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 son’s first assignment from 6th grade English was to write a poem about where he is from. Poetry does not come easily to the literal-minded 6th grade boy, especially a literal-minded 6th grade boy who doesn’t like to write. We ended up working together on this poem for nearly two hours. And in the end, he did it. He didn’t like it, but he did it. I and thought his poem was great. (Don’t worry – I am not going to make you read it.)
The poem he was asked to write was based on the famous poem Where I’m From, by George Ella Lyons. Apparently, this poem is used as a teaching tool in schools and writing workshops all the time because it has a very definite structure. The framework of the poem is always the same; but each individual poem written by using it, vastly different. Having never taken a creative writing or poetry class, I had not seen this poem or template before – so of course, felt I just HAD to try it. My son thought I was insane. (This is not new.)
My poetry writing over the past 20 years has been limited to 2 categories: the multi-stanza-sorority-girl-bridesmaid-toast, and the limerick. Poetry with a capital “P” would spit in my eye. This was the first time I tried to write a real poem – maybe ever – and indeed, the framework and structure of the Where I’m From template made it feel manageable. I’m putting a link to the website where you can get the template, and I’d encourage any of you out there who think this might be fun, to give it a try. I really enjoyed this. Even though I’m pretty sure Poetry with a capital ‘P’ is rolling its eyes at me right now…
I am From by Jill Orr
I am from orange shag carpeting and dark wood floors, neon sculptures, stained-glass windows, and harvest gold refrigerators. From wide suburban streets, lined with tall old trees and faded chalk four-square courts. I am from radiators and asbestos in the basement, from the first house on the block to get a microwave.
I am from watery eyes and serial sneezes, from bug-bites and itchy grass. From grape Benadryl and asthma attacks and freckles and sunburns. I am from staying inside whenever possible. I am from air conditioning.
I am from family vacations in wood-paneled station wagons and silent laughter in the way-back, from my Mom who always knew the latest, best thing and my father who told me the truth whether I wanted it or not. I am from my sister who understands this all without me having to explain. I am from one family split slowly, painfully, into two.
I am from spending every other weekend in the city playing long games of gin rummy with my dad, from watching my mother rebuild her career, from vicious fights with my sister, to seeking refuge in my friends. I am from closing my door and writing it all down.
I am from “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” From I love you’s not spoken, but never doubted. From the security of “I’ll always be here if you need me.”
I am from those Jewish enough not to eat ham on white bread, but not enough to stay away from bacon or attend synagogue; from Darwinism and the Golden Rule and Karma and always try your best. I am from pop culture, song lyrics, and fortune cookie wisdom. I am from the glass half full.
I am from hot dogs with pickles (but never ketchup) and deep dish pizza. From cheese tacos and peanut butter & jelly in a bowl when my mom wasn’t looking, from buttered noodles, fried Matzo, and the Joy of Cooking. I am from one tragic fat-free Thanksgiving where my mom made us go around the table and introduce ourselves to each other.
I am from the time my parents told me I had chicken pox by bok-bok-boking at me through my bedroom wall, and the way it still makes them laugh, from needle-pointed baby books, PTA presidents, homemade Halloween costumes, Kodak slide shows, and learning to drive a stick shift in the East Bank Club parking lot. From carnival birthday parties on the front lawn and trick-or-treating after dark. I am from knowing there would always be someone there when I got home.
Where are you from?
One of the great joys of parenting young children is getting away from them. At least for a little while. Be it a couple of hours or a couple of days, there is nothing like a little distance to recharge everyone’s batteries and make you grateful that you are legally/morally/financially bound to the little bloodsuckers darlings until the end of time.
The problem with getting away is finding someone to watch the kids while you and your sweetie are off guzzling margaritas and/or sleeping 16 hours a day. Trusting someone to watch your precious babies is not easy. Will they remember to use the dye-free detergent? Will they limit screen-time? Will they cut the hot dogs lengthwise and across?
No. No, they won’t. And that’s okay.
Years ago, my sister-in-law, Dawn gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone before or since. I was about to leave my kids for a week for the first time with my in-laws, and I was a nervous wreck. I worried that favorite books would go unread, binkies would go unwashed, and (gasp) bedtimes would go unheeded. Dawn looked at me, told me to pull my shit together, and said, “As long as they’re alive when you get back, that’s all that matters.”
