Posts Tagged ‘crazy’

The Truth About Parenting…and Dogs

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My oldest child was born during the Stone Age of Parenting.

Way back in 1996, when he was born, the Diaper Genie was a new-fangled gizmo and Pottery Barn Kids was a pipe dream for those parents who didn’t want to decorate their children’s rooms in glaring primary colors. There were no YouTube videos to show me how to properly swaddle my baby or give him a bath; parenting blogs—those now ubiquitous havens of compassion and commiseration—were non-existent; and the parenting section in my local bookstore consisted of a couple of shelves of paperback books shoved in the back of the store.

How did we survive, you ask?

Well, we did have multiple copies of What To Expect the First Year sent to us by well-meaning friends who knew we needed some guidance but I also had my mother, my mother-in-law, aunts, uncles and friends who offered first hand accounts of how they had weathered the new baby storm armed with nothing more than a burp rag and a handful of Cheerios.

They rarely offered unsolicited parenting advice and when they did it focused on how not to coddle your kid, as in: “If he doesn’t want to eat what’s in front of him now, he will when he gets hungry. Stop making him a special meal!”

Sage advice.

But, as my son aged and our second child was added to the mix, the amount of available information about how to raise our children began to grow as well.

I no longer had to seek advice from someone I knew—I just had to ask Google.

Even when I didn’t actually want advice, though, I couldn’t escape it. Everywhere I looked there was always some article, study, or blog post telling me what I could be doing better or, more often, pointing out what I had already done wrong and leaving me with the impression that there was no way to fix the damage.

For instance, I remember being thrown into a tizzy by the Atlantic Monthly article entitled, “The Overprotected Kid.” Naturally, I was compelled to read the piece, what with the words “kid” and “overprotected” in the headline (“overprotected” being code for “parenting failure” two words I find unable to tear myself away from).

Somehow an article about creating a different type of playground that would allow kids to experience “independence, risk taking and discovery” turned into how I robbed my now teenaged children of the ability to take “reasonable risks,” which stunted their healthy childhood development and will ultimately result in their inability to leave home and have happy and productive lives (my take, not the author’s).

It was easier when I didn’t have a clue.

Of course, I could just stop reading lifestyle magazines and avoid parenting websites, but I seem to stumble on parenting pieces in places I would not normally have expected to find someone spewing parenting advice—the front page of The New York Times, the business section of The Wall Street Journal, even People magazine!

If I had been bombarded with all of this info before I had kids I may have written off the parenting gig and just bought another dog. (No one has accused me of being a sucky dog owner…yet).

But, alas, we can’t return to the Stone Age so we have to adapt. I could disengage from all social media, avoid the Internet and don blinders to avoid eye contact with parents who want to discuss the latest new parenting study – a suggestion proposed by Sarah Miller in her satirical New Yorker piece, “New Parenting Study Released” or…I could treat my kids like I treat my dog.

Because, although there are plenty of things I could teach my dog, I don’t view his inability to learn something as an indictment of my dog training ability. I also recognize that my dog’s inability to fetch will not have repercussions for his future. Even if he doesn’t learn to get my newspaper he will still lead a happy life…asleep at my feet, a tummy full of dog treats.

We should all be so lucky.

 

 

 

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Separation Anxiety

Three days ago my oldest son landed in Costa Rica. I thought that it would be the first time—ever—that he and I would go more than a day without communicating. Everyone told me that cell service was basically non-existent in the cloud forest. There was also no WiFi in the rooms where he was staying so if he needed to communicate with me he would have to email me from the student area.

He does not send email.

He considers anything longer than a six-word text essentially writing a novel, so, I had prepared myself for limited communication.

And then I got this email:

“I’m not in the same room as [the kids I’m traveling with] but that’s ok, I’ve made other friends…There’s no WiFi in the rooms so this is the last email that I am going to send. Love you! Bye”

It was like a knife through my heart. That’s it? I won’t get anything for the rest of the trip? He’s never been away from me for two weeks and certainly we’ve never gone two weeks without speaking. And now, nothing? I forwarded the email to my friend and wrote: “I’ve lost my baby…” (Very dramatic, I know).

I’d gone through this with my 12-year-old when he went away to summer camp but at least at his summer camp the counselors made him write home – even when he didn’t want to. And, they posted pictures of the campers so I could see if he was smiling and, most importantly, he was in this country.

My 16-year-old was in a jungle in Central America without me.

I was a bit shocked by his ability to separate from me so easily. This is the kid who checks in with me all of the time, the kid who has never wanted to be away from home for an extended period of time, and, yet now, he’s gone. Just like that.

I wallowed in my sadness for a bit but then I realized that this was what I expected and, most importantly, what I wanted.

I settled in with my book for the night when I heard a call coming in on Skype.

Really? I had just accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to hear from him and now he’s Skyping?

I almost emailed my friend to say: “Never mind. He’s back.”

He wanted to tell us about the giant tarantula in the common area and the scorpions scurrying around the rooms. You’re in a jungle, I wanted to remind him. Instead I said, “That’s so cool! Now go to bed.”

An hour later…

The phone rings.

WTF! (It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes.)

This time he wanted to tell us that he had switched rooms because there was a scorpion the size of a baseball cap in the other room.

Creepy? Without a doubt. But still, not an emergency.

I tried to remain pleasant—he was nervous about sleeping in a bed of scorpions—I get it, but I ended the conversation with this reminder: “You really shouldn’t be calling me. It’s very expensive. If it’s an emergency call me, but if not, send us an email. You’ll be fine.”

Nine hours later:

“Hi mom! I got some sleep.”

Remember when I wanted him to call? Well, now I didn’t.

I want him to be independent. He’s going to college in two years and I really don’t want him to have to call me every day. I want him to NOT want to call me – even if I want him to call me. Get it?

When he hung up he was mad at me for reprimanding him about calling. I chose the tough love approach. If I don’t shove him away, will he ever be ready to leave?

Twelve hours later…

Nothing.

I checked email, made sure I was still logged in on Skype and checked my texts.

Nothing.

Remember when I said that I didn’t want to hear from him? Well, I was wrong.

He can’t even send a text? I know that I told him not to call but he never listens to me; why would he start now?

I know I sound crazy but I’m struggling with my need to let go and my desire to hold on for dear life. I know that my job is to teach my kids to be on their own. I do not want them living in my basement when they are thirty but the alternative could be that they are living somewhere else and I never see them.

How do you navigate that fine line? How do you get your kids to want you around but not so much that they can’t function without you?

An hour later…

I hear the beep of Skype.

Damn, I really thought he wasn’t going to call.

Ah well, here we go again…

 

 

 

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