The First Child Experiment

Our poor first-born children.

We parents have no idea how little we know about parenting our oldest child until our subsequent children go through a similar experience. Only then can we look back and say to ourselves, damn, I screwed that up!

First-time parents move through parenthood blindly, figuring things out on the fly because no matter how much experience you may have had with someone else’s kids in the past, you still have no idea what you are doing with your child. You are positive that everything that you do to your child or for your child will have lasting repercussions. Because, let’s face it, that whole nature vs. nurture thing simply means that if your DNA doesn’t screw them up your parenting skills will.

A friend of mine recently joked that she hopes that her oldest daughter recognizes that she is a parenting experiment.

I think her analogy is spot on.

With no roadmap and no instruction manual, most first time parents approach everything they do to their first child like a science experiment even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

Let’s use potty training as an example.

Step 1: Ask a Question

The first step when conducting any scientific experiment is to ask a question. In this case a good question would be: “Will my two-year-old child ever be potty trained or will he be in diapers in college?”

Step 2: Do Background Research

Pour over every parenting book, website and magazine to figure out if it is indeed possible to have a child who refuses to be potty trained and ends up wearing diapers in college.

Step 3: Construct a Hypothesis

In this example your hypothesis could be: “If I buy my child super hero underwear, he will be so excited he will then want to use the potty and never use diapers again.”

Steps 4 and Beyond: Test Your Hypothesis

You test your hypothesis, which, of course, fails miserably because as first time parents you don’t yet know that toddlers are stubborn and refuse to do anything that you want them to do, so, you continue to reformulate and retest your hypotheses until you make your child cry which, in turn, makes you cry and so on and so on and so on until eventually you figure it out.

And then your next kid comes along and it’s SO MUCH EASIER!

Why?

It’s not because the second child is less difficult; it’s because you are.

With your second child you know that any fear you have that your child will go to college in diapers is absurd! And, although you may need to tweak your approach with each kid to get the same result (each kid is different after all), without the anxiety of the unknown hanging over you, the process is so much easier.

You would think that once we recognize this pattern we would find a way to speed up the learning curve…but we can’t. Every stage of our first-born child’s life presents some new scenario that we are ill prepared to handle: school, friendships, driving, dating, college, etc.

Everything our first child does is, well, first, which makes everything they do novel, scary, and very, very important.

I was reminded of this again over the weekend when I attended a cocktail party for the parents’ of my younger son’s high school freshmen class. I spoke with several parents who had just survived their oldest child’s first set of high school finals. Every one of these parents had some version of the same story: they had to force their kid to study because their kid wouldn’t get organized or study long enough or care enough: the parent’s anger would grow until eventually the parent exploded; and every one of these parents believed that their child’s failure to comprehend the importance of final exams and their general lack of motivation meant that they would never graduate from high school, attend college, get a job and move out of the house.

“Shit,” I thought. “That’s how I sounded four years ago!”

“If you don’t study, you will fail and you will end up living in my basement!” was my mantra during my older son’s finals.

This time around with my youngest who just completed his first set of finals I took a laissez-faire approach: I did not yell when his focus drifted from his studying, I did not yell when I saw his grades, and I did not yell when he said, “I should have studied more.”

My mantra this time around, as it has been with everything for my second child, was “This too shall pass.”

Because it does…

…unless, of course, it’s your older child facing some new experience, in which case see Steps 1-4 above.

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Word

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions – I mean, I make them; I’m just not a fan of keeping them.

I know this and yet I can’t stop myself from making a list of resolutions every year. I always believe that I will make some changes but I, like most people, usually make it to January 2 before throwing in the towel.

This year, however, I am jumping on the “One Word” bandwagon.

A one-word resolution is the new thing. Instead of a weighty list of shoulds and should nots you are supposed to pick one word that will guide your life in the New Year: a touchstone for you to return to as you make your way through the year.

I thought it would be easy but it wasn’t, at least not at first. I tossed around words like gratitude and peace and love but nothing felt right. All the words felt forced and not really me.

That’s when I came up with my new two-pronged approach to help determine my New Year’s word.

