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.
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.”
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!
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?
* I thought those pajamas were pants. I wrote about the mistake here.
Photo by Jason M. Volack
I’m going on strike. I mean it. I’m done with hands-on mothering. Not because I dislike being a mom. I love being a mom but I loathe being a maid. Do this. Do that. Pick this up. Pick that up. I used to be “Mommy.” Now I’m “Hey, Lady with the Frying Pan—Can You Come Over Here and Take Care of This Mess. Oh, Then Make Me a Smoothie.” No, no, no. My kids are taking advantage of me—just as your children are taking advantage of you. So here’s a list of eight things I will no longer do for my kids. Take my advice or you’re on your own.
1. Reverse shirts and socks that are inside out in the laundry. Right behind Dengue Fever and Cicadas on my list of the world’s greatest ills. When I take my clothes off, I make certain everything remains right side in. Know why? Because folding laundry is bad enough without having any extra work. Since I am a Shirt Reversing Cyborg, sent here from the future to solve all laundry horrors, my kids have no idea that I’ve been reversing their shirts and pants for 4,384 consecutive days. Well, I’m done. If they don’t want to wear clothes inside out they can reverse it themselves. Take that little laundry makers!
2. Empty their lunch boxes. Making lunches is nearly as annoying as reversing the laundry. Actually, it’s worse because at least while folding laundry I can watch the Real Housewives of Wherever. Making lunch sucks. It sucks on the first day of school (when the lunch box is clean and new and still smells of Target), it sucks on the last day of school (when the lunch box is moldy and nasty and smells like a mutilated turkey). First you have to dig out the box from 321 pounds of book bag nonsense. Then you have to empty yesterday’s casualties of uneaten lunch refugee—half a slice of ham, two squished grapes, something that looks like Colonel Sanders’ beard. Then you have to pack it all over again, thereby guaranteeing a future of more sad remnants of lunches gone uneaten. Starting now, if my kids don’t come home and empty their lunch boxes, they’ll either A. Go hungry or B. Nibble on the beard thing.
3. Tell them what is weather appropriate. This one is simple. I am not in their bodies, and therefore cannot tell if they are cold or hot. If my kid doesn’t want to wear a jacket, so be it. There are lessons to be learned from both freezing and sweating your ass off. After that, without a word from me, they will know exactly what to wear.
4. Put their clothes in the hamper. I have almost an involuntary tic. When I enter my children’s rooms I subtly—without even knowing it—put their clothes in the laundry basket. The dirty items just keep coming like an assembly line that never turns off. There’s a 75 percent chance my kids could not identify their laundry baskets in a police lineup. But they will as soon as they run out of clean clothing
5. Tell them to brush their hair. I stopped brushing my daughter’s hair years ago. But the pestering on my part never ended. Inevitably her hair turns into a beehive due to lack of quality brushing, and it takes forever to comb it out. From now on if she decides not to take good care of her hair she will learn about what happens to girls who’s hair is permanently knotted. Hello Edward Scissor Hands. I’ll have to cut it off. That’ll show her.
6. Clear their dishes from the table. My kids think I’m Alice from Mel’s diner. I cook. They sit and eat. Then they retreat to their evening activities while I clear the table as the family waitress. That is ridiculous. If they can use a fork and a knife, they can clear the table. And if they don’t, I at least want 20 percent in tips.
7. Bring to school their ______ that was accidentally left at home. OK, people make mistakes and children are certainly entitled to make a few. But I feel like some sort of drug mule every time I schlep back to school to drop off a left violin or homework paper or fitness log or lunch box. Bottom line: If I tell you to pack an apple, and you forget to pack the apple, that’s on you, Junior.
8. What to wear for picture day. True story: My son had Picture Day a week ago. He came down in the morning wearing a Robert Griffith III Washington Redskins jersey we had picked up at Marshall’s for $9.99. I shrugged. Hey, if that’s how you’d like your fourth grade year to be preserved—forever and ever and ever—who am I to argue? I’ll laugh alongside your children when they start mocking you for it.
Dear Middle School Administrators:
Thank you for sending a note home for the second day in a row to say my daughter was dressed inappropriately for school. I’d like to offer an additional thank you for forcing her to change into large mesh shorts that have been worn by only god knows who and potentially never washed.
To reward you for treating my daughter with such concern, I am cordially inviting you to take my daughter shopping.
Here are the specifications you have to work with. I wish you loads of luck.
She is 5’7” and 13 years old. Built more like her father, she has exceptionally long legs and arms.
She doesn’t like anything pink or purple or frilly.
She won’t wear pants because she gets overheated easily. Trust me I’ve seen this. It will cause a scene in the school yard.
She absolutely will not wear a dress either.
No item of clothing can have a logo visible because to her that’s not cool. She will however, wear any type of superhero, Green Day or USFL T-shirt if you can find them. You might be able to try for an occasional Beatles reference but that’s touch and go.
Now, don’t forget that you will have to find something in the stores that also meets with your dress code requirements. Here are the tricky areas that are most difficult to avoid. As per your policy she cannot wear tank tops. Shorts and skirts must not extend to the end of the fingertips (This is a toughie.)
So, if I were you (and I’m glad I’m not) I’d focus on the shorts first. She has very long fingers which seems to make finding shorts that won’t get her sent to the principal’s office impossible (On the bright side the piano teacher says those fingers are an asset.). I’d schedule a few afternoons and weekends for this endeavor. I can tell you from experience that just heading to the mall, Target and the outlets won’t cut it. Not much for her there. I’ve already checked.
One last point: please try to stay within a reasonable budget. We can’t spend a fortune on her wardrobe. She is still growing after all.
I thank you endlessly for taking on this chore. What a relief for me.
Sick Of The Dress Code Mom
P.S. I forgot to thank you for making it clear to my daughter that her body is somehow a distraction, either to herself or to the boys. I thought she might have missed the message earlier in the year when the gym teacher told her she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys aren’t able to control themselves. I appreciate how hard you are working to drive the point home.