What I Won’t Miss About Elementary School

 

1st Day of School 2013

This year my kids both moved up schools. My son is now a 6th grader in middle school and my daughter is in 9th at a new high school. The other day I drove by the local elementary school and thought I would feel a pang of sadness to be finished with that part of my kids’ lives. Turns out I felt the exact opposite. All I could think about was what I wouldn’t miss from elementary school.

I’m not in a rush for my kids to grow up. In fact, I’m really enjoying them right now. My daughter is solidly in the teen years, and she’s more delightful than ever. And watching my son develop slowly into the young man he will become is beautiful. I mean it. When they were babies my husband and I wondered what our kids would be. Now it’s becoming clearer, and it’s really cool to watch. Sure, sometimes I miss the little baby smell and the feeling of an exhausted toddler limp on my shoulder (Oh, that’s delicious.). Mostly, though, I’m good right where we are.

Inspired by the new school year, here is my list of six things I will not miss about elementary school.

Walking my kids to their classroom. Sorry, but I’m not a morning person. Not. At. All. Most days at drop off I’m in my pajamas with sleep still stuck in my eyes. I don’t want to make pleasantries with the other parents who look ready for the day. No, I want to stay in my car. Then, I want to head home to put my feet up, turn on the Housewives and sip a cup of tea to slowly start my day.

Buying 60 pencils: I never minded buying extra supplies for the classroom for kids who might not have enough. And I never minded sending my kids in with cleaning supplies and tissues so little Melanie didn’t dribble snot on my kid. What I never really understood were some of the items that were asked for but barely used (I’m talking about the 4th composition notebook that had three pages of writing in it) or the crazy quantities that could never have been used. For several years I had to supply 60 sharpened pencils. I cannot conceive of any possibility that my child, even sharing with friends, could consume 60 pencils in 9 months.

Projects that require supervision. I went to school for 22 years. I’ve done my time and my homework. I don’t want any more. And I don’t want to help my kids with their projects either. Most elementary school projects cannot be completed by the child alone. My kids didn’t know how to use the computer to Google, they couldn’t shop for required supplies on their own, and they couldn’t use the hot glue gun. So, their projects became my projects too. I’m done with that.

The 100-day project: Do not even get me started on this one. Every year for the 100th day of school all of the kids are assigned the same project. Find 100 items and make a picture with those items to celebrate the most insignificant day of the year. This might be a fun and educational project for kids in kindergarten or even 1st grade. But by the time 5th grade rolls around, believe me, all the kids can all count to 100. Pasting 100 Jelly Belly candies or Cheerios on a paper won’t drive the point home any further.

Ridiculously early dismissal every Thursday or the arbitrary half days. I love spending time with my kids. I really do. But I also have to work and so does my husband. When schools end every Thursday at 12:50 pm (yup, that’s right after lunch) it’s impossible to get any work done. In order to be at the crazy pick up line by 12:50 I need to leave the house by 12:35. That means I need to be in the shower by 12. I probably will need to eat something because I’m a bear if I don’t so that takes me to 11:45. By the time I’m back from drop off (even if I skip the housewives) that leaves me not even four hours of work. This doesn’t even take into account the half days that seem to crop up more and more for no reason. A half day dismissal is at 11:50. UGH! I will not miss those days.

The playground: It doesn’t rain in southern California. Like, at all. Without rain the asphalt-topped playground is the dirtiest place on earth. When I would pick up my son his hands looked like he worked in the coal mine for hours. No one ever told him, “Hey kid, you look kind of dirty, go wash your hands.” So my son had the black gunk on his face, hands, clothes and I’m sure he even ate his lunch like that. Gross.

 

Buying A Car and Gender Roles

With my 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe.

 

Growing up there were three ways I learned that gender roles are fluid.

1.     My mother worked for most of my early years. As a child, I probably couldn’t tell you what she did at her job. But I knew she worked on computers (still a male dominated field) and that most of the other mothers didn’t work.

2.     Free to Be You and Me repeatedly told me that girls could do whatever they wanted and could be as competent doing it as boys.

3.     My father taught me to be handy. He only had girls so passing down his knowledge to his sons wasn’t an option. I learned from my dad how to use power tools, hang stuff and wire and fix stuff around the house.

