Reassurance From a Teacher That Your Job as the Parent is Harder

Please do not compare yourselves to your child’s teacher and worry that you are lacking.

It is much easier to be your child’s teacher than to be his parent. That is why I sometimes seem more patient or energetic or understanding than you do. I know this because I am a mom, too, and my kids’ teachers have always been more patient and energetic and understanding with them than I am.
Here are some of the reasons why:
1 | I am only responsible for your children sometimes. Only some hours each day, only some days each week, only for one school year. I take days off to travel or when I feel sick.
You don’t get a day off, or even an hour off. Even when your child is with me, you are still her parent.
2 | I am never alone with your child. If I am having trouble or feeling worn out, I can ask one of the three other teachers in the room to help me. If I need more help than that, I could get my director or a teacher from a different class. If there is a particular behavior that I have a hard time dealing with, one of my colleagues is probably better at it. When there is a decision to be made, I get to talk it out with other professionals.
You are often one-on-one with your child, needing to make stressful snap decisions.
3 | I have professional training and experience, which gives me a sense of competence. Nothing made me feel trained or experienced for parenting.
4 | There are no family dynamics at school. Nothing your kid does reminds me of something that brings up family issues. I am not watching my students to see if they manifest my flaws or my husband’s, or if they inherited anything from my beloved grandmother. I have no idea who my student should or shouldn’t be. I can just accept him as he is.
My own kids, not so much. As a parent, everything is laden with generations of guilt and hurt and love and dreams.
5 | When I am with your children, there is nothing else I am supposed to be doing. When I am with my children, I am also often driving, doing housework, trying to be a good wife and daughter and daughter-in-law and friend, getting groceries, writing this article, and on and on….
6 | I get to say ‘yes’ to your child almost all the time. I don’t need to get them dressed in the morning or into the bath at night, nor do I have to say no to another cookie or take them for a shot. Either that stuff just doesn’t come up at school, or sometimes I have the luxury of flexibility that a parent simply does not.
7 | I get to pass the hard stuff on to you: “Is the Tooth Fairy real?” “Where do babies come from?” I don’t blow them off, but families have different answers to the big ones, so I get to suggest to the child that she ask her parents.
8 | They save the worst fussing for you. Children who spend five hours and 58 minutes playing happily at school, and two minutes crying over a skinned knee, will inevitably be holding some of those tears for the parent at pick up. All of the day’s hurts and injustices are unloaded on the parent.
It is hard work holding it together with peers and teachers all day. But the unconditional love offered by a parent makes you a safe place for a demonic melt down. Lucky you.
So please do not compare yourselves to your child’s teacher and worry that you are lacking. I have it a lot easier than you do. Except when I’m with my own kids. Then we all have it the same.
This post was originally published here.

I Survived Four Days Without the Internet and so Can You

No WIFI for four days? No checking in on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter? No posting! And I lived to tell about it.

“Hey! Check out this cottage we’re going to in August! Do you guys think you can come meet us for a few days?”
That was the Facebook message we received from our friends. One family was coming from BC and the other, while living not too far away, we don’t get to see much. So we decided the idea was perfect. We told them we were in.
They had found a wonderful cottage, quietly tucked away on the lake. It was fully equipped with a badminton net, boats, a fishing dock, and a small beach big enough for our little people to play. The place seemed idyllic.
As we got closer to the cottage, we noticed that we no longer had cell phone or internet service. No big deal, right? I was sure WIFI would be waiting for me with open arms once we arrived. I lived a life before cell phones were a thing, so I wasn’t too worried about not having service.
I was soon, however, faced with the reality of the situation. Instead of open arms from said advanced technology, I got a middle finger and a “deal with it.” The cottage had a nearly-extinct landline and contained shelves packed with VHS tapes. Once upon a time – before smart phones – I would have considered this a jackpot. But this felt prehistoric.
I’ll admit I panicked. No WIFI for four days? No checking in on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter? No posting!
“Hey, guys! Look at me being all chilled out and relaxed,” I said, as I tried to keep my twitches from view.
They could clearly see my anxiety rising as I tapped my phone on the table. My friends didn’t seem troubled at all though. Even my husband, who constantly reads the news on his phone, wasn’t as anxious as I was.
“Oh no, Karen, what are you going to do!?” my husband joked. “How about you accept it for what it is and try to relax.”
Clearly, my state of panic points in one direction: I am addicted to the internet and, by relation, my cell phone, which allows me mobile access no matter where I go. I never thought I’d feel so down on my luck about something so trivial. But here I was, in a beautiful cottage surrounded by nature, and I was complaining that I had no WIFI.
I’ve never had to face this kind of situation head on, but now that I faced it, I realized my addiction. I’m so used to having my phone strapped to me like a bra, so it was understandable that I felt a bit naked without it.
The first morning I woke up and grabbed myself a cup of coffee and my phone off the mantel. As I held it up to unlock it, I frowned.
I could only look at the people sitting around the table and laugh nervously. “I was checking my phone.” With that, I placed my phone down and joined in the conversation with great friends I don’t get to see very often.
Imagine that: face-to-face conversations with people in your vicinity. The horror!
Slowly, I started realizing that being without the option to disappear into my phone felt relaxing. I was free from the beeps and buzzes that would pull me back into the real world of obligations. It was as though the cage had been lifted, and I was able to enjoy my freedom.
My head was up and my back straight. I looked up, not down. I engaged in conversations that I could hear instead of read. I didn’t feel the need to run and check my phone just in case someone commented on a post I put up or sent me a message. What a welcome change.
I went four days and three nights with no access to the World Wide Web and survived it. The only reason I had to pick up my phone was to take a picture.
Technology can be frightening. This was a huge wake-up call for me. I need to put my phone down. I need to stop recording every aspect of my life and start living my life. Sure, the memories are great to look back on, but what about being there, in the moment? Is it not enough to just be in the company of your people?
Since then, I’ve gotten better at disconnecting. I want to take in what’s around me and, yes, take a picture of it. I’m working on finding a good balance that allows me to look up for a change.
I’ll be honest, though: I was pretty happy to see those bars come back to life on my phone as we drove home.

The Power of NOT Negotiating With Toddlers

The other day, I snuck one of my triplet toddlers – the one sitting in the shopping cart seat facing me as the other two sat in the plastic car, facing away – a Krispy Kreme cruller.
The only one without a corn allergy, she’d been denied all her life such packaged treats, eating only home-baked cookies and cakes on rare occasions, like birthdays and playdates.
“Mmmmm,” she said, her eyes widening. “I like these cookies.” She gulped the cruller down in three bites. “Another.”
“Shh,” I said, not wanting the other two to catch on. They would’ve wanted one, too, but they couldn’t. I’d read the crullers’ ingredients: corn, corn, and more corn. “You only get one.”
“Another!” she screamed, pounding her fists against the shopping cart, kicking her legs, and shaking her head. Of course, my daughter was no stranger to complete meltdowns, though luckily, until then, I’d escaped the public ones. “I want another butter cookie! I want it now!”
Thinking about the lesson I’d just read about ignoring whining and fits in Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s “Ignore It!”, I gathered my strength, looked away, and laid produce on the checkout belt. The clerk’s eyes widened.
The doughnuts floated by, and my daughter screamed again, “I want butter!”
“Do you want…?” the clerk said, holding up the doughnuts, knowing, at least, not to conjure them by name. Still, her eyes begged me to give my daughter another, anything to quiet the screaming imp now throwing her head back and kicking my waist. I shook my head.
“Nope,” I said. “No way.”
I must admit, when I read the title and the premise of “Ignore It!” – including logic, such as “…negotiation is almost always initiated by the child for the benefit of the child” – I said to myself, “I’m a high school teacher at a rigorous Catholic school. I stick to my guns. I don’t negotiate.”
Nonetheless, my triplets had just turned two-and-a-half and were starting to win about half of the arguments they waged with me. In any given moment, one child might be lying on the floor tattling on her sister who’d just touched her and, wanting to be picked up, another might be lobbing her lovey and demanding I go retrieve it, while a third might be scheming for a pasta dinner once again after I’ve spent all afternoon making lemon chicken.
It wasn’t until I’d read halfway through Dr. Pearlman’s book (subtitled, “How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction”) that I started to realize just how much negotiating I had been doing with my three toddlers:
“You can have more milk if you eat just one bite of chicken,” or “I’ll stand in your doorway until you fall asleep, but I’m not lying in bed all night with you,” and “Just one more cartoon, as long as you’re quiet.”
I was exhausted, dealing with one child who no longer napped and two who did, but went to bed late, demanding my presence until they fell asleep. I was getting only minutes of down time a day, my husband and I clambering to catch up on our lives before one of our children needed us yet again.
It was in that moment at the grocery store checkout, my daughter throwing herself in four opposing directions, that, ironically, life became a bit simpler. When my daughter’s “butter cookie” tantrum produced no attention (or doughnut), she stopped screaming. In fact, she became quite sweet, the rest of the day whispering in my ear, “Thank you, Mommy, for the treat at the store,” at which point I followed Dr. Pearlman’s advice again, re-engaging my daughter and showering her with attention for good behavior.
Pretty soon, I started ignoring other, less tantrumy behavior, as well. Instead of yelling at my child to go back to time out, I let her wander into the kitchen while I kept chopping vegetables, until eventually – to my disbelief – she returned on her own.
Instead of standing in my daughter’s doorway until she fell asleep (which seemed to get later and later each night), I told her I’d tuck her in, go rock her sister, and be back to say goodnight, at which point I’d leave. After one night of listening to her yell for me a few times, she accepted my absence and went to sleep. Then my husband and I climbed out from under our rocks and started watching the first season of “Game of Thrones”.
I hate to make blanket statements, like “my children became more enjoyable,” as the book promises. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Like all kids, they have good and bad moments, days, weeks. They can change from darlings to monsters and back again in mere seconds. I do know that I have stopped wasting energy trying to force them to be more enjoyable, however.
I let them whine. I allow them to resolve more disputes on their own. I don’t negotiate. Most importantly, I am more rested and connected to my spouse, which helps me handle the bad days when ignoring all their schemes would otherwise seem impossible.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned implementing Dr. Pearlman’s strategy is that my role as a teacher at a rigorous high school, where I maintained clear rules and boundaries with my students, does not make a perfect educator at home. We may know what is best for our children and for us, but we still need constant reminders (and step-by-step instructions with dozens of real-world examples, as Dr. Pearlman gives) on how to implement that knowledge.
In our exhaustion, we make mistakes. We yell, we negotiate, and we skulk around the house, making us no better than our screaming toddlers. But, maybe, if we “Ignore It!” (in my case, all three of it), we will at least be more effective than our toddlers at getting our way.

