When Your Kid Fails…

Little girl in climbing gear stretching out handYou know how sometimes you feel like you are the Best Parent in the World? Yeah, today isn’t one of those days for me.

My oldest decided to try out for the select basketball team in our area. He’s always loved basketball, and he’s pretty good at it. But in the midst of soccer season, he neglected to even pick up a basketball prior to the tryout. I still thought he’d do okay, though.

The day of the tryout, he came to me practically in tears. He said he didn’t want to go; he wasn’t interested in playing basketball anymore. This turned into a long discussion, and we eventually ferreted out that he was worried he wouldn’t be able to perform. On the one hand, it’s good he has Jason and me as parents — Jason understands the psychology of sports, and I (sort of) understand the complexity of Jack’s anxiety. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I upset him more by discussing all those emotions at one time, and Jason is sometimes at a real loss as to why Jack feels so intensely.

We talked him into going the tryout. And he didn’t do great. The kid I saw on the court was not the one I watched all last season in recreational league. This new kid was reserved, nervous and not giving his best effort. Normally, Jack is pretty competitive. He dives for loose balls and blocks bigger opponents without a second thought.

He didn’t make the team. Worse yet, most of his friends did. Despite his feeling ambivalent about playing for the season, he was crushed. He didn’t make excuses; he realized this was less about his talent and more about attitude and work ethic. My heart hurt for him.

I did my best to comfort him and reminded him to learn from this experience. There will be more tryouts to come. I told him failure is a part of life, and it’s how we grow. In my head, though….

I was berating myself for not signing him up for that basketball clinic earlier in the year. I was angry at myself for not making him eat before the tryout, even though he insisted he didn’t want to. I felt like I failed right along with him. He’s 10, right? I’m supposed to know these things.

When my cooler parenting head prevails, I know this experience was good for him — that it will only make him stronger and smarter in the future. It’s just that as his mom, I have the intense urge to shield him from pain. I finally understand why it made my mom so nervous whenever my sister or I tried out for anything.

We will move on. Odds are, when Jack gets home from school today, he will already be mostly over it. My oldest kiddo is sensitive and emotionally complex like me. He’s also tough, and I like to think he gets that at least partially from me as well.

Maybe it’s good I didn’t make him practice before or make him eat or whatever else I think I could have done to change the outcome. Maybe this lesson, this version of falling down, will teach him how to get back up again. Hey, maybe I learned something too.

Too Much Information: Why Modern Parenting is Overwhelming

70424540 - child annoying his tired mother with headache
Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_bialasiewicz’>bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

I have to admit, I ignore a lot of the stuff I get from my kids’ school. I used to rant and rave about people not reading things I sent them. Then I’d get, “Wait, we’re having a meeting Friday?!” I’d sigh and lament people’s attention spans, so short they couldn’t get through a three-line email. But that was back in the early 2000’s.

Now, in 2017, I get multiple emails from the school and the district every day. Much of the information isn’t applicable to me or is a third repetition of information I already know. So yeah, I’ve stopped reading all the multi-paragraph, book-length messages from the superintendent.

The other issue, aside from the sheer volume of messages both electronic and on paper, that come from school is, usually, they want something. They want you to send in paper plates, volunteer for the Thanksgiving luncheon, sign up to be a room representative. Or, it’s about some new program your child, as student, is participating in — a leadership initiative, something to promote science skills, “home connection” notes with exercises to complete with your child to ensure their continued emotional health. It more than any one person should realistically be expected to pay attention to.

Don’t get me wrong; all these programs are useful. I’m glad we’re encouraged to volunteer, I love being able to send supplies and support the teachers and I’m heartened by the fact that public education has realized they need to address emotional well-being. There is just SO MUCH OF IT. I don’t have the bandwidth to take it all in, let alone participate in it all. So, I might occasionally miss something, because I’ve skimmed the school-wide news of the week instead of studying it carefully.

Here’s my coping mechanism as a person who wants to help and participate but does not have the capacity to consider everything that comes home in the children’s backpacks and each and every email that pings into the inbox: I ignore a LOT. I’ve picked out my things I like to do — things for which I’m well suited. I send art supplies to the art teacher every year (her budget is abysmal); I volunteer in my first grader’s class once a week, because I like getting to know the kids in his class; I chair the book fair, because I love books.

