The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy left most of this country permanently changed. The possibility of our worst nightmare came to life on a Friday morning, and most us have no idea how to make things right. We can’t, of course. 26 lives were lost. But we can find positive ways to honor their lives and move forward.
Many of us have taken on Ann Curry’s mission to offer #26Acts if Kindness. I adore this idea. It’s positive. It’s good. But for some reason, it also doesn’t seem enough.
So here’s my small attempt. I am writing down 26 lessons I want my children to learn in their lifetimes. Sure, maybe these are things I would have tried to teach them anyway. But, if they look back one day, I want them to know why these lessons meant something. And I want to remind myself why I am a parent and why it is so important to raise good, kind people. So, here we go:
1. Do your best everyday as a way to honor your community and your family, not your ego.
2. Share what you have, because you always have more than someone else. And what you have never makes you better than anyone else.
3. Enjoy and celebrate those around you TODAY. Tomorrows are hopeful but today is real and here and a gift.
4. Don’t be late. When you are, you are telling the other person that your time is worth more than theirs.
5. Ask questions. Knowledge is always more valuable than the perception of knowing.
6. Use your words. We don’t live in a world of mind-readers. Ask for what you want, say what you think.
7. Did everyone make a mess? Don’t just fix your part, help be the solution to the entire problem.
8. “The world owes us nothing, we owe each other the world.” You may earn things in your life, but never act entitled to any of it. Be grateful for what you get, and consider how to give back.
9. Love your brother. No, I mean it. Your sibling (or cousin or family member) is a part of your identity and heritage. Honor it, value it, never ever let it go. No disagreement is ever worth it. I promise.
10. Be patient. There will always be traffic, and people in front of you, and people doing things slower than you can do it, and things that don’t go your way. Breathe. Check yourself and just be patient.
11. Stuff doesn’t matter. Cool toys, fancy clothes, cars, houses, things that make you look like a rock-star… they can be fun. Enjoy it if you can. But, really? Don’t give it unnecessary value and none of it should ever define who you are.
12. Take care of your body. Go to the doctor, eat well, exercise, don’t ignore something that worries you. You have one body and one life, do your best to honor it and take care of it.
13. Love what you do. Really try to find a purpose that you leap out of bed for everyday. Your happiness is important and you will be able to give more when you are happy.
14. Be uncomfortable. Every time you are uncomfortable, you will learn something. You might even gain something. You might even learn to like it. Discomfort is OK, it’s good for you, it’s a challenge — don’t back away from it.
15. Keep learning. The minute you think you have it all figured out, you have closed yourself off from some very important lessons.
16. Don’t let someone else fix your problems. Not me, not your spouse, no one. Face the music, own up to your mistakes, take responsibility.
17. Earn your keep. Do your job to the best of your ability. Do your part. Be an active, hard-working participant in whatever you do.
18. Take initiative. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Don’t assume it’s someone else’s job to fix it. Don’t decide someone else has thought it up already. Want something to change? Jump in and make it happen.
19. Listen. I mean it. Listen to what the people around you are saying. Your opinions are no more important than theirs. Listen and consider and learn.
20. I may say you’re “the most amazing person that ever lived” but you still need to prove that to the world. Humility is a critical part of growth.
21. Stubborn? Get over it. 98% of the time it’s just not worth it. I promise.
22. Confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have to be confident to get confident. Be what you want to be, no one else is going to give it to you.
23. Change is coming. No matter what you do to prevent it, things change. Either embrace and move with the change or shut down and lose the lesson that change brings.
24. Be loyal to the people you care about and respect, even when things change unexpectedly (see #23) or make you uncomfortable (see #14).
25. See the value in every experience, whether it’s positive or negative. Failure is OK. Appreciate the value in every bad date, job interview, basketball practice. Consider, learn, move forward.
26. Love is never a weakness. Love like it’s your job. Love like you have nothing else in the world. Tell those you love about how you feel often. Don’t assume they just know.
The 26 lives lost on December 14th were extraordinarily significant, and I will try to teach these lessons to my children in their honor.
On the day of the shooting, my husband picked the boys up early from school. He then texted me this picture of them goofing off in front of their school, with not a care in the world. I was truly, to-the-core, grateful for their joy, innocence and safety.