How to Get on With Your In-Laws

Getting along with in-laws can be a chore. Remember the following do’s and don’t’s during their visit and afterwards.

Marriage, or the start of living together, brings much happiness, but it also brings the dreaded in-laws. The announcement of their first visit releases millions of butterflies in the pit of your stomach and you instantly go into overdrive in preparing for the upcoming nightmare.

Just stop and breathe, and again.

To get through this visit, and the many more to come, remember the following do’s and don’t’s during their visit and afterwards.

1 | Don’t hold your new spouse accountable

Always remember we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. Just because the in-laws have views, opinions, and manners different than you and your new spouse does not mean your spouse is responsible for this. He or she may be just as offended as you are but has learned to go with the flow.

2 | Do be nice

We reap what we sow. If we approach a situation with negativity, chances are people will respond in kind. Smile at your in-laws instead of frowning at their behavior. Remember, their visit will end and things will go back to normal. (Unless your in-laws have moved in, then you may find little comfort in this article and you might need to find a new place to live.)

3 | Don’t make negative comments about them to your spouse

Criticizing your in-laws in front of your spouse might make you feel better but not your loved one. We take criticizing our parents personally as it can be seen to be an indirect criticism on us. After all, we are a product of our parents.

4 | Do debrief with your spouse

Talk to you partner about things that mattered to you after the visit is over. Talking about it might give your spouse an opportunity to understand your perspective and help you work through some of the negative emotions.

5 | Don’t sweat the small stuff

If you can ignore their annoying behavior, do so. Hopefully the visit is short and life will soon return to just you and your spouse.

6 | Don’t be afraid to set guidelines

Try and do this in a calm manner, without confronting them or showing anger. For example, if your dog does not get fed scraps from the table, say so. “Please do not feed Charlie food from the table. It doesn’t agree with him and instills bad manners that last long past your visit. Thank you.” Please and thank you still go a long way.

7 | Don’t offend easily

This goes hand in hand with getting to know your in-laws. Sometimes we can take offense too easily, particularly when none is intended. You’ll need to get to know your “new family” to understand the fine nuances in communicating with them. What you find offensive might be considered funny in other households. Remember the original mantra, take a deep breath in and out, and again. It’s amazing how deep breathing can get you through the most stressful situation.

8 | Get to know your in-laws

Remember Shrek’s words, “They judge me before they get to know me.” Don’t judge your in-laws too quickly, take time to get to know them. It took time to get to know your spouse, your friends, and acquaintances. Give your in-laws the same courtesy and get to know them before you judge them.

9 | Do be yourself

Just like you need to get to know your in-laws, they need to get to know you. Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Building relationships on unstable foundations is never a good idea. Your spouse loves you, chances are your in-laws will like you too. What they won’t like is someone pretending to be something else.

10 | Do celebrate when the visit is over

There’s nothing wrong with being pleased about the in-laws leaving. At the end of the day, you married your spouse, not his or her in-laws.

