Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mommy's Little Secret

I have a secret, and if my children ever figure it out, I'll be totally screwed. Here it is: I am generous to a fault with those who are appreciative of my efforts. There. I said it.

If they are fighting, screaming, name-calling and avoiding their homework, they will lose dessert, electronics and any loving tone in my voice. But if they behave well, do as I ask without my having to nag or yell, if they hug me and say "thank you Mom," or "I love you, Mom" or--dare I dream it?--"You are the best Mom in the whole world!" I am then inclined to give them a pony, Ferrari, trip to Disney or anything else they might ask for.

It's not just my children who make me behave this way. This is why I am a perpetual student, excelling for the appreciative teacher, and a chronic volunteer, ready to give 40 hours a week (even at the expense of my children and husband) to those who are truly grateful for my efforts.

But today I may have crossed the line. My husband and oldest son are away camping for the weekend with the Boy Scouts, and Ben and I have a chance for some quality time alone together. Did he want to watch a movie last night under the electric blanket? No. Help me with my jigsaw puzzle? No. Did he love building a marble tower with me for an hour, so much so that he took a shower and went to bed when asked, with a huge smile on his face and a lingering hug for me? Please.

The old me, the tough-love Mommy, would have said, "to heck with you. Go entertain yourself tomorrow; I'm going to read the paper unless you can change your attitude." So what did Mushy-Mom do this morning? After listening to his whiny greeting of, "Mom, WHERE'S THE DS???" followed by "I don't WANT to get dressed! I don't WANT to go out to breakfast! JUST TELL ME WHERE THE DS IS!" I got dressed, walked the dogs and then told Ben he could play with the DS only if he got dressed and came out to breakfast with me.

I know. But wait. There's more.

After a yummy meal of pancakes and bacon (which definitely helped minimize the whinies), we headed to Toys 'R' Us to use up a small gift certificate balance left over from his birthday. And maybe I matched the balance so he could buy a new Bey Blade. And maybe I also sprung for a $30 LEGO set because he reeeeeeally wanted it and it was sooooo cool.

Yes, OK. I admit it. I spent the morning buying my way into the heart and stomach of my child, turning somersaults to get him to appreciate me. I know I have a problem. But when you really aren't liking someone at the moment, you have to do something, right? In the case of an adult behaving badly, I would tell them what I think of their behavior and walk away. But with Ben, ultimatums like that cause him to dig in his heels. If he is starting to consider that maybe I'm right, that maybe he just needs to eat something and he will feel more amiable, telling him to adjust his attitude and then walking away just turns him around so he can argue his point with me. And often, it seems he is willing to argue to the death.

But you know what? For the past hour, after thanking me "times a million", he has been playing with that LEGO set like it's the only toy he'll ever want in his life. He just came upstairs for a snack, and is smiling. And right now, I'm liking him a lot better than when I woke up, and he is appreciating me a lot more than before breakfast.

Since Ben was born, he has challenged every fiber of my being. My emotions, nerves, patience, peace and reasoning have all but gone out the window pretty regularly for the last eight years. Of course I love him. But raising Jacob taught me nothing about how to raise his brother. So if occasionally bribing Ben helps me gain some appreciation and peace, I'm afraid to say I'm not above it. I'm hoping eventually we'll both outgrow it. Preferably before he or Jacob figures out my secret.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This Is The Way To Be A Child, Be A Child, Be A Child...

It seems I am now, officially, old. Remember how we used to laugh at our parents, their stories of "when I was a kid..." about walking five miles uphill in the snow, both ways, to school; how kids worked hard and built character and weren't a bunch of lazy layabouts like we were, with our fancy televisions and video arcades? I guess I never *seriously* thought I would feel the way they did back then. But when you become a parent, all of those things you never thought would happen to you *do* happen to you, eventually. Whether you like it or not.

Now I'm not saying that I am better or worse off because I was bullied to the point of fighting back in middle school. Or that I've forgotten all those bruises my legs suffered from playing bombardment (a.k.a. dodge ball) at recess in elementary school. All I know is that I learned a lot about people through these experiences, and a lot about myself. And oddly enough, there was never an adult around when it happened. Imagine that!