And she was right. Of course my in-laws weren’t going do things like I did. Or even like I asked them to. Did I really expect them to follow the 5 page, single-spaced, uni-bomberesque manifesto I’d left behind entitled, “A Typical Day in the Life of Fletcher & Ellie.” They probably had a good laugh before lighting it on fire, deciding instead to rely on what they’d learned in their 30+ years of parenting their own children.
And really, my fear had nothing to do with them. It was all me. As a stay-at-home mom, creating and protecting my kids’ routines was what I did. It was my job. My life. Whether it was a survival mechanism or simply my ego, I had to believe that those routines were essential to a peaceful existence. If not, then why the hell was I working so hard?
As long as they are alive when you get back… It was just the paradigm shift I needed! It helped me see that going on vacation would be a break for all of us. Just as Jimmy and I wouldn’t spend every day of our lives eating surf ‘n turf and drinking mai tais, the kids wouldn’t spend every day of theirs watching 8 hours of Thomas the Train and drinking chocolate milk by the gallon. The hard work I’d put in on sleep-training, potty-training, and don’t-think-throwing-a-fit-is-going-to-get-you-what-you-want-training, would still be there even if it went unenforced for a week.
The fact is that if you are going to reap the benefits of getting away (and they are many), you must get comfortable with the fact that whoever watches your kids will not do things your way. This goes for grandparents, siblings, friends, or hired help. I repeat: They will not do it your way. They will think your way is stupid. Over-protective. Unnecessarily complicated. Likely to turn the kids into entitled spoiled brats, who don’t know the value of a dollar. But that’s fine. As long as the kids are alive when you get home, it doesn’t matter if they’ve fallen asleep in front of the television 3 nights in a row. It doesn’t matter if they’ve eaten ice cream for breakfast every day. It doesn’t even matter if they missed that birthday party you’d RSVP’d to on Sunday. None of that is important. What is important is that you got some much-needed time to remember that you are more than just a mother/father, that you actually like your partner, and/or that you actually like your kids. Because time away provides one thing you simply cannot get while at home with your kids: perspective.
Would it be nice if the kids were well rested, well fed, and content when you got home from your vacay? Sure. But alive is all you should really hope for. If you set your expectations at “alive,” you will probably end up pleasantly surprised. After all, getting the opportunity to gain valuable perspective (read: sleep more than six consecutive hours) is luxury enough… you wouldn’t want to get greedy now would you?
Dear Loyal Readers*:
Several** of you have asked when you could see the video of my reading in the St. Louis Listen to Your Mother show, so I am posting the link to the YouTube video here. If you feel like maybe being mildly amused, you’re in luck! If you feel like being moved, astounded, touched, impressed, and inspired – watch the videos from my castmates. (Seriously, these ladies are a amazing.)
*Mom & Dad **Both
PS: I now know my bangs are way too long.
My husband is the type of person who runs out of gas. This is not hyperbole or some way of saying he gets tired easily. I mean he literally drives his car until it uses up all its fuel and stops moving. And he hasn’t done this just once or twice. It happens with some frequency. The worst part is, it isn’t like this happens when he’s out in the middle of nowhere with no gas stations around. It isn’t even because he doesn’t pay attention. He runs out of gas because he likes to play a twisted game of chicken with the inanimate object that is his gas tank. (Spoiler alert: The gas tank never flinches.)
I, on the other hand, have never run out of gas. I fill up long before the needle dips below the ¼ line – and I cannot understand how anyone in this day and age would ever allow their tank to get to empty – unless they were driving through a desolate wasteland, had a broken gas gauge, and/or had lost both their sight and hearing, in which case they probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.
From where I sit, running out of gas is ALL downside. The only upside I can think of is the satisfaction that… what? Your nerves of steel allowed you to eek out one last mile, landing you on empty at the exact moment you roll in front of the pump? Pretty thin upside, if you ask me – considering the downside is expensive, dangerous, time-consuming, and messy.
But downside be-damned, Jimmy loves to play Gas Tank Chicken. Except when I’m in the car with him. When I’m in the car with him, here is how things go down:
Ding-Ding. Ding-Ding. Ding-Ding.
Me: Is that the gas thing?
Me: We should probably stop.
Jimmy: Oh no– we have like, 50 miles left. Trust me. I do this all the time.
Me: But it’s dinging.
Jimmy: I know.
Me: Doesn’t that mean it’s time to stop?
