No thank you

unnamedI envy the calm, lilting tone I hear some mothers use. “No thank you!” they recite, gently guiding their child away from climbing the radiator around the perimeter of the children’s room at the library that all kids gravitate toward.

“We’ll get them at the patch this weekend,” they sweetly croon in the Hannaford aisles to their four kids waving their arms threateningly around the pumpkin display.

How are these parents managing to not freak out?

I could blame my Italian blood, my husband’s weekend 12-hour overnight shifts, low blood sugar or my work-frayed nerves, but I have no such patience.

My two-year old son Henry is a sweet cherub 90% of the time, but in the difficult moments, I manage to channel all the gentleness and tranquility of a cat whose tail has been stepped on.

I guess the short fuse is part of being Type A. I’m an overachiever when it comes to behind-the-scenes parenting. I research which sunblock is free of nanoparticles, expertly manage a calendar to ensure proper Henry-care coverage, and buy organic, vegan, nutrient-rich local foods to lovingly prepare.

But when it comes to face-time parenting, I’m graceless.

One Saturday morning, we had a screaming match over shoes. It ended with a sneaker-clad child only due to strategic convincing by Charlie, Henry’s best friend who happens to be a creepy kid-sized puppet. Henry loves Charlie, and thankfully listens to his suggestions.

We went to the library and Henry jumped right in to play on the radiator. I sighed and looked in the other direction, which happened to be toward the shelves.

A book called “ScreamFree Parenting” leapt out at me. It’s by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT. I didn’t know whether it was less screaming from the kid, or less screaming from me, but either way it sounded good.

Henry and the radiator hadn’t hurt one another yet, so I let them play together while I read the first few pages and found myself quickly engrossed.

The main thing the “ScreamFree” method touts is that you can’t control your child (or any other human being), but you CAN control yourself. It says that our society has become too child-centric: Of course we are at our wits’ end catering to our children’s every whim. We’re exhausted and snap easy because of it.

As they say, you put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t take care of your child if you’re not taking care of yourself. “Grow yourself up and calm yourself down,” it says. I know this will take a lot of practice, but it seems like a solid plan.

I looked up from the book. Henry was okay. His friend Maxwell came in with his parents and they played for a bit. We stayed a while longer and eventually I had to tear Henry away from the toy room.

When he protested, I took a deep breath and said, in a calm, lilting voice, “No thank you.”

Just kidding. I didn’t. But neither of us screamed, at least.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on October 9, 2014.
Click here to read “On living the scream-free life” as it ran in The Chronicle.

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Talkin' bout my generation

Henry apple picking at Hick'sBorn in 1982, I’m on the cusp between Generation X and the Milliennials, which TIME Magazine recently called the “Me Me Me” generation of lazy, entitled narcissists.

Raised by hippies, I did grow up in the era of Mr. Rogers, talking about my feelings. I knew I was special by just my being me.

The theory of it was solid, but I walked all over my parents. We had frequent power struggles. My mom has told me that she didn’t know how to create respect without also creating fear as a by-product.

Ultimately, by my own conceited set of standards, I turned out awesome, though. They did a good job.

But I’m not sure I want to go through the same hell my poor folks did, or let my son Henry suffer the harsh reality of realizing he may not a beautiful and unique snowflake (even though I think he is).

According to millenialmarketing.com, I’m like others in my generation in that I want my kid to respect the environment, eat healthy, be socially compassionate, and to identify and constructively express his feelings.

But, likely due to the “grass is always greener” effect, I have romantic feelings about authoritative 1950s-era child-rearing. Where respectful, polite children know their parents’ decisions aren’t up for debate. You know, the well-behaved “seen and not heard” kids of black-and-white TV.

I want him to do his chores, wait his turn, save his money, work hard and turn his homework in on time. To say please and thank you. To feel gratitude and not entitlement.

I like to think there’s a balance to be found. Rather than subscribing to the package deal, I want* to combine the firmness of the authoritarian regime with the empathy of attachment parenting.

