Tag Archives: parenting win

Toddler Life, Chapter 148: Because It’s Hard


You don’t get much help as a parent. You can buy all the books — all the Idiot’s Guide to Parentings and How to Think Like a Toddlers you like — but when the rubber meets the road and you’re faced with the prospect of actually bringing up this fledgling human to be an actual human, you’re pretty much on your own. All that preparation goes out the window and you’re locked in with your lizard brain, fight-or-flight instincts to get through it.

Not only are you all alone at the stick, but there’s a fogbank closing all around you, the instrumentation is freaking out and giving you bad readings and it’s close to impossible to tell whether that dark shape in the distance is the runway you’re hoping to land on or a mountainside waiting to pulp your plane. Oh, and there’s a tiny person behind you who keeps screaming in your ear and placing their hands over your eyes — only they don’t fully understand how that works so it’s not so much hands over your eyes as jagged, flesh-rending fingernails thrust into your eyeballs.

It’s often hard to see what you’re doing, in other words — and doubly hard to see what sort of effects you’re having on your kid. And while most moments fly by and don’t make much of an impression, every now and then you find yourself in the midst of a Moment. A Moment that Matters. You feel the gravity of the situation fully, and somehow, through senses indecipherable, you see through time to the futures that could unfold as a consequence of your choices in this Moment.

A Moment, in other words, where you see that your choices could make or break your kid.

Such a Moment transpired last night.

The Sprout is in kindergarten, which means homework. Writing his name. Writing numbers. Practicing “sight words.” (Did they even have “sight words” when I was a kid? I have no memory of such a thing, but I don’t know if that’s because “sight words” is just a new buzzword or because education was just a leaky life raft in those days — it worked and we didn’t much care about how it looked or performed along the way as long as it got us there, which it seemed to. Also possible: my memory is less steel trap, more sleepy security guard.) Preparing for class presentations.

The teachers told us there would be homework on the order of about 10-15 minutes a night. Which is fine. But this week, it’s gusting towards an hour (10-15 minutes of handwriting practice, 20-30 of sight word practice — which feels more like two to three hours, let me tell you — and another 10-15 minutes of reading books about firefighters for a class dress-up day this week). And last night, it reached a head, and caused that Moment.

We went to a fundraiser night at a local restaurant, which had us getting home later than usual — just about 45 minutes before bedtime. And the kids have been cooped up all day, so we let them out to play in the yard for a few minutes while my wife and I take stock of the situation and figure out the plan of attack for bedtime (and if you think having a “plan of attack” for bedtime sounds a little silly, well, obviously you’re not a parent). So by the time they come in, we’ve got thirty minutes until bedtime. And in our house, much like Bruce Willis doesn’t miss his drilling depth even in an asteroid of alien construction, WE DO NOT MISS BEDTIME.

It dawns. We don’t have enough time to do Sprout’s homework. What do we cut? His handwriting is atrocious; he needs every rep he can get. And for every day we don’t work on his sight words, he forgets ninety percent of what he had learned. And the bloody firefighter presentation is tomorrow, so we can’t skip that.

We start working. He’s writing while I sit next to him, and I’m watching the clock. He’s dawdling (go figure, he’s a kid), and I’m getting frustrated. The waters are rising, threatening to close over both our heads. He goes to erase a mistake and I stop him. I stop him. “Just leave it. Let’s get finished.” He’s confused and upset — do I want him to work or do I want him to be done working? — and near tears. It’s too much. Now I’m underwater, and I’m fuming. He’s five years old, for crying out loud. We shouldn’t be dealing with having so much homework he has to stay up late at five years old. This is insane. Just let it slip.

And then, the Moment. Because, see, in addition to being a dad, I’m a teacher, too. And as a teacher, I know what’s plaguing our youth and by extension, our future; it’s a lack of gumption. That thing that sends you out into the rain for a five AM workout when you’d rather stay in your warm bed. That thing that gets teachers staying late in the evening and going in early in the morning when their neighbors are working their 9-to-5’s. That thing that gets Rocky off the mat after Creed knocks him on his keester. (Kiester? Keister? Keester? Spellcheck recognizes none of these.) The thing, in other words, that recognizes that the job is tough, the job is unpleasant, the job is painful; but at the same time, the job needs doing, and if you don’t do it, then it won’t get done.

The urge was there. The thoughts were there. He’s only five. Why is he doing all this at home anyway — aren’t they supposed to teach him in school? What’s the big deal if he doesn’t do it? Not like he’s going to flunk kindergarten!

But it’s that kind of thinking that has classrooms across the nation filled with kids who don’t know the value — not just of homework — but of WORK. Who don’t have the patience to work at anything that doesn’t come to them almost immediately.  Who aren’t interested in trying something if it doesn’t already interest them.

This is a Moment, I realize — maybe not the moment (because after all, he’s still only five), but certainly a Moment — when we teach him that homework is just a Thing You Do, that school exists outside the walls of a government building, that Mommy and Daddy support and believe in and will even enforce the things he’s getting from his education. It’s not a thing that happens to him in a vacuum, separate from us. Not a thing we hear vague whispers of across a dinner table, in disinterested mumblings around mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. (“How was your day today?” “Fine.” “School okay?” “Sure.” End scene.) Not a thing we allow to slip at the first inconvenience.

That way would be easy.

That way is too common for too many parents of too many kids.

That way is not for us.

JFK said it best … we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

And, okay, sure, there’s the added benefit that maybe, hopefully, these things will turn the Sprout into a decent human being one day.

So I gather him in for a hug and we back off for a few minutes and talk about doing the work and being ready for school the next day. We dry his tears. And we get back to it. I’m happy to say, we finished the homework. Then we got him down to bed a little bit late. And we talked about firefighters the next morning before we sent him off to school.

And he was smiling when he left the house.

I guess a few minutes of missed sleep didn’t hurt him. And for that matter, it didn’t hurt me, either.

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WriterSpawn


It’s 7:45 AM. The sun is out, the weather, gorgeous. The beach is deserted. A dreamland for a kid who’s already been awake for two hours, mainlined a bowl of sugary cereal and awakened every adult in the house.

And instead, he’s doing this:wp-image--2074352929

I even asked him if he wanted to go down to the beach. He said, “no, I want to finish making my book. I’m so excited to read it to you.”

As parents you sometimes find yourself in these moments. Moments when the heavens open up and celestial light shines down, and you realize that you’ve done the right things, and your kid is going to be OK, that he’ll be a force for good in the world.

Then there are other moments. Moments when you wonder whether the next time you see your kid, he (or maybe you!) will be on the wrong side of iron bars and bulletproof glass, and you question every parenting decision you’ve ever made.

I’m not sure which of those moments this is. If he’s a writer in the making (and he’s definitely not an athlete, so, you know, maybe!) then he’s doomed to a life both torturous and wonderful. Afflicted with a sickness that causes him to think about everything, absorb everything, and never let his mind be quiet. Gift and curse. Not sure if good or bad.

But this morning, he’s a creator and not a consumer, and that’s more than a little inspiring.

 


Toddler Life, ch. 419 — Cite Your Source


“Dad, I’m drinking ink.”

It’s 6 AM, and when your five-year-old says he’s drinking ink at 6 AM, you forget for the moment about overactive imaginations and the fact that five-year-olds will say just about anything for the pure joy of trying it out. I whirl and look, and he’s grinning at me with a made-you-look smile, his tiny hands wrapped around his Pokemon tumbler and a smear of pink foam glazing his lip.

The sleepy haze recedes a bit. Of course he’s not drinking ink; he’s drinking my smoothie. But where’d he get that idea? Ink? It’s …

I haven’t said anything to him yet, and this kid requires a response to everything he says, no matter how off-handed or to-himself it seems to be, so he starts repeating himself.

“DAD. I’m drinking ink.”

“Ink?”

“Yeah. Pink ink.”

Pink ink. Pink ink? That sounds Seussian. More fog recedes. It is Seussian. He goes in cycles — about two weeks at a time, wherein he loves a certain book like air itself while totally forgetting whatever book he was over the moon about just a few days prior. Currently, the Book he Loves is One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The nonsensical novelletta about a menagerie of monsters.

I hate this book.

I grow to hate all the books he loves; as an adult, you can only read the same series of simple sentences so many times before you begin to memorize it, and once you’re muttering the phrases to yourself as you walk the halls at your job, well, you start to suffer from social problems more than you already do.

This one has a little star. This one has a little car. Say, what a lot of fish there are!

(And then the murders began.)

I hate this book more than most, though, because it’s not a narrative, not a story. Every page just presents a new, weird little critter, spurts off a few rhymes, and then sends you on your merry way to the next critter. No throughline, just “look at this weird little thing. Isn’t it weird? Hey, here’s another one!”

But at the same time, I hear a tiny voice from the depths of distant memory telling me that I once loved this book — our copy of it was quite well-worn — when I was my son’s age, for much the same reason as I hate it now. The sing-songy little rhymes. The cute little creatures. I dug it.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. The morning haze recedes enough for me to realize — he’s quoting the book. Which is awesome. I mean, sure, thinking about the Yink kinda makes me want to put an elbow through a wall (really? It drinks pink ink, and that’s it? There’s nothing else worth mentioning about it? How about those bizarro weird tufts of fur all up its neck? Can you explain for me the evolutionary processes that spawned those, perhaps? WHO CARES WHAT IT EATS?). But the kid is quoting literature. Identifying with a character from a book. I approve of this development in general, if not in the particulars of the moment.

But I’m a dad. And the dad circuits are waking up. I can’t just say, “oh, that’s nice.” I have to tease. I have to troll.

So I say, “oh, that’s right. You’re drinking ink like the Gox.”

He laughs at me. “No, dad. The Gox doesn’t drink pink ink. That’s not the one.”

I nod and smile. “That’s right. I remember. It’s not the Gox. It’s the Zeds. They drink pink ink with one hair upon their heads.”

His smile disappears, replaced with a scowl. “Dad, no. You’re not getting it right. It’s not the Zeds.”

I smack my forehead. “I forgot. It’s the wump. That one –”

“Dad! Stop! You’re not paying attention.” He’s mad now. He hops down from the bench and goes running upstairs, only to reappear a moment later with the book clutched in his tiny paws. He plops it on the table, starts flipping pages, finds what he’s after. Turns to me, with every ounce of I-told-you-so that a five-year-old can muster dripping from his voice.

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“See, dad? It’s the Yink.”

And I pause. Blink. Things start to rattle around in my brain. This little midget just cited his source on me.

As a teacher who has been trying for seven years to convince students of the importance of doing exactly this thing — to point to your source material and use it to prove the point you’re making, so you’re not just pissing opinions into the wind — I’m gobsmacked. My five-year-old just did this thing automatically, for a thing that had literally zero stakes.

He can craft an argument. Make a literary allusion. Cite his source.

If he could just write his own name, he’d be ready to graduate high school.


Parenting High-Five!


As a dad, I am always worrying about the things I’m passing on to my kids. Am I teaching them the right lessons, showing them how to be wise adults, instilling in them the best values?

It’s impossible to tell, day to day. Raising kids is a little like growing bamboo; you plant it, and you water it, and you tend to it day in and day out, but for years — years! — you get no outward sign of the plant’s progress. Kids, meanwhile, are angels one day, demons the next. Their moods can swing like pendulums on things as inconsequential as the order you buttoned their jackets in. So there’s really no telling how things are going in their little heads.

Until your oldest brings home his Thanksgiving project from preschool.

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If you can’t read it, that says “I am thankful cause I give mommy and daddy highfives.”

I could quibble with the grammar, but I won’t. (Yes, I will. It should say “because” or, at the very least, have an apostrophe before “cause”; Mommy and Daddy should really be capitalized; and high-fives should be hyphenated.)

That picture up there tells me I’m doing something right.

Excuse me while I take a victory lap and then high-five my son at the end of it.


Toddler Life, Chapter 117 – Parenting Win


Parenting is a zero-sum game, most of the time.  I mean, it’s an upward trend, but that trend is only measurable if you zoom in real close and look at it over a scale of several months.  On the day-to-day stuff, you’re lucky to break even.  To be more specific:

One day you’re up because the kid takes his first step.  Next day you’re down because he blows out a diaper and floods his bed with liquid poop.  One day you’re up because the kid says “bye, daddy, I love you”, and the next day you’re down because you’re trying to put the kid to bed and he says “I don’t want daddy, want mommy to read.”  One day you’re up because you manage to put the infant to bed by yourself without the help of her mom for the first time literally ever, and then three hours later you’re down again because you’re up (awake) with the infant screaming because you screwed up putting her to bed.

