My Craft Journal
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Tuesday
May032016

My Least Favorite Piece of Parenting Advice

If I had to pick my least favorite piece of parenting advice, it would be this: “Enjoy it. It goes so fast.”

These words of wisdom, seemingly always delivered to me at the grocery store--while I’m wrangling juice boxes, an overstuffed shopping basket, and two lively girls who are begging for permission to avoid the chilly dairy aisle--by a random, wistful-looking woman anywhere from 10 to 30 years my senior, absolutely drive me crazy.

As I stand there, most likely unshowered, undoubtedly under-caffeinated for the challenges, and wearing one of my countless black tees (the better to camouflage that baby weight I have been meaning to lose since 2011), I just want to say, “I WISH.”

Because after a day of referring Beanie Boo crises (”I know you want to play with Bamboo, but he is your sister’s and she is allowed to say no. How about playing with one of your other 5.2 million stuffed animals? No? You don’t like any of them anymore? And you don’t want to play with them ever again? Well, that is a problem.”), cutting the crusts off the 251st peanut butter and jelly sandwich of 2016, and wondering how a child with a drawer full of clothes can’t find a single acceptable outfit to wear, I surely do wish time would speed up.

But of course the woman in the store doesn’t know that I’ve been up since 6 a.m., that I got up in the middle of the night to soothe a child frightened by a nightmare, and that I have a new appreciation for the “Calgon, take me away!” commercials from the 1970s that used to make my mother laugh.

All that woman sees is two girls, one little and one big, giggling at their own jokes and happily playing with their toys in the middle of the produce section—and likely a mom with a touch of frazzle about her.

And she doesn’t want me to let the frazzle make me miss those childhood moments that seem to last forever until the day when you realize they have vanished, without warning or fanfare.

I always want to tell that woman to direct her advice to some other parent—that I know kids grow up fast, that I quit my job to go freelance so I could find a better balance between work and motherhood, that my husband and I both co-oped in our girls’ preschool classrooms, and that I AM paying attention, all the way from the first “I need company!” bathroom request of the morning to the moment when I finally whisper good night and tiptoe out of my daughters’ darkened bedroom.

But as I flipped through folders of photos long forgotten on my hard drive, I realized tonight that woman in the store was right after all. Kids grow up right before your eyes—and yes, it does go so fast.

Sisters, 2012

 

Sunday
May012016

Daddy's Girls 

Is there anything more fun than dressing up in your mom's or dad's clothes? Double points if you can get away with borrowing their eyeglasses.

Dressing up like Daddy

  

 

Friday
Apr182014

Why Ordinary Things Matter--My Messy Beautiful

I held the sticky note in my hand, suddenly feeling awkward. Moments before, I knew exactly how I was going to answer the “… is a warrior because …” sentence. But my mind’s eye quickly filled with the faces of people I knew who are doing hard things, people who were, in the lingo of Momastery, warriors.

I thought of friends and family who survived cancer and the punishing rounds of treatment. I thought of those who must muster the strength to fight emotional and bureaucratic skirmishes to support their kids with special needs. I thought of those who have confronted failure, in whatever form, and endured.

But not everyone is engaged in dramatic public combat in what Glennon calls this “messy beautiful life.”

From our own difficult moments, we all know that it’s not just the big public battles that wear us down—it’s also the daily conflicts of everyday life that so often leave our souls frayed.

But we all have the power to mend ourselves and others. As I looked at the bulletin board filled with completed “warrior” notes, I thought of how many people I admired for the most ordinary of reasons. The friend who is unfailingly kind. The teacher who is seemingly unflappable. The non-athlete who keeps lacing up her shoes to get outside. Simple things, yes, but ones with surprising steadying power on those around them. And I clearly could not fit all their names on one sticky note.

Carry on, warriors.

Me and my friend at Barnes and Noble. By the way, she is a warrior because she is incredibly warm and welcoming to other moms.

 

Friday
Mar282014

Snug as a Bug in a Rug

You used to carry a Blackberry, department-store lipstick, and a corporate credit card in your always-appropriate black leather work bag. That tote is fraying now, its pockets frequently filled with broken crayons, goldfish crackers, and an emergency supply of baby wipes, just in case. Some days, you feel a little worn around the edges yourself, after making yet another peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich with a sippy cup of chocolate milk for a little girl who lives each day with the untempered passion of childhood. Luckily for you, she's easy to forgive, especially when she suddenly falls asleep, wrapped up as snug as a bug in a rug.

