Let parents be parents and kids be kids already

standard September 23, 2014 16 responses

Maybe it's time to let parents be parents and kids be kids.

There is an article making the rounds on the Internet titled “11-year-old girl goes on vacation alone, horrifying parents around the world.” I am no more immune to sensationalized article headers, so, like many people I clicked on the link, somewhat spurred on by the photo of a smiling girl wearing a backpack and holding her thumb up, in what I assumed was meant to make it look like she was hitchhiking.

Turns out, this 11-year-old girl was being put on a plane by her parents and being received at the other end by family members who then would take her into their home for her “vacation.”

Now, I’m sorry, but she’s far from the only 11-year-old traveling as an Unaccompanied Minor and I really don’t think that being on your own (with airline attendant supervision) on a plane is the same thing as “going on vacation” alone.

Let’s set aside for a second the sensationalization of something rather banal in the hopes of getting readers all riled up.

I traveled as an Unaccompanied Minor for the first time when I was four.

I walked to school, going from one end of town to the other, on my own, when I was 9.

I took the London Tube (the subway) and hailed cabs on my own when I was 11.

These things are not crazy. It was not a “sign of the times.” It was not irresponsible of my parents to let me do these things. They taught me to make smart decisions and then let me make them.

That is nothing more than good parenting.

The job of a parent isn’t to solely keep their child safe. It’s to teach them to be ready to live in the world. If we spend all of our time coddling and shielding our kids from the pitfalls that might, maybe, could possibly happen, all we’re doing is making it impossible for them to ever know how to manage on their own.

That’s what’s not ok.

For a time, the phenomenon was known as Helicopter Parenting. You hovered, watched, stood by, darted in to fix things when the situation started to look a bit dicey. Now it’s called Lawnmower Parenting. The parents plow through all possible obstacles, smoothing the way so their child is never challenged in any way.

Does that sound ok to you?

I’ve seen it many times. Kids who are never allowed to explore, never allowed to figure things out on their own, go hog wild when finally freed.

Imagine the teen never allowed even a tiny sip of beer at home going off to college for the first time. Imagine the child never allowed out with friends sneaking out of a window. Imagine the teen never allowed to manage his or her own money finally getting a credit card.

These things never end well.

As a parent, our job is to teach our kids to do things safely and smartly while we’re still in the wings to steer them back on path. 

America was once a great nation of innovation and grit. We had to be. There was no one to pave the road or show us the way. We can’t always be with them, so we’d better be teaching them to make good decisions. That can’t happen if there are never any decisions to make. 

Art, music, science experimentation have already been taken away from our schools. If we take away the ability to play outside, to explore, to discover the world without a hovering parent, we will be reduced to a nation of rule following, line toeing citizens, who have lost the ability to innovate and grow. 

When my kids were toddlers I let them climb onto chairs by themselves, I let them fail, let them try again, and I applauded their success when they finally reached their goal.

These days…

I let my kids play for hours without checking in to see what they’re doing.

I let my kids go to the bathroom on their own in restaurants.

I let my kids play with toys and art supplies as they see fit, even if it’s not according to manufacturer’s instructions.

I let my kids try daring stunts on playground equipment.

I let my kids climb trees.

I let my kids walk home from school with friends.

I let my kids walk to their friends’ house down the street.

I let my kids walk the dog on their own.

I let my kids make their own breakfast.

I let my kids do their own homework.

I let my kids make mistakes, and fix them on their own.

I let my kids have hours and hours of unstructured, unscheduled time.

I let my kids get bored… and then find their own way out of that boredom. 

I consider myself their coach and their encouragement. I don’t do things for them. I don’t pave the road they travel. 

We used to be a nation of problem solvers. If our children never have to face any problems, how will they ever develop that skill? 

We are reaching a ridiculous state where it seems to no longer be acceptable to parent in a way that will allow our kids to grow up strong, smart, independent, and able.

That’s not just a crying shame. That’s a crime.

Child monkeying around at the park

Dirty truths you never wanted to know about lice

standard September 12, 2013 10 responses

So, here’s the deal. If you have kids, I hate to break it to you, but odds are VERY high that at some point or another, you’re going to be introduced to some unwelcome guests.

No, not the pot smoking teen that your daughter is going to think is soooo hot. I have nothing on that yet.

Lice.

Not an actual picture of a louse. I couldn’t bring myself to post one. You can find those here.

I know. Your kid is clean. Your house is clean. You’re not going to ever have to deal.

Except you will. Because lice love clean.

So here are a few truths about lice. Hopefully it’ll help you get through what might have become the worst day of your life.

1) Lice are parasites.
They can only survive on their host’s head. What that means is that someone’s louse will meander (aka “jump”) onto another head, lay an egg (nit) and then die. The egg will hatch in 7 days and will make a happy home on the new head, will lay more eggs, and will populate it’s own colony. Some of those guys will jump off and start a new colony on someone else’s head, etc…

2) Lice need human blood to survive
They’re not hiding behind the couch, so there’s no need to go on a mega cleaning frenzy of the whole house. Just make sure you wash all bedding and place all stuffed animals your kids play with in a big trash bag for 72 hours.

3) Lice can survive with no blood for 2-3 days
– So yes, they can “hop” from jacket to jacket at school when jackets are all lined up on coat hooks.
– Yes, that means you should wash the bedding every day for a couple weeks. Or at least throw it in a hot dryer for 15 minutes. They can’t survive the heat.

4) There are LOTS of treatment options
– You can panic, go to the pharmacy and buy every lice treatment product on the shelf and every comb you see, and treat your kids over the bathroom sink. (I did this at first. It was pricey, stinky, and didn’t work at all.) Note, “super bugs” are very resistant to this option. Read on for something that works better!
– You can, for a hefty sum (money well spent in my opinion), hire a nitpicker to come to your house and treat everyone.
– You can take your brood to a “lice salon” where they will be treated on site.
– OR (and this is the better option) You can get the Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb (trust me, there is no acceptable substitute, order it now so you have it on hand), get a bottle of peppermint extract oil, and a bottle of thick white coconut conditioner, and do the treatments yourself.*

Honeycomb

5) I’m sorry. Your kids can’t go to school with lice.
But that doesn’t mean you have to keep them home forever. You just have to keep them home until they have no live bugs.

6) I know. It’s gross. Get over it. You’re a parent. Gross comes with the territory.

7) Everyone deals with this. Yes, everyone.
Trust me. Even if they haven’t told you about it. It’s less of a stigma than you think.
Rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, private schools, public schools, elementary schools, high schools, college… it happens everywhere.

8) Yes, you have to call people and tell them.
– You must inform the school. It’s a rule. And a kindness. And if you don’t tell, people won’t know to check their kids, and in a month you’ll be reliving this whole nightmare again. It’s like Groundhogs Day the movie, only this time it’s a horror flick.
– You must call the mom of the kids your cherub just had over for a playdate. And the one to whose house he went last week. See a) for reasons why.
– Telling people won’t turn you into a pariah. I promise. People will be awed by your honesty and bravery.
– Making these calls is going to suck. Have a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate handy for your reward.

9) You can protect your kids from future outbreaks… to a certain extent
– If hair is tied back in braids lice have trouble attaching themselves. Nice tight hairstyles are your friend. Loose hair is not.
– Hair ‘Product’ like gel seems to be a deterrent, but it’s not foolproof.
– However, lice hate the smell of peppermint and tea tree oil so consider rubbing a little peppermint essential oil* on your hands and running it through your kids’ hair before styling. (It smells better than the tea tree oil.) I put a few drops in my kids’ detangling spray. They hated the smell at first, but they got used to it… eventually.
– Trader Joes has a great shampoo conditioner line called Tea Tree Tingle which has both tea tree and peppermint in it. It’s a much cheaper alternative to the expensive “lice repellent” products available on the market.
– Teach your kids to be smart: don’t share hats or hair accessories, put jackets in cubbies, lockers, or backpacks.
– Check their heads once a month or so. If you catch that first louse you can save yourself a ton of trouble.

10) It’s not your fault. It’s not their fault. It just happens. 
Lice is a fact of life. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You didn’t do anything to attract them. Did I mention it’s nothing to be ashamed of? So don’t beat yourself up. Deal, clean, and move on. Then buy yourself a really nice purse to reward yourself for getting through it all.

* How to effectively treat your kids at home
Slather the oil and the conditioner through the hair. 
Section out the hair into quarters and clip three of the quarters. 
Raking the comb tightly across the scalp, comb through ALL of the hair, section by section.  No, it’s not pleasant. Yes, it’s necessary to ‘rake’ so that you get the nits lying close to the scalp.
Wipe comb on a paper towel after every pass through the hair until you see no more bugs or egg sacs on the paper.
Repeat daily for a week, every two days for the week after that, and every three days the week after that. 
This is a good way to do a “Lice Check” on your kids when you get word that they might have been exposed.)

 

NOTE: While you can run out to Whole Foods to get peppermint essential oil, I highly recommend getting your peppermint essential oil from Young Living, whose Seed-to-Seal promise ensures that the oil you use is the most pure available. If you have any questions about essential oils, please feel free to leave a comment below or to email me at jessica.rosenberg@yahoo.com.

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How to chose a non-traditional writer’s life and be ok with it…

standard September 10, 2013 4 responses

A while back I read a book called Chapter After Chapter, by Heather Sellers. So much about that book inspired me to keep pushing through the chaos and actually write the book that was in my head and my heart. Much about that book also frustrated me to no end.

In one chapter, the author, a writing teacher, urged the reader/wannabe writer to give up everything that wasn’t about the writing. No more book club, no more volunteering at the church soup kitchen, no more going out with friends after work or at lunch. Basically, she said, the writing has to be your everything and if you’re not willing to give up everything else, then maybe you’re not really meant to be a writer.

I hated that premise back then and I still hate it today. When I read that chapter I decided to just ignore that tidbit and get on with my writer’s life as it was – living my life to the fullest and writing when I could.

I still live like that.

True, I don’t get a ton of writing done (see: piss-poor posting schedule on this here blog). True, it’s taken me many, many years to get to the point where I can say my book is being published in January. True, my next book might well take just as long to make it to the public eye.

So be it.  I have a book club I love. Friends who lift me up and fill my heart with joy. Well adjusted children who are happy at school. And a thriving relationship with my husband. (The house is still a mess. I do have some priorities.)

But every so often, I hear a little voice in the back of my head that whispers “You should be writing now instead of doing this. You don’t really need to take on another project…” Then the guilt comes.

Yesterday another mom at school, successfully published author of many books, asked me how my new book was coming along. I cringed and had to answer truthfully that, since our last chat two weeks ago, I’d been caught up in a maelstrom of volunteer committee prep for the school year.

“Oh,” she said with a little shrug. “That’s funny. I chose to put my writing before all the volunteering stuff. I guess I’ll be in the classroom when I’m done with my book.”

There wasn’t an ounce of judgement in her voice. It was pure observation. But I walked away feeling awed by her dedication to her craft. She was putting the writing first and everything else second. And, if ever there was a case of the proof being in the pudding, she’s working on her eighth book, while I’ve barely finished the first third of the first draft of my second book.

I walked my kids to the car listening to them chatter about their day and pondering how the exchange had made me feel. I’d spent the whole morning and a good chunk of the afternoon working on volunteer stuff and if I was honest ab out it I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. The program I had worked on is one I truly believe in and one I’m proud to be spearheading at school.

Turns out, I didn’t feel any guilt about not having written anything yet that day.

We drove home and I made the kids and their play date friends some snacks and then I sat down at my computer… to do a little more volunteer work. I hesitated for a minute and thought about the writing again. And then I thought about the kids.

This year I’m going to be the “party mom” in both of their classrooms and I’m going to be a lead on the Project Cornerstone team (a YMCA lead anti bullying and self esteem building program). I’m pretty sure I’ll get involved with the book fair in some capacity or another. And, while I’m at it, I agreed to run local mother’s group again.

Yes, it’s a lot of volunteer work, no doubt about it. Add to that the hours that I have to spend on work for clients and it leaves precious little time to work out let alone write.

But I think I’m OK with that.

My kids are going to be “little” for a really, relatively speaking, short amount of time. In our district parents are only invited into the classroom to volunteer through 6th grade. After that, there’s very little cause to even be on campus much. Soon enough everyone will be in middle school and I’ll find that my volunteer opportunities are few and far between.

Sure, I could spend the next 6 years holed up in my office, keyboard under my fingers, computer screen in front of my face, cranking out novel after novel. I bet I could have a nice little collection of books on my shelf before Little L starts 7th grade if I did that.

But I don’t think that’s how I want to live my life.