Where did you learn where babies come from? Well, I’ll tell you where I did. I was in third grade and I found out from my friend’s older sister who had just had her period and, feeling very mature and knowledgeable, decided to saunter into our Barbie playtime and school us on what was what.
I was mortified.
And then I walked home slowly only to avoid eye contact with my parents at dinner that night. HOW COULD THEY.
Fast forward 30 years… and here we are with a little boy who is about to enter fourth grade. I’m not sure what he’s heard on the playground about where babies came from but, when I said that babies DO NOT come from belly buttons (a theory I had heard at one point at his age), he cackled loudly… and a little nervously.
It’s time for the talk. Or the first of many.
And what do moms like me do when we need a few answers? Well, I marched right out and bought a book, dammit. MY kid is going to know what is what and what goes where. He is NOT going to learn from someone’s far too knowledgeable older sibling or some nasty kid spouting untruths under the playground slide, either. He’s going to learn from his parents. And it was going to be great and healthy, with trusting, open lines of communication and everything is going to be juuuust fine.
So. Back to the book. I got one and it was written explicitly for boys, too. Score! So, I marched home proudly to review it and decide where we would begin.
…And I flipped it open.
About 5 minutes later, I stopped in my tracks.
I am NOT ready for this.
Go ahead, call me a prude. Tell me I’m being immature and squeamish about perfectly reasonable and very important developmental information.
IT’S MY DUTY TO TELL MY CHILDREN HOW THEIR PARTS WILL GROW, DAMMIT.
But… but…. there were DETAILED diagrams and entire chapters dedicated to what makes boys sheets crunchy and how to put on a panty liner and what this little bit of skin may or may not look at different stages of life or blood flow.
And then there was this…??? WTF is this??
They have a NAME for this?
Yep, it’s what you think it’s for. It’s for measuring testicle size.
(“This drawing is life size.”)
I need to get my head together on this. Or pass the book onto my husband and call it a day.
(Because who the HELL needs an orchidometer? Really?? I sure as hell didn’t have a boob-o-meter… And I grew up fine without one… probably because I would have ranked about the size of an 11 year old when I was 16 anyway…)
(And that’s the other thing, will my kid feel like crap if he ranks on one end or the other of this thing?? Ugh. I have no idea!!)
9 years into parenting and I clearly don’t have a clue about this stage of things. Just when you think you got this mom-thing figured out, life throws an orchidometer in your face and leaves you unable to grow a set and just TALK about it.
I’m here to tell you that your kids hear you. They are listening. When you say the good stuff and… *cringe*… the bad stuff, they are tucking it ALL away and saving it in their brain so that they can refer to it again, down the road, whenever it’s needed.
What did Mommy say about that? Oh yeah.
I know. Not encouraging. But I thought you should know. And here’s how *I* know.
Last weekend, I watched the movie “The Help.” This is after I finished the book AND after I had decidedly parked myself into a permanent state of “feeling sorry for myself” thanks to screwed up plans. So, “The Help” was a FANTASTIC idea — and when the credits rolled and I had polished off my second glass of wine, I literally sobbed. My husband was very impressed by my performance (read: was pretty much wondering if he had married an alien).
But, if you saw the movie, and you’re a parent, you know what got me. It was when Aibileen, the woman hired to help raise a sweet little girl who was far too ignored by her mother, told her the following:
“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
She told this to her regularly, hoping to fan the flames of her self-worth. And that little girl recited it right back to her in the final scene of the movie.
SWOON. *clutching my chest* I loved that. I did.
And then didn’t give it another thought.
The other day, I happened upon a friend and favorite blogger’s post about this very topic. Read it here. While I disagree with her less-than-enthusiastic feeling about the movie and book (WHAT?! Girl, come ON!), I loved her point. It is up to us to build our children’s self-esteem. It’s too easy to harp on the “Did you wipe?” and “I’ll tell you one more time, pick up after yourself” nonsense, that once they get tucked in to bed and out of your hair, you don’t always think, “Did I make my kid feel good about himself today?”
