Learning to Love My Son Exactly Where He’s Standing

Learning to Love My Son Exactly Where He's Standing. What happens when your music loving kid doesn't want to go up front to a concert? (Photo: Kids standing on stage with a musician with the words "Mister G" in balloon letters above them.)

The crowd of kids in front of the concert stage were singing, jumping, and dancing, frenzied and joyful. At the edge of the crowd, next to the chairs for the parents, stood my four-year-old son. He watched and occasionally bounced his head a little, like a kid at homecoming who feels uncomfortable dancing. Other times he wandered to me in the back, seemingly missing the music altogether.

“Who is this kid?” I wondered.

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The Fleeting Memory of Childhood

The Fleeting Memory of Childhood. What happens when your child forgets a memory you shared? (Photos - Above, Christmas lights at the entrance to Sesame Place; bottom: Giant cookie monster
“You remember Sesame Place, right? Where we met Cookie Monster?” I said to my four-year-old casually. I was in the middle of contemplating going back sometime this fall.

“No,” he responded and shrugged.

“Really?” I said, tilting my head and squinting at him. His answer completely derailed my train of thought. Visiting Sesame Place had been his first long-term memory, or so I had thought. In fact, it was the one single event he had remembered before his brother had been born, when he was still an only child.

And just like that, it was gone.

That surprise struck me again a few weeks later. We were walking to a pedestrian bridge near our house to watch the trains pass under it. While we used to walk this route daily, Sprout has been more interested this summer in riding his bike or running around the playground than watching trains.

Walking past our neighbor’s house, we spotted their dogs, who are always outside if the weather is decent. Pointing them out to Sprout, I blanked on their names.

“Look, it’s – uh, what are their names again?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” he said, looking confused himself. While me not remembering their names wasn’t surprising at all, him forgetting them left me with my mouth open. He and Chris walked this route every day for months. Every time, he’d stop and say hello to the dogs. He knew their names as if they were our pets.

After a few mental stumbles, I retrieved their names  – “Cupcake and Boo Boo, that’s it.”

“Oh, right,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was remembering them as well or just affirming me.

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Five Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed or Stubborn Kid

Five Benefits of Having a Strong-Willed or Stubborn Kid. Have a stubborn kid who won't do what you want? Here's some benefits you may not have considered! (Photo: Four-year-old white boy sitting on top of a rock structure.)“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.

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A Season of Smothering

A Season of Smothering. Some times of parenthood are harder than others - even if they're something you love too. (Photo: Monkey with baby climbing on its head.)

Lying on the couch, I have a one-year-old sitting on my lap and pinching my face while a four-year-old is almost sitting on my head as he tries to twist my hair in his hands. I look up to my husband and only half-jokingly cry out, “Help!”

Sometimes, I feel like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, when the Wild Things are yelling “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!” Except the Wild Things are my children whom I love very much. While they aren’t actually wild monsters, their love back to me can feel rather smothering at times.

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The 10 Things Parents Must Teach Gifted Children

The 10 Things Parents Must Teach Gifted Children. Are you the parent of a gifted child and wondering what they need to know? Here's 10 things that you need to teach them to be successful. (Photo: A boy with a blue backpack walking away down a road.)

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:

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How Parents Can Go Out and Not Hire a Babysitter

How Parents Can Go Out and Avoid Hiring a Babysitter. (Photo of a doll babysitter who looks vaguely grumpy and has a small child clinging to her leg.)

Reading a party invitation, I look up at my husband and ask, “Whose turn is it this time?” We both struggle to remember who went out last. In the end, we just pick one of us, figuring that even if it’s wrong, it’ll work out in the end. And it always does. Paying a babysitter would be easier, but we’ve never gotten around to hiring one.

While we’re too busy to have extensively vetted a babysitter and too cheap to pay one anyway, we’ve remained committed to seeing our friends on a regular basis. Here’s some of the ways we’ve managed to maintain those relationships, our wallets and our sanity:

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Birthday Parties: Learning to be Flexible as a Mom

Birthday Parties: Learning to be Flexible as a Mom; My son's fourth birthday was stressful as hell. And yet I learned a lot about adapting to unexpected circumstances. (Photo: Kid blowing out candles on a birthday cake as a man lights them.)

The band-aid was the first sign of trouble.

My parents, my in-laws, Chris, and I were all rushing around, trying to set up Sprout’s fourth birthday party. A few days earlier, Sprout had badly cut his ring finger and now the band-aid was peeling off. Like all children, Sprout takes his band-aids Very Seriously. While we have a plentiful supply of Thomas the Train band-aids at home, my current stash was limited to Star Wars. “Look, I have Star Wars band-aids!” I exclaimed, trying to work up an adequate level of enthusiasm. “I don’t want Star Wars band-aids! I want Thomas!” he cried. After much whining, including an exclamation of “I don’t want to watch Star Wars!,” my mom resolved the situation. She offered to “make” a dinosaur band-aid from a plain bandage and dinosaur stamp.

This dramatic arc was solid foreshadowing for the rest of his birthday party.

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Pedal Bikes and Responsibility

Pedal Bikes and Responsibility. Moving from a balance bike to a pedal bike is a big jump. Was my four-year-old ready for it? (Photo: A kid riding down a sidewalk on a balance bike.)

“Where are you going?” I yelled at Sprout across the playground as he zipped around on his balance bike. “I told you not go back there!” My words echoed off of the wall of the building that my son just disappeared behind. My face dropped into a frown as I waited for him to emerge from the other side. When he came around, I walked up to him and said, “You are not using your bike for the rest of the day.” Of course, he broke down wailing.

Another day, Sprout wheeled his bike down the sidewalk near our house, feet flying. But this time, he dragged his sneakers along the pavement when I yelled, “Stop!” Coming to a halt, he waited for Little Bird and I to catch up, despite his fidgeting hands showing his desire to go, go, go! As soon as we reached him, he was off again, speeding ahead but listening for my call.

As I decided whether or not to buy a pedal bike for his fourth birthday, I thought about what side I should weigh more heavily. Was he responsible enough for this present or not?

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