Parenting is little bit like learning to cook. When you first begin, you’re nervous, afraid that one wrong move will ruin your precious creation. After a while, however, you begin to trust your instincts and improvise as you go, throwing in a little of this and a little of that. You know that if things don’t turn out perfectly, chances are it’ll still be good enough. And after you’ve been at it for years, day in and day out, you realize that even if everything goes up in smoke, you can always order pizza. (In parenting, as in cooking, pizza is the answer 97% of the time.)
Here’s a look here at the evolution of 10 common parenting practices from those first precious days as a parent when you wanted everything to be perfect, to the days, three or four kids down the road, when “perfection” is everyone making it out of the house with their clothes on.
|First Baby||Second Baby||Third+ Baby|
|You stare at her for hours while she sleeps, drinking in the peaceful sight of her little chest rising and falling and the sweet, gentle sounds that only a newborn baby can make.||The minute she goes down for a nap, you convince your firstborn its time to “snuggle.” You fall asleep instantly in your bed while firstborn watches two hours of Doc McStuffins.||You assume the baby is sleeping, but it’s hard to tell because she is in her pumpkin seat in the back of your minivan while you run your other kids all over town.|
|You lovingly pick out each day’s outfit complete with matching socks and hats. Then you take 25 pictures and post on Facebook and Instagram.||She mostly wears whatever she slept in the night before unless company is coming over.||A diaper is an outfit, right?|
|Baby drops her pacifier and you swoop in like a Peregrine falcon to catch it before it falls to ground. You sterilize it for five minutes in boiling water just in case.||Baby drops her pacifier and you wipe it on your pants and hand it back. Five second rule!||Baby drops her pacifier and you hand it back without wiping it on your pants because you’re pretty sure whatever is on your pants would only make it worse.|
|You spend hours making homemade, organic baby food from fresh fruits and vegetables.||Your definition of fruits and vegetables has been expanded to include fruit snacks and French fries.||Baby’s first solid food is a Cheeto.|
|You have everything personalized with your baby’s initials – burp cloths, blankets, sippy cups, growth charts, backpacks, etc.||Personalizing now means using a sharpie to scribble your baby’s initials on the tag so you can distinguish it from the other kids’ stuff at daycare.||You smartly decided to name all subsequent children so that their initials will be the same as your firstborn’s. #winning|
|You document every milestone in his baby book –first smile, first roll over, first haircut, first steps, first words.||He doesn’t have a baby book, per se. It’s more of a baby-plastic-container filled with notes scribbled on the back of doormail coupons and a few stale Cheerios.||There is little to no physical evidence this child actually exists.|
|You leave pages of detailed notes for the babysitter, including feeding, changing and napping schedule. You may have even created a spreadsheet for her to track size, color, and shape of poops.||You leave your cell number and $20 for pizza.||You leave strict instructions not to call unless she sees blood.|
|The minute baby gets fussy, you take her temperature three different ways and even though it’s in normal range, you take her into the pediatrician because you just feel “something is off.”||You hesitate to take baby to the doctor’s office because your firstborn always catches something while there. Probably because he likes to lick the fish tank while you’re waiting.||You feel like you’re basically a pediatrician by this point. You treat everything at home with baby Motrin, an ice pack, and/or a magic kiss.|
|Packing for any outing requires an hour’s preparation and three steamer trunks full of supplies.||You’ve streamlined your supplies into what can fit into your existing purse. Diaper bags are for rookies.||Supplies now consist of a pile of Starbucks napkins and a lollipop.|
|You think you can never love another baby as much as you love this one.||You can’t believe you love another baby as much as you love your firstborn.||You know that just like your growing sleep deficit, yearly expenses, and yoga pants, your heart will continue to expand and find enough love for every new member of your family. (And isn’t this is all the evidence of their existence you really need?)|
As parents, it is our job to teach our children important life lessons. We teach them everything from how to treat others to how to tie their shoes. But in the midst of all this “being the expert,” it can be easy to forget that our kids have lessons to teach us as well. And I’m not talking about warm-fuzzy stuff like smelling roses and dancing like no one is watching. (Do not be fooled. People are always watching.) In a very practical sense, kids can teach us certain things that we tend to lose sight of as we age. Specifically, I’m talking about how to embrace creativity.