What I don’t do (like categorically don’t even consider doing, because I don’t even want it taking up space in my head): go to PTA meetings, sign up to bring food for teacher appreciation week, volunteer in the cafeteria or get coerced into being on the PTA board. I am glad other people do these things; they’re important things, but they’re not my things. I have a hard time paying attention in large group meetings, I don’t particularly like to cook and a cafeteria full of noise is overwhelming to me. As far as the board goes, I am so grateful to the people who do those jobs, because I cannot stand to be in charge of one more thing. Between work, family and the book fair, I’m tapped out.

Why am I sharing this? Because I know a lot of parents who feel the same way, and we’re not going to stop getting so many emails and requests for help anytime soon, so it’s important to work on what we do have control of: ourselves. I hereby give you permission to ignore any requests from school that are not at all suited to you. Don’t even consider them. Pick a handful of things you think are important or that work for you, and don’t let yourself feel guilty about the rest.

Now excuse me, I have 87 emails to delete without reading.

There’s NOTHING to Eat; I’m STARVING! (No, You’re Not)

"starving" children
“starving” children

I read something once, on how to raise grateful kids. A lot of that kind of advice is lofty, vague and overwhelming, leaving me thinking I ought to be doing 1,000 hours of charity work with my kids every month, but this one was so beautifully simple:

Run out of things. 

Does this sound familiar: “Mom, there’s nothing to eat!” (whiny, tortured voice) As a responsible parent who is aware it’s important for kids to ingest food, you know this is absolutely not true. But, do you, like me, feel a twinge of guilt because you haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week and it is, in deed, slim pickins in the pantry?

Instead of feeling guilty and lazy, I’ve realized this is character building. When you are out of your kids’ favorite snack for 10 days, then you finally buy it, they are sooo excited! They are grateful, and you feel appreciated. It’s a win all around.

This can work with things other than food. One time, the overhead light in our garage went out. After about a month, Jason fixed it. Then, our youngest went into the garage, flipped the switch and said delightedly, “Hey, the light works!” Big grin on his face. I tell you, it’s no small feat to get a kid these days to appreciate working electricity.

So, the next time you run out of the food your kids think they can’t live without or they complain you haven’t fixed this or done that yet, instead of feeling guilty, feel proud. This is a “teachable moment” as they say. And, it takes way less energy than running to the store every few days and repeatedly delivering the lecture about “being grateful for what you have, because some kids don’t have food/clothes/warm houses.” (Yes, I have given this speech; no, I don’t think it’s particularly effective, except for my own venting.)

Most of the kids we know have plenty. They don’t know what it is to have food insecurity or to not know where they will sleep that night. They don’t know what it’s like not to have caregivers upon whom they can absolutely rely. And yes, it’s useful to expose your children to these things through a variety of channels, but on a simpler, everyday level, you can teach them to go without certain luxuries from time to time and spare both of you the lecture.

On Houses for Dragons

5c853089215ed2df0a274cbd11298e25Almost every personality trait has both a usefulness and a challenge to it – to speak plainly, a good and a bad (though I don’t like to assign morality to it.) For instance, I am very analytical, which means I am an excellent problem solver, but it also means I can, at times, spend so much time analyzing something I never actually do the task.

There are traits generally considered positive, such as being highly social, and it’s true, being a social person means you have the ability to make connections for both personal friendship and business relations – definitely a useful trait. But, the highly social person may have trouble being alone, reflecting on their own inner nature or connecting on a deeper level. That’s not to say they can’t do these things – just that it’s a challenge for them. Also, highly social children have a habit of talking to us when we are trying to concentrate on something else (not that I know from experience or anything.)

Stubbornness is generally considered a negative trait, especially when we’re talking children. A stubborn child can turn even the most patient person into a yelling, cajoling, bribing mess.  But, when that same immovable chid faces peer pressure – bingo, suddenly it’s an advantage. The stubborn person may not be open to the ideas of others, which can hamper them in life, but they also won’t be swayed by mob mentality.

The best example I can think of is this: no one in my family likes to go to the doctor, myself included. I see my ob/gyn once a year, and barring broken bones or passing out from excessive blood loss, that’s it. My kids don’t see their pediatrician very often either. We’re six months overdue for their yearly well check.

The useful: we don’t go running to urgent care every time one of us has the sniffles. I am adverse to using the time, money and energy to go to the doctor for a virus when she will just tell me what I already know: go home, rest, drink fluids, take Advil. But…

One time when I was 25, my sister was visiting me, and she suddenly gave me a sharp look. “How long have you had that cough?”

“Umm….six weeks maybe?” (I hadn’t really thought about it until she asked.)