Granted, Angie’s point is also not to go overboard. WHICH I GET. I’ve seen waaaaay too many grown people brought up thinking their finger-painted refrigerator masterpieces owed them some sort of “I’m the awesome-est person ever because my mommy said so” kind of entitlement.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I just simply realized that you need to tell them that they are really great now and then. And not to take for granted that they already know this.
So, I decided to try it. Curled around my enormous almost 6 year old in his bottom bunk at bedtime, with the lights off, and his breath slowing, I whispered to him very carefully:
“You are kind. You are smart. You are important. You are special.”
I think I said it to him another time, too. Not sure if he heard me. I didn’t get a response either time. *shrug* Whatever, it felt good saying it out loud to him. Back to the everyday at hand.
Early this morning, while I was still deciding if I wanted to play possum when he crawled under my blankets and snuggled in deep next to me, he said:
“Mommy. I’m not sure if all my friends THINK I am kind and smart and important and special. This one girl is bossy so she doesn’t think so. But my other friend shares his toys so maybe he thinks so.”
I rolled over and probably looked kind of mind-blown. But I curled around him and we had a chat about how some friends will be good friends and some won’t and how that’s ok, blah blah blah. But he kept coming back to it.
“My teacher thinks I’m special. Pretty sure.”
I guess it seemed to me as though I had somehow given him permission to expect that he IS those things. Like he had actually listened and then filed them away. And had since been going through his day looking for those particular things to be reinforced by others. And sometimes they were and sometimes they weren’t.
When I told my 5 year old these things, I also told my 8 year old. A quieter, far less chatty kid, he has yet to give me any indication if these qualities about him have registered at all. But considering how quickly they registered with the younger one, I have to think that he was listening, too.
And maybe they always are, really. I am fairly sure they hear (however, never register that they hear) alllll kinds of other stuff I keep telling them or mentioning off-handedly or yabbering on the phone to others or mumbling under my breath.
All of it, stashed away. To consider and absorb and adopt as reality.
I’m not going to lie when I say that this knowledge scares me a little bit.
I am far too irresponsible to have little stenographers in my life, typing away and stashing every damn thing I say into their minds.
BUT THEN AGAIN they don’t remember to put their socks in the hamper! Or flush! Or sit down while they eat! NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES I TELL THEM.
But, maybe that stuff isn’t really as important to them.
We do our best and hope the good sinks in more than the bad.
And, of course, whatever bad they do take note of simply gives them “character” and “prepares them for the world.”
Remember how you got shipped off to your grandparents when you were a kid? Maybe you were kind of excited but also not so sure about how fun it could really be. Because the toys were different, the food was different and the rules were very different. And maybe home with Mom and Dad wasn’t so bad after all. But, without any say in the matter, you went and trusted that these people had to be OK because they are kind of your parents, too. Then, as the days passed, and you bumped along in their musty sedan and stopped at their favorite donut shop and stared up at those crinkly, familiar faces, you found a new kind of love and routine and comfort. They became your home, too.
The time I spent with my grandparents was such a gift and, as much as I hated the mystery jello salad and ran into my mother’s arms, grateful to go home, after the weeks had passed — they wove themselves into my heart and my history.
My grandparents were parents at a different depth and breadth. They were my parents to the next degree. They stood one step above the pedestal my parents existed on and their opinion had a certain weight because, well, they were the boss of my parents. And THAT was cool.
Since I’ve gone back to work, my father has graciously offered to come down for a week at a time when I’ve needed help with childcare. We call that time “Camp Gramp” and I hand over the keys to my car, my pool pass, my two children and all of my trust. And off they go.
I know how lucky they are for grandparent time. Grandparents don’t always live right nearby. And sometimes they leave us far, far too early.
(I can’t help but think about all I need to catch my mother up on. I suspect she knows in some way but she is still missing so much. And it breaks my heart.)
So back to Camp Gramp. This Spring Break, they took Tampa by storm. They revisited the SS American Victory, spent an entire day at The Florida Aquarium, splashed their afternoons away at the pool, leapt waves the beach, spotted animals at the zoo, got haircuts, watched Harry Potter movies over and over and, well, snuggled a whole lot.