Monday
Mar242014

Reading List: Five Great Parenting Articles

When I saw this New Yorker story, I laughed out loud in my very cluttered home office, because I swear they must be spying on me. Or perhaps their writers in recent days have fallen down the same rabbit hole of thought-provoking parenting stories that I have. In case you missed them, here they are:

1. NYT: Homework’s Emotional Toll on Students and Families

There are parenting strategies available to deal with those struggles, certainly — but when, and why, did our evenings at home become so dedicated to that particular interaction?

Ah, homework. One of the things that struck me while I was reporting this Arlington Magazine story on homework was how many families with homework challenges thought they were the only ones struggling with the volume or quantity of schoolwork that their children were bringing home. They were wrong. Parents, kids, teachers, and administrators all over Arlington County and the country are wondering how to manage the issue of homework.

 

2. The Atlantic: What Applying to Charter Schools Showed Me About Inequality

At another open house I attended (for a different charter school), a mother was incredulous to hear that the school anticipated having zero open slots for new kindergartners. They expected their already admitted pre-K students to fully fill those classrooms.

Gen X parents (including myself) are often criticized for being helicopter parents, for enrolling their kids in organized activities or preschool too early, for worrying too much. Well, folks, here’s what happens when you think you’re opting out of the madness: You show up at an information meeting at a public charter school in your community, only to learn that if you really wanted your5-year-old kid to have any chance of attending that school as a kindergartner, you apparently should have applied two years ago.

 

3. The Atlantic: The Overprotected Kid

The playgrounds were novel, but they were in tune with the cultural expectations of London in the aftermath of World War II. Children who might grow up to fight wars were not shielded from danger; they were expected to meet it with assertiveness and even bravado. Today, these playgrounds are so out of sync with affluent and middle-class parenting norms that when I showed fellow parents back home a video of kids crouched in the dark lighting fires, the most common sentence I heard from them was “This is insane.”

I too remember exploring my Minneapolis neighborhood on my own—riding my bike to my best friends’ house, selling Girl Scout cookies door to door, hitting tennis balls against the wall of an office building across the street from our house. Would I let my kids do the same today? I don’t know. When we’re at the playground, I scan for them constantly, like a well-trained lifeguard at pool, making sure they are in sight. When we listened to the Ramona and Beezus books last summer, my jaw dropped when we heard the chapter where Ramona, then in kindergarten, walks herself to school. (!) If you did that in Arlington today, you’d probably find yourself having an unexpected conversation with the nice people from social services about supervising your child more appropriately—or else. Has our level of concern gone too far? Hanna Rosin seems to think so, and in some cases, she’s probably right. But I’m not sure providing a playground where kids can play with fire is really the answer either.

 

4. New Yorker: The Reckoning: The father of the Sandy Hook killer searches for answers.

All parenting involves choosing between the day (why have another argument at dinner?) and the years (the child must learn to eat vegetables). Nancy’s error seems to have been that she always focused on the day, in a ceaseless quest to keep peace in the home she shared with the hypersensitive, controlling, increasingly hostile stranger who was her son. She thought that she could keep the years at bay by making each day as good as possible, but her willingness to indulge his isolation may well have exacerbated the problems it was intended to ameliorate.

I still feel ill when I think of Sandy Hook. It fills me with sorrow. But so did this story of Peter Lanza and his fruitless attempts to connect with his increasingly troubled and unreachable son.

 

5. NYT: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney

As Cornelia and I return to the kitchen, Owen walks in right behind us.

He looks intently at us, one, then the other. “Walter doesn’t want to grow up,” he says evenly, “like Mowgli or Peter Pan.”

We nod, dumbly, looking down at him. He nods back and then vanishes into some private reverie.

It’s as if a thunderbolt just passed through the kitchen. A full sentence, and not just an “I want this” or “Give me that.” No, a complex sentence, the likes of which he’d not uttered in four years. Actually, ever.

Years ago I read Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen, which followed the difficult journey of Cedric Jennings, a student at Ballou High in Southeast D.C., to a summer program at MIT and college at Brown University. Simultaneously inspiring and heart-breaking, the book was no academic Cinderella story; Cedric struggled mightily, both academically and culturally, at the Ivies. Now Suskind has written a new book—Life, Animated--about unexpected power of Disney to open a window into the mind of his autistic son Owen. But Owen clearly knew that already. "Ohana means family," Lilo says in the 2002 Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch." "Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten."