Posts tagged parenting
I heard this from an instructor at a martial arts seminar a couple of weeks ago. The instructor used it in the context of explaining an approach at improving ones martial arts practice.
It struck me as an apt phrase for dealing with life and a great lesson to try and instill into kids.
Get used to being uncomfortable. It’s a phrase that’s simple, yet seems applicable to so many situations.
Moving out of the parent’s house for the first time. Now you’re responsible for paying bills, buying groceries, dealing with trash, cleaning clothes and so on. It’s uncomfortable walking away from the comfy confines of Mom and Dad’s place and into the world and being responsible for yourself.
How about that first job? New people, new ways of doing things, new problems to solve. All with, likely, minimal training. If you want to excel, you’ll have to figure all that out. Of course, that’s just the job. What if a move was involved? It’s stressful and uncomfortable.
How about athletes training for a sport? Their entire life revolves around being uncomfortable. Constantly stressing the body to push it for performance improvement. Suffering pseudo-injuries that aren’t enough to sideline, but are enough to be a nag. Being tired all the time. Going to events and competing and putting your training to the test. It’s all uncomfortable.
Going to school. Learning how a new teacher operates. Learning new material. Practicing the new material and getting tested on it.
Having a kid and learning what their needs are. Deciding that one wasn’t enough and having a second. Dealing with the two of them and trying to raise them properly. Perhaps having more kids and dealing with that new reality.
Most of the major things that happen in life come with discomfort. Getting used to being uncomfortable may be the best life lesson a parent can teach.
My big mistake with dinner tonight was not deciding on something to make. The kids got home and settled, the Wife finished up with work and I had no idea what to do for dinner.
That meant we’d be heading out for dinner.
The kids were enthused, they always enjoy it. Then we decided to go for some Chinese food at a local place we hadn’t been to in awhile, and the boy started pouting. He didn’t want to go. He didn’t like Chinese food. He’d made up his mind that he would make everyone else pay with a bad attitude.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that brought out a bad attitude in me.
I didn’t yell, but I had that parental tone and demeanor where it was clear I was mad. I told him “Eating out is a privilege, not a right. I’m sick and tired of you or your sister deciding that they don’t like something about where we go out or what is available when we get there. It ends tonight.” Unable to contain myself, I went one further to “prove I was serious”: “If you or you sister pulls this again, I will NEVER take you out to eat again. Do you understand? Think about that. You’ll ask me if we can go to Subway and I’ll tell you no. You’ll ask me if we can go to Burger King and I’ll say no. Never again. Am I clear?”
He sheepishly said yes. I then went out to the car and, out of a sense of fairness, I gave the lass the same speech and made her the same promise and made sure she understood as well.
I’ve been regretting it ever since because it will be impossible for me to follow through on that promise. How do I know that? Because they’ll both forget at some point. Hell, even I’ll forget. We’ll go through a routine like we did tonight and then one of them will remember. At which point, I’ll have to explain why I didn’t follow-through this time. Worse yet, they won’t say anything and just note it to themselves.
In other words, I’ll likely have undermined myself somewhere down the road as far as delivering on punishments. I’ve always felt one of the cardinal sins of parenting is lack of follow-through. Don’t say or threaten anything, especially when it comes to discipline and punishment, that can’t be stuck to. Failure to do so simply leads to kids that are willing to call your bluff all the time because Mom and Dad forget or they know Mom and Dad weren’t sincere.
In this case, I might have been better off canceling the whole dinner outing in favor of cooking something he hated. Of course, that punishes everyone so it’s not exactly optimal. But then, when I get mad I’m not completely rational. It’s a character flaw I’ve been working on for awhile now.
With any luck, it won’t happen for a long time. It would have been better not to have to rely on luck though.
The boy made a big show of of stomping off and abandoning his breakfast.
Why did he do that?
It’s really pretty much irrelevant since it could have been anything. The Wife might have asked him if his homework was complete. I might have asked him to feed the animals. The lass exists. He might have dropped a fork. The dog might have farted in his general direction. At this point, it really doesn’t matter because the list of things that could set him off is so long and undistinguished.
Since you probably have to know now, it was my “fault.” He had started trying to tell his sister how to do something and was acting like, well, he was her parent. If there’s one thing the Wife and I have consistently stepped on since he was old enough to develop the delusion of being in charge, it’s that he has no place bossing his sister around. At this point, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve told him not to do it. Yet he persists. This time, convinced of his righteousness after I stepped on him, he stomped off to demonstrate that he was really good at putting his foot down. Literally. Over and over. Even going up stairs.
I finished my egg and sausage breakfast and then went after him. Not like I was shot out of a canon and hell-bent-for-leather, mind you. I wasn’t overly upset because, as I’ve alluded to already, I’ve done this before. It’s hard to get too worked up over the same-old-same-old.
He was waiting at the top of the steps with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. I stopped two steps down from him, where I was still taller than him, and stared him down for a moment. Then I started speaking. No yelling, just a stern talking to and reminder of his place.
Afterwards, I realized that I had been monologuing.
The term was originally conceived for what the bad guys do when they think they’ve got the good guy pinned down and finally defeated. The bad guy reveals all his evil intentions and brags of his superiority and what not, completely unaware that the good guy is taking advantage of the situation so the bad guy can finally be defeated. Watch The Incredibles for some good examples.
Parental situations aren’t quite so dramatic. But they can come close, sometimes.
