Monday, August 25, 2008

Letting Go

Luke walked by himself today – his first tentative steps. And as I clapped and cheered, I couldn't help but be a little sad too at his first halting steps to independence. This isn't the first time I've felt this way – proud and happy at my children's accomplishments, and a little sad at new evidence of their growing up.

There was the day I took Ashley to the first day of a new session of gymnastics only to learn she had been moved into the next class up – the one where she didn't need a parent to accompany her. I was sure my distractible, energetic child would never make it through class without me there to keep her on track. But as I watched from the observation area, she did fine without me.

And then this summer, I took her into her first day of camp, certain that this experience of being left in a room with strangers – even if only for a few hours – would be difficult. And it was – for me. After we met a couple of the counselors and put away her backpack and lunch, Ashley was off to explore with a very distracted wave goodbye.

Parenting is ultimately about preparing your children to make it in the world without you around. It is, as I am learning, an ongoing process of letting go.

On those days when both kids are clinging to me and demanding more time and energy than I feel I have at that particular moment, I think I'm ready to let go, let them grow up and be more independent. But then there are days like today, when one of them takes a step toward that more independent world.

For every time that I long for just a few grown up moments by myself, there is a time when Luke's chubby fingers grab my hand, when Ashley curls up in my lap and throws her arms fiercely around my neck, or when one of them snuggles against me as they fall asleep. And those make letting go one of the hardest parts of parenting.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Modern Magic?

My daughter has reached the princess phase – she loves princesses and wands and all the other stuff that goes with storybook royalty.

And so, on Saturday afternoon, we sat down to watch Enchanted, which tells the story of Giselle, a would-be princess banished from storybook land to the real world of New York City. Midway through the movie, the world of princesses, fairy godmothers and magic came face to face with modern consumerism. When Giselle needs to get ready for the ball, she turns not to her fairy godmother, but instead to a credit card.

In a culture where instant gratification is sometimes taken as a right and where wants and needs are often viewed as interchangeable, the swipe of a credit card can indeed seem equivalent to the wave of a fairy godmother’s wand. But I’m not really ready for my daughter to learn about that kind of magic just yet.

I realize that she’s not likely to have understood much about that scene; and even if she did, one scene in one movie isn’t likely to shape her lifelong values. But these messages underlie so much of our culture. After all, Mastercard tells us that credit cards are the key to having all those experiences in life that are “priceless.” And, I do believe that the media subtly influence and shape our views in ways in which we are seldom aware.

And my daughter – like most kids, I suspect – is an eager student of media lessons. At three and a half, she knows about Indiana Jones from the Happy Meals at McDonalds and about Hannah Montana, in part, because of Disney channel commercials she sees while watching preschool programming.

I like Indiana Jones, but it’s not a movie I want my 3½-year-old to be asking about. And, while I’ve never seen Hannah Montana, I understand it’s a relatively benign show – for the preteen set. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to market their products. And, I fully believe that it’s my job as a parent to set the boundaries around what entertainment is and is not acceptable for my children. At the same time, when toys from PG-13 movies make it into Happy Meals and preteen angst invades preschool innocence, it makes that parenting job harder.

I guess I wasn’t quite ready to begin battling cultural messages yet, but for us the challenge has begun. Ashley recently asked for “hair colors like Hannah Montana.” There was no way I was allowing her to dye her hair, but then in the toy section at Walmart, we found Hannah Montana hair color – wands of pink and purple hair color that was reasonably subtle and that combed and washed out easily. Is this the modern version of dress up? Or, is my little girl trying to grow up too fast?

In the end, I bought the Hannah Montana hair color. And Ashley was enthralled with it for a week or so, and has since lost interest. I’m still not sure how I feel about her foray into the world of preteen primping. But, I know this is but the first of many such dilemmas we’ll face – someday it will be clothes, or makeup, or piercings, or the co-ed sleepover that “everyone else’s mother” is letting them go to. I don’t expect the choices will be easy.

Somehow I have to figure out how to balance the knowledge that today’s world is different than the world I grew up in and the belief that some values are timeless. Maybe I’ll wish for a fairy godmother to help me determine the difference.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sharks Tails and Other Wonders of Childhood

"Look, Mommy, you're making a shark's tail!" I hear this from the back seat as I'm driving to daycare on a rainy, dreary morning.

"What do you mean, Ashley?"

"Look! Your black things. They're making a shark's tail."

It took me a few moments to realize she was talking about the windshield wipers. I smiled to myself as I realized that the triangle of rain left by the wipers at the top of the windshield did indeed look something like a shark's tail. I often marvel at my daughter's imagination, but this particular morning, it was refreshing to see a shark's tail in place of yet another dreary, rainy day.

One of the things I admire most about Ashley is her ability to be happy in almost any circumstance. She's always been a happy child – full of energy with a huge smile and an easy laugh. And that sense of happiness often translates into enthusiasm for whatever is happening at the moment. Any activity we do is always "what I've always wanted to do" or "the most fun I've ever had." Gifts and treats are often greeted with "This is just what I always wanted!"

