Thursday, July 23, 2015

Just Eat Your Pancakes

If you are a parent and spend any time on the Internet, you have certainly come across the drama that ensued when a small child in a diner in Portland, ME was being loud and the owner lashed out and yelled directly at the child. There is of course a lot of back and forth going on. But, there are a few things we know for certain, as the diner owner hasn’t disputed them, or said so directly:
  1. The owner yelled directly at the child…who was not even 2. 
  2. The owner referred to the child on her Facebook page as “it” and a “beast.”

I think based on those facts alone we can agree that the owner of the diner has some, well, let’s be nice and just say “issues.”

The Washington Post has since published a response from the Mom of the child (you can read it here).  She paints a picture of a normal 21 month old, who was getting antsy as she had to wait a long time for an easy breakfast (three pancakes). She explains that it was raining, and that is why they didn’t take the child out of the restaurant, and instead decided to try to eat as quickly as they could and then leave. Honestly, I don’t really care what happened. What I care about are the reactions that people have had to this mother. In the comments section the parents are being made out to be monsters who should be “sterilized” and the diner owner is a hero.  One commenter said taking a child who is tired and hungry out in public is “child abuse.” Another said the mom is a “self-centered jerk.” I’m sure worse things have been said, but I only scanned the first page of comments (and there were at least 300 more pages to go).

I would love to meet all these perfect parents who feel that they can be so easily judgmental of a parent they have never before met. If so many parents have such perfect children, then the future is certainly bright! But a parent of perfect children, I’m certainly not one of them.

I have three boys ages 5, 2, and 9 months. And until recently I would say they were fairly well behaved almost all the time. Even in restaurants. But, we recently moved. And the creatures who have invaded my children’s’ bodies and taken over have given me the biggest dose of humility I have ever been given.

See, we didn’t just move. That makes it sound simple. No, we sold the only home my three children have ever known. Before selling we somehow managed to keep the house in pristine condition 24 hours a day for three weeks (yes, I know we were lucky it was only three weeks) while it was listed for sale. During this time the boys certainly weren’t able to play and make messes as easily in our house, as we had to be able to clean up and leave on a moment’s notice. The level to which they picked up on all of this was evident when my mom was babysitting and my two year-old said, “I dusting so we can sell house.” (No, I never made them dust. But, he was pretend-playing and had CLEARLY picked up on a lot.)

We purchased a new home to be built. But that home won’t be ready until the end of October. We moved out of our house and into my (very generous and gracious) parents’ house on July 2nd. On July 4th we headed to the beach for a week-long vacation with my entire extended family (parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephew) that had been planned long before we ever decided to sell our home. So, in 2 days time my boys were living in three different homes. I don’t think they had any clue where “home” was.

Clearly, they’ve been through a lot of change in a short amount of time, and it has been hard. Really, really hard. I’m a Social Worker. I’ve tried to prepare them, and help them understand, and cope as well as possible. But, when a little kids’ world turns upside down, well, they act out. Out of fairness to my children I’m not going to air their dirty laundry and tell any of their acting out stories. But, there are definitely some people in Bethany Beach, DE who probably think my kids are brats (for the record, they’re not) and I’m pretty certain my parents think I’m the worst Mom in the world given the way my kids have been behaving over the last few weeks. (Sorry, Mom and Dad! I swear they’re not normally like this…Really! They aren’t!)

All of this is to say that yes, I may be a little sensitive to the plight of a mom with an acting out toddler right now. But I hope that even before parenting these children who are so not my children that I would have been more understanding and non-judgmental to the mom of the 21-month old in the diner in Portland.

The whole time I read about this Diner Debacle I kept thinking of the quote that says something like, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” (which has been attributed to anyone from Ian Maclaren to Plato).  I’m not saying that my move is a battle, or that the parents in the diner were fighting a battle (the mom doesn’t mention one in her Washington Post response, but it’s certainly her prerogative to keep it private if she was). But, that diner owner didn’t know that! The harsh commenters don’t know that.  When did we as human beings stop giving each other the benefit of the doubt?  Especially, as fellow parents, who have been in the trenches with tiny dictators, we should know that parenting is HARD…so hard. Even when not fighting any particularly difficult battle, sometimes, parenting is a battle in and of itself. We should want to support our fellow parents and help them out, not break them down and berate them for responding in a less than ideal way to a typical toddler.  

And to people who don’t have children, please, just keep your mouth shut. Parenting is truly one of those things that unless you’ve done it, you have no place judging those who have. And even those who have done it, have no right to judge, because, remember: hidden battles.

 As I mentioned, I’m a Social Worker. I’ve spent my career working with really, really sick kids. I always think about these kids when I see children having a hard time out in public. Even when a child is really sick, they still want to be normal. Their families still want to do normal things, like, eat out at restaurants. You never know if the tantruming child at the table next to you is the sister of a child who is hospitalized and possibly dying. You never know if the little boy whining and crying in the booth across the restaurant just spent the past 60 days in a hospital for chemo or radiation or surgery, and upon discharge asked to go to his favorite restaurant. His parents probably knew it was a bad idea. But what parent isn’t going to grant that simple wish to their brave child?

So, let’s stop judging. Let’s start helping. Be that parent who brings a toy you have in your diaper bag over to the tantruming child to try to distract them. Be the parent who catches the eye of the frustrated parent and mouths, “Been there. Done that,” and smiles. Be the stranger, who doesn’t have children, who makes a paper airplane and sails it over to the child with a note that says, “smile.” (Yeah, that sounds cheesy, but I bet the kid would stop crying!). Be a helper. Or, at the very least, don’t be a hater. Don’t spew anger and judgment. Remember when you’ve been at your worst and how you’ve made mistakes, and acted in ways that you regret? Then imagine you’re 2 and don’t have a fully developed brain, and can’t process emotions effectively. And remember that when parents are stressed out and embarrassed they sometimes make poor decisions and can’t think straight and decide to just try to scarf their food down as quickly as possible instead of immediately removing their kid from the restaurant. If eating in a diner—come on, this was NOT Le Diplomat (if you live in DC and haven’t been….GO!) This was a casual diner. The kid could not have been disturbing that many people—just take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your pancakes. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

What Do We Tell the Children?

There are so many bad things happening in our world. And as an avid NPR listener—when in the car (don’t worry, I let my kids listen to Casper Babypants, and BNL Kids, and Rocknocerous too, but Mama’s gotta get her news fix somewhere!)—my kids hear about them. I’m a Social Worker by profession and I’m not one to shy away from a tough conversation with my kids.  And as my oldest gets older (he’s 5 now), those tough conversations have been getting a lot tougher. I’ve spent my career talking to kids who are dying (and their loved ones) about death. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.   But having these sometimes very sad conversations with my own kid is really hard.
So, what do we tell our kids when they hear about a mass shooting, with racism at its core, in South Carolina, or about another shooting in a movie theater/school/church/pick your place, or about an ISIS attack in Syria or Iraq, or about a family who got evicted because they couldn’t pay rent? Sad, scary, devastating stories about our town, country, or world are not things we should hide from our children. Instead, we can take an opportunity to talk to our children in an honest, caring, open way that I hope will help prevent many of these tragedies from occurring in the future. My hope is that my children won’t have to have as many of these tough conversations with their own kids.
When my son heard the reporter on NPR say, “9 people were gunned down by a 21 year-old in a South Carolina church,” the conversation went something like this.

Ryan: Mama, what did he say? What is gunned down?
Me: It means that one bad guy shot 9 people with a gun.
Ryan: Did they die?
Me: Yes, they did.
Ryan: Why did he do that?
Me: Because he was a very bad person. He wasn’t taught how to love people the way we do.
Ryan: Why did he want to hurt them?
Me: Sometimes, bad people think it’s ok to hate other people just because they are different. And we know that’s not ok.
Ryan: What was different about them?
Me: Well, the bad man who shot them had light colored skin like you and I have. And the people he shot had brown skin.
Ryan: He shot them because their skin was a different color?
Me: Yes, he did.
Ryan: That’s silly.
Me: Yes, it is very silly. It’s terrible…and very, very sad.
(long silence......)
Ryan: Mama,  are there bad guys like that near here?
Me: Maybe. But we are very lucky. We live in a very safe town, and the police, and all the other good guys do everything they can to keep us safe from any bad guys.

And that’s where it ended this time. He’s getting older, and one day I know the follow-up question will be, “But Mama, what if the bad guy near here had a gun and still was able to hurt people? What if they hurt us? Or someone we know?” And I would say, “That would be terrible. And we would all be scared and sad. But we would also all work together to help the people who were hurt. And we would then do everything we could to try and make sure it never happens again.” As he gets older, I’ll explain that it’s our responsibility to do what we can NOW. No one should wait until the next tragedy is in their backyard.

 Here are some general guidelines I use when talking with my kids, or other kids about really tough subjects:

1.     Be Honest:
Kids are smart and intuitive. They can easily tell when you’re not being truthful or are trying to hide things from them. And hiding things from kids only makes them feel more anxious and worried. Children have very vivid imaginations. If they feel that something is being kept from them they may imagine things are much worse than they really are. The truth is scary. But not knowing what to believe or who to trust is scarier.

2.       Give Information In Tidbits
In the conversation I had with my son about what happened in South Carolina you can see that I fed him little bits of information at a time. I let him ask lots of follow-up questions. I let him voice the questions that mattered to him. Sometimes, we can give kids too much information and overwhelm them. If we spit out too much information too quickly, we might cause them to worry about things that they haven’t even begun to understand, much less worry about. So, follow your child’s lead. Answer the questions they ask one step at a time.

3.       Don’t be afraid to show emotions
Not showing our honest emotions is akin to not telling the truth. And as I said, above, kids are intuitive. They know when we’re hiding something. When kids can sense that they aren’t being given the whole picture—and they can sense this at a very young age (a fascinating study on this topic was just recently published, you can read about it here)— they grow anxious and distrusting.  If we don’t let kids see us cry, or show anger or frustration, then they will think that doing so is wrong. Hiding our feelings teaches our kids to hide their feelings. Showing our emotions teaches kids that it’s ok to show theirs too.

4.       Give them hope
As grown-ups we all look for the positives in tragic situations. Not doing so leaves us feeling hopeless and paralyzed by fear. Children too, need that glimmer of hope. Mr. Roger’s quote (above) about looking for the helpers is one of my favorites. It can be used in many situations and circumstances. Develop the habit in yourself of looking for the helpers so that your children learn how to find hope in the most tragic situations.

5.       Keep the lines of communication open
One of the best things we can do as parents for our children is to assure them that we are always available to talk, that no topic is off limits, and that they can trust us with the really hard stuff. If we don’t talk openly, easily, and honestly with our children on a daily basis, then they won’t seek us out in scary, sad, and difficult times. Helping our kids understand, process, cope, survive, and thrive after a tragedy is not something achieved only in times of tragedy. We work toward it every single day. The way you communicate with your children and with the people you love teaches your children how to communicate with you, with the people they love, and the people they encounter on a daily basis. As Gandhi so wisely instructed us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and begin with your children. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

From One to Three

Being the mom to three young kids ages 5 and under, I often find myself reflecting on how different my parenting is now with my 3rd than it was with my 1st. So, here are 5 of the most glaring differences between my first-time-mom self and my seasoned third-time-mom status.

1.    The Diaper Blowout:

FIRST KID: Carefully remove the shirt, trying desperately not to get poop on his face or in his hair, even though it's unavoidable. Promptly give baby a full bath. Scrub the shirt to remove stain from oh-so-stainable infant poop. Soak shirt in Oxyclean for 12 hours, then wash. 

SECOND KID: Remove shirt as carefully as possible knowing he's going to get poop on him. Give him a good clean up with a few wipes. Toss shirt in the laundry and hope the stains come out.

THIRD KID: Cut shirt off with scissors and toss in trash. Change non-poop-covered baby. He's as good as new!
(Only recently did that whole “oh! The collars on Onesies are like that so you can roll the shirt down instead of take it over their head” thing go viral. So, yeah, I had no idea about that….but, it probably wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. I’d still be throwing Onesies away at this point.)

2.    Books I’ve read about “How To Get the Baby to Sleep.”

FIRST KID: Allllllll of them. Every. Single. Freakin’. One.

SECOND KID: The one my Sister-in-law swears worked miracles for her son.

THIRD KID: None. And I threw away all the other ones I read before with the other two. Nope, I wouldn’t even donate them. No parent out there needs to worry that much about their kid’s sleep.
(To be clear, this change is not because I became some “master of getting my kids to sleep” by reading all those books. Noooooo, definitely not. I just don’t care anymore. I’ve accepted the fact that my children do not sleep through the night until at least 14 months, and I am OK with that).

3.    People who have seen my boobs (while nursing):

FIRST KID: The baby. My husband. Maaaaaaybe my mom.

SECOND KID: The baby. My husband. My older son. Definitely my mom, probably my sisters-in-law.

THIRD KID: The baby, my husband, my two older kids, my mom, my sisters-in-law, my dad, the pediatrician, the UPS guy, the old lady who came up to talk to us while my older two were feeding the ducks, the numerous guys at the construction site we frequent daily to watch the trucks, the nice woman in the coffee shop at the train station (that we also frequent daily to watch the trains), and maaaaaybe my brothers (but probably not. Some things will always just be weird).

4.    Questions I have for the Pediatrician at well visits:

FIRST KID: Soooooooo many. And they were typed out, on a neat list, that I printed the night before. I brought two copies. One that had been neatly glued in my “Baby’s 1st year” notebook so that I could take notes, and one so that the pediatrician could have a copy, because clearly, he needed a copy of my questions.


THIRD KID: Lots. But they are all about my oldest. I’ve done this baby stuff before. But I’ve never done this 5 year-old stuff before! I’m still a “first time Mom” to him. Basically, well visits for the baby are just an opportunity to get the advice of a doctor I have grown to love and respect tremendously over the years. I might need to keep having kids just so I can have regular advice sessions with him. I mean seriously, when my youngest is 2 am I really expected to go an ENTIRE year without the reassurance he provides that I’m not completely screwing up my kids?

5.    Visits to the Pediatrician outside of Well-visits during the first year:

FIRST KID: None. Seriously, I thought I was a freaking rock star! I mean, not one ear infection, not one stomach bug, not one case of pink eye! I was mom of the year! Clearly, my kid’s awesome health was because I was DOING IT ALL RIGHT!

SECOND KID: 37. Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but it felt like that. My oldest still never gets sick. My second gets a fever if you look at him crooked and has an uncanny ability to catch every cold in a 20 mile radius. They were both breastfed. Don’t let anyone tell you your kid does or doesn’t get sick because of the breast or the bottle. Some just don’t. And some do. And some get the benefit of an older sibling who shares allllll the germs.

THIRD KID: None. We’re only at month 8. But so far, no “sick” visits. But this isn’t because he hasn’t been sick. For the first 4 months of his life I felt like he had a constant cold. But my threshold for concern is much lower. (That visit to the ER doesn’t count, right?)

Whether you’re a first time, a third time, or a sixteenth time mom, this parenting thing has a constant and steep learning curve. Don’t be too hard on yourself no matter where you are on that curve. Some days it is easier. Some days it feels endless. But chances are, you’re doing just fine. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The First of Many Graduations

Dear Ryan,

About 2 weeks ago you graduated from Preschool, Crofton Nursery School (CNS) to be exact. It was a wonderful little school with lots of parent involvement, and Daddy and I got to watch you blossom from a little boy who cried every day for the first three weeks of school during your "3s" year to a boy who bounded out of the car with such excitement each day of your "4s" year that you often forgot to toss a hurried "I love you, too!" my way as you headed out of the car and into your beloved school.

CNS was a place where you learned to love school. And that is all I wanted from your preschool experience. Yes, you made friends, and grew to understand the "social norms" of a classroom setting, and you learned about numbers, and bugs, and letters, and colors, and patterns, and experimenting, and fun. But mostly, you just loved going there, and that's all that mattered to me.

At your preschool graduation I saw so many moms who were teary, and emotional, and a little sad to see their sweet babies growing up. And I  totally get that. Really, I do. I look back at your newborn pictures and wonder where the heck the past 5 years have gone. But most of all, as I sat at your preschool graduation, watching you sing songs with enthusiasm, watching you do all the hand motions with precision, and watching you wink at me occasionally when you knew you were singing one of my favorite songs, the thing I was most thinking about is how every excited I am for you. This was just your first school experience...The first of many graduations to come. So much more lies ahead of you. I know you will thrive in school. You are inquisitive, eager, excited, determined, and kind. Every time I read a non-fiction book with you, either about trains, or trucks, or most recently about volcanoes I just love how you absorb every detail of information. You take it in. You swish it around in your brain for a bit, and then a few minutes, hours, or days later you come back with wonderful questions that show how you've assimilated all the information and are working to make even more sense of it all.

And so, instead of being sad that you're growing up (though, I'm not gonna lie, I still can't believe you're such a boy and not a baby anymore) I am just so thrilled that you are coming up on a point in your life where you will really take off, and develop new interests, and learn new skills, and explore talents you didn't even know you had. You're gonna do great, sweet boy. Kindergarten is going to be amazing!

Until then, let's enjoy this summer and soak in as much fun as we can. Because while I am soooo excited for you to begin "big kid" school, I can NOT believe that in a few short months you will spend the majority of every day not with me. I'm going to miss you! But I will so look forward to your stories when you come home (because really, you better not pull that whole "How was your day? Good. What did you do? Nothing. BS that I (and every other kid ever) has pulled on their parents. I want details, little man. I want to hear all about the new worlds opening up to you! You'll be the pilot, please take me along for the ride!

I love you, more than you'll ever know!