he was able to get a $2.50 item.

Since then, sometimes Oliver saves his money, and sometimes he spends it, but I’m glad that he has the opportunity, and will put back a toy because he’s decided he would rather save up for that cooler toy over there.

Bad Parenting Strategy #5: Fury

I tend towards anger.  I get frustrated, and I’m a yeller.  Actually, if I could get away with it, I’d be just like Hazel when I got mad—I’d stomp and throw things and yell and hit.  Since stomping makes me look like I’m still three, throwing things just breaks my things (that I then have to live without or pay for), and I can’t stomach the idea of hitting my children, I wind up resorting to yelling.  And, let me tell you, I can holler.  Sometimes I have yelled so much that mid-rant I have yelled that I was putting myself in time out, and marched out of the room that Hazel and Oliver were in, petrified by me.  And I tried desperately to calm down.

I’m not perfect.  I try not to yell at the kids, and not to lose control, but I mess up.  And I yell.  And I rage.  And then, there it is again, I feel guilty.  My only saving grace is that after I lose my temper, I sit each of the kids down, together and individually, and sincerely apologize for yelling and scaring them and losing my temper.  And I tell them that I’m working on it, but sometimes I make mistakes too.  And I ask them to forgive me.  And my sweet kids always tell me they forgive me, and we hug and we love.

Bad Parenting Strategy #6: Swearing

I am a cusser.  I swear.  Like a sailor.  I know that there are better words that I can choose, but frankly, I don’t care.  Especially in traffic.  As a result, my kids hear me swearing, and sometimes they do it too.  (*gasp!)  Oliver and I talk about it, and about how they are words that people sometimes use to emphasize a point or express frustration.  And that it’s important to know who you are swearing around.  So, for example, while I might yell out an expletive in the car, I probably wouldn’t yell the same one at Target.  Or in front of my grandma.  And it’s never okay to swear at people-to call someone names or likewise.  I tell him that I don’t care if he swears, unless he abuses it by hurting someone’s feelings or not being mindful of who is listening.  So, he can’t swear at school—lots of other kids’ parents probably wouldn’t appreciate their child coming home with some choice new words to use about eating their vegetables.

The result of this is that Oliver doesn’t really swear.  Sometimes he tries out a word (“Ass.  Mommy, I just said ass.  It means the butt.”).  But he doesn’t really appreciate a good swear word the way that I do, and thus doesn’t really see the need to use them.

So, after all this, I have to say that I am not a perfect parent.  I have come to realize in the last year, however, that kids don’t need a perfect parent.  My kids love me, with all of my screwy-uppy days, with all of my mood swings, and with all of the singing and dancing and rhyming and laughing and hugging and bugging and nicknames and chocolate that comes with living with me.  So I will keep parenting as me, the imperfect parent, and hope that my kids grow up thinking that it’s okay to be imperfect, but that we should always be trying to be better.

Recycled Halloween Decorations

I will be the first to admit that not only am I absolutely awful at doing arts and crafts with my kids (I have a rare inability to draw a recognizable stick figure), but I hate it too (the mess!  the drama! the stickiness!).

However, I am a big sucker for the fall holidays.  I love Halloween.  I love Thanksgiving.  I love that you (not me, but you) can draw a turkey with nothing more clever than two hands.  I’m also a big fan of reusing stuff that we buy, because it teaches my kids values and responsibility and junk like that.  (Also, it’s cheaper.)

So I have taken it upon myself to have my kids help me make decorations.

For our spiders below (which are soon to decorate our doorway), we took an egg carton, cut it up and painted the body and faces, added some pipe cleaner for antenna–which I kept calling antlers, much to Oliver’s dismay–and legs.  I used a meat thermometer to punch the holes into the cardboard to put the pipe cleaners through, as well as to make holes to tie some twine to.

Oliver was able to do most of the work himself–he put the pipe cleaner in and drew the face on his (the green one).  Hazel didn’t particularly want to try, so she just chose the colors for the things that she wanted, and I helped her put it together.