I try to cultivate a sense of mindfulness – being present in this moment, appreciating whatever is happening around me – but I often fail. Ashley often reminds me how much more fun I'd probably have if I could more often remember to enjoy whatever is going on as if it were the most exciting thing possible. And, on this rainy morning, I can't help but think how much better my days would go if I could find shark's tails in the rain.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The New Vacation Standards

We just returned from our first family vacation with two young children in tow. We thought we had planned well – short (only 3 days), kid-oriented activities (no shopping, no lounging by the pool with a book), and a kid-friendly hotel (complete with mini golf on site). But I don't think either of us counted on how exhausting it would be. Don't get me wrong – we had a great time. But I think this is the first vacation where I've really understood what people mean when they say they need a vacation to recover from the vacation!

My pre-child ideas of vacation usually involved a beach and lots of reading and relaxing. I suspect it will be a loooong time before I plan a vacation that includes lots of relaxing and unstructured time. Unstructured time with two young ones tends to equal mass chaos – and, at least with my daughter, a level of hypered frenzy that's guaranteed to drive even the most even-keeled person bonkers.

I couldn't help but reflect on some of the other ways that my standards for vacations have changed now that I have children:

  • A direct route is best! Scenic may be nice, but in and out of the car as quick as possible is even nicer. Ashley is, and always has been, a great car kid – she entertains herself with made up songs or with toys that she's brought along. Luke, on the other hand, believes his car seat is a torture chamber, and often emits loud shrieks just to make sure everyone knows how miserable he is. We were very thankful for "Jill" (the name of our GPS navigation voice) in helping us find the shortest distance between any two points. Even Ashley came to appreciate Jill. In fact, at one point when we were driving around looking for a restaurant for dinner, she asked where Jill was. When Andy replied he had left her back at the hotel, Ashley sighed loudly and said "Oh, no, we'll never be able to get back." (Thankfully, she was wrong!)
  • Loud restaurants have their charm. The first night of our vacation, we chose a spot for dinner that described itself as "a family restaurant." They clearly were thinking of families in which the children are adults – or at the very least well behaved teenagers. The food was great, but the atmosphere could best be described as "quiet and intimate." And while I love both my children, they are not who I would choose for companionship at a quiet and intimate dinner setting. We knew we had made a better choice the next night when the waiter immediately offered to bring crayons and paper for our daughter who was starting to fidget. We found an even better choice for lunch the next day with a restaurant with a loud, pub-type atmosphere. Trust me, when you have a one-year-old whose vocabulary includes a wide range of shrieks and a four-year-old whose energy level could power an entire city, loud restaurants are good.
  • Any activity that makes your kids laugh out loud is worth it. The highlight of our trip was a day at Storyland, a New Hampshire amusement park that caters to the young (there is nothing there that Ashley can't ride and only a handful of things that Luke can't ride). I'm not a big fan of rides that spin a lot. As you might guess, those were exactly the ones my daughter chose. I'm still not sure I'd say I love those rides, but Ashley's giggles have certainly given me a new appreciation for them. And, playing miniature golf with a four-year-old reminds you how to have fun without worrying about rules or what others think. Ashley's method of miniature golf is to move the ball when it's in an awkward place. And she has the perfect solution to those times that you've hit the ball too many times and it still hasn't made it in the hole. She simply puts the ball on the very edge of the hole and then gently knocks it in. Both of those seemed perfectly logical to her, and she didn't understand why that wouldn't be allowed. ("But, Mommy, I can't hit it from here," she said at one point when I told her she had to leave the ball where it was.) After a while, I gave up on enforcing "the rules" and agreed to play by Ashley's rules. And why not? After all, we weren't on the PGA circuit and it was just the two of us. Why not make up our own rules?

My ideas of vacation have definitely changed. But I suspect that one day when the kids are older and our vacation plans include a sunny beach and a more relaxed schedule, some part of me will miss the more hectic vacation with easily excited children. (Of course, part of me is also going to enjoy a long, lazy afternoon reading and relaxing and dinner at a restaurant with a quiet, intimate setting.)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to Mom~2~Mom

Welcome to my new blog! I've been writing for more than 20 years, but always as part of a job -- so I'm kind of excited to have my own "space" to do with what I want. And, I find that my two kids give me lots of fodder for long emails and journal entries, so I'm sure they'll be good inspiration. (And lucky for me, they're still too young to object to being the inspiration for my blog!)

My intent is to write about the experience of being a mom -- both the good and the bad, and to do it in a way that is honest (even when I'd rather gloss over some of the not-so-great aspects, or more accurately, some of my less-than-perfect responses). My hope is that other moms (and perhaps dads, too!) will find some common ground and a place to share the joys, frustrations, humor, and angst that come with parenting. I expect that my posts will be funny at times, bittersweet at others, perhaps a place to vent at times, and I hope -- at least occasionally -- thought-provoking.

I invite your comments and would be thrilled if you passed this on to others you think might be interested.


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