I keep thinking (hoping) that they are relearning the world a little differently from the way I have taught them during those short periods of time. And maybe they are learning to love my dad the way I do. I want my boys to KNOW him and get him. And build their own kind of relationship that is different to theirs and mine. I want theirs to be the kind that gets Skittles at the gas station but also knows how the sound my father’s voice can get if one of them pitches a fit at the zoo.
It makes me wish all of my family were closer. The other grandparents and all the various aunts and uncles they have scattered here and there. But that’s OK. Because when they DO see them, those relationships solidify a little more with every visit and those routines develop in a matter of days because kids LOVE routines and predictability and the constant of those people that are the boss of their parents and so so familiar.
I dredged up this oldie but a goodie to inspire some Christmas Spirit around these parts. In December of 2007, my then 18 month old was obsessed with pirates (no surprise, he was born in Tampa). Here he learns what Santa says… or not. Prepare for EXTREME Christmas cuteness.
My son loves baseball. No, he really loves baseball. He has stacks of hardback books about MLB baseball history, players, ballparks and everything in between. He pages through it all slowly, carefully, absorbing each little bit. He also likes to hack into my father’s MLB account and pour over online box scores. Then he grabs his wiffle ball bat and ball, heads outdoors and replays it all in the backyard. He watches games whenever we’ll let him. Our DVR is filled with MLB games from the weeks before. And during the off season, I’ve even caught him completely focused on some black and white World Series game from the 50s. Really?
“Mom, this is awesome.”
He’s been like this about baseball for a couple years. But before that it was Star Wars (he knew every actor’s name or puppeteer and who played what voice and what happened in every single scene). Before that it was the digestive system (somewhere I have three year old video of him explaining the small intestine) and before that it was planets (some of his first words were from the solar system).
Anyway. Back to baseball.
So I decided to sit down with him this afternoon just to see what he knew and get it on film. Not surprisingly, his baseball knowledge was endless. He could have probably gone on for hours. Really.
I’m not sure what to say about it all. I just hope he funnels all this energy and focus into curing cancer or finding an alternative energy source or something someday. Because he certainly doesn’t know his times tables as well as he knows THIS stuff.
Anyway, gather your baseball fans and take a look. They will appreciate this.
And if you don’t really get baseball, that’s ok. You’ll get the idea just from the first minute or so.
And my apologies if this is a little “my kid is so amazing, you all MUST come see, and watch me beam with pride”. I love him. He loves this. So I want to hold him up over my head and tell him that whatever he loves is so very awesome. That’s all.
I am tying up a few loose ends around here as I prepare to get back to work. And that includes this blog’s time with Insect Lore. Yep, that’s right, my time with Insect Lore is over for now.
But we have obviously loved all the goodies and creepy crawlies we’ve gotten to know along the way.
Speaking of creepy crawlies, you might remember our window sill full of caterpillars who wound themselves into quiet cocoons. Well, awhile back they did hatch over a flutter filled Sunday afternoon. The next day my family decided to release them all. And we, of course, video taped our fun.
It was truly bittersweet, we had grown used to having them around and watching them change. But, of course, butterflies must fly and a warm Florida Spring offers them the perfect opportunity to do just that.
And in the words of those wonderful Dixie Chicks, “there’s beauty in just letting go.”
(Oh and p.s. Gotta love my husband’s first comments. “Don’t whack it, it’s not a bug.” Well, I guess not the kind of bug someone would actually want to whack at least… Such a fun family afternoon.)
I let the television babysit my kid today. Yep, in order to defend my well-earned “Mother of the Year” title and not deal with the recent mega tantrums my four year old has been regularly dishing out, I turned on the tube. But I told my son that we had to put on something EDUCATIONAL. You know, so that Mommy feels better about letting your brain rot.
Because we have been having a little battle in our home. If the brainrotbox television has to be turned on by me, I would prefer that they watch something that teaches them important lessons. But alas my boys have discovered the joys of “Cartoon Network” and “Disney XM”.
If my television is going to replace me it better EDUCATE them, dammit. Dora’s over-emphasized hollering might drive me screaming from my home but at least they’re learning something. All Scooby Doo has taught my boys is how to wear an ascot, crave Scooby snacks and scream “ZOINKS!” at the tops of their lungs.