Jimmy: No – that’s just what they want you to think.
Me: That’s what who wants us to think?
Jimmy: We’re fine. Relax.
Another few minutes pass. I try to get past the ‘relax’ comment.
Ding-Ding. Ding-Ding. Ding-Ding.
Me: It’s still dinging – I think we should stop.
Jimmy: Babe, we can go another, like, 100 miles on this tank. I guarantee it. I do this all the time.
Me: Did you really just call me babe?
Jimmy: Don’t you want to see how much farther we can make it?
Jimmy: Aren’t you curious?
Me: Not even a little.
Jimmy: You’re telling me you don’t want to know if we could get all the way home on this tank? He smiles with a slightly insane glint in his eye.
Me: If we run out of gas – we’d have to walk. I don’t want to have to walk. That’s why we have a car.
Jimmy: We won’t have to walk. I guarantee it. Trust me, I do this all the time.
Yeah, the problem is that the other thing he does all the time is RUN OUT OF GAS. These sorts of conversations usually end in me getting all panicky and hysterical and basically insisting that we pull over and fill up. Which he does. But the entire rest of the drive he mutters to himself about how he knows we could have made it without stopping.
Need I point out the irony of a man who is completely unwilling to risk bad fruit, travels with a 6.5 pound Dopp kit (actual weight) filled with ointment, medicine, gauze, and salve for every eventuality but who IS willing to gamble on being stuck on the side of the road with cars whizzing by while he is forced to walk who-knows-how-many miles to the nearest gas station? I guess I just did. But the point is, I think this behavior may very well mark the beginnings of Jimmy’s downslide into Crazy-Old-Manhood. (That and shooting at squirrels, Lee Harvey-style, out of our book depository bathroom window. True story for another post…)
Anyone else out there play Gas Tank Chicken? If you do, please comment and enlighten me on why an otherwise sane person would EVER do this…
When I was a kid, my mother didn’t keep junk food in the house. No chips, no cookies, and certainly no sugary cereal. She always had an abundance of fresh fruit, and two little dishes in the fridge– one with carrots and the other celery. In sharp contrast, our neighbors had every Hostess, Entenmann’s, and Frito Lay product on the market. While my mom made sandwiches on scant Pepperidge Farm Very Thin bread, Mrs. Shapiro laid their PB&J’s betwixt slices of pillowy soft Wonder bread. Our house was the Realm of Righteousness and Fiber; and the Shapiro’s were the Sultans of Snacks -their pantry a golden palace of processed deliciousness.
Obviously, our houses represented two vastly different approaches to teaching kids about food. One in which parents pushed healthy choices and offered very limited access to junk food in a well-meaning, albeit tightly controlled, way. The other, in which parents took a more hands-off approach and allowed their kids to decide for themselves what they wanted eat. Nowadays, it seems most people I know favor option 1 – the approach my mother took – with the thought that if we teach our kids to love the taste of healthy food while they are young and impressionable, they won’t want or need to eat junk food as they grow up.
Right. Because as kids get older, they always do what their parents say.
Deciding which approach to take may have less to do with the actual food choices, and more with human nature. People love forbidden fruit. More than actual fruit in most cases. So once something is off-limits, it becomes all the more desirable. You’d better believe that every chance we got, my sister and I were knee-deep in the Shapiro’s white flour, store-bought, deep-fried, sugar-laden pantry. And the payoff was not only the junk food, but also the rush that came from doing something rebellious. (This is what passed for rebellion among the elementary school set in Highland Park, circa 1985.)
On the other hand, the Shapiro kids, who had constant access to whatever food a kid could want, didn’t really abuse the privilege. They didn’t binge. They didn’t sit with their face in the powdered donuts all day or suck down pixie sticks like addicts. They’d eat when they were hungry and then stop. And while they didn’t exactly rush to our house for after school snacks, they’d often accept (and even solicit) invitations to dinner for one of my mom’s well-balanced meals.
This begs the question: which approach is better? Do I think my mom’s strict policies encouraged me to have a lifelong love of healthy food choices? No, not exactly. Did Mrs. Shapiro’s lax attitude lead her children down a path of hedonistic gluttony? Not as far as I can tell. In the end, I think people develop their own relationship with food based on personal levels of appetite, vanity, priorities, self-image and, of course, metabolism. But those things (aside from metabolism) are undoubtedly influenced by what our parents modeled for us during our childhood. Notice I said influenced. And influence can work for or against.
Our country obviously has a very serious problem with obesity, often beginning in childhood, and I don’t mean to minimize the importance of giving kids access to wholesome foods. But there are plenty of parents I know who micromanage their healthy kids’ intake of carbs, sugars, and fats every day. I think that sort of behavior can lead to its own brand of extremism and resultant health problems.
As is the case in most things, moderation is probably the path to salvation. It may not be sexy, but it makes good sense. Even Cookie Monster is on board with it now. He teaches kids that cookies are a “sometimes food.” I like that terminology. Maybe if I had grown up thinking of candy, chips, and cookies as “sometimes foods” as opposed to “forbidden foods,” I wouldn’t feel like I was getting away with something every time I eat them now. Because, let me tell you, for a rule-following gal like me, that feeling is almost more delicious than the food itself.
At the risk of sounding like a phony, I’ll admit that when I see someone and casually ask how they’re doing – I’m really only looking for a summary. Doing great. Keeping it real. Living the dream. Something along those lines.
However shallow, this sort of exchange is the generally accepted social convention. “How’s it going?” is not the question you answer with, “I just had four bunions removed… would you like to see my scars?” If the person you’re talking to is a good friend, chances are you already know how they are. Or if the person answering the question wants to share more information, they can give a lead-in response like, “I’ve been better,” and see if anyone takes the bait.
But there is one instance in which people almost always over-share: When it comes to talking about their kids. When you see someone you haven’t seen a while and you ask about his or her children, you’re looking for a basic, “Janie’s great; Sam’s getting so big.” Boom. Done. What you are probably not looking for is, “Ohmigoodnes, Janie said the cutest thing last night while she was taking a bath – wait… here! I have a picture! Oh, and while I’m at it, let me show you what she looks like when she does this new little dance move. She calls it her shaking her ‘too-shie’ –isn’t that cute? Wait… here! I have a picture…”
I am not suggesting that there is never a place for sharing this kind of “cute” information, but pick your opportunities wisely. Because while these stories can be mildly yawn-inducing for people who have kids, they have to be mind-meltingly boring for people without children. Most people are simply not interested in the minutiae of everyday life with your kid. They just aren’t. They may love you. They may even love your kid. But they don’t want to hear every tiny detail, no matter how cute you think it may be. And it’s insensitive to blather on in this way.
Think about it, if you asked your insurance salesman friend how things are at work and he launched into a detailed description of accidental death benefits and annuitization schedules and wait… here! He has a picture! You would probably run away screaming. Or at least think twice about ever engaging him in conversation again. It isn’t that you don’t care, it’s that you don’t care that much. You care enough to know that your friend has been really busy/ had a great quarter / is thinking of making some changes, but that’s about it. If you were really interested, you’d ask more detailed questions like, “So tell me more about how you calculate overall liquidity ratios!”
Likewise, when people ask about your kids, they want to know how they are doing generally speaking. If they ask detailed follow-up questions or to see pictures, that’s your cue to whip out your smart phone and go to town. But the broad-spectrum “How are Fletcher and Ellie?” is to be only met with a one, two, or possibly up to five word answer: “Awesome. Just like their Mom.”
That’s my standard response. You can use it if you want.
The way I figure it, the 887 gajillion calories I took in on Thanksgiving have rendered the act of eating since that day-if not completely useless, then compulsory at best. I am fine with this. I have the memories of sweet potato pie and smoked turkey to keep me feeling satisfied and full. This is not the case for my children, who apparently practiced more moderation at the holiday table and still expect to be fed. Like every day. I’m not going to lie, it’s getting kind of old.
My kids, like many benevolent dictators the worldwide, love to ask the question, “What’s for dinner?” When they were younger, they used to ask me this as they sat down at the table. Fine. The answer was easy at that point. Then, as they got a little older the question popped up at about 4pm. Ok, that was reasonable. Dinner was in their very near future, and they wanted to prime their tummies. But gradually they started asking earlier in the day – like noonish -which was a bit of problem because at noon, I’m thinking about lunch or still full from breakfast, and usually don’t have a clue about dinner yet.
My lack of dinner-planning-zeal apparently triggered some sort of food-stress in my children, especially my daughter, because now she asks me “What’s for dinner?” first thing in the morning. And sometimes, as I am putting her to bed the night before.