It goes like this:

Step 1: Think of one word that summed up everything you did wrong in 2014.

Were you ungrateful or impatient or unsupportive?

The words that came to mind for me were grumpy, tense and unreasonable but what I really meant was bitchy. Yes, the word that sums up how I feel that I acted this year was “bitchy.”

Step 2: Add the prefix “non” before your word to come up with your guiding principle for 2015.

So, in this case my word for 2015 is “non-bitchy.”

Simple.

This works for all sorts of words: non-impatient; non-tense; non-workaholic…

Not always grammatically correct but you get the gist.

Now it’s your turn – what’s your word going to be?

 

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Holiday Fight Club

Have you heard about the new holiday tradition? It’s non-denominational, it can happen any time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and you can’t plan it (I don’t think).

It’s the Traditional Holiday Fight and everyone has one.

I never thought of it as a tradition until a friend of mine asked me if I had had my holiday fight yet. I laughed because, of course, I had. We are deep into December – it’s to be expected. She had her fight over Thanksgiving, which might be the way to go since it helps defuse the tension that is sure to build up by December.

I then took a highly scientific poll of five other people and they also have an annual Holiday Fight.

Sounds like a tradition to me!

Usually the fights are about the exact same thing every year. (You know that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. That doesn’t apply here).

Maybe your fight is about spending too much time with the in-laws or having to travel to visit family out of town—again. It might be about over-spending or placing the burden of all of the preparation and shopping on one member of the family. Or, as it is in my house, it could be about decorating the tree although it’s never really about the tree (just like it’s not about the in-laws or the money or the unequal distribution of responsibilities).

Our fight about decorating the tree comes down to one thing: the Christmas tree is a symbol. A test, if you will. A test to see if my Jewish husband is really okay with this whole “Christmas tree in the middle of the living room thing,”

Never mind that for the 22 years that my husband and I have been married he has always helped me put up and decorate a Christmas tree (even helping me pick out a real one for years!) just as I’ve always stood by his side to sing the song and light the candles in the menorah during Hanukkah.

And yet, every December, like clockwork, I say these words:

“I’m canceling Christmas! That’s it! You guys never help me so no one gets presents this year!” And then I cancel Hanukkah as well.

You see, I usually decide with very short notice that I want to put up the Christmas tree. The test for my husband is to see if he will be as excited as I am.

Not surprisingly, he is never as excited as I am.

Unfortunately, as the kids have gotten older their excitement has waned as well. Sure they want the tree up and they want the presents under the tree, but they don’t want to hang up the ornaments. It doesn’t help that dad isn’t enthusiastic either.

This year my 14-year-old tried the “I’m an atheist so this isn’t important to me.” Until, of course, I said that a) the tree is a secular, not religious, symbol, and b) if he truly is embracing atheism he shouldn’t expect gifts.

I think he’s agnostic now.

At this point I usually explode.

I yell that I am taking away Christmas and everything else comes pouring out. I start complaining about all of the shopping and preparations I have to do for TWO holidays even though no one appreciates it anyway and I launch into an attack on my husband, accusing him of being passive-aggressive and stalling so he doesn’t really have to help with my holiday and then I scream that I will not buy a single Hanukkah present for anyone including his family for their Hanukkah party and I will not buy the Hanukkah candles either!

So there!

In case you think I’m an inconsiderate jerk, I do try to be sensitive to my husband because Hanukkah is totally over-shadowed by Christmas but in the course of being sensitive I tend to get resentful. I suddenly want red bows, giant holiday wreaths and Santa chotchkies everywhere! I want the mantle to be draped in evergreen and Christmas music playing 24/7.

The more I see the over-the-top decorations, the more I want them and the more bitchy I get when I can’t have them even though I have never, and I mean never, liked over-done holiday decorations and I’m actually quite content with our little tree.

See, clearly the fight is not about the tree.

But even though I’ve gotten to the root of the matter and I could have a mature discussion with my husband to resolve this, I’m choosing instead to embrace the fight. It’s tradition!. It’s right up there with Christmas morning French Toast, our handmade gift exchange and potato latkes on Hanukkah.