The basic circumstances are the kids are old enough to have a basic grasp of reasoning and rationale. They’ve typically crossed some parental line that needs to be enforced, but doesn’t necessarily require punishment. Enter, the monologue where the parent takes the child aside and attempts to discourage behavior by explaining why it was unacceptable.
It happens with older kids for a couple of reasons. First, they already know the big things that will definitely get them into real hot water so they avoid those things like the plague. But, there are all sorts of gray areas that arise where they decided to test the waters. I’ve found that many times a situation that ends up with monologuing had a prior history. That is, they’d tested the water previously and there was no repercussions, so they test it a bit more, and a bit more, until finally an undesirable response is generated.
The other reason these areas come up with older kids is because they have developed the smarts to always have some kind of plausible-deniability or rationale to keep them from getting in real trouble. You know, like “My sister started it” or “She was doing this and I was just trying to keep her from doing that” or “He never gets in trouble and you always blame me.”
Now that I’ve realized how often I do it, I’ll have to start keeping some kind of informal tally to track the effectiveness of monologuing. I suspect it will be somewhere in the vicinity of “not very.” But we can always hope.
One thing the boy has hated to do consistently for a long, long time is shopping. Doesn’t matter what kind of shopping it happens to be, even if the trip might potentially benefit him, he hates it. It started when he was very young where he would grouse and complain and generally try to make life as miserable as possible.
For a long time, it worked. We wouldn’t take him on any kind of shopping trip unless circumstances dictated he must go. It was one of those fights we just didn’t want to have.
In other words, we fed the monster.
Just how much we fed the monster became apparent today when we took him on a bulk-grocery run. We knew we were in for trouble from him, so we didn’t even bother to tell him where we were heading. That worked to give us a quiet ride to the store, but once there and he realized what we were doing, his mood turned quickly.
He refused to get out of the car at first and even asked if he could stay in the car. I made a snap decision to have him push the grocery cart. He would push it forcefully forward and just let it roll. He kicked the slushy snow. He almost pushed the cart into another car. When we got into the store, he simply walked away from the cart.
When the Wife went over to take over, I had had enough. I informed her the boy would be doing it and told her to leave it alone. I then used my most menacing tone to make sure the boy knew I wasn’t messing around. I felt it necessary and it was the only time I’d recognize his poor attitude.
He still wasn’t done though. He resumed pushing the cart, but he would run into his sister intentionally. He would just haphazardly meander through an aisle an inconvenience other shoppers.
The Wife had ventured on ahead, intentionally. She knew what he was doing and didn’t want to be tempted into yelling at him. I watched all of his antics and did my best to ignore him, though the temptation was great.
It was during this that I realized the mistake we’d made. By letting him dictate to us using his attitude as weapon what he could participate in him, we’d created a problem for ourselves. The funny thing is, this is such a fundamental lesson I’m aware of with kids, I’m surprised we missed it with him.
So the Wife and I, having recognized our error, will be working to correct it going forward. As a general rule, there are plenty of things that need be done which are also not enjoyable. Laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, and most any household chore are all no fun, but we as adults know they have to be done and we can’t simply wish them away without paying for it in some fashion. That concept is fundamental to life and the boy must be made to learn and heed it.
I was sitting in our living room, browsing on my phone when the boy strode into the room in a huff. I’d been listening to him get ready for his hockey practice and argue with his sister. In truth, he’d done more arguing than getting ready. I had to remind him that he’d be late for practice if he didn’t start prioritizing his hockey gear.
Now, here he was with his skates and skate guards. Since we were going to be cutting it close getting to practice, he wanted to just wear his skates out of the house. In order to do that, he needed the guards on his skates to protect the blade edges.
The reason he was in a huff was because the guards wouldn’t stay on the blades. The guards are adjustable so they can be made to fit just about any length skate. In this case, they were a bit too long so they kept falling off. The boy had a method of testing the fit by putting the guard on the blade and then tapping the skate on the ground to mimic walking. The guard would pop-off if it wasn’t fit correctly to the skate.
And right then, every time he performed his test, the guard popped off. Every time it popped off, he got a bit more frustrated.
In my mind, there was really only one reason he’d suddenly appeared in the room with this problem: he wanted me to fix it for him. There was a time when I would have done that for him without batting an eyelash. But as he’s gotten older and more capable, I’ve left him to flounder more and more, trying to encourage the development of his problem-solving skill set.
Unfortunately, that skill-set still largely depends on “Dad can you…?”
I sat there quietly, just me and my phone, while the boy continued to get more and more agitated. Rather than be methodical with how he adjusted the guard, he’d move it in large, exaggerated increments in one direction and then the other, always missing the one that led to a proper fit. From my perspective, he was intentionally sabotaging himself.
I tried to make up my mind that I was going to let him figure it out. I tried to calm him down with simple words of encouragement, but he refused to listen and remained agitated.
I could feel my own agitation growing inside.
The infuriating thing of it is kids know how to get under their parents skin. They know what to do and how to do it because while you’ve been living and learning about them for their entire life, they’ve been doing something similar to you their entire life. They invariably know when the conditions are right for them to get what they want.
So it was with the boy. After several minutes of watching him repeatedly mess up the skate guards, I finally lost my patience and fixed one for him. Feeling that I was giving him what he wanted without extracting a proper price from him for it, I decided to give him more than he bargained for with a little speech designed intentionally to call him out on his antics.
“You know, you can’t sit there and methodically adjust the guard to figure out how to get it to fit. OHHHH NO. You’ve got to sit there and cry and carry on and be ridiculous about it so you can get me to do it for you. Don’t think I don’t know you’re doing this just to get me to, yet again, fix something for you that you are completely capable of doing on your own if you’d just calm down and think about for a minute. Instead, you made up your mind that you couldn’t do it and did your best to make it look like you were trying without really trying, all so you could get me to, once again, do it for you.”