If you follow some or all of the suggestions offered here, your relationship with your in-laws should be a relatively good one. However, if it turns out to be a disaster and the relationship is a fractured one, try and keep your sense of humor. Remember, there’s always someone worse off than you.

Times I Refrained From Telling My Tween Tough Sh*t

Being a tween is more about the attitude – the attitude your child cops when they think they are a teenager but their birth certificate says otherwise.

I used to laugh when people referred to kids as “tweens.” I figured a kid was either a teenager or a child. There wasn’t some middle ground. Until my daughter turned 10, that is.
Some people say 10 is too young to be a tween. Some say their child became a tween even younger. But being a tween is more about the attitude – the attitude your child cops when they think they are a teenager but their birth certificate says otherwise.
“Mom, I need a cellphone. Lots of kids in my class have them, you know?”
Of course, I wanted to say “tough shit” to this one, but I refrained.
“If you really, truly, think you need a phone, maybe we could look at getting you one for Christmas. We can get a flip phone at a decent price, and then you’ll be able to call me if, for some insane, unknown reason, the adult you are always with doesn’t have a phone available.”
“Ew, a flip phone? I don’t want one then.”
Well, that ended quickly. I knew she only wanted a phone to play on apps all day, and she has a tablet for that. A monitored tablet with restricted time. Obviously, that’s not good enough for her, but it’s perfect for me.
“Did you just have kids to do all your chores for you? I don’t want to unload the dishwasher again. I just did that the other day.”
This one took a minute to respond. Because, of course, I only had kids to do chores for me.
“You know, if you have too many chores, we’ll just trade for the day. I’ll feed the cat and unload the dishwasher. You make dinner, clear the table, load the dishwasher, take out the trash, do the last two loads of laundry, fold and put them away, mow the backyard, pull the weeds in the flower bed, give your little sister a bath…”
I’m not sure where she quit listening, but she had by then. I could feel her eyes rolling as she angrily stacked plates on the counter. I walked away, victorious again.
“I don’t want to go to school today. It’s so boring!”
Yes, I’m sure it is!
Okay no, I can’t say that. I just reminded her for the 87th time that school is important to get where she wants to go in life, that it’s a great opportunity to better herself – one not given to everyone.
“At least you still get recess. I don’t get one of those.”
Then there are times where I’m just not witty enough, and I just tell her she can’t because I said so.
“Why can’t I stay up later?”
“Why can’t I wear makeup?”
“Why can’t I dye my hair pink?”
“Why can’t I get my own dog?”
I know I’m going to have to work a little harder. If it’s hard to reason with her as a tween, her teenage years are going to be difficult. She’s going to want a late curfew, a brand-new car, piercings or tattoos, the freedom to date, and more things I may not even be able to imagine yet.
I’ve obviously got a smart girl on my hands. At least for now, while she may roll her eyes at me 20 times a day, she still listens to reason and trusts her mom’s instincts.
Hopefully, as a teenager she’ll do the same.
When she’s older, I think it’ll be more than acceptable to explain to her that life doesn’t always work out the way you want and things don’t always go your way. In other words, it’s just tough shit.

4 Tips for Healthier Communication on Social Media During Politically Polarizing Times

Next time you’re upset by something political (or not) posted by a friend or family member you care about, remember these things.

We’ve all been shocked by the Facebook posts of friends and family members since last November. Many of us are confused about the political opinions of those we love, and we’re doing our best to keep on loving them regardless of our differences. It’s the perfect time to set an example for kids who have today’s peculiar pressures of life broadcasting.
Unfollowing and unfriending is the easy way out of relationships with people we fear are so different than us that we needn’t humor their words anymore.
While unfriending is sometimes our quickest path to peace, we all know it’s not a permanent solution. We don’t stop loving people just because we disagree with them. Considering all of these nuances, I sought out to become a better communicator, particularly online, with friends and family members I don’t agree with, may it be political or in general.
To identify some tactics for the next time I want to debate facts or comment on an eccentric social media post, I interviewed Dr. Rebecca Branstetter, a psychologist based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Here are a few steps to take the next time you’re upset by something political (or not) posted by a friend or family member you care about.

Reflect on why the article or post was a trigger for you

By identifying the underlying emotion and acknowledging it to be true, you can begin to work through it. Is it anger, disappointment, fear, or disgust?
“Don’t judge your emotion as good or bad,” says Branstetter. “Just make note of it. Labeling emotions can have a diffusing effect on their power to overwhelm you.”

Consider the source if an article upsets you

Was the article published by a reputable source, such as a leading news publication that’s known for reporting unbiased facts, or a lesser known online magazine that tends to skew in a certain political direction? Many articles draw attention with headlines that are purposefully provocative (clickbait), while other articles are fake news altogether.
Today’s media landscape is difficult to navigate with all these complexities, but checking the source before reacting can save you from unnecessary emotional distress. If you discover that a source is false or unreliable, politely inquire about it, suggests Branstetter. Comment with “I had a tough time finding the original source of this article.”
If you have also mistakenly shared news that wasn’t from a reputable source in the past, try mentioning it so the person who shared the false article can relate and is less likely to become defensive. Establishing a baseline understanding of the facts before discussing an issue can help get the two of you to a place where you can look for solutions together, or at least discuss your differences in opinion more objectively.

If you need to respond, do so with empathy

Empathy is the process of trying to take on another’s perspective. “It’s crucial for connection and communication,” says Branstetter. “Consider starting your reply to the post that upset you with something that shows empathy.” Examples of this include “I see you’re passionate about this issue. Here’s my perspective on it,” or “I understand this topic is important to you. It’s important to me, too. Care to take it offline?”
Then, provide your opinion using the same kind of respectful language you would hope to read if someone commented on your posts. Rarely will hearts and minds be changed by responding with polarizing or demeaning comments.
Furthermore, mind your emoticons. A study published by “The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology” found that wink faces 😉 used in “computer-mediated communication” (emails, posts, texting, etc.) imply sarcasm. This was the case 85 percent of the time, according to the study.
That comment of yours when paired with a wink or smiley face could have greater implications than you think. Be weary of replying with what could come across as sarcastic and therefore belittling or passive aggressive.

Avoid broad labeling

When people are polarized in their beliefs, it can be difficult to see one another’s perspectives. This is compounded when we assign broad labels to people, e.g., Conservatives or Liberals.
“When we reduce people to ‘us’ versus ‘them’ it shuts the door on empathy,” says Branstetter. “If you feel comfortable, personalize your answer about why the issue is important to you, so you are not viewed as just a ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ but an actual person.”
Despite your best efforts to show empathy and respond in a respectful way, there will always be others who do not follow suit. But if you speak your truth in a controlled, respectful way, you’ll feel heard and will have demonstrated to others how to exchange in a healthy way.

Five Ways To FOMO-Proof Your Parenting

What can we do to FOMO-proof our parenting so we’re not unwittingly passing on the same nagging “there’s something better out there” feeling to our kids?

For the last few years, the term FOMO has been brandished about on practically every online platform. In fact, the word was added to the Oxford Dictionary as far back as 2013. Here’s how it’s defined:
“Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”
While it’s not the most recent phenomenon, FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out, seems as pervasive as when it was first “discovered.” And, no, the gum-chewing teenybopper is not its only casualty. FOMO is just as real among parents.
According to a 2016 Pew survey, three fourths of online parents use Facebook, with 61 percent of us logging on several times a day. We seem to be addicted to being in the know. We get online to check on what everyone else is doing on a wonderful summer afternoon. It takes about 10 seconds to feel worse about ourselves and our lives.
A friend fits into her high school jeans two weeks after her third baby. Another acquaintance bought their dream house. A bunch of people are at a party that you weren’t invited to. Your distant cousin got the white-cabinet, subway-tile-backsplash kitchen remodel that you’ve had to put on hold for the better part of your adult life.
After spending gobs of time on our devices, we come up for air because the whole thing is exhausting. It sucks up our time, it depletes us physically, and it results in a downward spiral of emotions. Studies say that people “feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others.”
So, what can we do to FOMO-proof our parenting so we’re not unwittingly passing on the same darned, nagging “there’s something better out there” feeling to our kids?

1 | Acknowledge it

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the first thing to do is admit your FOMO. Examine how you spend your time. If your social media scrolling is eating into your productivity, maybe it’s time to say, “I have a problem.”

2 | Practice being present

Easier said than done, I know. How often have I pretended to listen to Ninjago stories courtesy of my seven-year-old while checking my phone? How often have I been too preoccupied with Facebook to laugh along with my nine-year-old’s oh-so-original knock-knock jokes or appreciate his latest Lego creation? Honestly, way more times than I care to admit.
We need to create device-free zones in our homes so we can be fully present. We need to set time limits on screens, not just for the kids, but also most definitely for mom and dad. We need to send our kids the message that people – the real life ones rather than e-versions – come first.

3 | Keep your word

Show your kids that you honor previous commitments, even if it means passing up something more fun that came up at the last minute. Respect people enough to RSVP on time. Don’t send a text canceling a plan simply because it’s an easy way out.