In reality, though, choosing between taking care of him, versus taking care of myself so I CAN take care of him is an ongoing internal mud-splattered, blistered tug-of-war for me.

I hope that, in time, experience will help me make these decisions.

Decisions like… Is he actually thirsty, or is this some kind of bedtime procrastination trick? Should I see if he’ll fall back asleep if I don’t run right in there to comfort him when he cries? Should we abandon our meal because he refuses to use the restaurant’s restroom, or does being this hangry** mean it’s worth hoping he can hold out while we scarf our fries?

Right now, I don’t know the answers. I’m trying to navigate it as best I can so that we’re both happy and healthy.
I do know that I want him to be bold, independent and confident; to think for himself and question authority…

Just not mine!

* A self-referential footnote: Lots of “I want” in this column, right? Let’s call it dramatic irony.
** Hangry: So urgently hungry you’re angry.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on September 25, 2014.
Click here to download “Talking ’bout my generation” as it ran in The Chronicle.

In the face of tantrums

Henry has discovered his being-photographed smile.My parents used to sing the Rolling Stones song, “You can’t always get what you want,” to me when I was little, and I hated it with a fiery passion. I get where they were coming from now that I’m parenting a two-year-old, though.

In the event of a tantrum, I’ve found that apparently my first reaction is to channel the coldness of a prison guard in a brute force approach — “You will stop crying and you will LIKE stopping crying!” — which is not only disturbing to realize about myself, but makes it into a power struggle, which is completely ineffective and frustrating.

Conversely, the gentle Mr. Rogers tack in which I ask him to explain his sadness just makes him look me in the eyes and wail louder and more deliberately, like a person trying to talk to someone hard of hearing.

I’ve tried blowing in his face to startle him, which I read about somewhere. It startles him, but then he cries about being startled. I’ve tried doing a silly dance to distract him, which has literally no effect on him, and makes me feel like an idiot.

It wasn’t my proudest day, but I found out recently that if you’re in Cole’s Woods and your kid is freaking out because they want to hit a stump with a stick for twelve more hours, he’ll stop instantly if you tell them that bears will eat you if you cry in the woods.

Our pediatrician, along with countless others, affirms that ignoring a tantrum is the best way to deal with it. It’s not so easy to ignore in public places where the furrowed brows of passers-by urge you to make the crying stop or go the heck home.

I’ve read that toddlers and tantrums are best dealt with by diverting their attention, and I’ve found that to be true. And for certain fits, it does the trick just to hug him and acknowledge he’s upset so we can move on. I’m slowly getting the hang of it.

He doesn’t cry constantly, and I don’t mean to make it sound like he does. But like we all do, he has his off days, or off hours, and sometimes he’s inconsolable. They’re weary moments.

My friend Sarah Bates, who is a former nanny, told me once that we adults are funny in that we want to dress a kid up and take them to the playground to have fun, but then struggle with the kids to get them there.

But if we could just step out of our one-track-mind for a second and notice that they’re having plenty of fun simply hitting a stump with a stick or playing in the dirt or whatever it is we’re dragging them away from, we would all be happier.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on September 11, 2014.

Terrible Two

photoMy son Henry turned two on August 22.

On the eve of his first birthday, I went through his tiny baby clothes and heaved profound guttural sobs over the loss of my little newborn son.

I remember him seeming so big compared to his first onesies, and how tragic I felt that I’d never get to hold my snorgly sweet-smelling wee little bundle of joy again.

I thought I’d have a similar experience this year for his birthday, but it must be that the bright light of what’s to come vanquishes the sadness about what’s gone.

For sure, there are moments like the maple syrup incident, the nightly meltdowns about going upstairs to bed, and the roadside pants-pooping. It’s not like parenting is for the weak of heart — or stomach.

There are the days where I’ve been yelled at, peed on, and am on my hands and knees picking rice off the floor while dinner-covered hands are still smearing everything in sight.