The holidays just wouldn’t be the same without them.

 

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Have you had your Traditional Holiday Fight yet? If not, what are you waiting for??

A Holiday Miracle

The Thanksgiving season is usually not considered the time of miracles and yet something miraculous happened yesterday. Not the miracle of weeping icons or spontaneous healing, mind you, but miraculous just the same.

Let me back up.

My 18-year-old, college freshman came home for Thanksgiving break last night and within 45 minutes our battle for control began.

And, no, the miracle is not that it didn’t happen sooner.

After several hugs for the dog, a couple quick hugs for me, and a discussion about laundry he disappeared into his room.

I was a little disappointed by his vanishing act but I figured a home cooked meal would lure him out. I was wrong. I spent 10 minutes trying to get him to join the family for dinner.

I was miffed. Shouldn’t he be thrilled to have real food?

When he finally came to the table, he brought his iPad with him.  I told him to put it away during dinner and he responded with the, “I can do whatever I want because I’ve been away at school and I do whatever I want there,” bullshit that every college kid says to his parents when he comes home for break.

I was even more miffed.

And, when I told him that I didn’t appreciate his attitude, he responded with “Whatever,” and a roll of his eyes.

That’s when I snapped.

I yelled, my 14-year-old left the table, and my husband sat in silence.

At that moment, I just wanted my oldest son to go back to school.

I thought I had prepared for this. I read all the articles and blog posts about how to deal with your kid when he returns home for school breaks – hell, I wrote an article – but it didn’t matter.

I didn’t want to spend a little bit of time with him. I wanted more.

I wanted him to want to spend time with us – well, me in particular. I wanted him to choose us over his friends and his electronics. I wanted him to say, “Let’s watch a movie together,” “Let’s play a board game,” or “Let’s go out for dinner – just the four of us!” All the books and articles told me those were unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, but I still wanted it!

Those parents of college students who say, “That’s how the visit home is supposed to be. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s healthy!” are full of it. Deep down, they are just as pissed as I am; they just want to act like they are superior parents who have this whole parenting gig down. Me? I don’t care what it looks like. I suck as a parent, remember?

I know I sound like an infant but watching my kid transition from child to independent adult (albeit one who still needs to borrow our car and doesn’t pay for insurance) is not easy. It’s really uncomfortable to have a child who one day can’t leave you alone and the next day doesn’t want anything to do with you. None of this is new; I’ve been dealing with this since my oldest became a teen but it’s always shocking to me and it makes me kind of sad…or mad depending on the day.

Yesterday, apparently, was a mad day.

But then, just as I was on the verge of destroying any chance of quality family time for the entire week, a holiday miracle occurred: the WiFi AND the television went out.

The iPad my son brought to the table? Useless.

The video games he wanted to play on the Xbox? Unavailable.

The TV shows he wanted to binge watch? Inaccessible.

Was this just a coincidence or did my shortening fuse cause our electronics to go out? Did I suddenly have some sort of power? After all, I have been called a witch before (although it probably wasn’t a literal reference).

It didn’t matter. Just like that, I had my kid’s undivided attention.

“Let’s play a board game,” he said.

A Thanksgiving miracle and, yes, I am grateful.

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Wishing you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Don’t Tell Me How To Do College!

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“Don’t Tell Me How To Do College!” my 18-year-old son snapped the other day.

What?! That’s ridiculous! I thought. I’m not telling him how to do anything. I’m merely making suggestions. (Insistent suggestions, perhaps, but still…)

For instance, one Sunday during our weekly Face Time session he complained that he had so much work to do that night. I innocently asked if he had thought about doing some work earlier on the weekend or maybe even during the day on Thursday when he has a huge block of free time.

“I got it, Mom! I know what I’m doing!” he barked.

When I scoffed at his reaction and tried to explain that I was merely trying to make a suggestion he responded with his first, “Don’t tell me how to do college!”

Similar retorts have been made in response to my suggestions that he clean his bathroom more frequently (he shares the bathroom with three suite mates), that he go to Health Services before his cold gets worse (he didn’t), and most recently, in response to my suggestion that he attend more activities on his college campus.

That last one is still lingering between us.

He has made friends at school with a group of kids who grew up not too far from the college they attend. As such, they tend to hang out in the city (the school is near a metropolitan area) rather than on campus attending school events.

My son says he’s fine with this. Me? Not so much.

I should be content that he hangs out with a group of kids he really likes—friends who bring him food when he has the flu and can’t get out of bed—yet, somehow, I have decided that he needs to have more of a “college experience” and that includes taking advantage of everything that he has available on campus.

I know this is ridiculous and, no, I’m not trying to relive my college years through my kid. (Really!) I had a great time in college, as did my husband, and we both had very different experiences from each other and from our son. You would that think this evidence—this proof that a “college experience” is not one size fits all—would be enough for me to back off and let our son “do college” his way.

It’s not.

Again, I’m not telling him how to do anything I’m just offering some suggestions.

What’s wrong with that? Is there an age limit on offering unsolicited advice to your off-spring? Because if there is, my mother and my in-laws didn’t get the memo. Neither did my grandmother or my husband’s grandfather. I was 40 when my dad died and until the end he was giving me advice.

Now, I know that when I was my son’s age I would hear my parents (notice I didn’t say listen) and ignore them (for the most part). There may have been a couple of times I heeded their advice immediately but not often. They knew this and yet they didn’t stop adding their two cents.

That’s what parents do! They keep talking and hope that something sticks!

My kid could have lied and told me that he saw the nurse and he could tell me that he’s attending every activity on campus just to shut me up – but he doesn’t. He’s being honest with me and, not so subtly, telling me to back off.

This reminds me of the first time I tried indoor rock climbing. I was on the wall and there was an incredibly annoying woman in our group who kept yelling out where the hand and footholds were before I even had a chance to look for myself. The first time she offered her “help,” I looked down at her and politely said, “I got it!” The fourth time? I snapped. “I know what I’m doing!” I yelled. “If I want your help, I’ll ask for it!”

Now why would that memory pop up right now, I wonder?  If only I had someone to give me some advice…

 

 

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A Letter To My Son On the Eve Of His College Fall Break

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Dear Son –

It has been almost two months since you left for college (well, actually, 52 days but who’s counting) and tomorrow you are coming home for your fall break!

I’m so excited!

And, a little worried.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy that we will get to see you. I’ve missed your voice and your laugh and I’ve missed saying good night to you, but…let’s just say that this weekend might be an adjustment for all of us.

See, we’ve spent the past 50+ days trying to get used to you being gone. We’ve adjusted to your empty bedroom, our earlier bed times, and the lower food bills, not to mention the quiet.

We’ve settled into a little routine. And I’m sure you have, too. You are used to doing whatever you want whenever you want.

Can you see how that might be a problem??

So, in anticipation of these new adjustments, I wanted to make some “suggestions” to soften your re-entry and avoid the possibility that you—or we—might want to cut your visit short.

  1. Spend some time with your family. Yes, we know that some of your friends are coming home this weekend too, but I am sure you have texted, Skpyed and talked to them far more often than you have with us. Please don’t come home just so you can borrow the car to see your friends, have us do your laundry, and eat your favorite meals. As much as you are longing for the comforts of home, we are longing to spend some (quality) time with you. Leave your phone in your room during dinner, come to your brother’s soccer game, help us cook dinner. A little family time can go a long way especially when you want the car keys…or cash.
  2. We are not your roommates. They probably don’t care if you are up all night or if you come in at 4 am. We, on the other hand, do care. A lot. We have schedules, classes, and jobs to attend to. If you want to stay up until 3 am and sleep until 2 pm that’s fine (sort of). But if you wake us up at 3 am you better believe that you are getting out of bed four hours later. Just saying.
  3. Be nice to your brother. He misses you even if he doesn’t always want to talk to you when you are on Skype. Sure, he has been enjoying his “only child” time but he still likes having you around. (At least I think so. I haven’t actually asked. I guess we’ll find out soon enough).
  4. I promise not to ask too many questions if you promise to answer just a few questions with full sentences and no eye-rolls or attitude.
  5. I have been stocking the fridge and planning your favorite meals. I have changed the sheets on your bed and vacuumed your room. I like to dote on those I love—you know that—however, that doesn’t mean that I intend to wait on you hand and foot. Even if you do flash that smile and say please. That’s what grandmothers are for. And, yes, you have to see them this weekend, too.