While I was talking, I adjusted the guard. When I was done talking, I attached the guard to his skate and tossed it on the ground in front of him. He fixed the other guard, I tied his skates up for him because he can’t tie them tight enough himself (another source of irritation) and we left for practice.
It still bothers me that he manipulated me. As to how I “knew” he was manipulating me, well, I can’t say with 100% certainty he was. It just felt like it from the moment he stepped into the room. That said, that’s probably my problem- deciding when he’s manipulating me versus when he honestly needs my help. In general I hate to just do things for him- I want him to learn to problem solve. I recognize that he will still need my help though.
Did he really need my help this morning?
Obviously, I’d argue no, he didn’t. Skate guards aren’t terribly difficult to adjust and if he’d just calmed down a bit he could have figured it out himself quickly enough.
But maybe he did, in a way, need my help and my losing my original assumption about his motives blinded me to what he needed help with. Not the physical act of solving his problem, but the mental act of solving it. He’d lost his cool. In the process, he also caused me to lose mine. Perhaps what I needed to do was, rather than do it for him, was to just talk him through it and calm him down so he could fix it himself.
Instead, his antics got under my skin, aided by my own pre-conceived notions about what was going on. To make matters worse, I intentionally set about laying a guilt trip on him with my little speech.
So, perhaps, he and I have more in common than I originally thought.
The boy came home with homework. The work comes with good and bad. The good is that he sat down and worked at it tonight, rather than leave it until tomorrow. If it had been me, I’d have left it for tomorrow. Wait, that has been me and I have left it for tomorrow. The bad is having to sit and listen to him get discouraged about it.
Tonight, it was over money combinations. Given pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters; how many different combinations could he think of to total 30 cents?
He came up with a bunch on his own, then asked me if he’d missed any. He told me all the different ways he’d come up with and wanted to know if he’d missed any. I thought about it and there were a couple. He then started to get upset because he started realizing there were some combination he hadn’t thought of, mainly involving pennies. He sat there for a bit and finally stated, “There are too many and I don’t want to think of them all.”
I tried convincing him to make a game of it; but, he wasn’t having any of it. He flat out didn’t want to spend the effort to think about it anymore. He’d decided the combinations he’d come up with were enough.
My preference was to try to convince him to put more effort into it. I know it’s just a silly homework assignment, but it’s the “good enough” attitude that gets me. What’s wrong with sitting there and persevering through it to come up with more combinations? Wouldn’t it be better if he developed the mind set to always do his best? Not to give up and just let “good enough” win the day?
But then, he’s 9 and this is 1 homework assignment out of many. It isn’t even particularly challenging homework- more like novelty work. I once was worried about his reading, but now he’s a spectacular reader. He completed The Lord of the Rings way earlier than I ever did. Even his reading comprehension has improved remarkably. So maybe I just have to let things ride. After all, there’s still tons of maturing to go.
But then, what if this is one of those bad habits that we could have nipped in the bud? Maybe he needs the kick in the butt at this moment just to help him down the road? What if this is one of those teachable moments that pays dividends for years to come? Obviously not this one moment, but the accumulation of many moments like this.
Should I? Shouldn’t I? What’s important and what’s the stuff that parents just have to let slide?
Where’s the instruction manual when you need it?
I’ve been working with the boy on his multiplication and division techniques the past few days. I’ve generally been less than impressed with the pace of the math program here. I’ve also been flabbergasted as to some of the techniques they are teaching kids which, in my view, add unnecessary extra steps that make arriving at the correct answer error prone.
Tonight I was working with him on division. My approach was to show him how to do it while explaining each step. Then, started involving him more and more on subsequent problems. Finally, I started giving him the problems to work on his own.
He struggled with it. He’d forget a step, or get confused by a step, or make a calculation error. Then he’d start to get frustrated with himself.
And that’s where I realized that I was the one who had to exercise patience. Here, the math is easy for me, while he’s the one trying to learn it. Just because I can do division easily doesn’t mean he’ll figure it out in a few minutes. It takes time for him to master the steps involved and it isn’t going to happen in a single night with 30 minutes of instruction.
Another mistake I find myself making trying to think back to what I might have been doing at his particular age. But it’s irrelevant what I was doing because he’s not me. It seems such an obvious point, but I’ve found it’s an easy one for me to miss.
So for all the times I’ve told the kids to be patient, it turns out that I must practice what I preach. Just because I’m grown up doesn’t mean I can’t benefit from the same lessons the kids do.
We had a Halloween themed Pack meeting for our Cubbies today. It was a very active meeting. After the opening flags, we got right into a series of games consisting of bobbing for apples, pumpkin bowling and a candy corn relay race. The numbers and timing were such that when the relay race completed, we rotated the kids around to the next activity. From there, I handed out awards to the boys and then we finished the meeting with pumpkin carving. The meeting ran late and, for all the activity and stimulation, all the kids hung in well and behaved. They even helped clean up when it was over.
During the meeting, one of the Mom’s was given some grief by her daughter. To me, it was a familiar act since I’ve watched the lass run the same game on the Wife and I many a time. The daughter was trying to lay a guilt trip on her Mother for spending more time with brother, who’s a Bear Scout, during the meeting. The Mom was, in fact, there with 3 kids and did an admirable job of managing all three through the evening. It was during the pumpkin carving that the little tiff presented itself. At one point, the Mom looked up at me with an expression like “You see what I have to put up with?”