So here's my latest old-lady gripe of what's on the playground today: PPC. No, not PCP, the drug that used to be called Angel Dust. PPC, which stands for 'Peaceful Playground Coaches.'

I kid you not.

It is mind-boggling the number--and authentic feel--of violent movies, television shows and video games that our children are bombarded with by today's entertainment industry (and I use the term 'entertainment' very loosely). But rather than put our collective foot down as parents and declare "ENOUGH!" to the industry, we let them continue to make billions of dollars churning these things out, and instead try to reverse the effects of their messages by teaching school kids how to use 'Rock Paper Scissors' to resolve conflicts.

Apparently, this all started out in California, when a woman decided that today's children spend so much time alone (on a computer, or because they have no siblings), that they don't know how to play team games. When I was young, we'd go to the park to see who was around. If there were a few kids, we'd play basketball. If there were more, we'd start up a baseball game. We'd choose teams, create lineups, and play until we got hungry. But since so many kids today spend time indoors, there's this idea that many don't know how to play the games we used to play. Thus, the need for a playground coach: teach them the games, show them how to pick teams, let them know the rules, teach them how to resolve disputes and off they go.

Personally, I think we already do too much for our children, scheduling them for organized sports, after school clubs, music lessons, art classes and a hundred other activities that involve someone teaching them how to do things. My eight-year-old dropped out of cub scouts because it was too much work and he didn't like the meetings. He loves to listen and sing along to rock and roll music, but has shown no inclination to learn an instrument. He plays with trains, bugs, paints and LEGOs, fights with his brother, and makes some of the most interesting observations I have ever heard from a third grader. I'm convinced it's because he has time to think, on his own, about the world.

Just because our kids don't do things the way we did doesn't mean they won't figure out how to do them on their own. Sure, tell them the horror stories of 'back in the day', that time before cell phones, Wii and computer games. The years of only seven channels on television, rotary phones and no Internet. But then give them some credit, some freedom and a chance to live out their own childhoods without coaches for every little thing.

How else will they have stories to tell your grandchildren about how hard things used to be?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Love You To Death

I know I've written this before, but one of my favorite sayings (reminders? mantras? prayers?) is that when it comes to parenthood, the days are long, but the years are short. Excepting those in prison (for whom the days AND years are likely long), I have yet to meet a parent who does not agree with this.

There should, however, be a post-script. It should go something like, "the days are long and the years are short, but the school vacations make the years SEEM a lot longer." I suppose if I had lots of money and could afford to travel the world with my kids during each of the three approximately 10-day vacations they have during the year, I wouldn't mind it so much. But I don't, so I can't. As if to show me how much they hate this fact, my children spend every moment of every day of every one of those vacations fighting.

I learned the hard way that sibling rivalry is one of those things, like labor, that we suffer through and then conveniently forget about when we want more children. Sure, my brother and I spent much of our childhood at odds, but looking back, it seems trivial: he taunted and hounded me for attention, I regularly excluded him and escaped into books. Sounds perfectly normal. But I'm also known for my selective, rose-colored memory and my ability to block out unpleasant experiences.

I also never consulted with my mother before having a second child.

So now, rather than having two boys (yay! similar toys, clothes and interests!) who make great playmates for each other, I have two diametrically opposed personalities that only seem to enjoy each other's company when they have had no one else to play with for a couple of hours. Jacob loves books; Ben hates reading. Jacob likes sci-fi; Ben likes humor. Jacob likes LEGOs; Ben likes trains. Jacob likes quiet, thinking activities; Ben is always on the move. Sometimes I feel like I failed to read the fine print before deciding to grow our little family, and other times I know it's the universe laughing at me because my first-born was so easy that I thought it would be fun to have more just like him.

But my kids do love each other. I see it at the dinner table when they take turns trying to make the other crack up and blow milk out of his nose. And when they make funnier and funnier faces to see who will laugh hard enough to get the hiccups first. And when they work together on an art project, complimenting each other along the way. Those are the moments that make me proud and happy, the ones that feel so fleeting.

With another vacation coming up soon, I know I need to take action and line up some activities that will help them to work, play and laugh together. Lots of activities. Because if I don't, it's quite possible that before school resumes, they will love each other (or I will end up loving them) to death.