Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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Hovering is Relative–Some Questions for You

Setting: The cafeteria in a big public school

Event:  Kindergarten welcome breakfast

Characters: More squealing 5 year olds than you can imagine with the occasional frazzled grown-up thrown in for contrast

****

It was time for the parents to go.

Squeezed between a cafeteria table and attached bench, I was planning my exit.  Assuming that I could still physically extract myself from the table (there was some question here), the bigger question remained.  How should I leave my daughter, my youngest daughter, on her first day of kindergarten?

Should I act casual, like it was all no big deal?  “Have a great day, honey!  See you later!”  Should I acknowledge that this was a big moment, and make the break slowly?  “We love you so much, sweetie, and we’re so proud of you.  You’re going to have a great day, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

And while I was composing my speech, I overheard a conversation across the table.

A mother was saying her goodbye.  She stood up.  “Well, this is Kindergarten,” she said, “You’re on your own now.  Do you hear me?”  The little girl stared solemnly.  “You behave.  I don’t want to get called,” she continued, and then repeated, “You’re on your own now.  Do you hear me?”  And without another word, or even a hug, she walked away.

And the little girl?  She returned to her breakfast, and then to her puzzle, seemingly unfazed.  The teacher called her named and she smiled broadly, “I’m here, teacher!”

I looked down at my daughter, who was clinging to me.  She was trying so hard to be brave.  The teacher called and she slowly dis-attached herself.  “Bye Mama,” she whispered.  I blew her a kiss, and she joined her class.

She was on her own now.

****

While the words of the mother-across-the-table were harsh, there is truth in them.  We are constantly preparing our kids to be on their own–and it makes me wonder…

How can we prepare our children, and ourselves, for moments of letting go?  This may be the million dollar question of parenting–not just what kind of parents will we be when we are with them, but what kind of children (and soon, adults) will they be when we are not with them?

Because I know that kindergarten is just the beginning.

****

What are your thoughts about preparing your kids to be increasingly on their own?  What do you remember about this from your own childhood?  What have you learned by watching other people parent their kids?  And if you have ’em, what have you learned from parenting your own?   

 

 

 

 

 

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Bringing the Helicopter Mom in for a Landing

From the beginning, I just wanted to do everything right.  Is that too much to ask?

It’s been six years since I hit the ground running.  Two babies in two years, and oh so many things to try and do right.  Natural childbirth.  Organic homemade baby food.  Attachment parenting.  Cloth diapers.   I read books, skimmed websites and listened to family and friends.  Tummy time.  Self-soothing.  Sleep training.  I filtered it all through my own intuition, consulted with my husband, and kept on parenting, one day after the next.

One stage after the next.  Just keep running.

Soon we were out of diapers and into new waters.  Preschool and other childcare options.  Time outs.  How to encourage independence for a child who still might run out into the street at any moment.  How to teach a child to say sorry without that parroting tone.  Playing together and playing alone.  More sleep issues (do they ever end?).  Age-appropriate chores and toys.  Kindergarten.

Just typing this list makes me tired.

Don’t get the wrong idea–I am not a perfectionist.  If you need proof, just look in my car.  But I have labored at parenting.  I have agonized over many small and big decisions.  I have run hard.  And six years into it all, I have one thing to report:

I have often had this gut-level sense that I am blowing it.  Blowing it big time.

Now, most of you are very kind people, and right now you are thinking, “Oh, I’m sure that she’s a very good mother.  She’s probably just being too hard on herself.”  You’re right of course, but this isn’t really the point.  The point is that I’ve got these unspoken standards of ‘doing it right’ that I can’t live up to.  And sometimes they eat away at me.

Wonder if I’m the only one.

****

I am able to write this post because my children are at summer camp.  They are at summer camp from 9-4, for five days a week, for four weeks.  We have never done anything like this before.

It began on a bit of a whim.  Wide-open summers can be daunting when you have small children, and I had been trying to find more time to write.  When I saw “9-4” on the brochure, I may have drooled a bit.  Then I signed up on the spot.  Four weeks!  Four glorious weeks to write and work and learn and run and read and draw and… “Honey?”  My husband interrupted my reverie.  “What’s the camp like?  What will the girls do there?  How is it organized?”  He must have been shocked at my uncharacteristic response:

“Oh, I don’t know.  I’m sure it will be fine.”

As camp drew nearer, my confidence wavered.  What had I done?  I had no idea what the student to teacher ratio was, no sense of their daily schedule, and no clue if this just wasn’t the biggest mistake of our parenting lives.  On the first day I still wasn’t sure what to think.  It seemed organized, but there were kids everywhere and my goodness it was loud.  The counselors seemed eager, but oh my were they young.  “Welcome to CAMP!” one of them screamed as we arrived.

What could I do?  I dropped off my kids and walked away.

Just.  Walked.  Away.

Seven hours later I grilled them in the car.  What was it like?  What did you do?  Tell me everything.

“Well, Mama.  Once I got lost, but then a tonsilor found me,” my oldest began, not realizing that they are called ‘counselors’ or that her mother had stopped breathing.  “We were going to the girl’s room and I had my eyes closed cause I was making up a dinosaur story in my head and when I opened them my group was gone!”  I sucked in air.  “Oh… really… honey… and what happened then?”  “Oh, a tonsilor found me and walked me upstairs, oh and guess what Mama, we had brownies for snack!”

Brownies are not a very nutritious snack.

****

There in the car, when I began breathing normally again, I noticed something.  My daughters were buoyant.  Beaming.  Gushing even.    The tale of the missing tonsilors wasn’t the forlorn story of an abandoned child, or even a frightening memory;  it was an adventure tale.  It was as exciting to my daughter as a dinosaur story, and oh-guess-what-Mama, there were even brownies for snack.

The two little girls in my car had had a fabulous day.

With this revelation came, oddly, a sense of freedom.  For the mother who just wanted to do everything right, this day had been a disaster.  I had left them for seven hours with screaming counselors who had lost one of my children and then fed them sugar for snack.  All this, and not only had my precious, fragile children survived–they were thriving.

I had blown it, blown it big time (or so I thought), and my children were thriving.  Amazing.

And surprisingly… freeing.

It’s been two weeks now since that afternoon in the car, and with the benefit of hindsight I can see that things were not nearly as out of control as I supposed.  It seems that my daughter was separated from her group for approximately 2.3 seconds on that first day, and nothing like it has happened since.  The girls love their caring, energetic ‘tonsilors’ and the ‘welcome to CAMP!’ young man is a particular favorite.  There are healthy snacks too, the directors maintain an incredible 8:10 ratio (that’s 8 adults for every 10 kids) in the pool, and the consistent routine has stabilized our summer.

It’s been two weeks, and it hasn’t been perfect, but it has been good.  Good for the girls.  Good for their Mama.

I didn’t expect this, but the best part of camp for me hasn’t been the extra time.  The best part of camp has been a new stage of letting go, a new realization that Just Walking Away is sometimes the best thing you can do.

I’m not talking about apathy here.  We still have our daily grilling in the car, and I still talk with the counselors when I have a concern.  I still prefer smaller groups and more experienced teachers (say, for kindergarten), but this is camp and they are having fun.  They are having so very much fun.

After all, the opposite of apathy isn’t caring for your kids.  The opposite of apathy is agonizing.  And this is where my tendency lies.

Camp, with its accompanying brownies, has been an important corrective.