There are mom writers who write every moment they can, who spend their days living and breathing their stories. In many ways I envy their focus and their drive. But I don’t believe that that’s the only way to be a successful writer.

When I was a kid I dreamed of the day I’d be a mom. I didn’t decide I also wanted to be a writer until after I had C. I know I’ll be writing for the rest of my life. There’s going to be plenty of time to eventually devote hours on end to my craft. And while I know I’ll also be a mom for the rest of my life, my role as leading player in my children’s lives isn’t a forever thing. I’m very conscious of this.

Last year I shared with you how Disney urged us all to remember that we only get 18 summers. I’m trying to remember that I only get 6 years. In the grand scheme of things, that’s really nothing.

So for now, I’ll volunteer as much as I can, be as engaged as possible, and write when I can. I’ll journal, blog, write and store up all the stories I gather as I live my life to the fullest rather than just observing everyone else live theirs. It’s not how every writer works and it’s definitely not the quick path to success, but it’s the right path for me and my family and I’m more than happy to live with that.

Was it enough to make the summer count?

standard August 12, 2013 Leave a response

I am not the type of person who wakes up in the middle of the night filled with anxiety. I leave the 3am panic attacks to M. Once I’m out, I’m out until someone shakes me awake so I can dispel fears, nightmares, or tummy aches.

Last night was a first.

At 4 am I lay there, awake, gripped with a fear I could barely articulate.

Later this morning I was able to pinpoint the cause of the panic.

School starts in 10 days.

Considering how excited I am to get back to having time to myself, you’d think I’d be thrilled, that anxious thoughts would be far from my head. And yet, there I lay, trying to breathe through the tightness that gripped my chest like a vice.

We only get 18 summers before they head off to college, before they plan their summers themselves. Did I do enough? Did I make this one count? Was hanging out, not doing anything the right thing to do?

Maybe we should have had more day trips? Maybe we should have gone on more hikes? On more excursions. Maybe we should have learned something together? Worked on family projects?

Should I have pushed for a family vacation? Should I have done more?

At the begining of the summer the thought of not having a clock to punch for 9 whole weeks seemed too good to be true. We got up when we wanted, got dressed when we wanted, left the house when we wanted. Our only real plans were “lunch-out Tuesday” (decided on by the kids) and swim lessons once or twice a week. Some days we meandered to the park or to run some errands. Other days we just hung out at home. We had a few playdates, a few outings with friends. But really, for the last 8 weeks, aside from one week away in Chicago and a long weekend in Tahoe, we’ve let our desires shape our days.

It’s been lovely. Yes, despite the lack of alone time, it’s been lovely.

The kids have played, have ridden their bikes, have hung out with the neighbors, have fought, have read, have laughed, have done some art projects, have sat around, bored, and whined. We were the poster children for the “stop over-scheduling your kids” campaign.

And I do think it has been a great thing for them. They needed the down-time. They needed to not do anything.

And yet.

I wonder.

Did I do enough? Did I make this summer count?

I have a really clear memory of being 8 or 9 and discovering that summer was almost over and that school was about to start. I remember the crushing feeling of the kind of despair only a kid can feel. I remember letting myself sink into a tight corner between my mother’s dresser and the wall and sobbing. I was in my bathing suit, uniform of that summer, and I sobbed. I had spent that summer just roaming, biking, playing, utterly free. I didn’t want it to end.

I think my goal this summer was to give C and Little L some of that same taste freedom. (Minus the sneaking into the neighbors country club, that wasn’t my brightest moment.)

This morning, because everyone was getting a little stir crazy with back to school anxiety and in need of interaction with other kids as well as a little physical activity, I sent the girls to a half-day skateboarding camp for which they had to wear “real” shoes. As I helped C lace up her sneakers she complained that they were too tight. For a second I wondered if we’d bought her a pair that was too small. Then I laughed and reminded her that anything would feel tight after a summer in flip-flops or barefoot.

She bounced off to get her skateboard and I watched her go. She’s tan and relaxed. She’s had fun this summer. She doesn’t care that we didn’t go on crazy adventures or traveled to places far and wide. She’s just happy.

Maybe it was enough. Maybe it was just what they needed. Maybe next summer we’ll do a lot of the same. A lot more nothing.

Oh yeah! We dog sat for a week too. That was fun!