I never really thought much about gender roles as a kid but I do often as an adult. Throughout my adult life there have been times when I went out of my way to learn or do something that was typically done by men. I drove the 15 passenger van at work. I carve the turkey at Thanksgiving. I am the one who put together the bed from IKEA that took six hours. I hook up the televisions. And, I buy the cars.

This week for the 7th time in my marriage, I bought (or leased) a car. Being able to go into a dealer and competently buy a car was important to me. Just like carving the turkey, in my mind, this was something men do. They buy the family cars. So before my husband and I bought our first car 17 years ago I read everything I could about being a smart consumer. I listened to audio books and podcasts over the years. I learned to price out apples to apples and ask for my price. I learned how to play the dealers game. My husband, who is the most comfortable gender non-conformer, loves to come for the ride. He’s not bothered by his role. He loves to see me demolish the dealer and get the best possible deal for the car.

This time though we brought the kids along for some of the car shopping. They were able to see the process. What they saw was their mother in action and their father taking a step back. They enjoyed the free snacks and drinks the various dealerships had to offer. It was a good time.

But over the course of the week my son asked me a lot of questions about how to buy a car. My daughter didn’t say much about it. It suddenly felt really important to continue to show my kids that gender roles are socially created concepts and that there is nothing that either one of them can’t do. Seeing my son clearly get the message that women buy cars too might seem inconsequential. And it is. But also, it isn’t.

As a society, we often rightly focus our energy on teaching girls they can do anything. But we don’t spend enough time also sending the same message to boys. Boys need know that girls can do anything. Boys should see women doing what they presume men do. They should see women truck drivers and plumbers and construction workers. Boys need to see their mothers buying cars and fixing things and carving the turkey. Sure it’s important to show boys that men do laundry (thank you Jeff Pearlman for conquering this one) and school pick up and diaper care. That’s all important so that boys grow up knowing how to share the load.

It’s equally important though, for mothers to teach their sons what women can do. I felt like this week I took a step forward in that area. And it felt great.

My Kid Went To Camp, That’s All I Knew

My son is on the right with his pal just before boarding the bus.

I put my son on bus for sleepaway camp. After that I had absolutely no idea if he was alive. I didn’t know if he was eating or homesick or suffering from 1,000 bee stings. I. KNEW. NOTHING. The reason I was agonizingly ignorant of my son’s whereabouts was because his camp doesn’t post daily pictures of the campers. In fact, they don’t post any camp pictures.

It’s a curse and a blessing.

There is a sadistic-yet-unavoidable ritual that takes place every summer. Parents send their beloved children off to have the time of their lives at sleepaway camp. But now, before that bus even enters the gates of camp, parents are glued to their computers and cell phones to look for news from camp.

An embarrassingly accurate and funny cartoon video perfectly sums up the practice of obsessively checking the camp’s website with three words: Refresh, refresh, refresh. Many parents refresh their browser 30 times (more like 100 times if I’m honest) an hour as pictures are loaded sporadically throughout the day. The pictures (or lack thereof) become the car accident we can’t turn away from, and the infection we run toward. It’s a sickness, and it’s ruining our summers.

Parents nowadays are used to knowing what their children are doing every minute. We know who they are with, what they are eating and where they are going. There’s some comfort in that. If we know everything, we can ensure safety and ultimate happiness. Although those who choose to send their kids off to overnight camp do so willingly, cutting the cord is hard. I’m guessing to minimize the constant calls from concerned parents, the camps started posting pictures. Then when one parent didn’t see a picture of their child, the camps decided to post more pictures, finally adding up to hundreds and hundreds of pictures a day.

Now, imagine (well, if your kids are at sleepaway you don’t have to imagine) closely examining 400 pictures every day that come in dribs and drabs. Imagine a painfully slow internet connection. Imagine trying to find your sweet pea in a sea of children who are wearing the exact same uniform. Then imagine finding your sweet pea only to see him or her look less than thrilled at any given moment. I once saw a picture with every camper in the bunk eating except my child. The worrying began instantly. Why wasn’t she eating? Did she have the stomach flu? Or worse, is she depressed?

Sifting through those pictures is like finding the concealed object in Highlights magazine’s Hidden Pictures, except a lot less fun. I’ve become an expert in finding my child’s rope bracelet or pink rain boots or dragon socks. And after that extensive effort all I learn from those pictures is that my child is alive.

My daughter and her pink boots. She painted.

