Category Archives: Parenting

The one where David learns to swim

When Emma was a baby, I threw away all the parenting books. Because I decided that many people who were a lot stupider than me had successfully raised children, and if I trusted my gut, I would probably be okay. (I actually did think those exact thoughts. This was obviously before I learned humility and became the compassionate person I am today.)

And usually when I trust my gut, I’m okay. (And when I talk myself out of what my gut is telling me, I get into all kinds of trouble. But that’s a topic for another day.)

But sticking to what my gut tells me to do is still scary, painful and very unpleasant at times.

David has learned to swim. Not that he has a beautiful stroke or anything. But swim as in “if he falls into deep water he can get himself out without drowning.” Which when you get down to it is really the most important thing when it comes to swimming.

In four weeks, he has gone from crying every night on the way to swim lessons to telling me how much he can’t wait to go to swim lessons and wanting to practice his swimming every chance he gets.  In four weeks, he’s gone from saying, “Why does Margaret get to stay in Level 1 and I have to go to Level 2?” to saying, “Don’t worry, Margaret. Someday you’ll get to be in Level 2.” (Not that she looked worried.)

In four weeks, he is like a different kid.

Many of you know that I almost relented. I was thisclose to telling him he didn’t have to do it. Thisclose to not being able to stand the breathless sobbing all the way from camp to the pool. Four nights a week. For four weeks. And when he wasn’t crying, he was complaining.

But something told me that if I stayed calm, and told him overandoverandover that he could do it, told him to think about how good he’d feel after he proved to himself he could do it, that it would be okay.

I will be eternally grateful to Derek – the patient, kind – yet firm – college student who helped David overcome his fear. (Not that Derek was too thrilled about it in the beginning. He told one of Emma’s friends that he specifically signed up for Level 2 so he wouldn’t have any criers, and he was not too happy that he had a crier.)

Now if I could just get Derek to come to my house and convince David to take the training wheels off his bike.


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Summer fantasies

Ah, the fantasies of summer.

Each year (round about April) I have this fantasy of the way summer is going to be. Long, lazy days with no homework, no 8 a.m. school arrival times, no cross-country practice, no ACTs to prepare for. No food-service cards to recharge online. No keeping track of when pajama day is. (Or when show-and-tell day is. Or what the show-and-tell theme is.) No identifying 15 things in the house that start with the letter Y.

Nothing to do, nowhere to be. Late dinners of simple, grilled food. Trips to the pool after dinner. Relaxed bedtimes. Relaxed wake times. Low stress.

And I count the days until the end of school.

At which point reality sets in.

8 a.m. school arrival times (to the elementary and preschools 6 short blocks from our house) are replaced by 8 a.m. (ok, “-ish”) arrivals at the day camp program (a 20-minute round-trip from home). And the same trip in the evening.  Homework is replaced by swim lessons four nights a week. The camp also has pajama day. And super hero day. (Which I forgot have no memory of ever knowing about.)

Grilled food is actually a rotating selection of pizza/macaroni and cheese/scrambled eggs after swim lessons. Relaxed bedtimes are actually hurry-up-it’s-late-and-you-have-to-get-up-for-camp. Post-dinner trips to the pool are replaced by I don’t even know what.  Relaxed wake times are not possible because…oh yeah, I still have to go to work in the summer.

High humidities eliminate any hope of low stress. (Stop touching me.)

So here I sit on August 3, fantasizing about the start of school and the start of Fall. Counting the days (or at least the weeks) until we are back in our regular routine. Dreaming of cool nights and cool mornings. Of school shoes and new backpacks. Of hot dinners in the crock pot. Of seeing the other school moms on a regular basis.

And in my Fall fantasies… it will be perfect.

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Risking it

As I’ve been thinking about and praying for Abby Sunderland over the last 24 hours, I’ve been thinking about the parental “risk spectrum.”

On one end are parents who don’t let their 16-year old daughter drive around the block alone. On the other end are parents who let their 16-year-old daughter sail around the world alone.

Note that the purpose of this post is not to bash the parents who let their daughter sail around the world alone. While I don’t understand it, I don’t know them, their daughter, or any of the circumstances, so it’s not my place to comment on it.

Making decisions about what’s an acceptable level of risk is hard. It’s sometimes agonizing for me.

I will never forget the day I put Emma on a plane by herself for the first time and then cried the whole way home. (She was 10.) Or the day I let her go on the el by herself for the first time (which was actually scarier than the plane, because there was no el employee to hand her off to, and no one waiting for her on the other end.)

I probably have a higher level of risk tolerance than many parents. In general, I don’t think the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be, as I’ve written about here. I did let Emma go on a plane by herself, and I did let her ride the el by herself. I didn’t put those plastic bumpers on the edges of the coffee table, and my kids had the bruises to show for it. I hate to admit it, but I don’t make my kids wear bike helmets when they’re riding up and down the sidewalk (when they ride in the street, yes). And we now have a trampoline in the back yard.

But regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I think making daily decisions about how much risk you can tolerate is one of the hardest tasks of parenting.

I wish I could just have my set of rules to refer to. That would make it neat and tidy. This is ok. This is not ok. But the fact is that the decisions are situational and based on the individual kid. What I’m ok with for Emma, I may not be ok with for Margaret when the time comes. (No, let me restate that. What I’m ok with for Emma, I can say with absolute certainty I will not be ok with for Margaret.)

I guess we all just do the best we can. And then close our eyes and pray.