This raises my blood pressure. It brings out the sarcastic, un-Mommy-like side of me that usually only comes out on girls-nights or when someone over achieves via Pinterest. I’m not particularly proud of this, but there it is.
So each night as I tuck my kids into bed, a mere few hours after eating that evening’s dinner, and they ask me, “What’s for dinner tomorrow, Mommy?” I dream of saying something snarky. Or covering their sweet little mouths with duct tape. Most of the time, I don’t. But here are my Top 10 Responses I’d Most Like to Give to the Question, “What’s for Dinner?”
10. Haggis. Go look it up.
9. Why don’t you tell me?
8. Your face.
7. What? I can’t hear you. What? I can’t hear you. (Keep repeating.)
6. You’ll get nothing and like it.
5. Ask your father.
4. No habla ingles.
3. Who can think about dinner at a time like this?! (And run screaming from the room.)
2. That’s what she said.
And the #1 thing I’d like to say when my kids ask me, “What’s for dinner?”
1. Who are you and why do you keep calling me Mommy?
Anyone else have any good ones? I’m taking suggestions… (for comments, but I’ll take dinner ideas too.)
The other night while my eight year-old daughter was in the room, a friend of mine mentioned something about a young woman we know who is having a baby. A few years ago, I would have changed the subject, ran away, or starting humming loudly just to avoid being in the same zip code as the topic of where babies come from. But I’ve matured since then. I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is something I am going to have to talk to my kids about. I even bought a book entitled, WHAT’S THE BIG SECRET? and read it with each of my children cover to cover. The book explained everything in just enough detail to be informative, but not enough to raise more questions. It was a good script and left no room for awkward answers or embarrassing personal questions. My kids felt satisfied and I felt like one of those rock-star moms who are laid-back and comfortable with even the most thorny of topics. I felt as if I had done my job. Well played, me. Well-played.
So when the topic of babies came up the other night, I was not worried. I assumed my daughter remembered what the Big Secret was from the book and was cool with it. Apparently I was wrong.
Daughter: Mom, how does the baby get in the mommy’s belly?
My friend sprinted away so fast leaving only a puff of white smoke where she had been seconds earlier. I took a deep breath.
Me: Well, honey… remember from the book? Babies are made from Mommy parts and Daddy parts… and when they come together they make a baby.
Daughter: Yeah, I know. But how do the parts come together?
Me: Isn’t it time to brush your teeth?
Daughter: Yeah, but tell me first.
Me: Um. Well, honey…
Daughter: Do you not know, Mommy?
Me: No – I mean, yes. I do know. It’s just complicated.
Daughter: How can it be complicated? Everyone has babies.
I knew there was no getting out of it at that point. I told her to go brush her teeth and we would meet back in my room in five. Obviously, I went to find the book. Except now the Big Secret was where the hell had I put it? A frantic scan of the 74 bookshelves in our house turned up nothing. It was like the book was mocking me, “I’ll teach you to leave me lying around.” After several minutes, my time was up. I had to go in alone. Without a script.
So we snuggled into my bed and I explained to her, in three sentences or less, exactly how babies are made. I tried to be at once relaxed and scientific, like a TV anchorwoman. I used all the anatomically correct names and got through it without laughing or being a smart ass. All things considered, I thought I did a bang-up job. Until the Question & Answer portion of the evening began:
Daughter: Ew. That’s disgusting. Are you sure that’s what you do?
Daughter: Ew. Does everyone have to do that if they want a baby?
Me: Yes –for the most part.
Daughter: Ew. How long do you have to do that for?
Me: It kind of depends.
Daughter: Ew. On what?
Me: [Smart-ass answer internally deleted] Various factors.
Daughter: Ew. How long did you and Daddy have to do that to get me?
Me: I don’t remember.
Daughter: Ew. Did you hate it?
Daughter: Ew. Did Daddy hate it?
Daughter: Ew. How does the Daddy part get in there. Does it just go like this? (Then she raised her arm up from her side with the simultaneous sound effect, ‘Zooooooooooooooooop!’)
Me: Yes. Yes, it does.
Daughter: Ew. Do you wear clothes?
Things went on like this for a while. And after much giggling, turning red, and several more Ew’s (only some of which came from her), I finally answered all of her questions. When we finished, she had only one final comment on the subject:
“That is DISGUSTING. I’m never, ever, ever doing sex!”
