Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Parenting is Hard - And I Let Down My Son

Last night, I had a parental failure: I let down my kiddo.

Not because I didn't buy him a toy he wanted or made him go to bed earlier. No, I broke a promise I'd made to him and it was all my fault. The tears of a broken-hearted child are one of the biggest pains you can feel as a parent!

I had promised him that on this Friday, we'd go to Great America. Actually, I've been promising him all summer that we'd go. Because of baseball and cross country and lots of little things, we'd come down to the last possible weekend to go. He loves roller coasters. He loves water slides. And getting to experience a double whammy of roller coasters AND waterslides was epic. I was making arrangements for kiddo#2 (who does NOT like roller coasters and waterslides) when a sickening realization came over me.

He had practice scheduled. As in, their first cross country meet is Saturday morning, and Friday is their last practice (when they're still learning how to pass the baton for relays) and he really shouldn't miss it. Plus, I'd volunteered to drive for another child, too.

Guilt swept over me, saturating every inch of my well-intentioned self. I've made plenty of mistakes before. I've faced bosses. I've faced teachers. I've faced my hubs. But I don't think I've EVER been more anxious than that long, arduous walk upstairs to my son's room to break the news. He's an awesome kid. When I can't make a baseball game because of work, he's the one patting me on the back and saying it's okay, he understands. When I can't get to a school musical in the middle of the day because of prior obligations, he's the one assuring me he'll sing the songs again when he gets home; he understands. Those moments where I need to miss things are few and far between, but they do happen and he handles them with more grace than most kiddos I like to think. But this, well, this wasn't missing something. This was breaking a promise.

"Buddy, I messed up, and it turns out we aren't going to be able to go to Great America on Friday. But I'm looking at late September or October - we can go during Fright Fest. It's really neat," I said, trying to slide some of that guilt off by replacing it with an exciting secondary option.

Tears basically exploded from his eyes, which is not typical for him. And the tears piled on more guilt. Deserved guilt. Mama-failure guilt. I wondered if I should start in with the "Life isn't always fair, sometimes things like this happen and we have to learn how to handle them" speech, but I knew it wasn't the right time, and that speech would only have been to try and lessen my guilt.

I sent my little boy to bed with snuggles, although the tears still clung to his eyelashes long after he fell asleep. We had a fun day on Friday, complete with giant slides and mini-golf and go-carts and arcade games and ice cream. And that night when it was bed time, he told me that it was the best day ever.

It's moments like this that remind me of one of my favorite quotes: While we try and teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. He didn't bring up Great America once on Friday, and not once did he act like it wasn't the greatest day of his life. Whether he'd forgotten about Great America (unlikely) or was making the best of the situation, he acted in a way that I know many adults don't (myself included at times) when something doesn't go their way - positively, and with class. I am one lucky mama!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Before the School Year Starts...

Before the school year starts, I have a special message to anyone whose kiddo will interact with mine in a classroom, an activity, or even just the lunchroom:

Please tell me if my child is anything less than kind to yours.

Let me start by saying I love my babies, and I will protect them with the ferocity of a mama bear when the need arises.

But, I've also seen them physically fight with each other over ridiculous matters like who has the "most-brownest hair". And they're human. And they have my genes. So if I'm being honest, there is the likely possibility that they will have some less-than-stellar moments in dealing with other people.

Don't let the angelic faces fool you. They look all adorable with their long eyelashes and tan skin, but the moment you aren't looking, they'll likely accept a dare if it will yield them an extra snack for lunch. 99.9% of the time they are great kids, but there's the 0.1% when I hear my mom cackling from beyond the grave with an "I told you so! I hoped you'd have children just like you!"

So, if my kid says something not so nice to yours, tell me.

If they don't keep their hands to themselves, tell me.
If they taunt your child or say/do anything that makes your child feel like an outsider, tell me.

And not just your kid. If while you're on playground duty (may the force be with you) or on a field trip (like a field trip to the zoo when it's 95 degrees - again, may the force be with you), and you hear my kid being unpleasant, please tell me.

Most of the time, my kiddos have hearts of gold and would give you the shirt off their back. They help collect things for the shelter and they draw cards for those in nursing homes. We talk about peer pressure and being good examples and making sure that everyone is included, but they're kids. They're kids who want to fit in and want to have friends, and we've all been kids on a playground where sometimes we fall into the trap of doing something we typically wouldn't because it's less scary than doing the right thing.

And I want to know if those times occur. Not so I can scream and yell and punish them til they are 25, but to use the opportunity to figure out what we can do better and how we intend to remedy the situation. (Oh, and yes, they will likely get grounded from something valuable to them. That's just parental law, right?)

Last year, there was a bullying incident at school. My kiddo was not the instigator, but was a follower, and by being a follower, failed to stand up for a friend and do what was right. We had a long discussion and in the midst of it, I realized that I was hypocritical in asking my child to stand up for others and not take the easy way out -- because I hadn't stood up to the bully's parental figures on other occasions myself where I should have. I was asking my grade schooler to do something I wasn't prepared, at 36, to do myself.

Not a great feeling.

But that's why I say this: tell me if these situations arise. Because at 36, I'm still learning. I'm still making mistakes or shirking away from confrontation at times because it's easier. And if I can do that at 36, I am certain that times will arise when my kids are prone to give in to pressure, too. It won't just be now. It will happen when they're 10, 17, and even sometimes in their 30s and beyond. But if I don't know, I can't help all of us learn a lesson and make better decisions next time.

We're all parents, and we're all doing our best. And while I'd love to think my kids are amazing enough to have bronze statues made in their likeness for their unwavering goodness, I know they have another side. Throughout our kiddos' years together, we might not see eye-to-eye on everything. But you can be sure that I won't tolerate the needless verbal or emotional abuse of another person, especially a child. 

So talk to me. Let's work it out together, because if we don't have each other, it's gonna be a longggggg ride!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Baby Girl, You Can Say NO!

Yesterday, as I drove to the dance school to sign up my daughter for classes, we chatted about what classes she wants to take. She's been dancing now for five years, and she loves the teachers and classes and performing in the recitals. But she's young, and she still enjoys lots of other things - which is perfect, because she should have other interests. (That's us in that picture, before her last recital.)

I asked her which classes she'd like to take: core, hip hop, company? All? None? Now, I've asked her this several times over the summer, and every time, she had the same answer. Every. Single. Time.

"Core, mommy, and company."

"What about hip hop?"

"No thanks. Just those two. Maybe I'll do hip hop another year."

"Sounds great," I replied for what felt like the thousandth time.

We pull up, get out, fill out the forms, get in line, and our turn arrives to meet with the teacher to register. We sit down at the table across from the open teacher, and she hasn't had my daughter in class before. She asks her age and begins checking the second grade classes. This sweet teacher looks at my daughter and says she is eligible to take second grade core and hip hop, adding that she isn't old enough yet for company.

"Do you want to take hip hop, too?" she asked.

My daughter smiled and nodded yes, and watched as the teacher began to write. I watched my baby girl's smile, and it wasn't genuine. It was a forced "okay-if-you-say-so" smile.

When the teacher looked away, my daughter's face dropped. Then immediately picked up when the other teacher to our right, who has taught my kiddo before, says, "Oh, no, she's been dancing up a year. So she's with the third graders. And that makes her able to do company."

It's true. My baby girl has a late birthday and came into the studio with a couple years under her belt, so they moved her up a grade so she wouldn't be bored. For the last 3 years, she's danced up and (mostly) loved every moment of it (except when she has to miss a party or something for class because let's face it - parties are pretty awesome).  

My girl's face lit up with excitement. I told the teacher that we'll just be doing core and company (hey, I have a budget here!) and we finished the paperwork and headed back to the car.

"I thought you didn't want to do hip hop?" I asked.

"I don't."

"Then why did you say yes when the teacher asked you? Are you sure you don't want to take hip hop?"

"No, I really don't. I just didn't want to hurt her feelings."

Oh my, a teachable moment! One of those opportunities to tell my daughter that she can say no, without being rude, when there is something in her life that she doesn't feel strongly about being a part of. I want her to be able to say no, and not feel like she has to say "yes" to please people or fit in. Mommy was a yes person, and it led to lots of mistakes and heartache (but many good lessons learned). So, how do I instill the strength in my daughter to say no, without having to share the grownup details from my life as to why it's important?

"Honey," I said, helping her with the seatbelt, "you didn't have to tell her yes. You have the right to say no."

"Isn't it rude to tell adults no?"

"Well, I think that depends on how you say it. There are some things in life you can't say no to; well, not without serious consequences. You shouldn't say no to doing your homework. You shouldn't say no to washing your hands after you use the potty. You can't say no when I need to run to the store and you want to stay home, at least until you're much older. Those are things that need to happen for your health, education and safety. But you can absolutely say no to being a part of something you're not comfortable with. You have the opportunity to participate in things like art and ballet and music and sports. And it's okay to say no to doing these things and you don't have to feel bad about it. You have to do something to stay active, but it's your choice as to what that is."

"Do you ever say no?"

"Good question, kiddo. I do. Not as often as I should, though. Sometimes I say no at work, when I don't believe strongly in something. I say no to photoshoots sometimes, when my heart tells me it's more important to be at your games or programs. I even have to say no sometimes when a friend needs help with something and I'm just spread too thin, even when I know my friend's feelings might get hurt. Mommy's still learning these things, too, and that's why I want to share them with you early."

"But I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings." She makes a good point. I was never good at saying no for just that reason. I'm still not great at it. So I wondered how I would explain to a little girl that it was okay for her to stand up for herself and what she wants without making her into an entitled brat.

"There will be lots and lots of times in life, sweetie, when you want to say no, and then there will be time when you will need to say no. No, you don't want to do this. No, you don't believe in that. No, you don't have time. 'No' is not an excuse to get out of doing something you should; 'no' is an opportunity to make a difference and better your life. I don't ever want you to be afraid to say no when it's important for you to do so. And you have every right to saying no to taking an extracurricular class you don't want to take."

Silence infiltrated the car for only a few moments before she piped up.

"Mommy, can we get ice cream? And you shouldn't say no, because ice cream will make life better."

Somehow, I'm not too worried that this kid is going to be a-ok. ;)

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