“Do you want to go see Santa?” I asked my kids, standing outside the mall Christmas display. My one-and-a-half year old shook his head vigorously, while my four-year-old (nicknamed Sprout) just said, “No” in the same tone he gives me at bedtime. But that doesn’t mean they dislike Santa – just the mall version. And that’s just fine with me. Instead of forcing my kids to sit on some dude’s lap, we’re finding deeper ways to maintain Santa’s beauty and magic.
In our household, Santa is a complicated person.
This singing Christmas tree is the bane of our holiday existence. But good things – even deep insights – can come from the most annoying of situations.
While some people can’t stand non-stop carols or mall parking lots during the holiday season, this tree bugs us the entire month of December. My mother-in-law bought it for my older son (nicknamed Sprout) a few years ago. Since then, he has played it as many times as we would possibly let him. First thing in the morning. Last thing before bedtime. Random times during the day until my husband finally gets sick of it and puts it away. While the song is cute the first time, it’s grating the 60th time. But I just don’t have the heart to get rid of it.
What are your favorite stories from childhood? While I have many beloved fictional stories, I also hold the family stories my parents hold me close to my heart. Now, we share those stories and others with our kids as part of a long tradition.
I wrote about the power of sharing stories over at A Fine Parent with the article “How to Use the Power of Stories to Connect and Teach.”
Gathered around a fire, a mother and child talk in quiet voices.
The flames leap as the mother tells the child stories of ancestors, far-away lands, and fantastic situations. Drowsy, the child falls asleep, her head on her mother’s lap.
This could be a scene from 10,000 years ago or 10 days ago.
Storytelling is a core part of what makes us human.
Read the rest over at A Fine Parent!
2014: Holding my one-year-old, I stared up at fireworks and started belting out Let It Go. Tears streamed down my face. It was the end of a week-long trip to Walt Disney World, during which I spent most of the time imagining my kid getting trampled. Earlier that week, my hands shook and mind went blank in the Tomorrowland snack bar as I had my first identifiable panic attack. That perfect girl is gone, indeed.
2017: Leaning over my four-year-old in his car seat in a parking lot in Nevada, I thought, “I hope he’s okay.” Right on cue, his cheeks filled, he leaned forward, and spewed out water and pretzel bits all over me. Touching my hand to my hair, it was wet and sticky. We were half-way through a three-hour car ride to Zion National Park. I breathed deep and said, “Hey honey, it’s going to be okay.” Then I got out the baby wipes and went to work cleaning up everything up.
What on earth happened in-between? In that three years, I had a second kid, started dealing with my anxiety, and grew so much as a parent. But I also learned a ton about traveling with kids. In-between the trip in 2014 and the one in 2017, we’ve been to Las Vegas, Cape Cod, multiple camping excursions, and so many day trips. While the anxiety still flairs, adjusting my expectations and my own behavior has helped me stay sane when we travel with kids.
“Why did he think he was better than everyone else?” my four year old asked as we were reading the picture book Little Blue Truck. In the story, a huge construction truck comes barreling through a farm, proclaiming, “I’ve got important things to do!” As a consequence of his pride, he slides into a mud puddle and his huge tires get stuck. In the world of trucks, he’s a bit of an entitled brat.
Answering my son’s question was tough. Why do some people think they’re better than others? Why do some people think they deserve more or better than other people do? As challenging it is to answer these, they’re essential questions to figure out if we’re going to raise kids who respect and value other people. In other words, to prevent raising entitled kids.
Pushing my son on the biggest tree swing I’ve ever seen, he declared, “This is fun!” As I half-listened to a talk on medicinal plants, I had to agree. We were at the second annual Paw Paw Festival at Long Creek Homestead, the home of a local family who grows much of their own food based on ecological principles. While we go to these events because they’re fun, it’s much more than that. I bring my family to these events so we can have a little glimpse into a possible potential, beautiful future. That’s because these kind of community events embody social and environmental sustainability to me.
