Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dear Char-Gri-Ha-YOU!: An apology letter to my 4th kid

Dear Char-Gri-Ha-DANGIT!

I guess I should start with saying that I'm sorry that I never call you by your actual name.  I usually just shout out random syllables until I give up and yell at you to stop whatever it is that you're doing. To be fair, I call your siblings a bunch of random stuff, too, so maybe that one doesn't have anything to do with being the youngest. But there are some things that are totally different for you than for your brothers and sister. And I know they're there and I'm sorry. So, here goes. I am sorry for the following things...

Your Medical Care
I'm sorry that we are iffy on your medical care.  On the plus side, we have never driven you 45 minutes to the world class children's hospital emergency room in the middle of the night because you were vomiting. Just throwing up. No other symptoms. That was your sister.  After the hypochondriac phase of our first child, we swung way back the other direction and assumed we could handle anything. One of your older brothers has a permanent scar from that 2nd degree burn for which we did not seek medical attention, but should have. Oops. No, we're probably about the right level of emergency response with you, but I have no idea what any of your stats are. I don't know how much you weigh or how tall you are. Or what shoe size you wear. I don't remember which illnesses you've had or in what order. Sorry. I can probably look it up, but I don't know. Periodically I quiz myself about what you're wearing while I'm in the carpool line to pick you up and I'm never right. Which brings up my next topic.

Your First Day of...
I am not all that excited about preschool. I realize that this is your first time in Pre-K, but I've been here 4 times. Well, 5 if you count the time I, personally, was in preschool. Whereas I was totally excited to be the Mystery Reader for your sister (Oh, I'll get to see what her class is like!), I signed up for yours thinking, "I'll sign up early so I can get it over with." Oh, I'll actually love being in there and seeing you, but I'm also thinking, "You go to school for 12 hours a week. I need this one back." In fact, I posted a really cute first day of school picture of you, but it wasn't your first day. It was the second. Or third. I'm not sure, Daddy took that picture. I'm sorry. I love you and I'm proud of you, but I do not think everything with your fingerprint on it is adorable and I don't need ornaments with your picture on them. Speaking of pictures...

Not the First Day of School

Evidence of Your Existence
Daddy takes lots of pictures of you because you are adorable and hilarious. They are very rarely, however, the kind of thing a middle schooler would like to see of themselves in 7-9 years. They are frequently with your lovey, or under a blanket fort, or running away from us. I have almost no pictures of you because I am constantly catching you right before you careen off a cliff or into traffic and thus the pictures I could take fall by the wayside. I also don't even bother to get pictures where you are smiling or looking at the camera. We have thousands of pictures of 3 kids smiling and you off to the side somewhere doing whatever you felt like at the time. We just don't care anymore. We got a picture, all of you were in it, we move on. But your wedding rehearsal dinner video is going to be embarrassing because that's all we have.

The Only Kind of Pictures We Have of Your Face

Your Emotional Pain
While we're talking about embarrassing things...I'm sorry we laugh at you every time you cry. Its just that you're the only one that's still a little bit of a baby and your crocodile tears are incredibly cute. Also, you cry for hilarious reasons. You wanted to drink your milk on the floor. You wanted your monkey to pick you up from school. You wanted anyone but your brother to hand you a plate. But you also cry because no one is listening to you and that's probably true and I'm sorry that we still think it's funny. I'm sorry.
You fell on the Appalachian Trail and got a bloody nose. You are crying, however, because I picked you up to comfort you. and you were offended. Hilarious. So I took a picture. Sorry. 

TV and Movies You Watch
I'm sorry that your little voice gets drowned out by bigger ones, especially when you pick TV shows. You have never seen Sesame Street or Caillou. When you discovered Word World existed you lit up in a way that made me really guilty that you've never actually watched an age-appropriate cartoon. You do have a pretty good vocabulary from Martha Speaks and you know a lot about animals from Wild Kratts, but you don't have any idea who Dora is. Sorry.

Your Toys
You don't have any age appropriate toys. I'm sorry. You have a bunch of brothers that you wrestle like a maniac, but I'm pretty sure you never had stacking rings or that popper thing you pull or blocks. You do know how to read and can name all the months of the year, but that seems to be primarily through osmosis while I gave you random "school work" to do while I taught your brother those things. If you one day really need that phone you can pull on a string, I'll get you one. I'm sorry.

Your Tiny Legs
We forget you are little. We went to Washington, D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival and we decided we didn't need a stroller. You were 2. We made you walk the whole Mall and when you finally fell asleep in the Museum of American History, I just carried you. We have never given you scheduled naps or let you ride when you could walk. I like to believe it will make you tough. It might, however, just make you have ridiculous expectations for your own kids one day. Sorry, future grandchildren.

The First Ladies' Dresses were Exhausting
Your Middle-Aged Parents
I'm sorry that you get tired parents. We are a lot older than we were when we started this parenting thing...both in years and in miles. Oh, but we love you. My hardest thing with you is not spoiling you absolutely rotten due to your charm and laugh and smile and general adorable adorableness. Seriously, you're cute. So I'm sorry that I over-correct and yell at you and give you the mean Mommy voice because I'm raising you to be a responsible man and not a man-child who thinks that charm is a character trait. I'm sorry if that is not always clear.

I hope when you're a grown man you will be able to see past the forgetful Mommy and distracted Daddy to the parents who deeply love and cherish you. You asked me why God made you this week...and without hesitation I told you it was because God wanted another little boy with big brown eyes who loved life and made everyone around him smile. So you gave me one of your smiles...the one that lights up the world around you...and snuggled into my lap.