When it comes to creative pursuits, kids follow Yoda’s teachings: “Do or do not. There is no try.” They don’t try to finger-paint. They dip their chubby little fingers knuckle-deep into that paint and fling it like Jackson Pollock. They don’t try to write poetry. They just write it. They don’t let minor details like spelling, grammar, or coherency get in their way. When they tell you a knock-knock joke, they are a stand-up comedian. When they pick up a blob of clay, they become a sculptor. Have you ever seen a four-year-old transform into a mixed-media master while up to his eyeballs in construction paper and googlely-eyes? It’s a beautiful thing.
But this magical sprinkling of I’m-good-enough fairy dust usually wears off somewhere between five and eight-years-old. This is when kids start to worry that their drawing of the elephant doesn’t look like the one in the book. Or that the way they sing, “Roar,” sounds different from Katy Perry’s version. As a parent, you can see this change take place. It’s like watching a light go off. Whatever gatekeeper has kept the self-consciousness away walks off the job and doubt swoops in to take its place, all furrowed eyebrows and straight lines. Kids stop doing things and start trying to do things. And while this might be okay when it comes to sports or schoolwork (things that require mastery before advancement), when it comes to free-form creativity, it’s kind of sad.
Instinctively, we know this isn’t a good thing. We don’t want their light to go out. We don’t want them to hold their creations to someone else’s standard of perfection. We’ve been there and we know that is the surest way to run the imagination well dry. So we say to them, “Don’t worry about coloring inside the lines, honey.” But they still look at their picture like it’s a plate of boiled onions. Because even though we are saying one thing, too often we are doing another. How many times have we obsessed over wrapping a gift just-so. Or tried to make a project as perfect as it looks on Pinterest, only to ultimately fail and lament it out loud. Our kids see us try to be creative in the Right Way and they absorb it. They watch us judge ourselves, and since they view themselves as an extension of us, they apply those judgments internally. (Or completely rebel against them… but that’s a subject for another day.)
I think the best way to protect our kids innate creativity, is to do as they do. Turn our own lights back on and just do, without worrying so much about the outcome. Children know that creativity has nothing to do with being good at something. It has nothing to do with skill or talent or ability. And it certainly has nothing to do with Perfect. Creativity made up of 100% confidence. The confidence to do instead of try. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be a painter, paint. If you want to be a dancer, dance. Even if someone is watching. Because they are – and chances are it’s your kids.
Back in college, I had a friend who went on a blind date with a guy I’ll call Billy Bob. That was not his name, but could have been for reasons that will become clear in a moment. On the date, Billy Bob took my friend to the McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner and while ordering, he yelled into the speaker, “I’ll have a number 2… and while you’re at it why don’t you go ahead and super-size that son-of-a-bitch.”
The moral of this story is two-fold. First, things could always be worse. You could be on a date with someone who:
- A.) Takes you to McDonald’s for dinner.
- B.) Orders a “Number 2.”
- C.) Calls his Number 2 a son-of-a-bitch.
- D.) And wants that son-of-a-bitch super-sized.
The second moral of the story is that people love to upgrade. It’s true. Entire companies – hell, entire countries – have been built on this practice.
- “Would you like a mid-size instead of a compact?”
- “Would you like to add the protection plan?”
- “Would you like me to change the election laws to allow me a third term as President?”
Once a person has agreed to something, getting them to agree to a small percentage more is a piece of cake that’s just been upgraded to a la mode.
I’ve decided I’d like to incorporate this highly effective strategy into my parenting regimen. I think it’s a natural fit as I often have to sell the idea of certain household responsibilities to my kids. Loading the dishwasher is fun! Raking leaves is great exercise! If you help me wash the windows, you can spray the Windex!
The problem is that at 9 & 12, my kids aren’t buying it anymore. They are no longer taken in by my enticements, and household gadgets have lost their appeal. I remember the days when my daughter begged me to use the Swiffer. Now she runs away when I get it out. They have discovered that the scrubbing bubbles don’t really talk or have mustaches, the fabric softener teddy bear won’t hop off the label and give them a big hug, and that no matter how clearly they yell, “Accio!” that broom ain’t gonna fly ‘em to the Quidditch pitch.
The problem with trying to up-sell my kids into doing their chores, is that chores don’t really have much of an upside. Sure, there is comfort that comes from a clean house, but that doesn’t mean much to your average preteen. Their comfort comes in different packaging. For them comfort is knowing their mother won’t rap along to that new Eminem song when their friends are in the car, or take them with her go bra shopping. Rather than the satisfaction of a job well done, their comfort mostly lies in being left alone. Except when they need money or food or help with homework.
So it makes finding the added-value in household responsibilities a bit of challenge for this age group. I’ve taken a stab at it and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- If you clean your bathroom you can avoid getting dysentery!
- If you clear the table, you will be offered food again at the next meal time!
- If you pick up your dirty clothes, you will get to keep them and thus avoid having to go to school naked!
- If you throw away your trash instead of stuffing it under the couch, you won’t have to share the sofa with rodents!
- If you check your attitude even when you’re grumpy in the morning, I won’t yell, “Mommy loves you!” at the top of my lungs when I drop you off at middle school!
Ok. So some of these are more like blackmail. But still. I think they might just work.
I like the concept of teaching my children that there are added, perhaps under-appreciated, benefits to even the simplest of tasks. Even if those under-appreciated benefits are really just me making up ways to torture them should they decide to be non-compliant. Now that I think of it, maybe this isn’t so much me up-selling them on chores, as me super-sizing my threats. Either way, if it gets them to take out the trash, I’m good with it.
My mother lost her father this summer. He was 90, frail in body and mind, and by all accounts, probably ready to go. In the end, he didn’t suffer. He died peacefully, surrounded by people who loved him.
But it’s still sad. It’s always sad to say goodbye to those we love, especially when we have years of long and complicated relationships to sift through in the wake of their passing. For me, it’s sad to think that the sweet, little, Irish-accented man who told me the legend of donut-trees is now no more than legend himself. He was a good grandpa, always ready with a joke and a hug, impossibly cheerful, a talented artist, an amazing athlete, a devoted husband, and a world-class whistler. I will miss him.
But mostly it’s sad for me to think of my mom who has lost her dad. Her mom died a few years ago and so she is now, along with her brother and sister, an orphan of sorts. And it makes me sad for her – for them.
Even the best relationships between parents and their children are complicated – some more than others- and my mom’s relationship with her dad was no different. But she loved him. She loved him the way daughters love their fathers – with a combination of respect and affection, pride and fear, ferocity and deference. And always with a longing for approval and acceptance. That is just how it is for girls and their dads.
In the days preceding my grandpa’s death, the hospice nurse called and suggested that my mom say goodbye to her dad over the phone, as no one was sure if he would last the hours needed for her to reach his hospital bed. She was caught off guard. She knew he was sick and that he “had started down a path” as the nurse had gently put it, but she hadn’t thought about what she wanted the last words she’d say to her father to be. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness, mostly out, but before my mom could react the nurse had put the phone to his ear and she was up.
Perhaps it was better that she didn’t have hours or even minutes to toil over these words. The pressure of the Last Words Ever would have been crushing. But in the abrupt moment that she was faced with she simply told him she loved him and that it was okay for him to go. She told him she’d miss him. And she told him she loved him again.
After the call, my mom worried that maybe she should have said more. She wondered should she have said all those things we don’t say in the course of normal conversation: final absolutions, forgiveness for all the ways – little and big – that we’ve hurt each other over the years, thanks for the sacrifice our parents made for us that we can’t understand until we’ve become parents ourselves, gratitude for loving us, permission to leave, reassurance that we’ll be okay without them. These are not things we say when we talk to our parents. We talk about the weather. The kids. The job. The house. The traffic. The game. The damned politicians. We don’t talk about goodbye. We don’t talk about the Last Words Ever.
If the rightful order of the universe holds true, then most of us will outlive our parents. We know this. We grow up believing this. Our parents hope and pray for this. So why is there a question of things left unsaid at all? In a perfect world we would all make sure that we say how we feel while we still have time. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And we don’t always do the things we should – even when we know we should.