If I’m out and about with him and try to carry on a conversation with an adult at the same time, I’m fairly certain I don’t say anything intelligent because I’m trying to mentally stay one step ahead of him so he doesn’t hurt himself, hurt someone else, break something, make a mess, blow something up, and so on.

But all that means that he and I are interacting more than when he was just a drooling hip accessory, and the most notorious “incidents” are lifelong stories we’ll tell; juicy family lore in the making.

Besides, they’re balanced out by other moments.

Moments like him singing happy birthday, one of his favorite songs, to anyone he feels affectionate toward. Like how much he loved the “up high” Ferris Wheel at Magic Forest. Like how he takes his time and says “excuse me” on slides when older, bolder kids barrel past him.

The squinting, showing-the-teeth smile he discovered when Auntie Erika asked him to grin for a photo. Him kissing my parents’ dog Heidi on the nose and sharing his spaghetti with her.

Moments like him chasing ducks at Crandall Park, asking Daddy to play blocks with him, and walking his dolly down Morgan Avenue in a pink stroller. Him yelling “DarkStar!” (the name of his Uncle Andrew’s hot air balloon, which he loves dearly) at an empty blue sky, willing it to appear.

Moments like when he puts his head on my shoulder — albeit a tactic he knows to use when he doesn’t want me to put him down for bed, because I love head-on-the-shoulder so much I’ll just hold him that way forever.

While I do feel wistful about the first days I held my tiny little boy in my arms, I am inspired daily. It’s all I can do to outwit him, outrun him and stay up later than him. Motherhood is great fun, despite its challenges.

I can’t imagine an age less terrible than two.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle‘s Adirondack Family Magazine in Autumn 2014.
Click here to download “Terrible Two” as it ran in The Chronicle.

Pinterest Pressure

Henry drawing balloons, of courseI often think to myself, “One of these days I’m going to look up some charming ideas on Pinterest and spend the day with my son Henry making bumblebees out of pool noodles and painting every surface in the house with chalkboard paint.” I place high value on fostering creativity and upcycling while you do it.

“It goes so fast,” everyone keeps saying. I know. Time is flying by. He’ll be growing a mustache tomorrow. He might already have one.

It’s working mother’s lament, simply not being able to be everywhere at once, but the ever-present hot coals of Mom Guilt are fueled by social media and fanned into flame by the Internet’s endless chasm of craft ideas.

Not only do I feel overwhelmed by the fact that I will never be able to remember the 100 clever uses for neon colored pipe cleaners, but I also receive thoughtful periodic notifications that my friends have posted a link to “29 Handprint Art Projects For Kids” on Facebook and tagged me.

So far I’ve plastered our kitchen with finger-painted murals, but I’m going to run out of wall space sooner or later. So then I get to beat down the feelings that come with throwing away 29 handprint art projects.

If I won the lottery, I’d create a museum of all the precious flowers made out of Q-tips and backyard leaf collages that I’m sure to acquire as years go by.

Whenever I do actually spend some time doing something creative, like handing Henry some crayons (out of the box, rather than melted and hand-shaped into butterflies) and paper (from the printer, not via blender full of newspaper), I post photos immediately to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to document for everyone in the world that I am, in fact, one of the crafty moms.

Which, of course, is why I’m telling you about it now.

Let’s all just assume from here on out that I’ve pinned the ways to use a paper plate to make a jaunty hat, Easter basket, ladybug puppet and real working aquarium complete with live fish — and that I have already lovingly shared the experience with Henry.

Maybe the trick is to market his art so that it can adorn other people’s walls.

Fine art collectors of the greater Glens Falls region, I know a budding artist who will make as many decoupaged coffee cans as you can buy.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on August 14, 2014.

Manic Mondays

Henry and all his friendsWe like to take our toddler Henry to the Monday night City Band concerts in City Park. But I’d be lying if I said he peacefully enjoys the music.

While he listens, he also pokes his fingers in the irrigation control valve covers, smacks the metal light poles, points at ants and says, “ANT.” — and so on.

His favorite vantage is from atop the time capsule, which, to his balloon-crazed liking, has a hot air balloon on it. (Fun fact: There’s a picture from 1978 in that capsule of “balloon baby” Andrew Avon, Henry’s hot air balloon pilot uncle.)

We momentarily take Henry away from the crowd to look at Emily Thomson’s balloon mural in the LARAC window when he’s especially noisy.

It’s not really that he’s loud, though. He’s just a friendly guy.

I never know how much to hover. Rather than “helicopter parenting,” my tendency is to let him run and explore if he’s not in danger. But I struggle to gauge how much his friendliness creeps people out. Sometimes he’ll just walk up to someone and smile at them. I’m sure it’s disconcerting.

He generates a lot of sunny expressions from strangers, though. And I have friends who email begging for Henry pictures when they’re having a rough day.

Sometimes it feels like a public service to bring him around. It’s like walking around with a magic wand you can point at people to make them smile.

But not everyone’s into cute. Some people don’t like kids, or want to be left alone. So I fret. We don’t aim to annoy.

One recent Monday, Henry got away from us to sneak up on an unsuspecting audience member and delightedly stuck his water bottle in the cup holder of her folding chair. It was an adorable gesture. She smiled. We were relieved.

He then scanned the park, which was chock-full of folding chairs, each with a cup holder, and realized the magnitude of his discovery. We saw the light go on over his head and looked at each other.

Do we intervene? Are people just trying to relax and immerse themselves in the music? Or will he bring sunshine and rainbows to everyone in the park if we let him work his sweet magic?

During our hesitation, he hit at least seven chairs with his water bottle. Seven smiles. Two nice ladies recognized him from The Chronicle and called him by name.

Then another few cup-holders, and subsequent smiles. A couple let him pet their dogs.

We stopped him there, though, not wanting to push our luck.

Thank goodness you can still hear the band from over by that heaven-sent balloon mural.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on July 25, 2014.

Potty talk at my high school reunion

unnamed (1)Last month at my 15th high school reunion in Woodstock, Vermont, I had a chat with my class’s valedictorian. She’s nowhere to be found on Facebook, so this conversation was a genuine catch-up — that is to say, we didn’t have to pretend we had read articles that we shared, kept up on career ups and downs or enjoyed photos of each other’s kids.

She also doesn’t have a cell phone or Internet at home and only uses email at work. I can hardly imagine a life like that. She must be the best parent ever, able to focus on her child and separate work and family. Whatever.

On top of the other zillion triumphs she has over me, her two-year-old is completely potty-trained. She told me about a system called “3 Day Potty Training.”

Basically, when the time is right, you take a long weekend, pack the diapers away for good and just have your toddler go around bottomless, running to the potty as necessary and doing a touchdown dance after each “hit”. After about ten hits, the system should be locked in.

We haven’t had the luxury of a long weekend off to devote to this yet, nor stocked up on the necessary floor cleaners, but the concept stuck with me. My son Henry will be two in August, but he is exhibiting many of the readiness signs I’ve read about: Following verbal instructions, taking pride in accomplishments, demonstrating a desire for independence, and saying PSSS! when he’s going in his diaper — and also when playing with the garden hose in an indecent way.

He’ll hate me someday for telling you this, but here’s the big sign that he is ready: Every day after breakfast, he likes to stand in the same spot just on the far edge of his car table, and make #2. If I come in while he’s doing his thing, he’ll point and yell, “MOM! OUT!”

You may recall that this kid is nuts for hot air balloons. Our “hits” so far were accomplished by pretending the potty was a balloon and needed “fuel” to take off. After he goes, the full potty flies up, up, up and away!

I’d brag about it on Facebook, but my high school valedictorian wouldn’t even see it.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on July 17, 2014.
Click here to download “Potty talk at my high school reunion” as it ran in The Chronicle.