Teaching All the Things

I have so little time to teach my children ALL THE THINGS. My days as the source of all that is good, right, and informative are limited. Soon they’ll look to their stupid peers (that would be your kids, (no offense)) more than to me. So, while they’re little, I must impress upon them the most important stuff. The problem is, there is so much stuff! Smoking, sex, driving, bullying, drugs, and general adolescent assholery are all right around the corner.

I shudder to think of some of the decisions I made as a teenager. It feels like dumb luck that I survived myself to make it to adulthood. I’m thankful that the internet and social media were not around back then because my friends and I would have posted all sorts of everlasting idiotic and compromising crap online. Instead, we documented our idiocy with our film cameras; those photos now fill the backs of drawers and closets at our parents’ houses, lying in wait for our kids to find them and discover that we smoked, drank underage, and did other stupid shit that we now tell them not to.

If I’m lucky to have survived my own stupidity, am I lucky enough for my kids to survive theirs too? Does one have a limited amount of luck in a lifetime, and have I spent mine?

I fear the teenage years in a big way. I dread the social pressures that my kids will face to become complete idiots, to take dangerous risks, to disregard themselves in favor of pack mentality and appearance. And the added complications of social media? ACK! I can’t begin to put my worries in order. What’s scarier: the pressure to be cool? the pressure to be thin? the pressure to be sexy? the scary shit they’ll have access to online? the bullying? the drugs and alcohol? the driving? the sex? YES! IT IS ALL SCARIER! I’m terrified of all of it. How can I teach them all.the.things?

I’m certain that I demonstrate the wrong way to do a million and one things. Should my kids grow up to be neat and organized or slow to anger, it will definitely be a reaction to and effort against my terrible and haphazard housekeeping and near constant irritability. But I try my best with the things I care most about. I might not demonstrate perfectly clean language. OK, I definitely don’t. If my kids grow up creatively using the bounty of expletives our language affords us, so be it. I believe there is a time and a place for an effective f-bomb and that language is a tool of self-expression (to be wielded wisely and grammatically correctly). However, if they grow up to use “u” in place of “you” in any context outside of texting with their idiot friends, then I have failed.

In the short time I have them as little kids, how do I possibly manage to:

  • fill my daughter up with body confidence;
  • teach my son the right way to treat a girl, even a very drunk girl;
  • prepare them to scream, kick groins, and gouge eyeballs as needed;
  • instill in them respect for others and for themselves;
  • show them how to stand up to bullies, racists, and bigots;
  • foster in them the confidence to say no, to stay true, to resist peer pressure;
  • convince them that even though their friends seem to know what they’re talking about, they don’t;
  • impress upon them that one doesn’t try heroin just once;
  • teach them personal responsibility;
  • and influence them to never, ever, under any circumstances type “dat” instead of “that”?

It’s a daunting task, especially considering that I also have to teach them all the basics like how to use a knife and fork rather than eating foods off the fork like a lollipop and that showers without soap don’t count.

Excuse me while I panic.

Below Average Soccer Mom

Each stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. As I slowly transition from little kids to mid-sized kids, my job as mom involves more and more administrative challenges, and, thankfully, fewer and fewer bodily functions (non-self) that I need to take part in. While I’m happy to leave much of the little kid mess behind me, I have not yet mastered my new role.

This fall Luke has been part of our town’s travel soccer team. I was warned. This was going to be a Big Commitment. I figured people meant for him. Like, he was going to have to commit to his team, to hard work, to being part of something bigger than himself, to representing our town in a positive way, and all the other wholesome crap that comes with sports. Turns out, if anyone deserves a participation trophy, it’s Sally and me. Our lives have been turned upside down as we spend so much of our time hurrying up only to wait for hours in the cold.

The team practices twice weekly from 5:30 until it’s finally too damn dark. My kids get off the school bus around 4:00. This gives us 1.5 hours to decompress, have a snack, do homework, eat dinner, change for soccer, and get to practice.

Snack and dinner within 90 minutes? Nope. Dinner afterwards? For my early-to-bed kids, that’s a no go. So my solution was to serve dinner instead of an after school snack. The kids walk in the door and instead of cheese and crackers, I dish up chicken and potatoes; in lieu of apples and peanut butter, I serve spaghetti bolognese.

Would you want to eat that at 4:00 in the afternoon? Neither do they. I tried pushing it off until closer to 5:00, but they get home desperately hungry and there’s no way they can face their homework in that state. (Think: Gremlins)

Weeks and weeks of failed attempts to feed my kids passed until this week when I finally nailed it. I successfully fed my kids dinner at 4:00! They ate second helpings and went into the evening happy and with full bellies. I felt at once triumphant and completely mortified. What magical dinner overcame the awkward timing? Fish sticks, corn, and ramen noodles. Are there foods lower on the nutritional totem pole? I’ve come a long way since my homemade baby food days. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Pinterest, please avert your eyes.

