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Archive for February 2012

Based on the breathless excitement in national newspapers and on the intertubes, I think we need to talk about French Parenting. And Tiger Parenting.And Helicopter Parenting. And Attachment Parenting. And Connected Parenting. And Insert Your Flavor Here Parenting.

Those of us of a certain age are left to wonder how our parents raised us without the benefit of such insight. It’s amazing that any children have turned out happy and well-adjusted over the past many millennia without all of these prescriptive theories, isn’t it?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not Sarah Palin railing against book larnin and those who engage in it. I have been helped by various elements of various approaches, from Spock to Ferber to Seuss, and some have been pivotal in our parenting experience. I believe in getting help and inspiration wherever you can find it, because raising decent humans ain’t easy. But I do not believe in swallowing some method whole, like a deranged disciple, and calling it parenting.

My issues with these Parenting Methods of The Month are fourfold:
1.  You’re Doing It Wrong.

If you don’t breast feed until the age of 5, forbid the use of nightlights, eat flaxseed, or potty train with stickers and prizes, you’re doing it wrong. Obviously there are several criminal or neglectful ways to be a shitty parent by anyone’s standard. But let’s accept that there are many, many ways to Do It Right, even if you wouldn’t be caught dead doing them.

2.  One Size Fits All.

I was pretty certain I was an awesome, insightful child whisperer….until Baby Sister came along. I thought I knew all about how to raise a kid. Which I did. But I only knew how to raise THAT kid, not this new one. Baby Sister is a completely different human with a different personality, different motivations, different everything.  So every attempt I made to parent her just like I had Bambina (if you earn five stickers you get a prize! Wheee!) was met with evil villain-style laughter (your stickers are quite inconsequential and I shall punish your insolence!Release the hounds! Mwuahahaha!) Baby Sister has not one shit to give about stickers, charts, rewards, or any other motivational gold star stuff that Bambina lives for. Baby Sister cares only about the negatives. If you don’t stop kicking, you will go to your room. If you keep bugging your sister you will see no TV. Bambina wants to Achieve Greatness Through Reward and Approbation. Baby Sister wants to Amass Power Through Avoiding Punishment. I could offer her 12 hours of uninterrupted Team Umizoomi for good behavior and she’d turn my ass down cold. Not interested. Preschooler ennui with my offerings. But if I say NO Umizoomi till Friday, well then good stuff starts to happen. Every day I have to pivot between the girls, examining my assumptions, trying to not be lazy (like having only one approach) in order to do the right individual thing for each.

3.  It’s All About Me

Have you noticed that the common denominator for most of these anointed approaches is that they are all about the parent? Which begs the question: are we drawn to particular theories and methods because they are the best for our kids or because they comport with how we already like to do things? Do you believe that a child’s room must be dark with the door closed at bedtime because there is some inherent value in that for your child–or because that is what you like? If our main goal, our desired outcome is a happy, fulfilled, well – adjusted decent human being who contributes to society, then we have to ask ourselves how or if our rules and choices are furthering that goal.  And if that is our goal, then we must also admit that these methods are long on theory and very short on evidence. If French Parenting really is superior to American or Ghanaian Parenting, then why is France not a beacon to our troubled world? Why do we not have French law and French compassion and French hospitality as an international standard? What proves that the French are superior? Nothing, is what. And, as much as we love Tiger Moms, we need to recognize that we don’t live in China, which is an entirely different culture from the word Go. Our job as parents is to prepare our kids to live in the world. Not in China. And again, where is the evidence that Chinese kids are happier and more well-adjusted than American kids? There is none, because they are not. It’s time to recognize that none of us really knows what the hell we are doing, and maybe that is okay.