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We’re completing another school year today.  David’s first year of “real” school. Margaret’s first year of pre-school. Emma’s junior year of high school. (Okay, for Emma, it doesn’t completely end until Wednesday, but work with me here.)

And again, I’m struck by how fast it went.  School started. I blinked and it was Halloween. I blinked again and it was Christmas. I blinked again and it was Easter. I blinked again and school was ending.  Another year gone.

I have proof that time has passed.  David’s hair (more) and teeth (less) are evidence.

I know I’m not alone. I’m amazed by how many conversations include a reference to how quickly time passes. So forgive me if I’m stating the obvious.

I’ve had twelve years of start of school/blink/Halloween/blink/Christmas/blink/Easter/blink/end of school with Emma. I have one more and then she will be gone. On to the next phase of her life.  But I won’t think about that now.

I will think about today, as we enter the lazy, hazy, hot, humid, sweat-running-down-my-back-and-front-why-do-we-live-here (sorry, that’s a topic for another post) days of summer.  Of relaxed bedtimes and relaxed dinner times and what-the-heck-it’s-hot-let’s-eat-dinner-at-the-pool evenings.  Of sunscreen (I know that you’re supposed to use it year-round but I don’t, okay?) and damp beach towels and block parties and where’s my other flip flop?

Today it stretches in front of me.

If only I didn’t have to blink.

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Things I learned from my kids on Mother’s Day weekend

1. If you misplace your lost tooth, if you write a letter to the tooth fairy, she’ll come anyway. (Actually, I guess David’s the one who learned this, not me.)

2. There’s nothing wrong with you that a Band-Aid won’t make feel better.

3. If one Band-Aid is good, two is better.

4. I make the best pancakes in the world. (From David’s Mother’s Day letter to me.)

5. I look prettiest when I get married. (From the same letter. I’m flattered, but let’s not say any more about that one.)

6. A yellow plastic flower in a painted plastic goblet makes for a wonderful Mother’s Day gift. (There was real soil in it. Not sure why that was necessary, but whatever.)

7. Even 16-year-olds want their mom when they don’t feel well.

8.  It’s possible for a 4-year-old to ride a bicycle around Walmart and not hit anyone. (A few people had fear in their eyes, however.)

9. Even teenagers think Betty White is cool. Which is cool. Because she is.

10. I’m the luckiest Mom in the world. Which I already knew. But it’s good to be reminded once a year.

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What a difference a week makes

How is it possible that one week of Spring Break got us so discombobulated?

It’s not like we went anywhere, or did anything terribly exciting (save for one college visit.)

We mostly went to church (when you sing in the choir in the Episcopal church, Holy Week is pretty much a marathon of rehearsals and services which leave you scratching your head and wondering why you do it each year.) I went to work, the kids went to childcare, Emma slept in. No muss, no fuss.

And yet this morning, we were all crabby and tired. No one wanted to cooperate. (Not even the kids.) David, who loves school, didn’t want to go to school. (“But I already know all my letters. Why does she keep teaching them?”) Margaret clung to me at school (it was pretty much a cling-fest at pre-school, as we were not the only ones in our situation.)

The good news is that we’ll be back in the swing of things by tomorrow.  And into the home stretch, school-wise.  And then on to the glorious days of summer, when the routine will go totally out of the window…

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Spin the wheel

As I enter the college search process with my eldest child, I’m struck by how much more complicated the process seems than it did when I was in high school. This is partly because I’m not the one going through it now. It’s partly because, for many people, technology and cheap airfares make the world a lot smaller and therefore the college options more vast. Part of it is because I grew up in a fairly rural area where most of us didn’t know about a lot of the options outside a limited geographic area.

And Harold Thomas, our guidance counselor at Shamokin Area High School, did not help the situation.

Mr. Thomas (rest in peace) was a large man, with a voice that can best be described as “pinched.” (Imitating Mr. Thomas’ voice is still a major activity at our high school reunions.)

Mr. Thomas didn’t exactly see the world as filled with college choices.

In high school, we imagined that Mr. Thomas had a large wheel hidden somewhere in his office. Prior to walking into your meeting with him to discuss college options, Mr. Thomas would spin the wheel to determine where you would go.

If you imagine the wheel separated into 12 sections (think “Wheel of Fortune”), 5 of the sections were marked “Penn State – Hazelton Campus”, 4 were marked “Bloomsburg” (then a state college, now university), 1 was marked “other state colleges in Pennsylvania”, and 1 was marked “Penn State – main campus.”

If you suggested to Mr. Thomas that you might want to go to a school other than those on the wheel – say, Juniata, or Muilenberg, or Lafayette, or the Coast Guard Academy, or God forbid, Princeton – you were met with a quizzical stare that said, “Why would you ever want to do  that?”  And then, of course, if you actually wanted to pursue one of those “other” schools, you were pretty much on your own.

I have to say that, while the experience wasn’t terribly inspiring, it wasn’t terribly stressful either.

I see Emma, who is smart and mature and grounded and wonderful (and I’m, of course, not biased in any way) dealing with the dual pressures of seemingly unlimited choices, and worry that she won’t get into any of the schools on her list. And I know that her friends are going through the same thing too. Over the next year, we will explore options, visit Web sites and campuses, talk to people, look at brochures. Even though I’m “in the business”, I will experience it in a completely different way from the other side. It will be fun and scary. And at the end, she will land someplace where she feels like she is “home”, as I did when I visited Juniata for the first time, and as I did the four years that I was there.

I’m glad she has so many choices.

But maybe it was easier to just spin the wheel.


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