Tacky Parenting 101

In a world where people un-ironically name their children Unique and produce enough bizarre maternity photo shoots to provide fodder for entire blogs dedicated to the genre, it’s hard to believe that the Tacky Parenting ante could be upped. But ladies and gentleman, we may have a new unit of measure.

Being billed for flaking out on attending a 5 year old’s birthday party.

Yes, this actually happened. Here’s the story if you haven’t heard it yet. 

As a parent, I’ve been billed for a lot of things. Doctors appointments, karate uniforms, school field trips, and bike tune ups are the sort of things I’ve come to expect as the cost of raising kids. Yet in 9+ years, no one has ever slipped an invoice into my child’s backpack for an afternoon of snow tubing that he declined to participate in.

I suppose if I had, I’d be writing this with my head fused to the carpet.

Sure, saying you’ll show up for something and going full MIA on the day of has its own level of tacky, but there’s an endless list of acceptable excuses for such an offense. I can’t really come up with a decent one for side stepping an honest conversation and demanding payment from another parent for not following through on accepting a birthday party invite.

For one thing, five year olds are not reliable people. Hell, some of them still lick things they find on the ground. Being unwilling to absorb costs associated with the decisions of people who likely still pooped in their pants less than one presidential election ago is unrealistic.

And for another, when did elementary school birthday parties hurl themselves into the stratosphere of wedding planning? I get that some people elect to throw parties that have a per head cost. However, if $15 puts enough of a dent in your wallet that you need to recoup the loss, maybe next year bake a cake, toss up some streamers and beat the crap out of a pinata in the backyard.

 

5 Links: Screentime, Bedtime Reading, Kid App Trends

Trendy topics last week included the importance of reading to kids, and the potential overuse of technology by children.

Over on Medium, Gary Vaynerchuk writes “I refuse to limit or restrict hours on a screen for my children” because “it’s prepping them for the world that is going to to be. Straight up.” Read it here.

Meanwhile, the Guardian posted 10 children’s app trends for 2015 by Stuart Dredge that’s definitely worth a read if apps are part of your family life.

A study discussed in The Telegraph shows that books at bedtime can help children learn more quickly. In the New York Times, a new study unsurprisingly shows that Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own.”

This is a good time to again recommend @gweinger’s Medium post, “Be selfish: keep reading to your kids.”

Wrapping it all up, on the Daily Beast @Samantha Allen writes that “men will have someday have kids without women.” I thought jetpacks and hoverboards were the priority.

Football, Sportsmanship & Learning What You Teach

No one in our house is fanatical about pro football (we’ve never prayed for our team, for example.) However, hanging out with a game on TV is relaxing part of our winter weekends.

I (mostly) enjoy answering my six-year-old girl’s millions of questions about the game. “Why did he do that? What does that mean? What do you think they’ll do next?”

We’ve had many, many conversations about where the teams are from, their players, where they stand in the rankings, how many Super bowls they’ve won, and what their team emblems mean.

I grew up cheering for the Patriots. I was born in Boston. They’ll always going be my team. At first, our kid also loved the Pats, even though her mother is a 49ers fan.

However, this winter I noticed a dark trend: increasing chatter about the Green Bay Packers. Then, one day in December, she confessed. Green Bay is officially her favorite team. Why? Because green is her favorite color and because for some reason she’s obsessed with Wisconsin.

We joke about how we all follow different teams. We also talked about how important it is to enjoy the excitement of competition while also being a good sport. I’ve seen my friend’s kids cry, weep and fight over professional sports affiliations.  Unfortunately, many people fail to grow out of that behavior.

Six year olds are pretty much sore winners and losers by default. It’s kinda cute when they’re young, but quickly becomes obnoxious. Fortunately, watching sports together provides hundreds of teachable moments about sportsmanship. (Actually playing sports provides vastly more, of course.)

I’m not going to lie – as a Red Sox fan, I’ve yelled “Yankees Suck” at many games at Fenway Park. But around the kid, I consciously try to model good sportsmanship in five ways:

  1. Explain and discuss the concept of “sportsmanship” – don’t take it for granted they understand what it is.
  2. Recognize good efforts and good plays by both teams.
  3. Don’t put individual players down.
  4. Discuss controversial plays, but respect the ref when he makes the call (easier said than done)
  5. Cheer, clap, hoot and have fun when your team makes a good play or wins, but remember respect the fans of the other team. Don’t be rude.

As in many areas of modern parenting, I’m learning what I’m actually teaching as I go. Exemplifying good sportsmanship for my daughter has helped me become a better sport. I’ve supported my kids choice of football teams, and even cheered for Green Bay once or twice.

Totally different matter if she ever supports Yankees, of course.

FURTHER READING

Dads have the overwhelming influence  for how kids choose their sports teams.[stag_icon icon=”external-link-square” url=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/10/24/141649929/how-we-become-sports-fans-the-tyranny-of-fathers” size=”16px” new_window=”no”]

Some further tips on sportsmanship from PBS Parents [stag_icon icon=”external-link-square” url=”http://www.pbs.org/parents/food-and-fitness/sport-and-fitness/raise-a-good-sport/” size=”16px” new_window=”no”]

Take an Internet Field Trip: 5 Links to Share with Your Kids

Today Box curates fun and educational daily facts, videos, photos, and jokes for curious kids and the grown-ups who raise them. We share five of their top posts every Saturday. It’s an easy, safe way to share the best of the Internet with your kids.

 

Space XLast week NASA launched Space X into space. The rocket arrived safely with supplies, research materials, and even replacement parts for a broken toilet aboard the International Space Station. Watch the launch at Today Box.

 

United StatesTaking a road trip across the United States was never so easy. Enjoy the clever rhymes and music of Renald Francoeur and drawings by Craighton Berman in this music video by Marbles The Brain Store.

 

 

sea otterHow do sea otters stay warm in icy waters? Learn about the fantastic fur of sea otters in this video from Deep Look.

 

 

BottleTwo strangers exchange messages through a bottle across the ocean. The whole family will love this charming and quirky stop motion animation by Kirsten Lepore. Watch it here.

 

 

jugglingThe four members of Carpool Lane will blow your family’s minds with their next level juggling and acrobatics. See it here.

 

 

 

View over 750 amazing kid-friendly posts on Today Box.

 

Need to Know: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

tidying-upLess Clutter, More Joy

Life clutters easily with two working parents and a young child. We toss around the word “systems” a lot in our home. The hall closet is messy again, so we need a new “system”. Towels aren’t getting hung up properly, so we need a better “system”. We need to plan a trip to IKEA to find a better home office storage “system”. And our “systems” often work – for a month or two.

We’re a fairly tidy family. We regularly weed through unused items to sell or donate. We do what we can to declutter our home, yet we’re stuck in a constant cycle of reorganizing and shuffling our belongings. This is why I didn’t hesitate to read Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up after three different couples raved about how it’s changed their lives to me within the same week. I decided to try the latest minimalist home organization trend for myself.

Marie Kondo is a bestselling author and home organization specialist from Tokyo, Japan. She’s spent decades perfecting the KonMari Method, her own personal system for decluttering homes and spaces. There’s a three-month waiting list for her services, and she boasts that clients who follow her method exactly never need her services again.

What makes Kondo’s method so different is that it is relentless in its process of weeding out clutter. The purpose of decluttering the home is to weed out all unused and unnecessary items until the only items left in one’s home are those that “spark joy.” It’s meant to be a once in a lifetime purging process that will cure your family’s clutter problems once and for all. Kondo claims the process can take up to six months to complete, but then clients never have to do it again.

Kondo says the main home organization mistake people make is focusing on what items to get rid of or throw away. Her method emphasizes what to keep by asking the question, “Does this bring me joy?” If it doesn’t, get rid of it. But it’s not always that easy. People have a hard time getting rid of things they can still use, items that hold information they might need one day, objects that hold emotional value, or things that are hard to obtain. Rational thought often makes it difficult for people to discard of items they no longer use that just sit in storage or clutter up space. Kondo recommends sticking to intuition and focusing on what currently brings you joy.

Another mistake people make is organizing room by room. All this does is reshuffle clutter around and create a revolving door of decluttering room by room. Kondo suggests focusing on categories instead. She recommends purging items in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos. By focusing on a specific category, people declutter every item in that category from their home at once, rather than shuffle it to another room.

Our family made a commitment at our last family meeting: to declutter once and for all and only surround ourselves with items that bring us joy. We know it means sacrificing some of our time the next few weeks. It means making tough decisions and letting go of items that have meant something to us in the past, but we’re ready for a more minimalist lifestyle. The first project we plan to tackle is our clothes. Kondo claims that “not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover.” The same can be said of the items we keep in our home. We’re ready to discard of past lovers and friends that once brought us joy or never brought us joy. You can follow us here on Parent Co. as we purge our way to joy each week and learn some decluttering tips along the way.

That’s Not What I Said

Or, Why You Need Couple’s Therapy (Hint: because you’re human.)