See you soon!

Love,

Mom

 

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Pathetic 48-year-old Mom Wanders Around Apple Orchard Alone! (or What I Did On My Kid’s Day Off of School)

Autumn, “the season formerly known as my favorite,” is just not the same now that my kids are older.

Before I had kids autumn was amazing: apple picking with my husband seemed so romantic, driving through a picturesque little town to take in the dazzling fall colors was a highlight of the season, and there was nothing more fun than finding the perfect costume for a Halloween party. Then, once I had kids, everything fall-like got even better – and adorable!

Is there anything cuter than a toddler at a pumpkin patch,

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Or a little kid in a furry Halloween costume trying to sneak a piece of candy,

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Or hoisting your baby up as he reaches for the perfect apple at the top of a tree in an apple orchard?

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No, there’s not.

Kids are adorable in the fall.

Sulking teenagers are not; nor, as it turns out, do they want to participate in those fun, fall festivities – especially not with their parents.

I found that out the hard way.

See, I love apple picking – any fruit picking, actually. My dad would take us miles out of our way if he saw a sign that there was fruit to be picked. We would head home with crates of strawberries, peaches, apples – anything we could pick that was in season.

I loved those days.

When I had kids I tried to recreate those moments as much for myself as my boys. Every September, from the time that my oldest was about six-months-old we would go apple picking. We would come home with so many apples that I would eventually get sick of anything apple related. But that didn’t matter because it was about so much more than just apples.

It was shared family time and the boys loved it (well, I’m not sure about the six-month-old but, boy, was it cute!). Post-picking we would savor warm cider donuts, pick out pumpkins to bring home and put on our porch, and even enjoy a pony ride!

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Every kid’s dream!

Until they are 14-years-old, apparently. Who knew?

This year, at the first hint of cooler temps and falling leaves I felt the pull to head to the nearest orchard and fill a bushel with apples.

“Who’s with me?” I asked my family enthusiastically.

Nothing.

“Come on!” I said to my one and only teen who still lives at home. “It’ll be fun!”

“Can I bring a friend?” he asked.

“Sure! The more the merrier!” I said.

I’m an idiot.

(Note: When your teen asks if he can bring a friend (or two) that means that he will not be spending any time with you. Bring your own friend – just saying.)

I, of course, didn’t know this as I planned our outing. I was still optimistic. I had visions of the group of us rambling through the apple orchard searching for the as yet untouched tree dripping with apples, it’s limbs sagging from the weight of the perfectly ripened fruit. I imagined that my son, his friends and I would see this tree from afar and get giddy at the sight of it. We would rush to the tree and fill our bags to the brim with the most perfect apples – stealing a bite or three of one of the apples and sighing with delight.

This is how it actually went down:

We got to the orchard and they went ahead without me.

I let them go because I realized, as we piled out of the car, that my son wanted to be with his friends. Sure, I could have tagged along but no one would have a good time.

So, I let them go.

But I still wanted to find that damn tree with the perfect apples! I could have gone into the store and simply bought a bag of apples but it seemed silly to have driven all that way and not, at least, walk into the orchard.

As I trudged through the apple orchard – alone – carrying my little plastic bag I tried not to look too creepy while families with young children walked by. I figured if I looked up and down every row it would look like I simply lost my group not that I had been abandoned. The last straw was when the guy driving a tractor full of apple pickers yelled out to me, “Where’s the rest of your group? Did they leave you?”

Pathetic.

All was not lost, however. I did find my perfect little tree full of apples and I filled my bag to the brim. I even got my warm cider donut – which I ate in the car, by myself, while I waited for the boys.

I think I’ll skip the pumpkin patch this year.

 

 

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