4.  Rich People Problems.

Finally, my primary concern with the trumpeting of each new parenting method du jour: these are upper middle class problems. My parents were not helicopter parents. You know why? Because they had to WORK. And not, “I’m taking Tuesday off for my child’s science fair” work. The “We Are Sending Aunt Mary To See Your Honor Society Induction Because We Can’t Get Time Off” work.  Times card punch in/punch out work. My Dad–and many like him–would have enjoyed helicopter or tiger or whatever parenting, but they had to put food on the table. Many parents would love to oversee Stalinist violin lessons if only they could afford a violin, lessons,and two hours a night to practice. So let’s be honest about what we are really discussing here: not parenting methods in general, but parenting methods for people with means…even in France.

So whats my point? Get advice from any source you please and then do what works for your particular kid (notice I did not say “what works for you.”)

Then go ahead and do that thing without apology if it’s meeting the goal of raising a happy, healthy good kid.

Then please shut up. Or, more politely, recognize that I might not do that and I don’t need to apologize either.

However you do it, I wish you bonne chance, mes amis.

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http://www.litefm.com/cc-common/mainheadlines3.html?feed=421220&article=9738000

That video, folks, has the intertubes all atwitter. It’s a father’s video response to his teenage daughter’s disrespectful rant on Facebook about her family. The comments range from “Right On!” to “I’m calling DSS.” I myself am torn. While I don’t see myself necessarily taking a .45 to my child’s laptop anytime soon, I completely see where this man is coming from, based on my memories of myself as a teenager.

I’m trying to transport this incident back to 1989 to find a parallel. Like, how would my father have reacted if I’d written this as an article in the school newspaper? Or yearbook? Or bulletin board? Although Kids These Days see Facebook as a means of conversation and interaction, they fail to recognize that hitting “Share” is really akin to hitting Publish. It’s not the same as my diary entry from January 23, 1989 in which I ask, “why does my dad have to be such a fucking asshole all the time?!????!!!!!!” This girl thinks it is, but it’s really, really not. What you put online remains forever–and becomes exponentially more disrespectful in its public nature.

I remember I had friends at my house one day in early high school when I made some rude, flippant remark about my dad to my dad. Much to my shock and humiliation, he sent my friends home, but not before raking me over the coals in front of them. I was OUTRAGED that he had treated me so poorly, had made me look like such an ass in front of others, had not had the respect for me to deal with my infraction privately! I was in full-on teenage righteous indignation for the injuries done TO ME. Then he just quietly said, “So it felt bad to be treated like shite in front of company?” Sullen silence…and a lightbulb. He reached me in the only way left to reach me, since my respect-for-others meter at that point had been turned off for quite some time. I was still mortified and pissed off…but I got it.

I’m not sure if my friends told their parents and together they had a What A Terrible Father powwow, but I remember that incident precisely because my father saw what a spoiled disrespectful bitch I was turning into, and he was stopping it by any means necessary. And it worked. Mostly. 😉 I can’t speak to the video dad’s situation with insight, but I can speak to my own: Sometimes being a good father requires that you bring a gun to a knife fight. Even if you look like an asshole in the process.

Home Alone

Posted on: February 9, 2012

Who can forget those halcyon days when Macauley Culkin was cute rather than the poor man’s love child of Ron Weasley and The Joker? Remember that impish little face that borrowed heavily from The Scream? Remember how funny that movie was precisely because the notion that parents would forget their kid was so ludicrous? Well, hello my neighbor in 2012.

Last week Bambina’s friend’s mom called about an hour before school dismissal to ask if her daughter could walk home with Bambina and stay with us for a bit because she had to drive another kid to some activity. We agreed we would each contact the school to tell our girls to stay together. Which I did. So, 15 minutes after dismissal and I’m seeing no Bambina, I’m getting ready to call out the dogs. I called her on her little emergency cell phone to make sure she was on her way. Which she wasn’t. She was, as I had directed her, waiting for her friend, who was nowhere to be found. Loooooong after everyone had left the school. So I told her to start walking and I’d come meet her half way. So I was not only trying to calm down my freaked out daughter, I was having a coronary about where her friend could possibly be.