Later, during the cleanup, this Mom was stating that she was embarrassed by the way her daughter behaved. She thought she was the only one with those problems. Clearly, she doesn’t read this blog enough. I told her there was nothing her kids were doing that any other parent hadn’t had their kid do to them. Another Mom piped in with her own horror story of embarrassing child misbehavior. The original Mom seemed to be genuinely surprised that other people had these issues.
Of all the things I’ve learned during my time as a parent, this was easily the most surprising and also the biggest help: we are not the only ones. Any given parent is not the only one who has had their child throw temper tantrums in public. That parent is not the only one that has experienced their child answering back to them. That parent is not the only one that has had a meal ruined by their kids bickering and arguing. Even parents of children with special needs aren’t alone, I’d wager. Within that community I’m sure that there are many common parenting experiences and frustrations as well.
I’d say an overwhelming majority of parents try to do right by their kids. We don’t want to have to yell and scream at them. We don’t want to fight with them. We don’t want to be treated as the enemy. We’re trying to help them grow up. I think the natural tendency is to blame ourselves when our kids misbehave or “embarrass” us.
But kids have their own minds and keep their own counsel. They are immature and selfish. They want what they want, when they want in a way of their choosing. That they exhibit these traits doesn’t make us bad parents. It doesn’t even make them bad kids- it just make them normal kids and it’s up to the parents to push back, to deny, to fight, and even to scream to teach them and guide them as to what is appropriate behavior.
Realizing this removes a huge burden from parents because, suddenly, it’s not something that we are doing to our kids. It’s something- a phase, a part of growing up, whatever- that every kids has to go through. Viewed in this way, the problem to worry about isn’t “what we did,” it’s “what we do.” Parenting with the realization that you have not screwed your child up is a lot less stressful.
A few years back, we started the boy on his martial arts lessons. I say a few years… I guess it would be a bit over 3 years now. As it stands, he’s well on his way to earning a junior black belt, an interim belt level that pre-teen kids can earn at the school. The instructors very rarely award full black belts to pre-teen kids because the curriculum is much more advanced and challenging, including self-defense techniques against weapons. The boy is at the point now in his training where he’s looking forward to classes and practice and even voluntarily practices outside of class.
It was not always so.
In fact, when he first started out there were many a tearful day where he didn’t want to go. He was too tired he’d say, or he just didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t infrequent that he claimed he didn’t like martial arts.
Yet the Wife and I persisted and struggled with him and kept getting him to his classes. Often times, when he put up the biggest stinks about going, he would get into class and clearly enjoy himself. Just as often, when the class ended he’d quickly change to a grousing demeanor. But if we asked him if he’d enjoyed the class, he would begrudgingly admit he had. So we continued to push him along.
We were always on the lookout for a point where it was clear he was not enjoying the classes. Had it become clearly evident, I like to think we would have ceased making him go to fulfill his obligations.
When he was in 1st grade, the boy was involved in something all year long. He started with Scouts and martial arts in the fall. Then moved on to hockey through the Winter. Finally, he concluded with baseball in the Spring. By the end of the Spring, he was doing something all but one day of the week.
I’ll never forget the night he came home with about 2 weeks to go in the baseball season and basically cried uncle. At that point, he had a coach pitch game to attend and he flat out didn’t want to do it. He lamented “I never have any time to do anything I want because I’m always doing either karate, baseball or Scouts.”
That was the last year he played organized baseball. We’ve offered to let him do it every year since. Every year since, he’s declined. He underwent a similar trajectory with soccer. After having played in the Fall leagues for the past couple of years, he chose to stop this year and the Wife and I let him.
It’s hard for me to say what the difference is between karate and baseball and soccer in this context. I suppose part of it is, at the time, he had more invested in karate (even if he couldn’t understand that). Another part of it is, frankly, I’m not a baseball or soccer guy so I wasn’t going to be heart broken about him not wanting to play.
But another part is that he was, and is, still young. So how hard were we going to push him to be doing things and going places and committing himself to activities if he really didn’t want to be doing them? On the one hand, we want to instill in him the need to work and practice to hone and develop skills so he can be accomplished at a skill. In that consideration, allowing him to quit seems counter productive. On the other hand, why run the risk of burning him out when he still has so much mental and physical growth to undergo?
Where are the lines drawn? And how much do we let him draw them?
The Wife and I both only have our own experiences growing up to inform our choices: the things we like and the things we didn’t like. But still, that experience is of limited utility because our kids are not us and we are not our parents. Parallels and patterns may present themselves, but there are no rules, no hard and fast lessons to be applied.
Ultimately, we’ve tried to walk a balance. We try encourage and push him in things that we think are important. We try and instill a sense of drive and obligation to complete a task that isn’t easily completed with those things. And we give him options for things to explore and pursue so that he might eventually find something he is truly passionate about.
I have my doubts that he’ll become a lifelong martial artist and I have my doubts that he’ll want to become an Eagle Scout. But I like to think that when he finally does find a passion, he’ll know how to go about fulfilling it.
The following statement is probably about as banal as they come- kids eat what their parents feed them. Now, I know in certain details that statement isn’t always true. Some kids hate potatoes, they all hate vegetables and so forth. I didn’t say it was easy.
But parents are the ones who create the food eating habits in their kids. The Wife and I are constantly telling the kids “No” when they ask for candy or treats. It isn’t 100%, but it’s probably 90% or there abouts. When they want a snack, the first thing we mention is the fruit we have in the fridge or on the counter. We use our parental powers quite liberally where food is concerned.
Notice, none of that has anything to do with marketing from food companies.
Sure, the kids want candy or ice cream or whatever sweet happens to be floating around. But the presence of said unhealthy food does not mean they will get it. The Wife or I will allow them to have it, or we won’t and as I noted earlier- the odds are we won’t.
There are other unhealthy foods as well of course. Chips and crackers in all their glorious forms come to mind. But once again, if parents make those available to their children, then the kids will one, get chips and crackers to eat; and two, ask their parents to get more when they run out.
Again, this has nothing to do with marketing the food to kids.
While I don’t think companies are saints by any stretch, they are run by people whom are fallible just like you and I, this effort on the part of the First Lady is futile and misdirected. These companies manage to create things that people want. Again, banal, but inarguably true. While they are the creators, they are not the gatekeepers. Parents are the gatekeepers. As such, I think a more effective effort would be to encourage parents to tell their kids “No” a little more often.
I’ve written quite a bit over the past school year’s worth of homework about the boy’s writing assignments. He has his strengths, mainly in the creativity department, and his weaknesses which, initially, were pretty much everything else. Terrible spelling, terrible grammar, terrible structure.
Last week saw another type of writing brought into the fold: book report type writing. He’s been asked to read from a book and then write short summaries of what he reads each day, with a final summary to be turned in at the end of the week. There are also a group of questions which he can choose from which forces him to think a little deeper about what he read.
He’s been very studious about getting the work done. Mostly because it gives him an excuse to continue reading the Harry Potter series, I imagine. The assignment calls for him to read for 20 minutes, but the Wife and I both suggested he just read a chapter each day. He’s been happy to oblige.
The Wife and I have both been pleasantly surprised with his summary paragraphs. He’s finally seems to be getting better at organizing the thoughts in his head before setting them to paper and the results, while not perfect, are markedly improved. To the point where the Wife and I have just been pointing out spelling mistakes, as opposed to having him rewrite the paragraphs. I’d personally still like to see him write drafts and then do the final. But for the way this assignment works, he’s doing it well enough that I’m not going to pick a fight with him over that quibble.
That only took a year.
Perhaps it was because I had dug out about 7 yards of dirt by hand, so I was tired and a bit edgy. Perhaps it was because temps hit around 90 yesterday while I was doing all that digging. Perhaps it was because the digging was particularly difficult since the earth I was digging in was a devilish mixture of clay, sand and rock. Perhaps it was because while all this was going on, the kids were climbing around the 2 massive dirt piles I’d built up, getting ridiculously dirty and having fun.
Perhaps it was a bit of all of the above.
I made the kids help me dig for a bit yesterday. I knew they would have difficulty doing it, but I made them do it anyway. When I first told them to start helping, they both probably thought it was one of those one-off threat-request parents make and never follow-up with.
But I did this time. If I’d cared to look, I might have seen the surprised look on their faces when I insisted they pick up shovels and start digging. “Hey,” I told myself, “I’m giving them the easiest part of the digging.”
So they struggled with it for about 5 minutes, while I continued to labor away. I glanced over and they were displaying all the classic signs of boredom: not doing what had been asked, drawing pictures in the dirt, sitting where they should have been digging and generally getting distracted by every little thing.
It annoyed me (see the first paragraph). I’d
compelled asked them to help and they could barely do it for more than a few minutes. I’d been out there for several hours already. I made my displeasure with their efforts known.
They tried again to get something done, but they ran into difficulty quickly again and were clearly stalling and looking for an excuse to bolt.
I took a moment. I was sweating, hot, exhausted and not done. The work was difficult for me. What, exactly, was I proving making them do this? Sure, on the one hand they’d dug many a hole under the deck prior to all this work- but that was in the context of play. I wasn’t playing a game. At least, not the kind of game they were ready to participate in.
So what was my point making them do this work? Give them a chance to prove to themselves they could do it? Give them perspective so they’d appreciate the work I was doing? Was this a lesson worth spending my, severely depleted, energy on now?
What could only have been my more rational side convinced me this wasn’t the time or place. I was making them do work they weren’t capable of performing, in conditions they weren’t really ready for, for reasons I could barely articulate to myself. In reality, I figured, I would only make them hate working with me on big projects.
I finally relented and let them go back to playing. There was still a part of me that didn’t agree with the choice. That felt they needed to be made to do this. If not now, when? They need to learn how to be able to knuckle down and do work. If I don’t stick to my guns, they’ll always bail on projects that are too hard, or not fun.
True as those things might be, I slowly came to realize, it wasn’t going to happen on a too-hot Saturday afternoon under our deck.
A couple of nights ago, we had turkey burgers for dinner. If you’ve never had turkey burgers, first of all- shame one you. Second of all, make sure you add a little seasoning to the meat. The Grill Mates stuff is pretty good- Molasses and Bacon, Molasses and Hickory, Montreal Chicken, Steakhouse OnionBurger. Any of them will do. I also like to throw an egg in there because it helps to hold the patties together. Plus- extra protein! Win! Win! Finally, when forming the patties, put a little oil on your hands because the turkey meat tends to stick to hands.
Alright, now you have no more excuses.
I like to grill the patties. I find that meat in general comes out better when an open flame is involved. The problem with cooking turkey burgers on a grill, though, is that the meat tends to sag between the grates until it firms up from cooking. Between the sagging and the sticking, bunch of meat gets lost to the grill. This makes me sad.
So I do something about it by putting a sheet of aluminum foil down on the grill and then placing the turkey burgers on that. I also spray the foil with a non-stick spray, for what should be the obvious reasons.
Unfortunately, this night, the non-stick spray was… let us say “less than effective.”
So now, I’m trying to flip the burgers and I’m tearing the foil and it’s sticking to the burgers and it’s generally making a big mess. Worst of all, I’m losing gobs of meat to the foil because apparently the stupid “non-stick” spray was actually heat-activated glue, or something.
In a final moment of desperation brought on by the panic of ruining a meal-full of turkey burgers, I opted for Plan Z– flip the burgers by flipping the foil. In my head, this worked out beautifully- like pulling the table cloth out from under a table full of plates, silverware and glasses. I would simply grab the corners of the foil and leverage the fact that the patties were stuck and I’d flip everything in one fell swoop. Then, I could set to slowly peeling the foil off the patties. Sure, my fingers would get burned a bit; but, I wouldn’t lose nearly as much meat to the grill. It was a perfect plan, hatched on a moments notice.
So naturally, it failed spectacularly.
The foil tore as I lifted it. Some of the burgers fell off the foil (of course!) The foil didn’t entirely flip and I ended up with a mess of folded foil, entombed patties and other patties that were now more like blobs of meat on the grill. It was like a turkey slasher flick, right there on my grill. All my careful planning, and I might as well have had the kids engage in a food fight flinging the meat at the grill.
Off to my right, there was the boy, standing, watching Dad do battle with his dinner and the forces of chaos. Instinct told him to remain silent, I’m sure.
I stood there, with the grill spatula in my right hand, taking in the devastation before me. My last fleeting thought before the insanity took over was “He’s watching, don’t…”
Then I slammed the spatula on the grill.
I was rewarded with a satisfying “DOINK” noise as the spatula bounced off the grill. The force of the blow had folded the flat part into a ‘L’ shape.
Great. Now, I’d ruined the spatula.
Oh well, nothing to lose now…
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
On the second WHAM, I knocked out the fire in the grill.
On the third WHAM, a chunk of the wood from the grill came up.
On the fourth WHAM, the spatula broke.
I stood there staring at the now broken handle in my hand. Stupidly. The other half of the spatula had sailed over my head and landed behind me on the deck.
There was a moment of silence. My insanity had passed.
The boy broke the silence with a simple question: “How are you going to flip the burgers now, Dad?”
Yesterday during breakfast, the lass was excited because her dance costume for her upcoming recital was going to be in so she’d get to try it on. She’s actually in 2 different routines for the recital and in one of them, her group of dancers will be dressed up as Disney princesses. She’s going to be Merida from Brave.
In the course of discussing this, the lass made the comment (I’m paraphrasing) “She’s the princess who’s always getting yelled at.”
Cut to the Wife, who was visibly affected by the comment. While I’m a strong believer in not underestimating kids’ intelligence and ingenuity, I have a hard time believing that the lass was implying anything by the comment. At her age, kids tend to say exactly what is on their mind, as opposed to making thinly veiled broadsides. The Wife didn’t share that view, as it was clear she had taken the lass’ comment personally.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say the lass was that clever. Or, more plausibly, some subconscious part of her mind identifies with Merida for the reason that she thinks she’s getting yelled at all the time. Should I or the Wife take this to mean anything?
I don’t say “No”, I say “HELL NO!”
It’s a known psychological quirk of the human species to remember negative experiences more sharply than positive experiences. Kids are no different. Indeed, add a dollop of immaturity and a pinch of child-tendency-for-drama and there’s a perfect recipe for them concluding Mom and Dad do nothing but yell at them. Heck, they might view Gitmo as a vacation getaway.
But a skewed perception does not a reality make.
Kids screw-up, all the time. Part of being a parent is figuring out which screw-ups require intervention for corrective purposes. Obviously, when a kid touches a hot stove, they don’t need to be yelled at. They’ve received all the corrective information required in the form of a nice, painful burn.
But how many times do they have to be asked to pick up their rooms? My limited experience informs me that it is exactly as many times as a parent is will to ask them. I ask once. Politely. If they don’t respond, Hell follows. Most of the time, I only have to ask once. The Wife is cut from similar cloth. I’ve watched the parents who ask. Then ask again. And again. And again. While their patience is impressive, it’s not the way I, or the Wife roll.
So the kids are going to get yelled at. They make different sorts of mistakes all the time, or variations of the same one all the time. Like when they start fighting and disturbing the household with their antics. They get a chance to work it out and if they don’t I, or the Wife, work it out for them. Sooner or later they’ll realize it’s better that they work it out.
My point is that it’s baked into the cake that kid’s are going to get yelled at. It’s also baked into the cake that they’ll remember those times quicker. Probably a result of some evolutionary survival quirk. It’s not good for survival of the species if Grog keeps running into tar pools or eating poison berries.
The fact that they get yelled at doesn’t mean that’s all that happens. Last night I was rolling around on the floor, wrestling with the boy. He was giggling the whole time. The lass shared a tea-party with the Wife earlier this week. There are all the books and stories we’ve read together. Day trips to zoos and museums. Trips for ice cream and to the beach. Tee-ball, soccer, karate, hockey. Time spent helping with homework.
There are, in summary, no end to all the good or positive experiences we’ve all shared. They easily outnumber the negative ones. That is reality. Those aren’t the things that swirl at the leading edges of their memories. Unfortunate, but also reality.