So I haven’t quite mastered the job of soccer mom yet. I can’t figure out how to manage dinner and practice on the same night, and I only have one of my kids in a sport. How parents juggle multiple kids in multiple sports and lessons is far beyond my imagination and skill set.

Thankfully, the season is nearly over. The hours spent on the sidelines between the weeknight practices and the two games each weekend have grown unpleasantly cold. While I’m clearly not yet at a varsity level, I have learned a few things:

  • When the coaches stress the commitment that the team entails, they are talking to you, the parent;
  • No matter how much your child loves the sport, the act of putting on cleats is torture and it is YOUR FAULT;
  • Kids don’t want to eat a complete dinner in lieu of a snack;
  • Sometimes, ramen noodles are OK;*
  • The kid on the sidelines patiently waiting through all the boring practices and games is the kid that deserves a (non)participation trophy.

As autumn presses on and each frosty morning foretells the pending winter confinement, I’m looking forward to life slowing down a bit. Soon we’ll have seemingly endless afternoons in which to fit snacks and dinners. I can have conversations with my kids other than me harassing them to get ready faster. I’ll forget how crazed I felt this fall, and will happily sign Luke up for soccer again next year, and will likely believe that I can also handle a sport for Sally. But this time, I’ll bring out the ramen from the start.

*This might be a new mantra of mine.

Soccer Mom

Letter to my Daughter on Her 6th Birthday

On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a book of these heartfelt letters, proving to an ornery teenager that I do, in fact, know and love him/her, and that my goals as a mother go beyond ruining his/her social life.

Dear Sally,

Happy Birthday! My vibrant, affectionate, bold, funny, smart girl turns six today and I couldn’t be more proud of the kid you’ve become. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to be your mom, but I’m grateful every day that I am. You are a light and a joy for me and our family, and my world is infinitely better because you’re in it.

I thought long and hard about what to write in this letter. I reread last year’s letter (here) and now I feel like I’ve said it all already. As a five-year-old you transformed from a great little kid into a fantastic (slightly less) little kid. You thrived in kindergarten, as I knew you would, lapping up the new knowledge and experiences with the same cheerful enthusiasm and aplomb that you bring to all you do. I’m so happy to see your confidence and individuality still firmly intact. As you enter first grade, I hope you stay full of humor, curiosity, and pluck.

Your natural confidence and warmth are magnetic. You make new friends easily and everywhere – a skill you were born with and one of the many ways you are so different from me. Even your big brother looks to your fortitude and courage to bolster his own, and the two of you brave the world together. Puddle gazing

As a dynamic duo, he relies on your quick thinking and adventurous nature, even as you look up to him for his “good” ideas and knowhow.camping

It’s not surprising that you attract friends to your side effortlessly. You have so many wonderful traits, making it natural for you to fit in with just about anyone. You’re the girl who happily plays with dolls and princess dresses, and who also can keep up with a pack of boys running wildly with secret missions, evil bad guys, and superhero responsibilities. You wield a sword in one hand and pink fairy wand in the other; you pair your cape with a tiara. You are as fierce as you are adorable.

Fierce

You’re the girl who can entertain a room full of adults with a quip or a story, and who can play contentedly by yourself for hours. You’re the girl rocking a 21 speed mountain bike; the one pushing herself to swim to the bottom of the deep end; the one whose first reaction to a new thing is “I’ll try it!” You’re the girl who takes her time to patiently roast the perfect marshmallow, and the girl to step without hesitation off the zipline platform, loving the speed and thrill. You’re all of these things because you inhabit yourself with an admirable easy confidence. God, how I hope you keep it!

Biking

I want to be the mom I see through your eyes. I want to show you how strong and capable you are and help you grow into the phenomenal person you were born to be. Sometimes I feel that I don’t give you enough of my attention; that because you’re so self-reliant and easy-going, I don’t prioritize your needs and don’t play with you enough. I’m sorry if you ever feel that way. I hope you know that I couldn’t possibly love or admire you more. You’re the person whose hand I love to hold. Your cuddles are the best start to my days. When you’re by my side, your little hand in mine, chatting away in your delightful manner, I am the luckiest.

As I said before, you are a light; those near enough to be within the your radiant glow are better off for it.

I hope you have another wonderful year of learning, adventuring, growing, and just being you. I can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish this year, and all the ways you’ll make me laugh. Happy birthday! I love you!

Love,

Mom