You are my treasure and joy and I'm sorry when we forget to tell you. And I'm sorry that the only way I'll ever remember this is to write it down and put it on the internet. Feel free to ask my estate for therapy money. We probably left your oldest brother in charge of it. Sorry.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

10 Ways to Win at Parenting This School Year

I’m kidding. I don’t have any actual tips to "Start the School Year Off Right", or "Make Mornings Your Family's Favorite Time of Day", or "Love Every Minute of Carpool."

To be honest, I actually have no freaking clue what I’m doing. I’m wandering around blindfolded in a dark room filled with mostly shin-high furniture and scattered Legos. Instead of beautifully crafted memes filled with misty lakes and burgeoning sunrises, I have the refrain “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” to offer. 

OK, that may be a bit bleak. I don’t actually think my parenting wisdom is meaningless, but I do think it may or may not be useful and there’s really no way I can be sure for at least, like, 40 years or so.

As we rocket toward another school year (that calendar by which parents measure time far more closely than by the New Year), my social media feeds are full of "10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Organized" and "13 Tricks to Healthy Lunches all Year Long". And maybe they work. If you find a suggestion or color coded calendar available for download that helps you out, Brava. I hope it fulfills all of your #momgoals for the year. But I don’t live with your kids in your house and you don’t live with my kids in mine so there’s really only so much that either of us is going to be able to teach the other one about how to do this parenting thing “right.”

You know who’d I take advice from? Some grandma with lovely grown grandchildren who were raised by her well-adjusted, productive children. She, however, is probably not writing a blog or posting carefully distressed signs with messages of love on Pinterest because she has transcended the realm of daily motherhood and no longer worries about such mundane things. She may also not exist because no matter how great of a parent you are, our kids can all decide to be drug addicts or shack up with a stripper named Glitter that they met during that gap year we convinced our spouse to let them take.

All the best advice in the world, all of the best ways to do this, or creative ways to do that may or may not be “best” in your life, or my life, or—and this is terrifying—even for all of our own kids. What works with one may or may not work for another. We really can’t tell in the middle of it.

I, for instance, teach my kids random things through pop songs written primarily before my birth.

Having trouble with prepositions? –“Under the Boardwalk”The Drifters, 1964
Wondering if there is such a thing as a Space Cowboy? –“TheJoker” Steve Miller Band, 1973

I send my kids to a pretty conservative private Christian school where I have to say things like “I think dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago no matter what your teacher said” and yet I also am explaining phrases like “we’ll be makin’ love…under the boardwalk” and “I’m a midnight toker” to my children. Fortunately, none of them asked about “I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree.”

What in the world am I doing?! Have I no sense of the middle ground?!? We've got Creationism and stoner anthems at the same time??!! I am totally afraid that I am breaking them most of the time. That they will turn out weird or ignorant or lost or lonely or afraid or….well, I don’t even know what. The reality is that they will be one or all of those things at some point. We all are.  

One of my kids has spent the last year in therapies attempting to address both physical and academic challenges that we can’t seem to find a cause for. In our last meeting our pediatrician looked at me and said, “This is a unique case for me.”

Well, damn. Is that unique like “that’s a unique smell” or what?

He said, “unique in that most parents aren’t as involved or knowledgeable about their children’s development and education as you are. Honestly, most of them want me to just fix it so they can go back to playing tennis.”

I suppose that’s a compliment (I took it that way because I have an overinflated ego at times—not all the time, mind you—that might actually be useful to my sense of accomplishment—just sometimes), but it was also terrifying. I don’t want to have a unique case. I don’t want my kid to suffer because maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking I know what to do or how to fix it and I’ve just made it worse. Maybe I am blowing this whole parenting thing to hell even in the one field I thought I may actually have had an advantage. Maybe I should have just gone to play tennis. I’ve heard they have wine there.

Earlier today, my oldest was looking at her brand new binder and said, “OOHHH, it says, ‘resists taaares.’ So the binder doesn’t tear on the inside.”  When I looked up she said, “I read it as ‘resists teeers’ and kept thinking, ‘how many people cry onto their binders’”?

Having taught AP World History to 10th graders in a highly academically competitive environment, I’m pretty sure I could name several kids who may have cried onto their binders. I also think that if you could sell a binder that could resist tears, the kind that pour from your children’s eyes and into their lives and hearts, Target would never be able to keep that thing stocked.

But we would be wrong to buy it. Our teeers and taaaares and hurts and heartaches and struggles and successes and even false successes are what make us valuable human beings full of love and compassion and not fragile robots prone to general jackassery. (That’s a word. I promise.)

I am probably breaking my kids. You are probably breaking your kids. We are, probably, right this very minute, doing something that could have been done with just a little bit more patience or grace or love or joy or meaningful stares at one another. Although that sounds vaguely creepy.  

Our parenting choices are far from meaningless, but they’re not all paramount, either. I think it’s easier for us to focus on the logistics and look for advice about discipline tickets or chore charts because that feels like something we can DO, not something we have to be. 

And that's the rub, isn't it? Really great parenting is when WE are full of peace and patience and kindness and love...not when we manage to do the back-to-school paperwork on time. This is both the most important job we’ll ever do and also the one in which there will never be an accurate year-end review until the job’s all over. Our only option is to go hard for the duration in the hopes that we get something right.

So, what are my actual "10 Ways to Win at Parenting this School Year?" 
  1. Do your best—at whatever thing it seems to YOU needs attention at the time.
  2. Ignore all the other parents’ social media feeds. They don’t have your kids.
  3. Pray. This is actually 3-9. We’re all just guessing at what our kids need, but God in heaven knows.
  4. (AKA number 10) Do it all over again every day for every year you get to be a parent. It’s the only totally exhausting job that you never want to end.

I hope that all of our kids have meaningful years of growth and maturity. I hope they learn and expand and rise. I hope they experience, and recover from, tears of all kinds. And I hope we all remember to treasure it as much as humanly possible. Happy Back to School.