It takes a sober second of consideration and reflection to remember. Kid’s don’t have that ability, it’s part of what defines them as a kid, an inability to see the larger world around them in any sense. Parents are adults, and we are not hampered by the same affliction. Therefore, we shouldn’t fall prey to our kids perception of their little world.
About a week ago, the Wife had some friends over for a knit night here in the house. I was… elsewhere with the boy for the night. The lass was here with the Wife and her friends. The boy and I did arrive for the final hour or so of knit night.
Apparently, the kids left a good impression because at the Wife’s knit night last night, one of her friends remarked about how well behaved the kids were. I guess that led to a discussion about parenting in general amongst them and a comment was made that consistency is a key because the Wife and I both expect similar behavior from them.
While that’s important, I don’t think that’s quite enough.
While out shepherding the boy through his martial arts classes, we stopped at a Wendy’s for dinner. We had the privilege of sitting next to a mother with her two sons. Neither of whom would listen to her, no matter how many times she threatened them with punishment. Because they would push her to that limit, and then she wouldn’t follow through.
I mention this as an anti-example of another quality a parent needs- stubbornness.
Consistency between parents is important so the kids can’t play both ends against the middle.
But stubbornness is important because a lot of the time, a parent is one-on-one, or one-on-more-than-one, with their kid, or kids, and it’s up to that parent to get them to listen. Better than threats and anger, good ol’ fashioned stubbornness gets the job done.
That’s what it takes to wait out the tantrums, the multiple requests, the dodges, the delays and whatever else happens between the first time they are asked and when they finally decide to do as they were asked. The temptation to just say “Screw it, I’ll do it myself” is overwhelming and only a stubborn individual would choose to not take that course.
It pays off over the long run. Over time, the fights get less- they never go away. At least, they haven’t yet and I don’t expect them to anytime soon. Kids learn that they might as well listen the first time around because they understand from prior experience that Mom or Dad won’t stop nagging them until it’s done.
We spent the day on a mountain side.
Well, sort of. The boy’s Scout Pack had their ski trip today. It was supposed to have been last week but, you know, weather. I’d actually decided to postpone it to this week a day or so prior to the storm. Ironically, more snow was forecast for today. But only a dusting- maybe a couple of inches was supposed to fall. Amazing what 2 feet will do to establish perspective on snow fall.
In the end, a little snow fell this morning. Just enough to frost the trees and make the ride a pretty one, but it didn’t affect travel in the slightest.
So the kids spent the day in a group lesson and the Wife and I spent the day with other Pack parents who were non-skiers but wanted to take advantage of the Pack’s offer to let their kids learn to ski. It ended up being a pleasant day as we all had lunch together and kibitzed about all things parenting.
I have to say, even after having been a parent for almost 9 years now, I still love listening to other parents talk about their kids. When the kids were young, listening to other parents made me realize that very few, if any, of the trials we went through with ours were unique. Similarly, neither were our responses.
Listening to the parents today talking about their kids, I realized there is a bit of fine tuning to that thought. When considering the type of person a child is, it’s apparent that they can be broadly brushed into types that are amazingly similar from child to child. The kids who are afraid to fail; the kids who are happy go lucky; the kids who are bright; the kids who are athletic; the kids who get along with everyone.
Even though these 1000-foot views of our kids can make them all seem pretty similar, the differences start emerging pretty quickly once we start zooming in. Two athletic kids who have picked up totally different sports; two smart kids where one is stronger in math than the other; one kid afraid to fail at any sports related activity while another is afraid to fail in competition. These differences are important because the way one parent tries to address things must necessarily be different from the way another parents addresses a seemingly similar trait. Plus, how does the child take criticism? Another detail to consider.
There’s much to be learned from other parents. We all struggle with similar issues where kids are concerned. Sometimes, we get lucky by picking up on some insight in how to deal with certain types of behavior. Sometimes, we find out that our current approaches aren’t all that different.
We’re all on the same journey, but the paths are completely different.
I don’t know if I was a typical new-parent when the boy was small. I tend to think I was, but mostly I just know that I’ve learned a lot in those years about parenting.
As least, I think I have.
I was one of those that, initially, saw every little thing the boy did, or didn’t do, as a predictor of what he would grow up to be. No matter how small or seemingly insignificant, there was always a way to rationalize it into something important about the person he’d become. The way he walked, the toys he played with, the words he used, how much he whined or didn’t, which food he ate, what his favorite color was, whatever. I recall that I wasn’t sleeping much either at the time, so that might have had something to do with it.
Sometime, I’d talk to my parents about it and the conversation would go something like this:
Me: Hey, he just ate a bug. What’s that mean?
Mom: OH. MY. GOD. Do you know how many bugs you ate at that age? If I had a nickel for every bug…
Or if I talked to my Dad:
Me: Hey, he just ate a bug. What’s going to happen?
Dad: A bug, huh? What kind was it?
Me: I don’t know, small, black. Why?
Dad: Hmm. You didn’t eat anything like that that I can recall, so I can’t really help you in this case. Let me check with your Mother first…
By the time the lass came along and started doing all the same things the boy had done, I realized I didn’t have to be so paranoid about every little thing either of them did, or didn’t do. It was a major relief for everyone.
I thought of that today when the boy fell asleep on the way to his martial arts class. The car has always had that effect on him. Early on, I figured he’d grow out of it. Of course, for longer rides it was a blessing. For shorter rides, it drove me nuts because I was worried he’d wake up grumpy after such a short sleep. So I wouldn’t let him sleep, I’d keep waking him or distracting him. But he would be so tired and the car’s effects were so great that he’d be doing the bob-and-weave only seconds later.