And once again, I felt as if I had done my job. Well-played, me. Well-played.
Listening to a parent talk about how talented, smart, good-looking, entrepreneurial, kind-hearted, clever, and/or athletic their kid is is a lot like listening to a politician give a stump speech. You nod your head. You affirm enthusiastically. And you automatically discount everything they’ve just said. Indeed, if you are a cynic, you believe that the kid’s virtues probably lie in inverse proportion to how they are being described. And if you are a true iconoclast, you think the kid must be a total zero and you try to point this out to their gushing parents.
Don’t waste your time. Most parents think that they know their kids better than anyone else in the world. And while most of us know on an intellectual level that we can’t be an impartial judge of our children’s behavior, we still think that our unique perspective gives us the ability to see our kids as they really are.
Most of the time, we are wrong. Some of the time we are right. But right or wrong, the one thing we never are is objective. Objectivity requires a certain level of distance and detachment. And it’s hard to be detached from someone who sleeps in your bed, opens the door while you go to the bathroom, and takes money out of your wallet. It just is.
So we start our sentences with, “Well, I know I’m totally biased but…” Because as much as we know that we’re not a fair judge of our children, that doesn’t stop us from judging. If you’re not a total doochebag, you at least give the appearance of a balanced view– you present the good, the bad, and the ugly about your child. But then there are those who stick to the good, the noteworthy, and the so-impressive-you’ll-start-to-question-your-own-childs-contributions-to-society. This is where the line between “objective” commentary and bragging gets blurred.
The Out & Out Brag
Some parents brag outright. “We suspect Jonathan has a true gift for painting. His paintings are a lot like Jackson Pollack’s early work.” Never mind that the diarrhea-brown mess of splats and drips they use as evidence looks like something your dog hacked up. You dutifully oooo and ahhhh because there is no use in pointing out that their son sucks at finger painting. He’s four and he sucks at an age-appropriate level. What’s the harm in letting them believe they are raising the next Picasso? Reality is the great equalizer and eventually they’ll be forced to see the light at the end of the color-blind tunnel.
The Me-Too Brag
Then there are those who like to work in a brag on themselves while talking up their kids, “Salman just got accepted into the gifted program. I mean, we’re not surprised, both Albert and I were in the gifted programs when we were young.” Or, “Yeah, tennis was always my sport. It’s so gratifying to see Venus showing promise at such a young age.” Puke. Not only do these people feel compelled to brag about their kid, but they also want you know that they too are exceptional.
The Brag in Sheep’s Clothing
Others are subtler. “I can’t believe I have to go in to talk to Simon’s teachers again. He keeps finishing all the books they give in record time! He is going to have to start on War & Peace soon!” This is a brag dressed up as a complaint. Totally annoying. No one is going to feel sorry for you that your son is so bright and is such a fast reader. Boo. We know what you’re doing. A brag in sheep’s clothing is still just a brag… or a braaaaaag. (I know. I’m sorry.)
The Force Brag
I recently had a friend ask me this about his daughter: “Don’t you think that Heidi is an extraordinarily beautiful girl? Like a transcendent sort of beautiful?” Ummm. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I mean I agreed – of course I agreed – she is a darling little thing and I’m not a total monster. But what choice did I have? I would have agreed even if his daughter looked like Quasimodo. What could I say? “No. She looks like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down?” No one is going to say that. My friend committed the worst kind of brag. It was a brag-by-force – the bragging equivalent of holding a gun to my head. He forced me to brag about his kid. This kind of bragging is really only acceptable between parents of the same child, or if done by grandparents who live out of state, the older the better.
The bottom line is that we all brag about our kids. It’s okay. A little bit here and there is fine – it’s like parent catnip. Parenting is hard and if you find something you want to shout from the rooftops, I say go for it. Just don’t abuse it. And try to recognize that as much as you may think you are presenting an accurate assessment of your child, you’re not. You couldn’t possibly. Remember that sage advice from Carrie Fischer’s character in the movie When Harry Met Sally: “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste. ”
The same can be said about children. Everybody thinks that have an exceptional child and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have exceptional children. Or a sense of humor.
Now excuse me. I have to go pick up my children from the Gifted program and take them to their Accelerated Pogo-Sticking course before we head to the soup kitchen so they can give back to their community in a meaningful way. (They are just so empathetic!)