Point is, parenting is hard work: thankless and grueling and pushing you to the limits of your sanity and patience just about every day, and somehow — somehow — you learn to temper the good with the bad.  You learn to rein in your elation at a breakthrough because you know the monsters will cut you off at the knees when you least expect it.  You learn never to sink into the depths of despair because the little blessings will be lighting up your life again with some adorable bit of cuteness or some flash of brilliance you could never anticipate.  In other words, you become very, very adept at taking what you can get when the good stuff rolls along.  You become an optimist out of necessity.  The alternative is too horrible to ponder.

So you chart your victories and you squeeze all the enjoyment out of them because you know that that joy can be snatched away from you at any moment.  The big stuff, you don’t have to worry about.  The light goes on for the kid and suddenly he wants to use the potty fifteen times in an hour — you don’t have to milk that victory, that one’s going to burn bright for a while.  He suddenly makes the connection that you’re not leaving forever when you leave for work and begins happily waving good-bye in the morning and giving you big squeezing bear hugs when you return… that’s not going anywhere.  No, to stay ahead of the curve of frustration because he still wants to grab the dog and yank its fur out, or because he still wants to stack a roomful of toys on top of the sleeping cat, or because he still wants to wake up at 5 AM for some goldfingered reason despite the fact that he gets frustrated that there’s nothing to do at that hour, you have to grab hold of the little victories and suck them dry like a wanderer in the desert sucking the sweat out of his headband.

There are little victories everywhere, if you know where to look for them.  But the ones worth the most points are the ones disguised as failures.  Case in point: Sprout #1 loves the movie Cars.  Loves it so much it’s wrong.  He’ll watch it twice in a day if we’re not careful.  As a result, he’s memorized bits and pieces of it, and he peppers his primeval dialogue with it, sometimes in an appropriate way, sometimes not so much.  There’s one line that he loves toward the beginning of the film:  “Lightning’s not going into the pits!” which basically never makes sense outside of the context of the movie, and which I only grasp at vaguely even during the film.  That one, then, is essentially harmless.  Then, toward the middle of the film, Lightning, voiced by Owen Wilson, is driving on a dirt road, trying to absorb a bit of driving wisdom from another talking car (what else would cars talk about, anyway?), when he realizes that the advice he’s received makes no sense, and he discounts it at once with a brilliantly-inflected “What an idiot!” which the sprout can recreate perfectly, right down to the intonation and the roll of the eyes.

So we’re driving.  And it’s Sunday in Greater Atlanta, which to be brief means that the rules of the road are out the window and the only thing you can count on other drivers to do is anything they’re not meant to do (U-turns in the middle of a road, suddenly slipping into reverse at a stop light, stopping on a green light and putting a blinker on to try to cross three lanes of traffic to make the right turn they didn’t realize was coming up, burning the tires out to zoom past you in the turn lane while you’re stopped at a red light) and the tension is mounting in the car and in a moment of great frustration, I finally let fly with an epithet.  Now, because I know the sponge is in the backseat soaking up everything I say, I quickly start babbling a lot of nonsense in the hopes that the floodwater of extra information will wash away the profanity like a rushing river.  But the boy cuts me off, shouting, a la Owen Wilson, “What an idiot!”

And it’s brilliant and funny and appropriate and all of those things but my wife and I share a mortified look because as brilliant and funny and appropriate as it is, we know that if he can let fly with it in the car, he can let fly with it when he gets to preschool, or he can let fly when he’s playing with some kid on the playground, and that’s a situation none of us want to deal with.  So we start to correct him, but then we realize that he’s certainly heard worse, and in fact just heard worse, and my wife whispers to me, “at least he didn’t say ‘fargoing idiot’.”  And in my mind, I think, or a goldfingered ratbastard, or a motherless piece of sharknado, or afargoing psychopath, or any of a number of other things I may or may not have said in his presence when I forget for an instant that the kid is there and the real world breaks through and you just have to swear.

I nod.  We shrug at each other.  It’s a little victory.  High-fives all around.  “He was an idiot, sprout.”  And life is good.

Then we get home and he pours apple juice on the dog.

Picture taken moments before he faceplants and tears his lip open, leaving him with a scar on his face for weeks.

Picture taken moments before he faceplants and tears his lip open, leaving him with a scar on his face for weeks.


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