The dojang is only a 20 minute ride away and he fell asleep at about the midpoint of the ride. I hadn’t even noticed it when it happened. I didn’t bother waking him. Didn’t even consider it. And I felt more than a bit foolish for all those times I had chosen otherwise.
He woke up like magic when we arrived at the dojang. Literally, the car ignition went off and his eyes opened, like they’re connected somehow. No grumpiness, and no problems going to his class.
After we’d arrived home and he’d eaten, he asked me “Did I fall asleep in the car today?”
I was confused initially- how could he not remember? So I answered “You mean on the way to karate? Yeah, you fell asleep. About halfway there I think.”
“Guess the car still does that to me,” he said kind of sheepishly. Then he added “But it’s no big deal, right?”
“Yep,” I replied nonchalantly. “No big deal at all.”
When I was a wee lad, probably about the boy’s age come to think of it, I would get writing assignments. I remember enjoying writing even then. I don’t think I had any particular gift for it or anything, but I read a fair amount and I also tried to write and I… just enjoyed it. I remember once sitting and starting to copy a book of animal fables. I don’t really recall the reason. Perhaps I was thinking that I really was writing in that delusional way kids look at the world. What else was I going to do, play with a DS?
My Mom was an English teacher, as fate allowed. So when I got my writing assignments from school and brought them home, I always had a writing hurdle to overcome. Mom would mercilessly cut through the words on the paper. “This isn’t a sentence. This is misspelled. This is OK, but confusing. You’ve written the same thing 5 different ways in one paragraph. There’s no structure. What were you supposed to be writing here?” By the time she got done with my initial cut, the page would look more like a wiring diagram or a blue print, anything but the alleged text I initially put down. It’s what she’s not an editor here on the blog…
Naturally, being an immature know-it-all, I took it well and cried.
By the time I was done fixing all the mistakes she’d pointed out I never felt like the paper was mine. I felt like it was hers. This was, of course, a crock on my part. She never told me what to write. She just guided me in the art of writing something that was minimally readable. But at the time, I recall the frustration of having my work ripped up like that. Looking back, I’m certain there was a personal aspect to it as well. When effort is put into something, it can be hard to accept criticism without taking it personally. All those lines and circles and comments make you feel stupid. They aren’t just lines on a paper, they’re lines on you and how you think and how you express yourself.
Like I said, immature.
I thought of all this today when the Wife was describing how she helped the boy through another writing assignment. It was the classic “What Did I Do on my Christmas Vacation” assignment. It’s due in a couple of days and before I headed out for a little sparring training tonight, I told the boy, as nonchalantly as I could lest I wake the insecurity beast within, he should organize his thoughts on paper; then write a rough draft that his Mom or I could read through and help him with; then write his final paper.
When I got home, to my astonishment, he’d written a page-and-a-half of text about his Christmas vacation. I read through it quickly and immediately picked out a number of misspellings, some capitalization issues, some punctuation issues and a couple of sentence fragments. That might sound like a lot, but it didn’t require any real structural changes or major rewrites. To his credit, it was well organized and readable and pretty close to a finished product, with few corrections I mentioned.
The boy was (quelle suprise!) upset that I’d picked out all those mistakes. Particularly with the spelling errors. We decided he could finish the corrections tomorrow night. After he’d gone to bed, the Wife described how she’d worked with him to get the almost-finished-product I’d read: eliminating the run-on sentences and the “And then we…” phrases, helping him decided what stuff to put in the paper, helping him organize it. She showed me the marked up first draft.
Somewhere around then, I realized the importance of quiet persistence. His reaction to my comments was emotional, as were mine those many years ago. But Mom’s persistence paid off and I internalized many of those lessons. It wasn’t something that occurred in one lesson, it was the cumulative act of writing, then breaking down what I’d written and forcing myself to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to tell it over many years that got me to the point where I could sit down and structure a paper or essay. Reading didn’t hurt either.
Similarly, the boy won’t all of a sudden have a light switch come on and start churning out prose like Nora Roberts. Rather, it will be the steady drip-drip-drip of forcing him to confront what he’s done and improve upon it.
So, when last I’d mentioned the subject, the Wife and I had decided there was no real virtue to telling the kids anything about the massacre at Sandy Hook in Newtown. They’d arrived home and pretty clearly weren’t aware. So we had turned off the TV and not said anything to them.
Unfortunately for our plans, the boy had a friend over for a sleep over. When we picked him up, I asked the friend’s Mom if he knew anything about what had happened, just because we wanted to be prepared for the possibility that the topic might come up. She didn’t believe he had because he hadn’t said anything to her about it. She also said she really didn’t have any intention of telling him, which was no problem to accommodate on our part.
Well, turns out she was incorrect. She’d been working Friday night and he’d seen the news that night. The Wife was on the way home from seeing Rise of the Guardians (which was thoroughly enjoyed by all the kids) when he started talking about it.
The boy was incredulous, apparently blurting out “Why am I always the last one to find out about these thing?” or something to that effect. His friend also mentioned the shooting in Aurora from the Summer, which only annoyed the boy further because he hadn’t known about that either.
The Wife and I stand behind the decisions there- neither of us can really come up with any good reason for to make them aware of what had happened. If they’d been older, we certainly would have. But it just goes to show how easily the best laid plans can be circumvented. Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing because other kids in school tomorrow will almost certainly know about it. So there’s a very good chance their ignorance was only ever going to be temporary.
As a consequence, we touched on the subject again tonight, asking them if they had any questions. They didn’t. So now, we’ll see what they come home with tomorrow.