But my kid was actually fine with educational television today, however, so he picked out “Schoolhouse Rock”. With a clear I should totally be reading with my kid right now conscious, I scrolled through the menu and clicked on “America Rock”.
As I did this, I wondered what my parents thought when they put on “Schoolhouse Rock” or “Sesame Street” decades before. Did their conscious feel about like mine did? Well, if I’m going to turn to television, it may as well kind of try to teach them something? And did they kind of know, like I did, that I was totally kidding myself? Which is a favorite parent thing to do, of course, like self-defense – so that we all aren’t wracked with guilt.
I watched for a bit. Smiled and enjoyed it for a moment (I fluffy heart LOVE “Schoolhouse Rock”) and went back to my room to take my toe nail polish off do something much less parental and far more self-involved.
When I left he was watching this. Catchy tune and a fun way to tell the story, right?
Later in the day, it was time to get dressed (if I was going to toss in the Mommy towel that morning, I may as well wait to dress my kid until I absolutely HAD to). And as I picked out a T-shirt, my kid started muttering to me about the Red Coats.
“They’re bad Mommy. REALLY bad.”
“Um hmmm.” Oh good. This Star Wars t-shirt matches the only clean pants he has.
“They tried to take our money!”
Where are his socks? I should have done laundry today.
“It’s called ‘taxation without representation’!”
I spun around.
And he started telling me the whole story. So I stopped him, grabbed my Flip, and had him start from the beginning. I’m bummed he didn’t school me with the exact phrase “taxation without representation” again but he came very close.
Whoda thunk. I did zero to enlighten my child today but “Schoolhouse Rock” did. They win.
And maybe it’s time to check out a few age appropriate history books for my child? Books that *I* (clearing my throat smugly) could read to him like any GOOD, invested, loving parent would read to their child… of course.
Well, really, I like to think of it being more like a comfortable however carefully contained room. And it is my job to make sure the walls in that room – lined with the softest but sturdiest padding – do their trick. It’s my job to make sure there are no escape hatches in the corners or loose floorboards below or air vents that they can sneak through. I watch them and keep them and, as they run up against the walls time and time again, I am smugly reassured that I am doing my job as a parent.
Ok, ok. So they’re not living in a REAL padded room. And yes, I’m trying out another wacky kind of parenting analogy. But I think if you hear me out, you might consider the benefits of parenting with padded walls. If you don’t already. In fact, your walls might be a whole lot sturdier than mine. Which wouldn’t surprise me at all. Shoot, while I spout away up on this soapbox, my walls might be absolutely riddled with holes. It’s totally possible.
Here is where I am going with this.
After almost 8 years, two boys and endless days and weeks and months at home doing this whole child-rearing thing over and over and over again, it has come to my attention that the key to parenting is about setting boundaries.
No big shocker, right?
But I mean boundaries for everything. Everywhere. I have found that my children will run up against every possible edge to find out just how far I will let them go.
I can’t run in the road – but what about high-wire walking on the curb NEXT to the road?
I can’t hit my brother with a bat – but what if I just tap him with it annoyingly until he screams with rage?
I can’t grab that toy out of my friend’s hands – but what if I take it when he’s not looking?
I can’t run out of my bedroom repeatedly at bedtime – but what if I dance in my bed until I fall asleep in an exhausted heap?
And then there’s what happens when the boundary is crossed. What then? What if my child does up and whack his brother with that bat? Hard. And then looks over at me like “Yeah? What are you going to do about it?”
Well. Consequences. So they know exactly where they crossed that line.
I do Time Outs. The whole “consistent, stay in one spot, timed, talk about it, apologize and hug it out after wards” thing. And if I follow through every time, it does work. It’s taken many agonizing repeat efforts and frothed, flailing tantrums to get it to work, but now it does.
But for me, those Time Outs are establishing boundaries. Or padded walls. Soft walls. So if they run up against them, they won’t get hurt, but they will know they are there.
And here’s the crazy part. Once my four year old has realized he can’t hit his brother with a bat, he kind of relaxes. He settles in to play because he knows just how far he can go. At least, that’s how he processes it.
Because here’s my theory – well my theory for my boys at least. Kids aren’t born knowing what is acceptable and what isn’t. In fact, the entire world is a mystery and it’s a little bit unnerving. So if they don’t know how far they can take something, they will keep going until someone who loves them pulls them out of the road or prevents them from clobbering their brothers. Limits help them find their footing: this is good, this is bad. Ok. Now that I know, I can just play.
But hold on a minute.
Let’s not get carried away either.
JUST because we set up these boundaries doesn’t mean all kid exploration is off limits. Because it seems setting these boundaries is more of an art than a science. Some things are worth setting limits for. Others, no way, let them go.
Uh-oh. Gray area. Yep. Well. That’s parenting for you.
So, that puddle out front? That’s all muddy and gross and we keep making them side-step it each time we leave for school? Well, how about when they come home from school we let them jump in it. Just this one time. And tell them its a fun treat and to GO FOR IT. Jump and get muddy and make the water splash as high and far as possible. Supervised, however wild, unfettered exploration (and often times exploring in a way that WE wouldn’t, so resist the urge to control that moment) is so so SO important.
Yes. It means more work for us. Yes, we will have to bathe them. Yes, all those clothes go right into the washer. Yes, they might want to do it again and we might have to say no, not this time and listen to their whines as we compromise a time when we can do it again. It’s a hassle to make accommodations once in awhile.
But parenting is hard work. Duh.
In fact, maintaining those padded walls on a daily basis is really really REALLY hard work. Just because they knew once not to hit their brother with a bat, and they don’t do it for months on end, doesn’t mean they won’t try it again. Just because you got them to stay in their beds at bedtime doesn’t mean they won’t try to sneak out over and over again months later.
Sorry baby boy. Here we go back to bed. Yes, you are tired. No, you don’t need to play with your trains at 9pm. No, your crying will not sway me. Yes, I do love you. No, you can not have something to eat. To bed. Now.
You know what though? It is beyond tiring. It wears me down. It SUCKS to be the bad guy all the frigging time. I really just want to let them run rampant and relax and not have to DEAL and be such an *ugh* *groan* “mom” about every single little thing. I mean, get over it already. Damn.
But the long term result of not dealing is constant chaos and their exhaustion while they perpetually test us and then our own exhaustion trying to make the problem go away in various desperate however creative quick-fix ways.
I don’t know.
The more I write this post, the more of an uber-controlling prison warden I seem. And a “know-it-all” control-freak prison warden at that.
Because *newsflash* I don’t have all the answers. Just because I have it figured out THIS week, doesn’t mean I will have a flipping clue next week. Just because something works for my kids certainly doesn’t mean it works for anyone else.
Oh and what about when they are 16 and breaking curfew and telling me what a loser I am and ignoring every single expectation and boundary we’ve so carefully maintained? My friends, I have the sneaking suspicion that they will escape these walls, all the while flipping off the whole establishment on their way out the door. They will. And then it will be up to them to decide if they ever want these boundaries back in anyway again.
And I will have to just sit back and watch and not have any say at all.
Move over kid. It seems it is *I* who is in dire need of these four padded walls more than anyone else. Perhaps the inmates have been running the asylum all this time after all.
*strapping on my straight jacket*
I think my kid just got out an air vent. With a bat. And he’s headed straight for his brother. Who is standing in the middle of the road. At 10pm. On a week night.
Well folks, our babies are growing up! I can’t BELIEVE the difference 2 weeks can make in a caterpillar’s life. They must be 6 or 7 times the size they were when they arrived. And I am also happy to report that we’ve had no caterpillar casualties – all 30 are healthy and viable in their dixie cups.
(Note: These cups are on a window sill that never gets direct sunlight. The Insect Lore directions explain that direct sunlight could kill your caterpillars. So far so good here.)
In fact, as you can see from the caterpillar hanging upside down, some of them are already in position to start crafting their chrysalises!
We’re so proud. I’ll post again once we have an actual chrysalis.
Oh and after winter froze and killed all my butterfly friendly shrubs, I need to get cracking and replant my garden. These guys are going to need a new home soon!
And nothing yet from our Praying Mantis egg sack. It’s due to hatch soon though so I’ll post once they emerge and chaos ensues as I try and round up and release most of them before they eat each other.