I guess we don’t do this because it’s hard. It’s hard and awkward and uncomfortable for most of us to even think about The End, let alone dredge up all those feelings we’ve had throughout our lives towards our parents. There are just so many of them… and they’re not all warm and fuzzy.
But I think the ones that matter are. I think the component of the Last Conversation Ever ought to be as warm and fuzzy as our selective memory will allow. We should use that last conversation for expressions of gratitude. For reassurance’s that even though they may not have been perfect, we know they did the best they could. For appreciation. For kindness. For love. For forgiveness. For approval and acceptance. For permission to go on.
I want my parents to know all of the above – and more. I want them to know that I forgive their shortcomings, I appreciate their sacrifices, I admire their strength, I know how hard they tried to do the very best for us even when it was hard. And I’m sure if I asked them, they would have a list of warm and fuzzy things they’d want to be sure I knew too. But chances are the next time I talk to them, we won’t talk about those things. We’ll talk about the debates, the price of gas, what a nice Fall we’re having, how the car is running, etc.
Maybe what we need is a code. Like, when I call to talk about my air conditioner that needs replacing, what I’m really saying is – “Thank you for all the ways you’ve been there for me.” Or when my Dad complains how expensive his medication is getting, what he really means is, “You’ve been a good daughter.” Or when my Mom talks about her Pilates class, what she means to say is, “You may not be perfect, but I love you anyway.” Maybe if we could do that – there would be no need for Last Conversations Ever, because everything we needed to say would be said – over and over, buried in the mundane details of our lives.
So, on that note – I’ll end my more-maudlin-than-most post with a simple message to all of my lovely readers out there: I need to clean the lint out of my dryer vent.*
*Code for “Thanks for reading – I appreciate you taking the time!”
On yesterday’s Today Show, I watched a segment about the family who was thrown off of a JetBlue flight because their two year-old daughter was throwing a tantrum. Apparently, shortly before takeoff, their two year-old daughter threw a humdinger of a fit because she didn’t want to be buckled into her seat. Crew members reported to the pilot that the family could not get their child seated, and the pilot made the decision to turn the plane around and have the family removed. However, in the time it took for the pilot to make that decision (about five minutes) the tantrum was over and the little girl was seated and buckled properly.
But the family was still thrown off the plane–even though the situation had been resolved – the crew telling this family that “the decision has been made.” Since the flight was the last of the day from Turks & Caicos to Boston, the family had to spend the night in a hotel and were re-routed, costing them over $2,000. That’s a pretty expensive tantrum.
As I watched this Today Show story, (and ignored my own daughter’s Where is my hairbrush? tantrum) I was stunned. Kicked off of a flight because your kid threw a fit? Does this seem reasonable? Apparently, to 71% of people who fill out surveys on the Today Show’s website, it does. Yes, that’s right. Seven out of 10 people who responded to a poll online, said they sided with Jet Blue. Of course, if you have time to respond to online polls at 7 o’clock in the morning, chances are you don’t have young kids and are perhaps a bit less sympathetic than those of us who do.
But still, I was shocked that so many people thought this was a reasonable course of action for the airline to take. JetBlue airline said in a statement, “Flight 850 had customers that did not comply with crew member instructions for a prolonged time period. The Captain elected to remove the customers involved for the safety of all customers and crew members on board.” As a fairly nervous flier, I am the first person to stand up for airline safety. I happily wait in mile long security lines, I put my lip gloss and hand sanitizer in little plastic bags without being prompted, and don’t even mind walking through those x-ray vision scanner that can tell what brand of underwear I have on. If it makes flying safer – I’m all for it.
But a tantrum from a twenty-five pound little girl hardly seems a safety risk to me. Annoying? Yes. Loud and unpleasant? You bet. But a threat to customers and crew members safety? I don’t think so. The little girl in question wasn’t smuggling a shiv in her tiny little Stride Rites, nor was she hiding hazardous chemicals in her sippy cup. She was tired. She was hungry. She was hot. She was irritated because she didn’t want to be strapped down into a seat. Basically, she was two. If the airlines want to be certain to avoid tantrums all together then might I suggest they don’t sell tickets to kids under the age of five. Or rock stars. Or certain Emmy award-winning actors.
The little girl’s mom, Dr. Colette Vieau, a pediatrician, said on the Today Show, “We weren’t belligerent, drunk, angry, screaming … We’re having a hard time struggling with our children. A little bit of humanity in the situation was really all I was looking for and apparently that doesn’t exist.”
I sympathize with the parents on this one. I’d love to know what you think…
Ah, innocence. I remember it well. Those glorious days of old when the air smelled sweeter (because there was no rotting food hidden under the couch cushions), the birds chirped louder and the sun shone brighter (but it was 7am and you were still asleep so you didn’t care). I’m talking about the days before you became a parent. The days when you didn’t walk around in a sleep-deprived fog and you still knew all the bands on Saturday Night Live. The days when you thought you had a clue.
If you have been parenting for any length of time, you now know that you don’t, in fact, have a clue at all. And you were a pretentious fop for ever thinking that you knew what you were getting into when you signed on to shepherd another life through this crazy world of global warming, online predators, and Ann Coulter. I’ll admit that I was one such pretentious fop. In fact, I was the worst kind. I actually tried to plan for it.
I remember when my husband and I were debating whether or not we were ready to have kids, I actually asked a guy who I worked with – who had kids – how sticky they were. I didn’t know many kids, but it seemed to me that all the ones I knew were always sticky and/or messy and/or dirty and/or had noses full of boogars. This was unpleasant to me.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was how little I would come to care about a snot-caked nose, and how it paled in comparison to your child, say, projectile vomiting. On an airplane. While simultaneously soiling themselves. And screaming bloody murder. At the exact moment when the plane has landed and everyone is waiting to be let out. After a 10 hour flight from Hawaii. This happened to me. Boogars look pretty good after something like that, let me tell you. (Believe.)
This is just one example of me thinking I had a clue. Sadly, there are many others. Below is a list of some of the things I said I would never, ever do when I became a parent.
1. I said I would never use TV as a babysitter.
Awwwww, wasn’t I cute?
2. I said I would never yell.
I had no idea that children who are watching TV, playing a video game, or eating a snack, literally CANNOT hear you unless you yell. I’ve tested this theory a thousand different times and it’s true. You can ask them 47 times to please hang up their coat, but until you raise your voice with something like, “HANG UP YOUR COAT THIS MINUTE OR ELSE!” it’s just white noise to them. Nobody sets out wanting to yell. They make us do it.
3. I said I’d never let my kid sleep in my bed on a regular basis.
My daughter wakes up at least 5 mornings a week in my bed with her feet pressed into my spine, an elbow in my gut, and 98% of the blankets covering 150% of her body.
4. I said I wouldn’t use baby talk.
I am a 38-year-old woman who in the past week alone has announced she has to “go potty,” has had a “tummy ache,” and who got a “boo-boo” on her foot. Enough said.
5. I said I would never care about how my kids wear their hair.
Let me be clear about this one: I don’t care about their hair being perfectly brushed, styled, geled, moussed, sprayed, or really even being that clean. But when the nice man at the grocery store asked me if “the little lady” would like a cookie while pointing to my ten-year old son, you better believe I drove us to the nearest SuperCuts, post-haste. I know long hair worked for The Biebs, but until Fletcher starts bringing home the million dollar paychecks – I want his eyes, ears, and shoulders hair-free. At least while I have any influence.
6. I said I’d never have a kid with snot caked inside her nose at all times.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t realize how little I would come to care about this. I’m not even sure why I don’t care about this. I should. It’s disgusting. But who has the energy for Kleenexes and the endless tutorials on how to blow one’s nose? It’s exhausting.
7. I said I’d never allow my kids to whine.
I actually thought if I had a “No Whining” policy and told my kids, “If you whine, I can’t hear you” that they would eventually learn not to whine. Hilarious.
8. I said I’d never ignore my kids while on the phone.
In my defense, I had my first kid in 2001. They didn’t even have smart phones back then.
9. I said I’d never lie to my kids.
10. I said I would never use food as a reward.
This is basically my entire parenting strategy right here. Without food bribes, I got nothing.
Now, who wants a chocolate chip cookie for reading this whole article?
Disclaimer: I feel I should say that even given all of the cynical ramblings above, I wouldn’t trade a minute of my time as a parent. Even the minutes I was covered in bodily fluids or my throat hurt from yelling so loud. But it’s just not that funny to write an article about how much you love your kids. It’s like writing an article about how much you love being carded when you’re in your thirties. It is – in the vernacular of my lovely children – “Like, Duh!”
We all know a Helicopter Parent when we see one. They’re the Moms and Dads obsessively bug spraying, sun-blocking, or hat-n-gloving their kids while shouting at them not to climb too high, swim too far out, or touch anything in the bathroom. However much we may judge these parents, (even when we see them in the mirror) we feel a sense of satisfaction being able to put a name to their neurosis. They are Helicopter Parents and we know this because a doctor and a parenting guru (Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay) coined this useful term in 1990. Since then, the expression has been firmly entrenched in our vocabulary.
As far as I’m concerned, Helicopter Parenting is the best kind of term – descriptive, memorable, fitting, and kind of funny. But it’s limited. It only describes one parenting style. And since most of us employ multiple parenting methods throughout the years, perhaps even throughout the day, I feel the list of parenting metaphors can and should be expanded. So, though I am neither a doctor nor a parenting guru, I’ve taken a crack at it myself.
See if you can identify your parenting style in the list below. Or tell me if you know of one I missed. I’d love to hear which kind of parent you are because hearing about other parents not being perfect makes me feel better about being so alarmingly far from it myself. Plus, I love comments on my blog. Plus, I’m just generally nosy.
So, Are You a…
Tandem Bicycle Parent: These parents attempt to get their children involved in the parenting process with questions like, “What do you think your punishment should be?” and “How much do you think you should get for allowance?” Much like the tandem bicycle itself, this kind of parenting sounds like it would be fun, but isn’t. If you choose to parent this way, keep in mind that although the tandem bike may have two sets of pedals, only one person can steer it.
Carnival Cruise Parent: These parents want to have fun! They either can’t find a babysitter or feel too guilty to leave the kids at home, so they bring them along wherever they go. The parents continue to behave exactly as they would if their children were not there, stopping occasionally to feed and briefly converse with their offspring – usually uttering the words, “Not now,” and “When I’m ready to go.”
Rickshaw Parent (also known as Field Plow and Dog Sled Parents): These parents like to take it easy. They are perfectly comfortable to sit back and direct their children from afar. They tell their kids to take out the trash, rake the leaves, and make dinner – all from the comfort of the couch. This kind of parenting works best under a fear-based regime and only until the children grow weary and stage the inevitable coup.
Express Train Parent: These parents are in a big hurry all the time. Their constant refrain is, “Let’s go! C’mon! Let’s go!” They get things done. Lots of things. They never sit still. They never chill out. They are always in forward motion. Their children often resort to lollygagging in a passive-aggressive form of protest, often causing the Express Train Parent to go “off the rails.”
Ice Cream Truck Parent: Almost everyone is guilty of being one of these parents at least once in a while. Ice Cream Truck parents get their child to do what they want them to do by promising them a sweet treat if they comply. Effective. To be used sparingly. (Admission: My daughter will do almost anything for a Hershey’s Kiss, so in my house this technique is grossly overused.)
Limousine Parent: These parents want to make sure their kids arrive in style. They want it known that their children are special and deserve to stand out. Limousine parents needn’t know the direction they are going, because they’ve hired someone to know for them. They only need to pony up the dough and sit back and enjoy the ride. Be aware: Kids parented in this way may become driven by a lavish lifestyle, but not know how to get there on their own.
Motorcycle Side Car Parent: These parents have a wild side. They like their adrenaline rush and want their kids to like it too. They travel in the fast lane and take the kids along as they bob and weave their way on down the road. These parents love high speeds and high drama. Note: This can also work in reverse, where the child drives and the parent goes along for the ride. Either way, best to buckle up. It’s usually a bumpy ride.
Southwest Airlines Parent: These parents are on a budget and know how to have a good time. So what if they’re not super-organized? Who cares if occasionally they take off without all of their passengers? They are fun! They are wild. They compose funny raps and make wry, witty puns about safety and cleanliness. They may not be the most refined parents around, but they get the job done and do it with a smile.
VW Bug Parenting: These parents don’t believe personal space; they like to be super-close to their kids.
EuroRail Parent (aka, Tour Bus Parent): These parents want their kids to see it all, do it all, and experience it all. They take their children from museums to galleries to monuments (whether they like it or not). These parents have a constant talk-track going about what they are seeing and why it will improve their kids lives. Note: Kids generally absorb only 5 – 7% of this information. Even less when they have access to an iPhone or a Nintendo DS.
Bulldozer Parenting: These parents know where they want their children to go in life and they will flatten anyone who gets in their way (including the children themselves). Best to get out of the way when you see a Bulldozer parent if at all possible.
Slow-Boat-to-China Parents (aka, River Boat and Barge Parenting): These parents believe that kids grow up too darn fast these days. In many ways, they are the opposite of the Express Train parents. They believe that all good things come to those who wait and that homemade fun is the best kind of fun. Their children don’t watch TV, eat microwave meals, or play with electronic/tech based toys.
Private Jet Parents (aka, Maybach Parenting): These parents want their kid to know that they have a lot of money and that they aren’t afraid to spend it.
Four-Wheeler Parents: These parents are looking to recreate the kind of fun they remember having when they were kids. Often times, they are remembering things from when they were an older child. But in their zeal, Four Wheeler parents will forget this and attempt to relive all their childhood memories when junior is about five years too young. You see them with their one year olds at DoraLive! Or off for a hunting trip before the kid can even read. Or with their American Girl whose face has been colored on with a sharpie. (Note: A mutation of this kind of parent is the GoKart Parent, which is the deep-fried version of the Four Wheel Parent. They function the same way, but are frequently drawn to guns, roadside fireworks, and yes, GoKarts.)
Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet Parents: The worst kind of parents. These people have kids, but no one ever actually sees them parenting anybody.
In every two-parent home, there is the “fun” parent and the one who makes sure things gets done. These roles are almost always mutually exclusive. The parent who makes a fort in the basement with 47 blankets and every chair in the house is not usually the one who nags the kids for three days to clean it up. The parent who ignores bedtime is not typically the one who spends the next day being screamed at and sobbed to by Junior Jeckel & Hyde. And the parent who allows the double scoop with sprinkles in a waffle cone after dinner, is almost never the one who cleans the barf off the carpet before the dog can eat it.
In perhaps the best pearl of wisdom ever to come out of network television, the Mom on ABC’s Modern Family explains to her young son that you can’t have two fun parents. “It’s a carnival,” she says, “You know that kid Liam who wears pajama pants to school and pays for everything with $100 bills? Two fun parents.” And she’s right. Someone’s got to be the one to say it’s time to go home. Someone has to reapply the sunscreen and get the tangles out. And someone has to be willing to take flack for doing all these things because not to would be a carnival – that is to say, a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
If you are the Fun parent, you likely live by the code, “What the hell?” You live in the moment. You don’t think too far ahead. You have a fairly high tolerance for noise and you don’t mind being late. You probably have low blood pressure.
If you are the Un-Fun parent, you’re motto is, “Not on my watch.” You are a planner. Your brain is ten steps ahead and can smell a meltdown hours before it happens. You look at most situations through the lens of “How likely is this to end us in the ER?” and/or “How much laundry will this create?” You are often referred to as “the fun police.”
In my family, I am the Fun Police. If you met my husband, you would understand why. He is naturally irreverent and silly and loud and was often compared to Jim Carrey when Jim Carrey was funny. Obviously, I never stood a chance. But I am okay with that. I’m okay with saying it’s time for bed in the middle of a movie, with refusing their requests for a fourth cookie, and with kicking them out of my bed in the hopes of sleeping more than four consecutive hours without being kicked in the groin. Because the thing no one tells you about being the Un-Fun parent, is you also get to be the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper may not be as sexy a role as being the Fun parent, but the Gatekeeper has something the Fun parent does not: Power. Dark, delicious, power. (Muhahaha…)
You know you have achieved Gatekeeper status when your daughter asks you if she can have an Oreo, when you’ve just heard your spouse say that she can. Or when your son says he can’t “just hop into the front seat” because Mom wouldn’t like that very much. That is power, my friends. And if you are a benevolent Gatekeeper, you use your power wisely. You back up your partner. You present a united front. You show your children that you are and your spouse are on the same page. Then, you privately rejoice in your small victory of being the one the kids fear more.