I packed up poor Baby Sister, who was home sick, and began a walking search of every henhouse, doghouse and outhouse in our neighborhood, trying to track this missing girl down. As I was hurriedly walking toward Bambina, carrying Baby Sister, I had to make The Call. The call to tell a mom that I have misplaced her daughter. I was absolutely ready to vomit, thinking I have royally fucked up a simple child’s walk home. I got the mom, I told her that her child was not outside the school, that Bambina waited 15 minutes, that I am combing the neighborhood, that…WHAT?!….you forgot to call the school?!

Oh yes. Friends, she FORGOT to call and tell her child where to go after school. She just forgot. What?! So where the hell might your child be then, if she left school, didn’t see you, and didn’t have instructions on where to go? I could tell she was freaked out because she kept repeating, “I meant to call from the car, I meant to call from the car…” so while she called the school, my girls and I essentially trespassed on every piece of property between the school and her friend’s house, yelling her name like a goddamn bona fide search party. Did I mention it was icy freezing that day? Did I mention Baby Sister was sick as a dog? Did I mention my leg is in a brace from my knee surgery, so walking fast while carrying a 35 pound grumpy human is not the recommended physical therapy? Most importantly, did I mention we found the girl freezing outside her house, looking white as a ghost? And did I mention I could have fucking cried with relief?

So what can one say after a bowel-lurchingly scary event like that? The mom apologized, “I was just so busy!” Both girls began playing happily. Baby Sister stayed grumpy and sick. I don’t want to slam this mom because shit can happen to anyone, and please believe that if my child goes missing, even if by direct result of my own fuckery, I still fervently pray that someone else’s mom will drop what she’s doing and find my kid regardless of the drama involved. But—what of this life we as a culture have created for our families? This family is so overscheduled with activities that the mother FORGOT about her other daughter. Didn’t forget her lunch. Didn’t forget her gym shoes. Didn’t forget soccer practice. She forgot her child. She was so harried getting everyone from event to event to event without ever imagining that her older kid could arrive late to practice that one day because they needed to pick up her younger sister from school. That option never entered her mind amid The Tyranny of the Schedule. Amid the Manifest Destiny of her children’s future greatness via enrichment activities. Amid the crushing social pressure to “involve” her kids in all manner of success-ensuring avocations. Amid the seeming collective and individual unwillingness to ponder precisely who all of these activities really are for in the end.

The whole situation just made me sad. The mom was apologetic and rattled. But not rattled enough to contemplate That Which Must Not Be Named: loosening up the Teutonic-style schedule. All I’m saying is that if I ever EVER forgot about my child, I would not rest my head on my pillow until I had taken a long, hard look at the circumstances that made it possible–and changed them. My heart ached for this girl because her mom was very nonchalant about “forgetting” her. I mean, kids aren’t snowflakes. Sometimes you will arrive late, you will get stuck in traffic, sometimes your child will have moments of wondering where you are. These are the vagaries of life and must be dealt with bravely. These events are no big deal. But just not showing up because you forgot? I’m not even sure where to categorize that in my brain’s card catalog besides under Shit Moms Don’t Get To Do.

To be fair, had the girl been a bit older this probably would not have been a big deal. But second graders are still creatures of habit, of repetition. In my attempts to more free-range parent I thought I had prepped Bambina for such scenarios, all of which began and ended with “go back into the school building and find a teacher.” But even with all that prep, in real time she stood outside the building feeling scared because I had previously told her to wait. Bambina is no dummy, but this scenario demonstrated that the addition of any unexpected variable completely changes the dynamic, leaving a confident, prepared kid not knowing what to do.

So what’s the solution? Well, we have mandatory TV watching-while-eating-ice-cream Mondays and Tuesdays after school. We limit both girls to two activities per semester, no matter how badly they really want to ice skate or swim or learn French. Pick two and stop whining. You’ll thank me later. And we will now create a bottom-line rule my kid can go to for safety if all other rules go FUBAR, while rigorously prepping her (lesson learned) for the exceedingly high likelihood of FUBARity. After all, forewarned is FUBAR-armed—and that is something worth remembering.