4 | Use your mind sieve

It’s like an Instagram filter, except it’s for your brain. Just because a friend posts pictures of her gondola ride in Venice, doesn’t mean her life is perfect. Remind youself that Facebook is a carefully curated set of images and ideas.
Maybe it was a 110-degree summer day that made the canals rather smelly. Maybe there was an argument about whether to shell out 100 euros for a boat ride. Maybe the gondolier couldn’t even hold a tune. You’ll never know because no one will spill the beans. So, always carry a salt shaker and add a generous sprinkle while browsing.

5 | Weigh what you post

You’ve been at the receiving end of an irresponsible post and, chances are, you’ve felt kind of lousy after reading it. So, think twice before you post pictures of teams where someone’s kid didn’t make the cut, birthday parties where some of the eight-year-olds were not invited, or the I’m-so-popular-and-loving-life pics that you know are only cherry pickings from your real life.
Here’s a simple idea: You can have a good time without sharing it with the world.
We need to teach our kids the value of being in the now, rather than being in the know. We need to model gratitude and teach them to live in the moment. We need to show them that we love the bright sparkle in their eyes more than the harsh glare of screens.

The Day I Told My Daughter Cinderella Was Stupid

What kind of mother tells her precious, princess-loving daughter that princesses are dumb? Well, one who’s finally had it with Cinderella’s ineptitude.

I never thought I’d wake up one morning and want to bury Cinderella.
I was home with my kids, four and two. I had spent the morning meal-prepping, breaking up fights, reading Dr. Seuss, and occasionally ignoring the kids while texting with my mom tribe (hey, it’s better than drinking by noon).
My two-year-old daughter had been exceedingly feisty. She had her war paint on and was ready for battle. She insisted on wearing her own armor – a gymnastics leotard and high-heeled shoes. Again.
The war raged on at breakfast and lunch. I’m not sure when I’ll learn to just let that one go. Her spear must have been sharper than mine that day because she won, at everything.
Finally, it was naptime.
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After struggling to get her to change her clothes and sick of her damn dawdling, that very thin wire within my chest snapped in half – right in my daughter’s face. She finally chose a book that we had easily read 100 times: “Cinderella”. I don’t loath all fairytales, but “Cinderella” may just be my nemesis.
Some frightful woman climbed inside of me and said, “Cinderella is stupid and real people don’t live in castles.”
Shit. I wanted to shove those words back down my throat.
My daughter looked up at me. She may as well have reached into her chest and handed me her speared heart. Friends and family know that I am not the evil stepmother. I often have a carefree, amiable spirit. But not that day. Do not mess with me, Cinderella.
I admit, I felt immediate remorse. What kind of mother tells her precious, princess-loving daughter that princesses are dumb?
My next emotion was denial. I rejected the fact that my words were cruel and simply labeled myself as a witty mother.
Then reality set-in. I meant it. I wish Cinderella would just retire already.
Should I have saved this lesson for when she was, say, 10 years old? Absolutely. But either way, the lesson was coming.
I do think fairytales are dumb. Okay, not all of them, but Cinderella needs to get a backbone. She should have rebelled from those nasty step-sisters. She should have thrown away that other glass slipper and marched into a college admissions office to request an application, barefoot. I need to teach my daughter never to wait for a prince to save her life. It’s not happening.
I should tell her that if she marries, either a man or a woman, life will eventually turn mundane. Getting to that place is hard work. Your dad and I broke up more times than fingers – on both hands – until we finally got it right.
There will be no kissing in the rain. Everything will become predictable. She will make the casseroles and fold the laundry. She and her significant other will bicker over emptying the dishwasher.
But that’s okay. This boring, non-princess life can still be exquisite.
Her partner will make the coffee 365 days in a row for her because she’s the first thing he thinks about in the morning. He’ll change all of the bed sheets because he knows she hates it. He’ll empty the trash cans every single time – not because she’s a princess, but because he wants her to feel like one. He’ll do these tedious tasks because their love is the single greatest accomplishment of his life.
When love still radiates through all of this monotony, then it is certainly something worth aspiring for.
I don’t want my daughter to have an unrealistic view of marriage, or life. Unlike Cinderella, you need to dig, acquire your own grit, and make your own beautiful life. A man is not above you, and he will not save you. Grab your own spear and save yourself.
The spicy beginnings will eventually turn bland. That’s what kids do to that once vibrant libido. The true allure comes from maintaining a love even after water has been poured all over that fire, and the smoke is still swirling.
Cinderella, you’re not teaching my daughter a damn thing. That’s my job.

Longtime Lessons on Losing a Friend

Sometimes, without warning friends just quit on us. And really, that’s their loss.

