When I was little, my grandmother took care of my cousin and me one day each week. I remember the highlight of my week would be sitting in the McDonald’s inside the Morris County Mall, comparing french fries.
“Look at how long this one is!”
“Mine’s really wiggly!”
“How many little crispies do you have?”
As I look back on those moments in my memory, I see the restaurant, our gray linoleum-topped table, and the red booths. I can picture my cousin, sitting across from or next to me, and I know that my Nana was there, watching our every move and cackling. I can hear her voice, and I can imagine her presence, but I can’t see her in my memory.
It’s been 22 years since she passed away when my cousin and I were Juniors in high school. I have plenty of mental images of her in my memory from later years. I can glimpse her sitting on my parents’ couch when they’d come over for family dinners. I can see her in her brown armchair, trying to peer around their giant goofball golden retriever who thought he was a lap dog. And I can see her in her bathing suit as we’d swim in their huge pool in their yard.
But no matter how hard I try, I can’t picture her from those days when she took care of me in preschool and Kindergarten.
I know this is because I was so young. Young children can’t retain as many distinct images in their memories as older kids and adults can. My mom reminded me of that recently when she mentioned some of the things she had done for us as kids. She was almost put off when I admitted that I couldn’t remember half of it.
“Just you wait,” she told me. “One day you’ll realize that everything you do for your kids now will be forgotten, too.”
It’s a bit of a rude awakening to acknowledge that she’s right.
My kids may not remember all of the work that went into planning birthday parties and family vacations. They won’t recall the particulars of potty training, trips to the ER and worrisome doctor’s visits. And they, too, may not be able to picture us in their minds when they remember moments from days spent together.
Now that my mom is retired, she takes care of my daughter one day each week. They come home with stories of picnics and playgrounds. My daughter now sits at McDonald’s next to that same cousin’s children who are with their grandmother, my aunt.
It is bittersweet to recognize how everything comes full circle. In my preschool days, I was the center of my own universe. Now, my daughter is the center of hers. As parents and grandparents, we simply get to orbit around their rays of sunshine and bask in the glow when they shine their light our way.
I watch her, as I’m sure my mom and my Nana watched me, and I love how she sees the world. I love her discoveries, and I adore her declarations. She makes me laugh every single day. I don’t need to be imprinted upon her memory because she will forever be imprinted on mine.
Someday, my daughter may look back on her days with Nini, too. She might remember what they ate, what Happy Meal toys they played with, and where they sat. But she may not be able to picture my mom or my aunt, sitting there with them, cackling like their mother at their grandchildren’s antics. She won’t remember skipping through the door, bubbling over with stories from her day, or the way she leaped into my arms when she came home.
But that’s okay. Because I will.
My kids walk home from school when the weather is nice. My boys are in 2nd and 4th grade and we live only a mile from their school. We started letting them walk just this year with a few other families in our neighborhood.
At first, I was a nutcase of a worrier over them walking. Would they be safe? Would they use their heads when crossing that last, busy street that has no crosswalk?
I started by waiting for them at their final intersection and walking the last couple of blocks home with them in the fall. But, little by little, I began to let them do the entire thing alone.
Our rules were simple:
- Walk straight home. No stops along the way.
- Stay on the sidewalks.
- Cross at the crosswalks.
- Always stay together as a group.
- Never let anyone walk alone.
They needed to be reminded of these rules a few times when our network of friends would call us to let us know that they saw the kids being stupid. Running across the street to grab acorns or pinecones, stopping to play in a friend’s backyard without telling anyone, splitting up and getting separated, or failing to find the group and starting on their own were some of their reported transgressions.
Most times they pulled this nonsense, they were called on it and forced to suffer either punishment or lectures about safety. Nothing makes me happier now than when I hear them dissuade each other from breaking rules because, “the parent spies will catch you.” Yes, they think we have spies strategically placed throughout the town and I whole-heartedly encourage that belief.
So yes, they are kids who don’t always use their heads, but more times than not, they have been responsible and smart about walking home safely this year.
Fast forward to last week, when my oldest son was home from school with a fever and a stomach bug. I had heard from one family of neighbors that her kids would not be walking home that day, so I knew I had to find a ride for my younger son so he wouldn’t be alone. I called up a friend who agreed to pick him up with her kids and keep him for a bit to play as well. Satisfied and grateful that I have such wonderful, helpful friends, I went back to the business of washing out the puke bucket and monitoring my oldest’s fever.
Shortly after school dismissal time, my phone rang.
“Stace? It’s me. I’m here with my kids, but your son is refusing to get in my car.”
“What!?! Oh no, I called the main office and had them tell him he’s going home with you!”
“I know, and he said he got the message, but he won’t get in.”
I was so confused and annoyed and embarrassed. Here I had called a friend for a favor and my kid was outright refusing an adult he knew very well. I wanted to strangle him. But my girlfriend just laughed it off.
“It’s fine. He said something about not letting anyone walk alone, so I let both of the boys out to walk home with their friend. I’ll trail them in the car and pick them up once they get to the first house.”
Mortified, I apologized and thanked her profusely for putting up with my stubborn son.
Not even 5 minutes later, my doorbell rang. It was another neighborhood dad at the door dropping off my son and his friend.
“I saw them walking home with my kid, so I scooped them all up out of the rain. They said they were going to play down the block, but I didn’t see a car there, so I brought them here.”
At that, I just burst out laughing in my neighbor’s face. I looked down at my son as he pushed past me to get into the house.
“Scottie, what happened? Why didn’t you get in the car when you knew you were supposed to go have a playdate?”
My son looked over his shoulder at me while he took off his wet shoes,
“You always said not to let anyone walk home alone!”
It was then that the lightbulb went off for both me and the dad who picked the kids up. It turns out that their normal walking group all had other plans after school with the exception of my son and this dad’s son. I had assumed my Scottie would be walking home alone, so I made plans to have him picked up. But, if he had gotten into the car with his friend, that would have left only one person, this 4th grade boy, walking home alone.
In his refusal to get into my girlfriend’s car, he was actually standing firm in his knowledge of our group’s safety rules. This girlfriend of mine didn’t know the other boy walking home, and he didn’t know her, so they decided to just all walk home together in the rain instead.
As we figured it all out, we laughed at the confusion. Grateful for cell phones, we called everyone involved and relayed the story. No, Scottie wasn’t being rude or stubborn, he was actually being safe and looking out for his friend. And both my girlfriend and the other dad friend were understanding after both being so wonderful about helping out.
It’s one of my favorite things about this tiny little small town. That all of the families get to know each other and look out for each other’s kids, even when not asked to do so. With this little incident, now two more families have gotten to know each other, just further spreading the net of helping hands and watchful eyes over our kids.
And now I know for sure that, despite all of my worrying that they’re all being knuckleheads on the walks home, at least one of the rules has sunk in.
I want to applaud all of the women whose husbands travel regularly and often. I don’t know how you do it. Like everything else in life, I’m sure you get used to it, but it can’t be easy. Whether he travels on frequent short trips for business, or the much harder, longer deployments for the military, I know I couldn’t do it. Maybe in my younger, carefree, childless days, perhaps. But definitely not now. My hat is off to you all.
My own husband just returned from his annual golf trip. Once a year, and only for 5 days and nights, he heads south to hit the links. I know, I know, no sympathy deserved here. But over the course of those five days, I discovered a few things about myself and my marriage.
Leading up to this trip, I was honestly looking forward to it. (Shhh, don’t tell my husband!) After the holidays, January and February bring with them a funk. This year, that funk was topped with about three feet of snow. We all were suffering from lack of fresh air and exercise, cabin fever, and too much together time, thanks to Christmas break followed by umpteen snow days. I was cranky, my husband was moody, and my kids were driving us both bonkers. So I was looking forward to this trip to give us some needed space to breathe.
Besides, I used to live alone. I loved those years of having my own place with only my two cats for company. I wasn’t worried a bit. In fact, I started thinking about all of the great things about having the house and the kids to myself for the next week. This would be great!!
There really are some great things about having your husband away from home for a while.
- Easy Dinners! Ask any mom and she’ll tell you, we’re really happy with a bowl of cereal or a salad for dinner most nights. Fix the kids some easy pizza, chicken nuggets, or mac n cheese and call it a night. No meal planning, grocery shopping, prep, cooking, or clean-up required. Whoopie!!!!
- Post-Bedtime Quiet. Once the kids are in bed, the house is MINE. They won’t notice that I’ve turned all the clocks ahead by half an hour to push that a little earlier, right? No discussing plans, house issues, small talk. Just peace and quiet. Pure bliss.
- Control of the Remote. I can watch Downton Abbey, cheesy 80’s movies, or as many reruns of Grey’s Anatomy as I want without anyone scoffing, complaining, or interjecting with jabs about this “special, touching episode.” I have absolute control and refuse to watch Top Gear, golf, or the history of man’s finest inventions.
- Full Stretch on the Sofa. Yes! I can take up all three cushions to myself and stretch out from end to end in complete and utter relaxation!
- Clean, Tidy Bathroom. I love my bathroom when he’s gone. No cans of shaving cream left on the sink, no razors falling out of his toiletry bag, and the bathmat and towels are hung neatly, and the shower curtain is perfectly draped every time I enter. My absolute favorite here, though, is that I can actually see myself in the mirror because it no longer has that smeared streak down the center of it from him wiping away the shower steam to shave. Clean, tidy, and just the way I like it.
- The Whole Bed. Our rooms are too small to fit a king size bed, so we share a queen. Without him here, I can sprawl right across that nice, firm bump in the middle that hasn’t sagged yet and not worry about hogging anything. All the covers and pillows are mine, all mine. Let the peaceful slumber take me away!
Except, my slumber isn’t all that peaceful and I begin to realize that it’s nice to have him around.
- Late Nights. I stay up way too late when my husband is away. No clue why, but I do, every single night.
- Snacking. While I’m staying up way to late, I find myself snacking before bed. I know this is a terrible habit, yet I do it anyway. Maybe I miss running my mouth, chatting with him before bed and have to keep my lips busy. I don’t know. I just know that I’d be huge if he was away any longer than a week.
- No Alarm. I haven’t set my own alarm clock in years. My husband’s alarm goes off, waking us both up as he gets ready for work and I get ready to get the kids off to school. Late nights plus no alarm equals an unhappy, very rushed morning.
- Household Duties. I do just about everything for the house indoors as far as cleaning, cooking, and basic upkeep. But my husband does the outside stuff. When a storm dumped another 5 inches of snow, topped with a wet coating of ice and sleet, I didn’t have him here with the snow blower, clearing our driveway, steps, and walkway. So I had to shovel all of that very heavy, wet stuff myself in order to get the car out. I have a new hatred for snow plows after sobbing my way through the sludge they pushed to barricade us in. When is he coming home again?
- Single Parenting. I do most of the parenting on my own anyway in our family, due to the fact that my husband commutes to the city for work. He leaves at 6:30 every morning and isn’t home until 7:30 most nights. But even with that schedule, I didn’t realize how much he helps with the kids in those few hours that he does have. All of the help, discipline, and bedtime routines fell to me this week, making me miss having him here.
- Restless Sleep. Although this is the same house in which I sleep every single night, when my husband is gone, every noise wakes me up and starts my heart to racing. Before bed, I bring my cell phone with me instead of leaving it charging in the kitchen. I triple check every door lock and window, and generally get myself in a horror-movie panic, imagining every demon and ne’er-do-well coming to get me. Suddenly having this bed to myself doesn’t sound so good.
After the first two days, the luster has worn off and I need my husband back home. I am a sleep-deprived nutcase, holding it together for the sake of my kids.
- Snow Sucks. (and perhaps my attitude does, too.) I think the weatherman predicting more snowfall during my husband’s drive home should be hanged with his own ugly tie. If one more snowflake falls on my shoveled walkway, I’m buying a flame thrower.
- Empty Bed. My covers are cold and my nightmares are haunting me. I need my husband home to reach out and touch in the middle of the night.
- Kissless. They may not be the steamy smooches of romance novels, but I really miss morning kisses as he walks out the door, evening kisses when he comes home from work, and good night kisses before bed. I am kissless. Even my lips miss him.
- Kids Who Miss Their Daddy. My kids adore my husband. He is a great father. Hearing my daughter say how much she misses Daddy is breaking my heart. I can’t wait for him to come home so he can see just how much he is loved.
- Post-Bedtime Quiet. Once something I looked forward to, now it’s just too quiet. All other noises are amplified and it makes this big house feel so empty. I never knew I could feel such extreme isolation in the comfort of my own home. There are four people living here, yet it is so very lonely.
- Missing His Wit. Control over the TV remote is great, but I actually miss my husband’s sharp wit and silly puns. No one makes me laugh and smile as much as he can. I miss his company so much.
- Feeling Incomplete. When he is gone, I feel like part of me is missing. After so many years together, we have become like two slivers of soap in the shower, slowly molding ourselves around each other until we’re one solid chunk. We may be worn around the edges, and a little soggy from overuse, but we work best when together. Separate us, and neither piece is enough to get the job done on its own. But together, we’re a fresh, clean whole.
I suppose absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Each trip away proves to me that I married the absolutely perfect man for me. It’s not just missing someone when he’s gone; I miss everything about who he is. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and everything in between. He’s home again and I am whole again.
Staring at an empty page
tears rolling down his chin.
He sighs, frustrated,
thinking that I don’t understand him.
I want to tell him that I know
exactly how he feels.
I want to hug him, comfort him
assist with this ordeal.
Instead I stand one room away
just peeking in to see
if he has started working yet,
but I can’t let him see me.
He needs to puzzle through this,
Needs to get there on his own.
He needs to learn how to begin,
so he can get it done.
He’s only eight, in second grade,
hating both homework and me.
It’s not that I don’t want to help;
I just need to let him be.
I need to let him flail and fret;
I need to let him be upset.
I need to watch him struggle.
If it’s too easy, he’ll forget.
Once this is finally finished,
I know he’ll stomp and fuss.
He’ll claim how much he just hates school,
and even, possibly, us.
But when it’s over, he will know
that he completed this task.
And any future hurdles
won’t be too much to ask.
By butting out, a room away,
I just hope he learns
The best rewards cannot be given;
No, they must be earned.
I hope someday that he will know,
deep down in his heart,
that all things become possible.
You only have to start.
I wrote this poem after reading the following phenomenal article from Forbes, 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders. I am guilty of more than half of these things, so I still have a long way to go.
I was sick of this story before I even read a single word. After cheering for the Broncos, I watched the first half of the Seahawks v 49ers game, then kicked my husband and son down to the basement to watch the rest because my DVR was busy recording Downton Abbey and Revenge, so we couldn’t watch a third show. I don’t have a dog in this Superbowl race this year. My Giants were out of it in the first month of the season. My Panthers lost the previous week. So I was down to rooting for Peyton Manning and former Panthers coach, John Fox.
It wasn’t until I received a call from my girlfriend about this whole Richard Sherman thing that I actually knew it had happened. (Yes, husbands. Your wives actually had a phone conversation about football. You may consider yourselves lucky.)
When I watched the video interview, I was predictably disgusted and disappointed. What a missed opportunity. This cornerback could have been featured on every sports page, every social media outlet, even every front page headline for being a fantastic role model, or even an eloquent spokesperson. But no, instead, he used his five seconds on camera to exemplify selfishness, arrogance and ego. What a missed opportunity.
I chatted with my husband about how frustrating it was for my friend, who is striving to supply her athletic son with positive role models. We ended up agreeing that this was as much Sherman’s fault as it was the network’s and the team’s. These interviews are arranged beforehand, with full knowledge that they are giving the spotlight to a trash-talker with a bad reputation. It was obvious that this was simply a ratings ploy. And it worked. Here we are, talking about it, just like they wanted.
I wasn’t planning to spout off about it at all until today, when I read some of the articles defending Sherman. Specifically, this BlogHer article, claiming to offer a mother’s perspective, and this HuffPost piece, which brushes the broadest stroke to say that America is upset because Sherman is from Compton and we don’t like outsiders.
First, as a mother of three, I can 100% accurately claim that no, neither I nor my children have ever proclaimed ourselves as the “best ever” after a game. Not in our house. Not on a field. And certainly not in a public forum, much less on national television. Why? It’s not because we are repressed, or self-doubting. It’s because we were taught better. Our parents, teachers, coaches, and communities instilled in us a sense of good sportsmanship that precludes this kind of angry, self-aggrandizing showboating.
As a mother, I say, yes, encourage kids to celebrate. But teach kids humility, even in the heat of the moment. No, especially in the heat of the moment.
Pride in accomplishment is absolutely encouraged, but awareness and acknowledgement of a team effort should never be overlooked. Whether it’s a great play in a football game, a win in a spelling bee, or an award for a scouting achievement, teach kids to be aware of and acknowledge those who didn’t win in a way that shows you appreciate them for the competition. I wouldn’t allow my kid to behave like Sherman did, even on the sideline. But if my son ever spewed that garbage from his mouth to a camera, I’d have him suffering punishments and serving time in some way that ensured a new-found appreciation for the losers.
Sherman’s charitable actions and scholarly achievements off the field only serve to bolster my point. Sherman is an underdog. If we’re talking winners and losers, he began as the latter. It’s great that he has worked his way up to the former, but he of all people should know better than to perch himself too high to fall.
As for What Richard Sherman Taught Us About America, this drivel spouts that our citizenry is too prejudiced to accept this kind of behavior because of where Sherman grew up. On the contrary, I believe the fact that Richard Sherman was given a microphone at the end of his most successful game in his career states otherwise. We simply were hoping for something worthwhile to come out of his mouth. Instead, we got his ego, up close.
I feel like every HuffPost author seems to think we are all too selfish and should give more to others, that we are bad people for wanting to keep anything that we have earned or enjoy the fruits of our labors. But how do you justify the hypocrisy of sharing and equality and boosting our fellow man versus championing Sherman’s selfish, glory-hogging, rant? Have we lowered our standards to the point where we should be honoring him simply because he hasn’t been arrested?
I don’t think Sherman taught us anything about being Americans. I think Sherman sets a perfect example of what not to do for our kids and our country. If Sherman is a lesson on class, I don’t think the lesson is that we don’t accept those from lower-class upbringings. Instead, Sherman’s lesson is that we all should show a little more class when opening our mouths to a national audience.
Class doesn’t come from money; it comes from character. There are millions of rags to riches achievers who had class long before they had success. Being a Stanford graduate and donating money to charities shows drive and generosity. But it doesn’t show class. Using your five seconds to shout and cheer excitement for your team, your city, the sport, that would have been nice. Using it to nod your head to your competitors in a gracious way could have been a real example of class. Instead, Sherman erased everything we know about his achievements and his philanthropy and showed the world an example of having no class.
No, this one clip does not define the whole man. At least, I hope not. I hope that, in addition to whatever apologies he makes for this moment of diarrhea-mouth, he shows better judgement in his future actions. Empty words of apology are far too common in the news. However, learning from this and showing real class in future moments could teach everyone a bit about true progress.
We all know that parents worry. From the instant the pregnancy test reads positive, there is a sinking realization that, despite thinking we had all the answers just five minutes ago, we now know for a fact that we truly know NOTHING.
Parenthood is the ultimate equalizer. Unfortunately, everyone else does such a good job faking it, that we each suffer a silent misery, thinking we are the only parents without a clue. However, even though there are stacks upon stacks of parenting books out written by so-called “experts,” we all end up figuring out this parenting gig on our own, mostly by trial and error.
That original worry from the early stage of diaper changes, feedings, and sleep deprivation becomes both stronger and weaker with each passing phase. We learn to take things in stride and try to save our freak-outs for bigger issues.
Likewise, when you have subsequent children, your worries over your crappy parenting become both bigger and smaller, too. We know what worked and what didn’t with bottles or breasts, but we panic when we worry that we’ll have to divide our time and attention among multiple kids.
We try to balance our efforts between kids, while learning from our mistakes and experience. Suddenly, we realize that, because we are learning on the job, we are not parenting each of our children the exact same way. Guilt over taking time and attention away from our first-born morphs into guilt that we have screwed up our oldest worse than his younger siblings.
I’ve always told my oldest that he has the toughest job in the family because he is the one who has to teach me how to be a mom. Yet, just yesterday, I had the first inkling that maybe an experienced mom does not always equal a better mom.
My middle child had a playdate after school, during which they mostly watched TV and played a video game. Sure, there was snack time and Lego time mixed in, too, but the majority was TV and computer. If that had been my oldest child when he was in second grade, I would have announced, “Okay guys. No more screen time. Go play outside or upstairs for a while.”
It was that realization that made me wonder, “How does birth order affect how I parent? Am I really doing right by my younger kids?”
I mean, we all joke about how crazy we were with our first babies compared to our younger kids. Dropped pacifier? Wipe it on a pant leg — third kid! Missed nap time? Oh well, she had to tag along to soccer practice. Even diaper commercials use that theory in advertising.
We like to think that we “get the hang of it” and are better for our experience. But are we really being better parents? Or just lazier?
The truth is, we can’t tell which way of parenting is better or worse. Is my oldest such a worrier because he picks up on my unease over the unknowns of all of his firsts? Or am I raising a slacker kid in his younger brother who has learned how to manipulate me more expertly? Will my daughter be spoiled and vain because I raise her as my last baby?
It’s no longer a question of “Am I screwing them up?” It’s become more a worry of “Which one am I screwing up the worst?”
I guess we can’t ever really know the answers until they’re grown and charging us for their therapist bills. I only hope that, by then, they’ll realize that it was all just a giant crap shoot for us as parents. That our intentions were good and always driven by love, and pride, and a little bit of fear.
I just hope they know that, no matter how much we worried over parenting them fairly, there was never any limit to how greatly we love each of them.