Senior Citizens Are Wrinkled Teenagers.

I say this with love for our Greatest Generation, darlings, but it simply must be said: seniors and teenagers share many of the same characteristics. The revelation occurred this afternoon as a rather surly older lady was berating the lovely girl at Dunkin Donuts for “not bringing me my sandwich! And you owe me 20 cents!” The level of outright rudeness was so elevated that even my 3 year-old noticed, and she has, as you know, a pretty high threshold for bad manners. As I thought about the level of tolerance afforded rudeness from seniors, I realized that much of the behavior mirrors adolescence. For example:

Rules Do Not Apply To Me.
Baby Sister’s preschool is part of a community center that also serves a large number of senior citizens. There are 15 parking spots reserved for the preschool (with 100+ kids), so parking is always an issue. We just received word that we will be “donating” 6 of these spots to the seniors one day a week. All well and good and touchy-feely. Only, I’d be more into the good deed if they already didn’t take those spots every day anyway. You pull up, it’s 20 degrees outside, its raining, whatever, will there be a spot? Will there be a spot?! And there is a fucking Oldsmobile 88 Royale or somesuch parked across TWO spots, just as happy as larry. Meanwhile a mom with a toddler and a 6 week-old are hoofing it from the boonies, with stroller,coats, lunches, the entire cavalcade of preschool items….as a spritely senior strolls in with nothing but his canasta cards. It happens every single day, the only variable being whether it’s a Buick, Cadillac or K Car with a tattered “Buchanan 2000” bumper sticker. Every damn day. Right in front of the “Preschool Parking Only” signs!

Which brings us to the second reason senior citizens are like teenagers…

They Will Tell You, With Zero Shame, To Fuck Off.
There are people in our lives whom we know to be The People Who Tell Others To Suck It. When I require such services, I always call my sister because she is the person who excels at such things. We can name That Person in our lives because we recognize that what they do is not the standard approach to daily life for everyone. So it is always a bit jarring when you kindly mention to the returning senior citizen, “You may not have noticed but this parking is for preschool parents only,” and with shockingly few exceptions they pretty much tell you to Stow It, Blondie because I am a Senior Citizen. No fake apology. No faux absentmindedness (which, full disclosure, is my go-to Get Out of Jail card). Not even an honest oops. Nope. Just a polite version of “kiss my ass” which is ironic, because, like teenagers, seniors are…

Extremely Concerned With Being Disrespected.
Many current adolescents understand the word “respect” by virtue of having backed into it via “disrespect.” As did Dunkin Donuts lady who, when directed to the Pick Up Here area, let it be known that the staff were being “disrespectful” to her. Which is humorous because the only raised voice was hers, and had she been a 30 year-old man she would have found herself ejected from the store. Which leads to my final example…

An Enormous Sense of Entitlement.
When I was 16 I pretty much knew for a fact that the world owed me many things, that everything my parents gave me was not a gift via the sweat of their brows, but in fact a deserved reward for being my great good self. I felt that of course I should get a free cone when I went to Super Swirl simply because my boyfriend worked there. Of course my parents should buy me Def Leppard audio tapes. I was 16 and I deserved stuff. Fast forward to freshman year of college in Scotland. I was grocery shopping with a friend at the Willie Lowes when an OAP (old age pensioner, as seniors are rather inartfully known) asked to go in front of me in the check out line. I was so confused. Did she have fewer items than me? No. Did she seem physically infirm? No. So I said, “okay, sure, but may I ask why?”. She said only, “Because I’m a pensioner!”

Which brings us back to the parking spots. I propose that, just like Babies R Us has the ‘parking only for moms-to-be’ spaces, our place should bulldoze the enormous useless landscaping directly in front of the entrance and make it seniors only.

Then watch this space for my post on my awesome, new, convenient parking spot at the preschool!