Long Days and Short Years

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


1 Comment

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?   

 

 

 

 

 


2 Comments

Stop Growing Already

Not to brag, but…

Our kids eat kale.  Straight up, plain kale, in all its wrinkled green glory.  Kale, which is not just a commoner vegetable like carrots, but Superhero nutrition, somewhere on the order of brussel sprouts.  Or turnip greens.  Or something else I don’t like to eat.

All of this is thanks to a simple psychological trick, um… careful methodology… called reverse psychology.

It came about in this way:  One evening my housemates made dinner.  It was a grown-up favorite–sausage and kale over pasta, sprinkled with olive oil and feta cheese.  Yum.  The cooks were wise (experienced) and kept the ingredients separate for the kiddos.  Sausage in one section, pasta in the next, and a little bit of kale in one corner.

The sausage disappeared first, followed closely by the pasta, until four kids were left with lonely bits of green and the irresistible urge to leave the table.  “I don’t care for the yucky stuff,” our youngest cherub intoned.  “Kale, it’s called kale, and you need to at least take a thank you bite,” an exhausted grown-up replied, “We’re out of carrots.”

Rebellion was brewing.  The kids looked at one another.  Four of them and four of us, and though they were smaller, they were perhaps faster and definitely more agile.  They looked at us, and then…

Brilliance.  I think that it was housemate-dad who spoke first.  “You’re right kids,” he said with an exaggerated sigh, “Do not eat that kale.  It’ll make you grow, and we like you just the way you are.”  The kids were confused, but the grown-ups caught on quickly.  “Oh, of course!”  “Why would we give you such a thing?”  “If you eat too much of that, you’ll grow up.  And you are so cute right now.”  “Don’t you dare touch that kale!”  “Candy.  Nothing but candy for these kids from now on.”  “What were we thinking?”

And the kids shoved kale into their cute little mouths.  Did they know it was a joke?  I still don’t know–they were laughing, but they were eating.  They ate the kale, and asked for more.

“No, you don’t want more of that stuff.  Don’t you want marshmallows with  sugar sprinkled on top?  Ah, come on.”

In classic grown-up fashion, we milked our little trick for all that it was worth.  For weeks.  Kale was just the beginning.  It became a nightly routine–a well-balanced meal on their plate eaten amid our feigned protests.  The drama and the laughter increased, but they ate anything we gave them.  “Please.  Please stop growing!  Please!”

Can you blame us?  It was working so well.

And then.  One night, right after dinner, I took my eldest out to buy Christmas presents.  As we were driving, she spoke from her booster seat.  “Mama, I need to have a talk with you.”  “Yes honey?”  “Mama,” she asked, “do the grown-ups really want us to stop growing?”  “Oh no, of course not.”  I laughed lightly, but she was completely serious.

And she wasn’t done.  “Mama, did you like me when I was four?”  “Yes.”  “Do you like me now that I’m five?”  “Yes, of course.”  “Then, Mama, you will probably like me when I’m six or seven too.  Mama, you have to let us grow.”

Ouch.  I took a deep breath, trying not to smile, but now also fighting back a few tears.  This was serious.

“Okay, honey.  From now on, I’ll let you grow.  I promise.”

“Thanks Mama.”  I could hear her smile from the back seat.  Satisfied, she went back to watching Christmas lights out the window, but I swallowed hard.

Did I really say that?  Yes honey, I’ll let you grow.  I’ll let you grow, I promise.

And how many times will I have to say these words again?


1 Comment

Kindergarten, Day One: The Aftermath

It wasn’t a fight exactly, but the tension took me by surprise.

“I just don’t understand why this is so hard,” my husband said, “I thought you would be celebrating.  She had a good day.  She’s at a good place.”

“Well, uh, yes.  I am excited,” I stammered, “but it’s just that… um… it’s just that… it is hard.  For me.  It’s hard for me.”

He looked confused (wonder why).  “But it’s been hard on you to be at home with the girls too.  Kindergarten means that you will have time to write, to work… you’ll finally have some space.  Isn’t this what you’ve wanted for five years?”

Of course, but…

****

I hadn’t know how upset I was until I blubbered all over the school secretary.  Blubbered.  Really, it was lovely.  But it wasn’t during drop-off.  During that first morning drop-off, you would have thought we were professionals:

“Have fun today, honey.”  “Okay mom, bye.”  “Love you.”  “Me too.  Bye.”

She had stickers, markers and a name tag to decorate.  I had a little sister to entertain.  Who needs a scene anyway?