I used to work with a woman who hated me.
There’s an expression in the online world, B*tch Eating Crackers – BEC for short because life is much too busy to be insulting people in full actual words. What it means is that you dislike a person so much that they could be minding their own business, doing something totally inane, like eating crackers, and still it irritates the crap out of you. You’re all “Look at her over there, eating those crackers. Ugh. What a b*tch.”
I was her BEC.
Now, the reality is I am probably a whole lot of people’s BEC, because I am socially awkward and write stories on the internet about my lady parts and complain about almost every single thing that was ever invented ever.
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Take, for example, this interaction I had recently while out with a group of lovely women I had never met but live near, so I was trying extra hard not to say anything truly stupid:
Lovely Lady 1, talking to Lovely Lady 2: “Yeah, so I was out walking Herman….”
Me (who was not being spoken to): “Aw, is Herman your dog?”
LL1: “Um. Hi. Yes.”
Me: “Cool. That’s my hemorrhoid’s name.”
This kind of thing happens again and again when I leave my house, and sometimes even if I don’t (if I am texting after a cocktail or two). So you can see why I’m a good candidate for BEC status.
But with this particular coworker, it stung, a lot, because we had once been friends. Aided by the proximity that working together brings, we had made it a few steps past awkward small talk about body parts and into that territory where you have started to bare little tiny pieces of your soul, like appetizers, served up to gauge the other person’s reaction, so you can decide when and if they will be ready for the main course of your particular flavor of crazy.
And then one day she hated me. Always quick on the uptake, it took me a while to realize the tides had turned. I followed her around the restaurant where we worked for a few more days like a sweet puppy dog with a name we won’t mention again, until eventually she turned around in frustration, and maybe a little malice, and made it plain: She did not like me.
Not one bit.
I was devastated. All of a sudden, I knew with instant clarity that she was probably my favorite friend ever, and I wondered how I would ever be able to get married to the fiancé I didn’t have in the wedding that was not scheduled if she wasn’t my maid of honor.
How would I have the kids that wouldn’t appear for years and years if she couldn’t be their godmother?
How would I someday watch that iconic episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” where Christina names Meredith her person if I didn’t have this exact woman (who couldn’t stand me) as my person?
Did I mention I can’t remember her last name? Or what she looked like? Or if her first name started with a J or a G? Or how she was kind of mean even when we were friends and that I was always a little unsure if I could trust her and some part of me was always concerned that maybe I should have run away as fast as I could in the opposite direction before she stabbed me while I was looking away?
But none of that matters when you get rejected. None of that matters when someone you think is on your team reveals themselves to be rooting against you. None of that matters when you put yourself out there only to have someone sample you and say, “Yeah, no thanks actually, I’m all set” as they back away slowly.
None of it mattered, no. But none of it was about her either, which is the part that took longer to realize.
Like, until this week.
Until something similar happened, and I started to go all puppy dog and sappy and had to stop myself and physically take a step back and remember that the world gives and the world takes away and some people have cute dogs and some people have hemorrhoids and sometimes, if you are really lucky, you get just exactly who you need just exactly when you need them.
Then when it’s time to, you let them go. Life’s too short for anything else.
So if you need me, I’ll be over here with my crackers.
This post was originally published on the author’s Facebook page.

Is It Time to Bring Back Charm School?

I conceive a tentative curriculum – a reintroduction of the concept of ‘polite society,’ but with a democratic, post-patriarchal makeover.

Once upon a time, women of a certain culture and class were educated at what was known as a “finishing school,” or a place where they were groomed for their role in polite society.
Though these so-called charm schools still exist (and even thrive in places around the world), the modern western attitude about them has generally shifted its favor. The idea that girls should focus on their self-presentation, their manners, and their aptitude in old fashioned arts seems to us now passe at best, insulting at worst.
But what if we’re being a bit too dismissive? What if we don’t discard this model altogether, but update it for the age we now live in – not just for girls, but for all kids?
Make no mistake, our age is one of rapid change, a time of technological expansion and cultural consolidation, which could certainly use a refresher on etiquette. As the ground shifts beneath us, we parents confront historical levels of concern.
How do we raise kids on this new frontier of digital nativity? How do we ensure their social well being in a world that’s known for fostering cynicism and feeding trolls?
I think about this as I zoom forward in my imagination, to the day my daughter asks me for her own tablet or smartphone. I don’t want to hold her back or show distrust in her self-expression, but someone other than her lame old mom needs to seriously impress upon her the stakes of life online.
We’ve seen the consequences of immature internetting take the darkest turns: cyberbullying, doxing, child pornography charges resulting from underage sexting, and countless cases of lost jobs, ruined friendships, and damaged reputations. So I conceive a tentative curriculum – a reintroduction of the concept of ‘polite society,’ but with a democratic, post-patriarchal makeover.

