Friends, it seems no less than cruel that tomorrow is yet another day without school. I find myself with a burgeoning feeling of dreadful ick rising north from my toes- yes the boys and I are thrilled to participate in a wonderful service project at a local shelter, and I promised the Lego movie too, but it's been nearly a week since I've gotten anything of substance done, and I am most tired of the imbalance that tomorrow will perpetuate. Effing Presidents Day- this seems a "holiday" we could do without, at least when it comes on the heels of multiple snow days. But alas, nothing I can do except make a gumbo. And so I have. A big pot of thick chicken and sausage gumbo is bubbling away on the stove now and, as always, will be both tonic and balm later this evening.
You know what I've been thinking and feeling more sure about lately? That the following aphorisms regarding parenting are wise and true:
1. It is more important to be your child's parent than his friend. It is my utmost hope that my boys and I remain close forever and that our relationship turns into one of deep and loving friendship when they're adults. But it is terrifically helpful to maintain a distance above and apart from them that wouldn't be possible without the power differential inherent in parent versus friend. I believe they take me more seriously because of this relationship AND it helps me not take their nonsense quite so personally. Being able to laugh off the bullshit is an incredible tool in the arsenal of any parent; it's not always easy to do so, but when I can, it's bliss.
"I am your mother, and I am in charge. You may not always like it, and I'm always willing to listen to your perspective and positions but some things are simply not negotiable."
I recently told Jack that I'd known him longer than he'd known himself and that sometimes the plain truth is that I do know what's best for him. He may not agree at that point in time but as long as he's living under my roof, he simply will do certain things, like go to bed at bedtime. Which leads me smoothly into...
2. Sleep is paramount. Really! Besides my love and providing them good and healthy food, I think little is more essential than ensuring they get enough sleep each night. I have before been told that I am too strict regarding sleep, that I should let loose the reins on the sleep schedule I worked hard to get in place.
To that I say, A) read the studies on the importance of sleep to brain and overall healthy development, cognitive imprintation, memory formation, and body stasis (knowing when you're hungry and full, feeling sane, feeling truly restored), and B) if you don't read, ask- your pediatrician, a sleep expert, your child's school principal, etc because they will likely all say sleep is muy importante, and C) I don't really care. Why? For one, knowing their sleep patterns means I know the bit of time each night that I can count on for myself or for Tom and me. This has been amazing for me and for our marriage. Secondly, I know my children, I know how cranked out they are when they're short on sleep, and I feel 100% confident that because they've always had good and consistent bedtime and sleep schedules, they are all the better for it. Which segues me nicely into...
3. Know your child(ren) and advocate for the individual he/she is. As any parent of more than one child knows, no two are alike. This can be extraordinarily challenging when you try something for #2 and basically, he laughs at you. Like discipline, or a cool toy (well, it was cool for #1), or teething all of a sudden blows up your world (but wait for #1 it was a non-event), or #1 never puked and #2 does it all the time (this is true in my home), etc.
Because of innate personality, biological and other differences, it is imperative to know your children because at some point you will need to advocate for them. Example: I knew Jack's regular febrile stints weren't just a series of viruses. I was told for a full year that he just kept getting viruses. Had I not A) been keeping track of his fevers and symptoms and B) been hell-fire sure that he wasn't actually getting sick but was suffering from some bizarre disorder, I would not have been able to push so effectively and get him on the damn Tagamet (yes, your basic acid reducer of old that is an immune-boosting wonder drug) that made everything better. Knowing your kids leads me to...
4. Smart discipline is a dear friend on whom you should not be afraid to call or lean. If you know your kids, you'll ultimately figure out the best ways to discipline and guide them. Have I failed many a time? Indeed! Do I purport to know all the answers? Puh-lease. Let's be clear that I'm not trying to spout any such nonsense. On the contrary, I've learned this point well from repeated efforts that failed. Those failures and subsequent attempts to improve upon them -improv!!- have made me an infinitely better parent. And I firmly believe that with limits come respect, security, and ultimately better judgment.
Example: While I know carrots are generally better than sticks, there are some behaviors that simply need to be beaten back with a damn stick. In my home, the latest two in need of this treatment would be the wildly overused term "butt-crack" and the unbelievably irritating action of dissolving a bar of soap in the bathtub in two days flat. Some people wouldn't give a hoot about either of these things, but for me, they were simply too much. Like stepping in dog poop just after cleaning my shoe each and every day. So about three months ago, I created a Fine Jar. For every butt-crack transgression, the offender put 25 cents into the jar. For every bar of soap dissolved, $2 in the jar. "Once these behaviors are extinct, we'll use the money in the jar to go on an ice cream date or the like," I said. A month later we were at $2.25; we're still there, I almost never hear butt-crack anymore and no bars of soap have been wasted nor was it ever necessary to bank two hard-earned bucks for trying. Terrific, boys!
Example 2: We place enormous value on the kids' education. As such, homework just is: a daily element of life from 1st grade until post-grad work is complete. Accept it, kiddos, and let's get busy. Since the boys know this, I really have little patience for not just getting the worksheet or whatever done. Today I told Mr. J that he needed to finish his word work homework which was to choose five vocab words, look up their meanings and write the definitions in his notebook. My mom recently bought J a children's dictionary to assist. Nonetheless, he went on and on about how this was boring work and ooh, he already knew four of the five words I'd chosen. I countered his futzing with, "Well, if you're bored, let's up the ante. I issue the Mommy challenge: write down each word, then write your definition, then look the word up and write the actual definition, whether or not it's the same as your own."
Y'all should have seen his face. He tried to tell me his teachers would not accept my challenge (unlikely), and then he tried to go on about how long it might take. Well buster, you said you were bored so here's what you get, an extra challenge. He ended up enjoying the exercise and I imagine we will not have this silly discussion again.
Meanwhile, Oliver will do anything to not lose dessert so I'm sticking with that tactic for him for now.
5. As best I know, this is one of my own but I think it has its merits: I (and you) am going to mess up. Several times. I'm (and you) also going to scream on occasion or more though I'll try my very best to keep it minimal. Sometimes I am not going to like them and they are not going to like me.
In my opinion, all of this is cool and the gang. I am pretty sure that at some point in their lives, my kids are going to speak to some counselor about something. I hope they do. Everyone should. Therapy should be a rite of passage. I mean that. In the meanwhile, I am simply doing my best, trying to parent two kids with whom I share so much but also little. We're not even the same gender for pete's sakes, and they're each half Tom and all his ancestors. I don't even know most of those peeps so how can I possibly know what recessive business they passed on to my kids?
As each person is his/her own brew, all I can do is try to understand that concoction, love it like crazy, ask for help when it seems off, do my very very best and then hope for the best. I really mean that. How can any of us do more? I am not perfect, my kids aren't perfect, we're all gonna mess up and love each other and make the most marvelous memories and also some we want to obliviate (HP ref, y'all). It's how we grow from and stay together during and what we do with all that beautiful dissonance that counts, I think and hope.
That's it for tonight. I am eyeing the newspaper with lust and a deserved glass of wine with desire. We've got a Real Time from Friday, our dryer broke and our ceiling is leaking slowly in two places. But I'm just gonna take it as it comes and settle in and soldier on and keep my mantra close: I'm just doing my best!
Ooh, the rice timer pinged. Gumbo time!