This is my third summer sending a child to sleepaway camp, but it’s my first time without the daily rollercoaster of the picture fix. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two. The first summer I sent my daughter to overnight camp, it didn’t go well. I got the letter every parent dreads within three days of departure. To summarize it said, “Pick me up now. I am going to DIE here.” From that point on I became fixated on every picture. The trouble was that I could learn very little by scrutinizing those photos. There is no way to ascertain from this snapshot of one fleeting moment if she was really happy or unsettled, well or sick, lonely or full of friendship. And furthermore, there was nothing I could do in that moment to help her resolve those issues.

Parents want to see happy faces painting pottery in ceramics. They need to see new and old friends with their arms swung casually around their child’s shoulder. They must be kept appraised of camp trips, daily activities and updates on color war. But those pictures are doing more damage than good.

The camp industry is creating monsters. Their administrators are like demons that know your weakness and put it right in front of your face.

Hey little girl, would you like some candy?

It must be stopped and thankfully my son’s new camp put me in an involuntary time out.

This year instead of suffering and spending every moment away from my son refreshing my browser, I am repeated the following phrase:

“No news is good news.”

I waited until my son came home to learn of his adventures. I didn’t spoil his stories by telling him I already knew he won color war or went rafting down a raging river or caught a big fish. I completely enjoyed my more relaxed summer and enthusiastically awaited my son’s return. And when he did, l gave him my complete and total undivided attention to hear every little detail of his time away.

This column originally appeared on Mom2.com.

Double Thumbs Up Book Review: Fix-It Friends

 

 

I just finished reading The Fix-It Friends: Have No Fear, which is the first in a series of children’s books by Nicole Kear. These beginner chapter books tell the story of a group of four friends (a brother-sister duo and two of their buddies) who help children with big problems. The first book covers an intense fear of spiders while the second installment deals with bullying.

The Fix-It Friends books are chockfull of solid helpful advice for kids and parents on how to solve real problems. The advice that the kids reveal is clearly developed from evidence-based best practices for working through these issues. For example, in Have No Fear kids learn to talk back to their worry and to take baby steps to conquer fears. In Sticks and Stones the friends advise kids being teased to keep a poker face, walk away and ask a grown up for help. The books also provide parents with additional resources and a website with even more information.

But unlike other “helping” books Fix-It Friends reads like just a great story. The characters are fully developed with interesting backstories. One character has Italian grandparents, a dad who is a super in an apartment building and a mother who is a therapist (a great source of professional insight). Also, the characters are from very diverse groups. The Principal and her son (a Fix-It Friend) are Jamaican. Another friend is Spanish-speaking. Another aspect of the books that I loved was the relationship between one main character and her brother. They had some typical bickering but when push came to shove they helped and cared for each other. That’s how siblings should be portrayed in kids’ books. Always referencing a pesky brother or a despised sister doesn’t help real kids navigate sibling relationships.

As a parent of a worrier and as a family coach I cannot recommend these books more highly to young readers.

My almost 11-year-old son, Emmett, read Sticks and Stones. He is a little old for the series but read it all the same. Here are his thoughts on the book in his own words:
“You get to know the characters and they all were very different. You know what they liked, their friends, what’s happening at school. They had different personalities, too. They also have different ideas, like one person has a babysitter that helps them in the book, one person had a pet hamster.

The book was smart in the way they solved problems and it would work in real life. For example, the book explains not to react if someone is being mean to you. Act like it’s not happening. That would be helpful because it could work. The resources in the back were good for a kid who is being bullied. Kids could definitely use the tools. It also explains concepts so you can know what they are talking about. They use the term poker face and then explain what it is. It means where you don’t show how you are feeling through your face. If I was 7 or so I would think it was funny. Also, I think it’s a good beginning chapter book for younger kids because it has multiple chapters and each chapter isn’t 3 sentences long. They are decent chapters.
Illustrations were great and they helped understand the story more. There was a picture of the playground and then I knew what it looked like.”

A Crowded Space

The ballroom was packed. Extra chairs were nudged in at each table. I sat in the way back of the room listening to Juliana Margulies talk about motherhood and acting. Scanning the crowd I saw hundreds of women who, more or less, do a similar version of what I do. Except many of them do it much better with exponentially larger followings. It’s an intimidating scene.

Sitting in that crowded room felt symbolic of what often feels like a crowded space for parenting blogger, writers and podcasters. That crowded space usually stresses me out. With so many of us vying for the same audience, I wonder if I’ll ever accomplish my dreams and goals. Really, how many successful parenting blogs can there be? How many authors can write for the most-read sites or publish in the major newspaper parenting blogs? Before Mom 2.017 I would have thought only a lucky few.

Last year when I attended my first Mom 2.0 I had no idea what to expect. As I walked into the ballroom I was filled with anxiety. But I powered through nerves and self-doubt and was rewarded with an incredible experience. I wondered if returning for my second Mom 2.0 would feel different.

Well, it did and it didn’t.

Just like last year, I met warm, lovely, inspiring women who were nothing but supportive. Just like last year, I swallowed my nerves and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. And just like last year, I fought off social exhaustion to make the most out of the 2 ½ days. I walked away with a lots of new friends and ideas.

But leaving the conference this time I had two very different takeaways.

During one session I listened to moguls Cindy Whitehead, Jill Smokler and Julie Clark discuss their experiences starting mega businesses. I have no illusion of starting such a business but these women were fascinating, and I loved hearing their stories. Toward the end of the session a woman in the audience questioned her ability to bring an item to market. Cindy said (I’m paraphrasing), “Stop saying ‘Why Me?’ Why not you?” In that moment my heart swelled. Yes! Why not me? It doesn’t matter if someone has a bigger following or is more successful (whatever that might mean). So what if it’s crowded? It doesn’t mean that I can’t also be successful.

Takeaway one: Our successes are not mutually exclusive. One person’s success doesn’t negate the possibility of another.

This leads me to takeaway two: Helping someone else succeed doesn’t lower the possibility of our own success. Mom 2.0 is filled with people who only want to be helpful. I’d like to keep that helpful spirit going all year. So in the aftermath of Mom 2.0, I feel committed to these two ideals:

  • If I have knowledge that can shorten your learning curve I’m happy to share what I know. Just ask.
  • If you have a post that is special to you and want some help getting it out there, let me know. I’ll be happy to share it and spread the word. Again, just ask.

The theme of Mom 2.017 was RISE. I believe we can all rise together, like a family. This is a crowded space but still, there’s plenty of room for all of us.

See you next year!

Real Mom Confessions

Yup, that’s me in my pajamas out in daylight.*

In the days after giving birth to my first child I cried. Oh, yes, there were tons of tears. I cried because the pain of the episiotomy was unbearable. I cried because I couldn’t poop. And I cried because my life seemed foreign and totally out of my control. Then I cried because I didn’t fall in love with my baby instantly like it seemed everyone else did. I felt ashamed, not good enough and alone.

In the 13 years since I first became a parent I have realized that there are so many parenting realities that go unsaid. We don’t share what’s not pretty or unflattering. We often leave out the potentially embarrassing tidbits as well. Parents have to be perfect all the time, and it’s exhausting. Instead of hiding the not-so-awesome parts of parenting I’m challenging every parent to put their truth out there. And I’m going to get the ball rolling.

So, for my sake and for those who are suffering in silence I’m going to list my confessions. I’m sure a few parents will feel the need to tell me why I shouldn’t do this one or that one. Some parent will make me feel badly, too, for my choices. I’m asking us all to resist that urge. Instead send your confessions or share them with some of your friends. Consider it a public service.

Here are my Top 10 Mom Confessions:

1. I breastfed my two kids for 6 weeks and 4 months, respectively. I could post the reasons why I stopped breastfeeding but that would take away from my confession. I’m not apologizing for it.
2. About once per week when my daughter plays water polo at night my kids have Dairy Queen for dinner in the car.
3. I shave 1-2 times per week.
4. On average, I exercise once per week (if I’m lucky). Oh, and I use the term exercise loosely.
5. I wear my pajamas more than I wear real clothes. I change into them when get home even if it’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
6. I love Lean Cuisine. When I’m in no mood to cook, my kids eat it too.
7. My kids don’t bathe every day. And they never have.
8. I go upstairs to fold laundry as a good excuse to watch reality television away from my family.
9. I pay two lovely ladies to clean my house once every other week. Those women are like lifelines to my sanity.
10. I don’t want any more children. And I don’t feel sad about that anymore.

What’s your confession?
#Parenthoodconfession

* I thought those pajamas were pants. I wrote about the mistake here.