Class 101: Manners

Life has gotten pretty casual, and honestly? I’m a fan of that. I don’t like wearing suits. Heck, I don’t even like wearing shoes, and most kids I know fall to that side of things. But as great as it is to bring our dogs to work and call our sisters “dude,” formalities still offer us a useful function, if only we can remember what that is.
Saying “excuse me,” “please,” “thank you,” et al., should not be an old-fashioned habit, or a means of manipulation. Manners are meant to free us to be honest and direct while still signaling respect and consideration for another person’s feelings. How can we retain good manners online without sounding like a bot? Excellent question.

Class 102: Civil Discussion and Online Debate

Here we explore some need-to-know terms to help us dialogue without the benefit of body language, intonation, and the immediate emotional feedback that those things usually bring. We’ll become aware of linguistic triggers – things we write or read that trip impatience, condescension, and close-mindedness – and devise alternatives.
We’ll investigate things like confirmation bias and learn how to check our sources before disseminating them. We’ll study rhetoric, specifically how to make a point without being passive aggressive, abusive, or supremacist, and how to counter points that bear those markers without escalating tension.
Mansplaining? Sea lioning? White fragility? If we introduce these concepts early, kids might have a better chance to develop a self-awareness that plugs into any screen.

Class 103: Online Courtship

Miss when a gal had to sit by the phone until it rang because she couldn’t go out without a date? Me neither.
Thankfully, the rules have changed, but we’re far from being on the same page about how things should work. Sexuality is everywhere, in everything, and believe it or not, relevant at any age. Kids are curious, sometimes unconsciously, about their attracted sex, and it’s stilly to ask them to use a social platform without exploring this aspect of their social nature.
So, flirting is going to happen online and via text. Sorry, Mom and Dad! Relationships will form, warp, and break down, just as they do anywhere else. But it’s important to talk frankly about the difference between wooing and harassing, discouraging and shaming.
We will reflect on the consequences of making our private lives public and of sharing intimate “content” through networkable media. We’ll talk about when gossip becomes slander, and how to recognize signs of a toxic relationship that may be calling out for intervention.

Class 201: Identity and the Internet

Hey, the digital world is one of forms and formulas. It asks us to check boxes and fill in blanks, which shapes how we look at ourselves and others. But the truth is, everything is relative.
This tension between how things actually are and how we represent them for the purposes of analysis can be frustrating, especially when people have different ideas about what terms to use or the grammar that governs them. Phobias and even hatred spring up where we feel resentful about not knowing how to navigate a social situation.
For example: not knowing the preferred pronoun of someone who appears to us transgender, or the preferred ethnic moniker of someone we experience as outside our own tribe. These are linguistic conundrums, products of mental inventions, but we experience them emotionally. They stimulate embarrassment – anxiety about looking stupid or having to ask a direct question that might offend (or being asked a question that might hurt). They stimulate guilt. And among the overburdened or immature, they stimulate resentment for having stimulated these feelings!
So this class will be dedicated to talking about loaded words and our resistance to the feelings they arouse in us. We’ll share – by invention, if necessary – techniques for getting to know each other’s preferences in a sensitive and sensible way.

Class 202: Posture

That’s right, we’re still gonna balance books on our heads. Because now more than ever, we need to be aware of how we are holding our bodies.
Sitting is the new smoking, as they say, and many of our kids will spend all their scholastic and working lives slouching in a chair if we don’t intervene. They deserve to know the consequences of compacting their nerves and organs while hunching over keyboards, as well as options to mediate those effects.

Class 203: Traditional Skills

Yes, we still need them. In fact, the tedium of old school crafts(wo)manship perfectly compliments the never-ending mental engagement of modern life. Here we pick up the needlepoint and put down the podcast. Because when we have some quiet and allow the mind to wander, we actually augment our memory and our reasoning.
Why? Because the brain doesn’t get smarter while taking in new data. It gets smarter playing with that data at recess. That’s when the so-called Default Mode Network synthesizes information from different parts of the brain so that what we know can actually build meaning. In other words, we have to take breaks from being taught and entertained in order to understand and create.
Who knew? Knitting lace is not just an artistic technology, but a cognitive one – and a spiritual one, if married with meditation.
The idea of a modern charm school is not to make more rules, and it certainly isn’t to create new levels of class. It’s to help brace children for the climate of this new social wilderness, and help them hold onto their perspective while they explore it. We still have plenty worth passing on from the trends of the past, even to our futuristic kids.