You don’t know everything. You own up to this human imperfection every time you call on a mechanic to fix your car or a plumber to address your pipes or that slightly annoying Mac genius to troubleshoot your computer. We humans cannot possibly know everything about everything and we very intelligently rely on experts to fill in the gaps in our individual knowledge. Millennia of collective data has proven that this system works, and most of us subscribe to it implicitly.

So why aren’t you seeking the help of a relationship expert to improve your relationship?

 Whether your relationship challenges are subtle or glaring (because nonexistent is not an option), couples therapy can have a huge positive impact. And while I do believe that any opportunity or effort to focus solely on your relationship for some amount of time can be a good thing (i.e. the proverbial date night), the specialness of therapy lies in the presence of a knowledgeable and objective third party.

The right therapist (more on finding the “right” one in a later post, I promise) will help shine a light on the good parts of your relationship, even in times of darkness. Beyond that, she will astutely identify the tools you have, or lack, to make things right.

 To me, couples therapy is akin to staring at one of those Magic Eye images that were crazy popular in the 90s – remember the jumble of horizontal patterns and pictures that you had to UN-focus on in order to make sense of? At first glance you may feel absolutely certain that there’s nothing more to it than those patterns and colors forming a pile of nonsense. But a great therapist will teach you how to diverge your vision so that you can see the 3-D image inside the mess before you.

If I’m making any sense at all here, then you probably understand that the 3-D image is the truth of what’s going on with you two. It’s the reality of your situation minus the resentment, self-doubt, hurt feelings and anger that cloud your view of your partner. With the guidance of a great therapist, you’ll find that you can even move around within that 3-D image. You can explore the depths and corners and jagged edges without fearing that this wonderfully clear vision will slip away into the mess again. 

Another huge bonus my husband and I discovered in working with our therapist is the creation of a productive safe zone. It sounds hokey and new-agey and that’s okay, because the fact is that we can attempt to have the exact same conversation on our couch and it will end drastically differently than it would on the therapist’s couch.

The key difference is that a therapist can listen without being limited by the stories that we have in our heads. These old, often incorrect or maladapted narratives, cause many of us to decide that we know exactly how our partner will react to something before that thing is even presented. They take away our ability to actually hear what’s being said and that’s when things go off the rails. In therapy, this is simply not allowed. 

The therapist is there to keep things grounded in reality; to guide us back to truth when my old injuries are talking or his outdated assumptions of me are getting in the way. She is just impartial enough to keep things on an honest, productive level, something we are not always capable of on our own.

My husband and I have been seeing a therapist on and off for six years. We go in for regular maintenance and when there’s a need for crisis intervention. In either case, we are never sad that we did. It is always helpful. I mean it. Every time. Can you say that about your mechanic?

3 Things I Learned by Transitioning from SAHM to Working Mom

Recently I’ve made the monumental shift from stay at home mom to full time career lady. My first kid was born nine years ago, and while I worked for a small boutique in the years after his birth, I left the job and never went back after having my second. For the last three years, I’ve been knee deep in library story hours, music times, and wiping things. Wiping so.many.things.

A little over a year ago, I needed an outlet. Something that required me to use my brain for something other than making snacks and reading Good Night Moon over and over again. Like tens of thousands of women before me, I started a blog. But I made a promise to myself and anyone that would be so gracious as to take time reading, I wasn’t going to subject anyone to another crafty, recipe laden aren’t-kids-just-the-most-magical-creatures-fake-fest. I set out to be honest. Often, life with kids is awesome. Occasionally it blows chunks. (Literally.)

For a few hours each week, I would sneak off to a coffee shop and hunker down to peck out 600-1000 words on something that had me thinking. I harassed my friends to read it and they were kind enough to share it with theirs. The universe conspired to parlay those efforts into what you are reading right now.

These are a few things I’ve come to realize in this change.

1. I truly enjoy being around adults.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent the first years of my youngest’s life at her beck and call. Yet as much as I made a concerted effort to get out of the house and socialize both of us, I’d still find myself engaging everyone from cashiers to the mailman in inane conversation just because they spoke actual words. On more than a few occasions, I accusingly asked my husband if he washed his hands upon exiting the bathroom. When you’re with kids all day, it comes with the territory.

Personally, I love kiddos. Even ones that aren’t mine. They are startlingly honest, delightfully irreverent, and often easy to please. Plus, they’ll clear their schedule at the drop of a hat for an ice cream date. (Adults could really stand to learn a few things.) However, they’re terrible at discussing the intricacies of Breaking Bad, they sneeze directly into your mouth, and some days they rapidly fire questions that would make Albert Einstein feel like taking a nap in traffic.

Spending large stretches of the day creating something with intelligent, forward thinking people who don’t wear diapers (so far as I know, though this is totally unconfirmed) is fantastic.

2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Allegedly, that phrase was penned around 1839 by Thomas Haynes Bayly, but that’s a really strange name for a working mom. I’m going to have to credit Tina Fey instead, as that suits my needs better.

In any event, I am going to go on record and say that there’s no better feeling than a small person who thinks you’re cooler than Gwen Stefani (spoiler alert, children who may need glasses:this is not possible) launches like a flying squirrel into your arms before you can even take off your coat. That never happens when you’re nose to nose day in and day out.

3. I’m a better parent when I feel more financially secure.

There’s no debating that raising kids is expensive. There’s also no doubt that worrying about paying your bills can permeate every moment of your day. At its worst, it boils over and you cry because your kid spilled an entire carton of milk all over the counter when you have $7 dollars left in your account until next week. (I acknowledge that this is in no way the worst for some families. I am only speaking from my own experience.) On the better days, it’s just the way you hold your breath as you wait between punching in your pin and being handed your receipt at the grocery store.

Our needs are few. But knowing they can be met quiets that voice that can yell louder than two kids banging pots and pans while tap dancing.

The Artful Parent

There are at least as many blogs dedicated to kid’s crafts as there are specks of glitter strewn throughout my house. (My daughter is three, so you can imagine the carnage.) There are plenty of fantastic ones, but the one I find myself coming back to again and again is The Artful Parent. Between projects that are geared toward kids of all ages, Janet Van’t Hul interjects useful and practical information on how to inspire creativity in your family and throughout your home. And the most magical part is that it’s in simple ways you’ll actually pull off.

Often, those well intentioned step A, B, and C crafts leave little room for creativity. The Artful Parent, on the other hand, simply celebrates a love of art. For many of her suggestions, you could hunker down and dedicate an entire afternoon. Others you can set up and jump in and out of for just minutes at a time for days on end. She encourages parents to offer real tools, like good quality paper, masking tape and even (mess-freaks, hold on to your hat) sharpies. Because of her, I purchased a hot glue gun and my life hasn’t been the same since.

I’ve been critical of my own artistic shortcomings my entire life. I’m sure that even as a toddler, I considered my smiley faces sub par. I don’t want my kids to fall into that trap. Making art as natural a part of their day as brushing their teeth seems like a good start.

Ready to School Mix

 

They’re up. They’re out. They’re almost out of your hands. Take those last moments of the morning to rock out together.

SONGS

Wake Me up Before You Go-Go – Wham!

Shiny Happy People – R.E.M. – Out Of Time

Three Little Birds – Bob Marley & The Wailers

Here Comes the Sun – Nina Simone

Don’t Worry Be Happy -Bobby McFerrin

Rocky Theme (AKA, School Drop Off Complete)

 

Family Rituals: Coffee with my toddler

Since becoming a parent, the first words out of my mouth each morning, 9 times out of 10 are “just let me get my coffee first”. In our small house, we have three different ways to brew a perfect cup; an espresso machine, a chemex, and a neglected but occasionally useful regular coffee pot that has been demoted to the basement. We’re more likely to be out of toilet paper than out of half and half. Suffice it to say, we’re coffee people.

When my daughter was 18 months old, I wrote down a list of the words she could say. Mixed in with the standard “mama”, “dada”, “ball”, and “hi” was “cackie”. “Mama, cackie?”, she’d ask as she banged around her kitchen set, presenting me with a tiny plastic tea cup. I’d accept it as graciously as one can accept something thrust directly into their face.

It wasn’t long before she started to demand the real thing. And since many mornings, we spent home just the two of us, my ritual soon became our ritual.

After the flurry of getting my son awake and to the bus on time, we’d retreat to the kitchen. She’d push a chair up to the counter as I’d pull down the espresso. At first, her chubby hand could only manage to land half the scoop of grounds in their intended location. I coached her on just how much maple syrup to add (we’re Vermonters, after all), and how much half and half achieved the perfect hue. Then we made hers.

From the shelf she painstakingly chose the right color tea cup and together we’d pour the milk and maple syrup. She’d turn the dial on the machine to “steam”, and hold my hand as it sputtered and spit, warming her “cackie” just so. I relished those mornings that we slowly started our day together.

Now our weekdays are much more hectic as I head to work and she gets shuffled off to school. We save Saturday mornings for scooping and pouring and invite the boys to pick a cup and join us. It’s a ritual I look forward to every week. Well, the part that comes after the guaranteed fight between the kids over who gets the blue cup. 10157409_10152054739453404_957329436_n