My sister who has mild asthma is familiar with respiratory problems. She listened to my lungs through my back and said, “You need to go to the doctor.”

I went. The nurse practitioner glared at me as I exhaled weakly into the breath-measurer thingy. “You practically have pneumonia,” she said.

Four weeks, two different antibiotics and painkillers for ribs I cracked coughing later, I was better. I should’ve gone to the doctor WAAAY before I did. So this is the best example of a trait that can go either way.

We so often judge ourselves or others for the traits we perceive as negative or positive, but it’s all situational. A trait in and of itself if rarely “good” or “bad;” it’s all in how you apply it. So, next time you’re annoyed because your space cadet child is taking for-EVER to put on his socks and shoes, mainly because he doesn’t remember where they are and, when he finds them, he’s too busy constructing houses for dragons in his head to move efficiently, go ahead and feel annoyed – that’s totally valid. But, to help you cope, imagine him writing his first novel.

I Haven’t Written Lately Because Listicles

Celebrity Affair CollageIt’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. My paying work picked up its pace over the past several months and the kids are out of school. Something had to give, so I intentionally put blogging on the back burner, as much as it pained me to do it.

I love writing here, because I can write whatever I want, in whatever format I want and with whatever whimsical made-up words I favor. The only problem is, no one pays me to write my weird personal stuff.

I recently started writing for a parenting website that is committed to listicles (an article in list format – Jason says “listicle” sounds like male genitalia). The website has very specific requirements for word count, amongst other rules for achieving ideal SEO (search engine optimization.)

When I started, I found the restrictions…well, restricting, but now, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of creating an engaging list within the site’s parameters. And I like that I can create these articles with internet research alone and don’t have to talk to any real people or rely on them to send me information. (Introverts unite!…separately, in our own homes)

The real challenge, though, is choosing a topic. I get paid based on the number of times my listicles get clicked on, so it’s in my best interest to pick popular topics. Some of the most-read ones involve shaming celebrities and ideas that have no other value than to shock the reader and allow them to judge people. They’re the train wrecks of the internet. You know the type: Ten Shocking Celebrity Parents Who Don’t Raise Their Kids Right. Yeah, Homey don’t play that. And by “Homey,” I mean me. But…

I found I can dress up the meatloaf – meatloaf being my own preferred topics: women’s reproductive rights, body and fat positivity, and judge not, lest ye be judged. (Yes, the atheist just quoted the Bible.) I can take a topic like Eight Times Celebrities Messed Up Their Marriages – a potential train-wreck article – and give it value. I can turn it into a lesson on not judging others, even celebrities who are always, always in the public eye. I can use the shocking title to grab you and, now that I’ve got your attention, give you something that does more than entertain. I can feed you something that really makes you think and reflect. Example: I wrote this article, 12 Shocking Stories of Women Who Performed Their Own Abortions, and made it into an analysis of why they did it and how restrictive abortion laws can force a woman’s hand. (One of the things I love about the site is they don’t mind if I get political.)

So, in the vein of not judging, I have stopped judging listicle-type articles for their titles. I’m not the only writer out there trying to make people think instead of just gawking at disasters. Some listicles actually have substance. But, once I’ve read the content, make no mistake; I will be judging.

Who’s Your Squad?

Your “squad,” according to Jason, is any person or thing with which you feel a particular kinship. You can always count on your squad to comfort and put a smile on your face. Jason refers to his favorite chair as “my squad,” but he also addresses me as such: “April, you’re my squad.”

When I was in high school, I had a squad — a close-knit set of friends we not-so-creatively referred to as “The Group.” We walked into each other’s houses without knocking. We hung out every day and called each other up to ask, not, “Do you want to do something?” but “What are we doing today?” Theirs were the phone numbers I had memorized, back when that was necessary. I once spent three days straight with one of my squad. Kelly and I went back and forth spending the nights at each others’ houses, and during the day, we mostly drove around. Because with your squad, you don’t have to be doing anything special to be having a blast.

Your squad is always there when you need them. When one of our squad broke up with another of our squad, Kelly and I felt badly for the breakup-ee. So, without a second thought, we whipped up a batch of Rice Krispy treats, and drove over to comfort him. We ate half of them on the way over in the car and were not at all abashed to admit it when we got there. It didn’t occur to him to be offended, and he was grateful for the company and sympathy. THAT is the level of comfort you have with your squad.

In college, I had another encounter with squad-dom. That’s when Trey, Javier and I hung out. All we needed was a handle of cheap whiskey and balcony on which to smoke, talk and argue about politics, philosophy and modern social constructs. The next morning, I’d roll off Trey’s couch, smelling of the patchouli incense he liked to burn, and stumble my way to class.

The three of us spent formative time together, back in our 20’s, when life was one, big drunken (let’s drive to Mardi Gras at 2am) adventure. There is a particular incident in Boquillas, Mexico, just across the border from Big Bend – the kind of situation that only occurs with a squad like Trey and Javier. I’ll spare you the whole story, but here are a few highlights: moonshine sotol, falling into a cactus, stealing a boat to get back across the border and cutting some mules loose. No, that’s not a euphemism; one of us actually cut ropes tethering mules to a post.

Last night, I binge watched old episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I’m also fond of watching Friends reruns and, late at night after a few glasses of wine, I’m apt to pull up Stand By Me. These are all shows about squads – young people that have the kinds of relationships in which they skip the small talk. That’s why they’re my go-to shows when I feel a little down or nostalgic; they conjure a little of that warm, relaxed feeling of having a cohesive group of close friends.

As I reminisced over my coffee in the wee, dark hours this morning, I missed having a squad. I feel comfortable around many of my individual friends, but there’s something about a group dynamic – ease on a slightly larger scale – that is unique. I was wondering if it’s even possible to have a squad when we’re in our 40’s, with family and career taking up most of our lives. Then, 9-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Gage wandered down the stairs, sleep still in their eyes, messy rat’s nest of hair on the backs of their heads. Without a word, they joined me on the couch and snuggled in. I may get annoyed with my kiddos sometimes, but, being completely honest, I got exasperated with my squad people of old, as well. That’s part of the comfort level — the freedom to be irritated and express it, knowing the squad will still be there for you. I smiled and thought to myself, “Stupid woman. THIS is your squad, right here in your lap.” That’s the other thing about a squad; they fit with you so well, sometimes you forget they’re there.

When They Were Young

Baby Days, Crazy Days

When my children were babies and toddlers, people would often tell me, “Cherish these years. They go by too fast.” But, there were many times when I thought they couldn’t go by fast enough. From the day they were each born, I loved my kids unconditionally and with an intensity that overwhelmed me, as if my heart would explode with the hugeness of that love. But, I also struggled.

Not getting enough sleep was hard. Failing at breast feeding was devastating. Not having time to myself and being constantly “on” for my children, the first of whom never did nap regularly, was something I wrestled with constantly. I was, at times, bored with staring at an infant who’d yet to even make eye contact with me, bored with playing  trains for the eleventh hour, bored and defeated by the unimaginable loads of laundry small children produce. Ironically, in addition to needing more alone time, I also craved adult company, as evidenced by my constant chattering at Jason when he got home from work.

There were good times, though. There was the time I watched Jack run and laugh carefree through the wildflowers in the park and wished he’d stay that uninhibited forever. There was the first time he planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. There was toddler Gage, dressed in only a diaper, dancing to techno music in his bouncy way and the thrill of watching each of them take their first, unassisted steps. I’m smiling now, with the memory of these milestone events, but I am relieved children don’t stay toddlers forever.

Now Jack is nine and Gage is six. Time has started to speed up, as they both spend a good portion of their days away at school and then, afterwards, often at their friends’ houses. I promised myself when they were young, I would not tell people with babies to cherish the moment; enough people tell them that. My message to them is this: it is hard when they are little, but it gets easier.

As my kids have gotten more self-sufficient, and it’s no longer necessary for me to follow them around, making sure they don’t maim themselves on sharp corners or walk into traffic, it’s been easier to lose myself in my writing. They go off and play, and I have the time and energy to plot advances for my freelance business. This is good for me, but I have to be mindful not to swing too far the other way – get so caught up in work that I miss the kids’ ever-dwindling childhood. Jack only has two years left before we hit the dreaded middle school years, and I want to invest my time and energy into fostering a close relationship with both of them, so they’ll come to me when they need help. This is why, despite my overachieving, perfectionist brain, I have decided to be okay with taking freelance work as it comes, and not intentionally growing the business like I could. There will be time to grow business later, but I don’t get a second chance at being present for my kids in their formative years. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I regret not building a business? Maybe a little, but knowing the tradeoff was being there for Jack and Gage, my first, foremost and most important responsibility, I have no doubts my priorities are in the right place. And that makes every decision, business or otherwise, so much simpler.