On the way out I remembered to tell the secretary that I would be picking her up today.  The bus had been a little intimidating that morning (as in, no-way-am-I-getting-on-that-thing), and so I wanted to help her first day go as smoothly as possible.  “Would you tell her so that she won’t worry about it?”  I asked.  “Sure,” the kindly secretary smiled, “I’ll let her know.”

The day went by quickly, and I kept the 3:05 pick-up in my sights.  Little sister wanted to go to a museum on the other side of town, but no matter, we would leave early and be at school in plenty of time.  I guessed that the trip would take thirty minutes (never having done it before), and so I left fifty minutes to get across town.  Fifty minutes was a little over-the-top, but I didn’t want to cut it close.  We had a plan.  Everything was under control.

Everything except the school buses.

There were school buses everywhere.  School buses like locusts.  School buses stopping traffic so that little children could walk across the street safely.  School buses turning a five minute stretch into fifteen minutes of gripping the steering wheel.  School buses ruining my life.

I tried to stay calm.  We had extra time after all.  I had been a responsible parent, hadn’t I?  We had plenty of time.  

Inch, inch, inch.

Now I was beginning to lose my bloody mind.  The school had been clear in mailed-home papers: Please do not ask us to hold your bused child if you are running late.  If you are not there by 3:05, we’re very sorry, but your child will be put on the bus.  I pictured my dear sweet kindergartner crying as they forced her on the bus.  “But my mom,” she would sob, “was… supposed to… pick me up!”  

Inch, inch, inch.

2:55.  2:59.  3:00.  I called the school.  The secretary answered.  I forced out the words, “Um, I’m stuck in traffic.  I thought I left plenty of time.  Could you tell my daughter that she’ll have to take the bus? (yep, that would be the same child that I asked you to give the opposite message to earlier today)  I’m afraid that she’ll be upset…”

With the word ‘upset’, I lost it.  The crying forced it’s way up through some deep place in me, and I was done.  I bawled.  “I’m… so… sorry…”  I couldn’t get any other words out.  “Bye…”  I hung up and kept crying.

Poor little sister.  She didn’t know what to do as her mother wailed and turned the car toward the bus stop.  “Mama, it okay.”  “Mama, don’t cry.”

Great.  I was scarring both children at the same time now.  I cried harder.

By the time the bus came, I had calmed down and bought two bribery cookies.  I prepared myself for my kindergartner’s tears, her well-founded accusations, and tried to steel myself so that I wouldn’t sob again.  The bus pulled up.

She bounced off, grinning from ear to ear.  “Mama!” she hugged me jubilantly,  “I took the bus!”

****

At dinner we got the story out of her.  The school secretary had hung up with me, gone into the gym, and walked her out to and then onto the bus; holding her hand until she found someone to sit with.  It had been the best part of our kindergartner’s day, and she couldn’t stop smiling.

I smiled too, but inside I was still a wreck.  It had turned out well, but I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.  “I’m so proud of you honey” I managed, and my husband put them to bed.

I stared at the wall.  Why was this so hard?  When he came back down, I tried to explain it to him (see stammering above), but I barely knew why I was feeling the way I was.  It was complicated.  Messy.  Hard to explain.

I’m starting to understand that this ‘letting go’ thing always is.

On one hand, you’re thrilled to see them grow, to have just a little bit more independence, and to become a little bit more of who they are apart from you.  After all, if our kids live to be eighty, they will be under our direct care for less than a quarter of their lives.  We are raising adults, and watching them become themselves is a beautiful thing.

However.

There is also the other hand.  You know, the hand that feels like its wrenching organs out of your chest?  It happens slowly, sometimes so slowly that you don’t even realize what’s going on until you start blubbering on the phone.  Suddenly you realize that you’re going to be putting her on that bus everyday.  That you won’t see her again until the bus returns.  That she has a world you will only visit, and though that world is a good good place, it’s not yours.

It’s hers.  And this is harder than I thought it would be.

All of this is taking me by surprise, because really, I am an exceptionally disgruntled stay-at-home mom.  Needy babies drove me crazy, and demanding preschoolers are only marginally better.  No, I don’t want to play kitten doctor with you again.  No, I don’t want to keep you company while you poop.  Please, please watch another video so that I can read a book (or write a blog post… right now little sister is watching Blues Clues).

My husband is right.  I like my space.  But I love my girls, so much that it really honestly feels like they’re somehow physically attached to me.  So much that these steps of letting go, while lovely and necessary, are a little like surgery.

Kindergarten was/is a big procedure.  So please be kind to me.  I’m still recovering.


1 Comment

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.