After all, just because you’re the un-fun parent, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself once in a while, right?
This post is an update on my one from last week, A Camping We Must Go. Due to the numerous calls, emails, and texts I received asking me if I survived my weekend camping trip, I have written an answer to the tune of Gloria Gaynor’s iconic anthem, I Will Survive. Since this is the one of the best ladies-who-kick-ass songs of all times, I felt it only fitting. (It was also fitting because camping made my hair look much like Ms. Gaynor’s on her 1978 album cover.) I hope you will be able to hear the music in your head as you read…
At first I was afraid.
I was petrified.
Kept thinking I could never learn
how to sleep outside.
I spent oh so many nights
just stressing out about the trip
Then I said, “Crap,
And I put on my baseball cap,
And then I camped.
I f*#!ing camped!
We made a fire and roasted s’mores; we hiked a trial and peed outdoors.
I should have changed my stupid shoes,
I should have left my flats at home,
If I’d have known for just one second,
just how far we’d hike and roam.
But yeah, we went!
We pitched a tent!
I didn’t even bitch and moan; I did not show my discontent.
Burnt food and bugs, they tried to make me say goodbye,
But did I crumble?
Did I lay down and die?
Oh, no not I!
As long as I stayed cool and dry, I knew that I’d get by.
My next vacation,
I will spa.
But for now,
I say hurrah…
Because I camped,
I f*@!ing camped,
I have often said that I could live the rest of my life in an airlock in outer space and never miss going outside. Needless to say, I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I like my air – conditioned. My bathrooms – indoors. My showers – hot. And my bed – high off the ground. But this coming Saturday, nature and I have a date with destiny: I am going camping with my family. Outside. In a tent. All night long.
Why, you ask, would I do such a thing? In a heavily ironic twist of fate, I find myself the co-leader of my ten-year-old son’s Cub Scout den. I, along with my sister-in-law, are responsible for helping seven boys learn a variety of nature-related skills on their way to becoming Boy Scouts. Though I could not be less qualified for this work, I was willing and available to help, so I got the job.
For most of the skills we have to teach the boys, we can either call in a professional to help (knot-tying, wood whittling, or CPR) or we can do a quick-study and teach them ourselves (baking soda volcanoes, recycling projects, and bicycle safety). But this year, the boys have to earn their Outdoorsman Activity Badge and this requires – you guessed it – spending time outdoors. So we are all going on a Cub Scout Family Camp this Saturday. Outside. In a tent. All night long.
I had actually hoped never to go camping again. I went once when I was nineteen and living in Colorado for the summer with three friends. We, or rather, they decided it would be fun to go camping for a night. We, or rather, they were wrong. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember a few important lessons I learned that night:
- Building a fire is harder than it looks.
- Cold hot dogs do not taste good.
- Never underestimate a 30% chance of rain.
- Not all tents are waterproof.
- One can never wear too much bug spray.
- Fear of a bear attack will keep a girl up all night.
- Any activity in which you have to “watch out for snakes” is not for me.
- It is not possible to “hold-it” all night when you’ve had a certain amount of diet coke.
- Going to the bathroom outside in the dark when you’re a girl can be tricky and upsetting.
- You can get poison ivy anywhere on your body.
I survived my one night of camping, considered it a victory that I didn’t go sleep in the car, and checked it off my to-do list forever. But here I am, too many years later, and there Camping is, on my list again. And this time I can’t even comfort myself by complaining about it. As a den leader, I have to show enthusiasm and excitement about camping! I have to model for the kids a positive attitude, a willingness to jump in, and if not show a love for nature, then at the very least hide my contempt for it. And I’ll have to do it all outside. In a tent. All night long.
I’d like to say that maybe I will learn to enjoy communing with nature this time around, but I am too old for that kind of naïve optimism. My only real goal is to make it through the experience without the boys picking up on my aversion to great outdoors. Second to that, I’m hoping for a dry forecast, a snake-free tent, and a personal state of semi-dehydration that will allow me to make it through till morning without needing a potty break. Because whatever else I will be this weekend – itchy, scared, cold, hungry – I will definitely be outside. In a tent. All night long.
Wish me luck.