Sustainability has become such a buzzword it’s easy to lose the true meaning. Companies sell us “green living” via labels on products that promise they will be safer for your family. (Never mind anyone else’s family.) But to create a just world that offers opportunities to all people in a way that’s environmentally sound, we have to go deeper.
“Which set of pajamas do you want? The space ones or the biking alligators?” I asked my three-year-old.
“Nope,” he answered. Nope is the casual middle finger of answers. So much for offering choices.
“How about these?” I said, holding up a pair with bears on them.
“Nope,” he said, lounging with his hands behind his head on his bed like it was a pool floatie in Malibu.
After a few more choices, he finally acquiesced to wearing a pair. We don’t go through this particular back-and-forth every night, but it’s just one in his bag of tricks to delay bedtime.
My son is one of those kids who doesn’t want to do anything that’s demanded of him. “Because I said so” is a foreign phase to him. He wants a good justification for every decision and preferably to feel like he came up with the idea himself.
Part of this is my fault, for better or worse. Our family practices positive parenting, which is largely focused on validating children’s feelings and perspectives while teaching them to do the same for others. And as a science writer and communicator, I love explaining our choices.
But some of it is just his personality. I’m pretty sure if we tried to be more authoritarian, he’d just dig his heels in harder. The times that I start to get bossy go downhill very quickly. Despite the fact that having a stubborn kid with a strong will is sometimes a pain in the butt, there are some definite advantages to it for our family.
“Look, those tomatoes are red! Can I eat them?” Sprout asks me, hardly waiting to pop them in his mouth.
“Just wait to get inside for me to wash them,” I say, brushing aside the overgrown zucchini leaves as I walk towards the garden gate. He mock puts them in his mouth and I roll my eyes at him.
Getting inside, he hands me the tiny tomatoes for me to place in a small orange plastic bowl and rinse off. I hand it back and he sits down on the couch to chomp down. (Despite our “only eat at the table” rule.)
I reflect on how much he’s learned from spending time with me in the garden: knowing how to plant seeds, understanding the role of weeds, composting, and judging when vegetables are ripe. But I also think about the life lessons the garden has taught me that apply to raising kids.
Sitting in the private school’s admissions office, my mom faced a choice about her gifted daughter’s education. The admissions officer told her how much smaller the classes were than public school, how girls felt less pressure when they didn’t compete for boys’ attention, and how much more they could meet her needs.
But the tuition was as expensive as you would expect for a private school. We were a solidly upper-middle-class family, but a salesman’s and teacher’s salaries added together meant we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. Private school meant no new house. No vacations for years. Hardly any luxuries at all.
But wasn’t her daughter’s education worth it? Wasn’t public school going to hold her back? Would she be able to fulfill her potential?
As the daughter in question, I now know my mom made the right decision. With more hoopla these days than ever about the beauty and struggles of raising “gifted” kids, it feels odd to me. Wasn’t this stuff we should have figured out 20 years ago?
As a “gifted” kid who had lots of gifted friends growing up and is now an adult, I’ve thought a lot about what society does and doesn’t do well in terms of how we treat “smart” kids. From my experience and reading, here’s what parents must teach gifted children:
“Look, there’s a rabbit!” I exclaim to my four-year-old son, trying to keep my voice down.
“Where?” he asks, as I point to the animal.
“Do you see it? Let’s be quiet so we don’t scare it away.”
“Yeah,” he replies, as he watches the bunny twitch its tail. It looks at us, then goes back to munching on the clover. It doesn’t think we’re a threat.
While the rabbits in our neighborhood do tend to be bold, my son’s calm demeanor definitely allowed us to watch it longer than if he had a louder reaction.
While we may think of a “wild child” as boisterous, exploring nature isn’t limited to adventurous extroverts. In fact, more quiet or introverted children can get just as much, if not more, out of being outside. While he sprints and yell-sings inside, my son is naturally a bit cautious and calm outside.
Here’s what I’ve learned from exploring with him: