What’s Wrong With “Keeping Our Kids Little”?

As parents, we all have different strategies for raising our children.  How we punish, how we reward, how we praise, how we argue.  We find the method that works best not just for our families but also for each individual child within it.

To me, that’s a good thing.  A great thing.  Because no one way is the “right” way.

For the most part, I try not to judge the choices other parents make for their children.  There’s no handbook on how to do this and I sincerely believe that we’re all just doing the best we can.  Figuring it out as we go along, trying to learn from our mistakes and implementing new ideas as we need to.  I also believe that we know our children better than anyone and that we are in the best positions to determine what works for them.

Because we’re all working towards the same thing, right? To raise our children.  Raise them to be adults.

But that being said…

I have yet to find the same level of tolerance when it comes to one mantra I’ve heard many parents state through the years –

“I just want to keep them little for as long as I can.”

Keeping them little as in shielding them from the harshness of the world, keeping them little as in protecting them from life’s vulgarities, keeping them little as in protecting their innocence and naivete’.

I’ve heard this come up a number of times in the last decade as I interact with other parents.

I don’t let my child ride the bus.  That’s where they learn swear words and other kids can be too rough.  I just want to keep them little for as long as I can.”

I tell my kids that babies come from a stork.  I just want to keep them little for as long as I can.”

We don’t share anything from the news with our kids.  It would scare them and we just want to keep them little for as long as we can.”

Just a few examples of the many, many times I have heard this “philosophy” shared in my presence.

And I think to myself – what on Earth is our role as parents?

Because to me, our role as parents is to prepare our children for adulthood.  To teach them how to be successfully independent and self-sufficient.  To teach them how to deal with their own problems.  To teach them how to coexist with people they don’t like or who share a different belief system.  To give them the tools they need to thrive using honesty and accurate information.

Guess what?  It’s not a “pee pee”, it’s a penis or a vagina.  Your child won’t go into a doctor at thirteen needing a “pee pee exam”. She will be needing a vaginal pap smear.  Why not use the right words from the get go?  There’s no shame in them and giving kids wrong information may cause confusion and distrust later.

Parenting isn’t about keeping our kids little and innocent for as long as possible.  To me, it’s the complete opposite.  It’s about teaching them, in stages, key components that will enable them to think and act independently. To progress them forward, not stunt their development.

Why else potty train?  Why not leave them in diapers for as long as you can?

Why else do we send them to school?  Why not homeschool where you can determine what’s safe and appropriate for your child to learn?

Why else do we teach them to look both ways when we cross a street?  Why not just keep them on one side of the road?

Maybe I struggle with this because I am a realist.  I understand that my kids are going to learn about things whether I like it or not so I would rather they learn from me and their Dad where they will get the truth.

Sometimes we curse in front of our kids.  Not by accident either.  We  have already explained to our children that they are going to hear these words from us, from TV, from school, from everywhere but that they are not old enough to use them themselves.  They have not yet learned how and when to use them as that comes with time and maturity.

We allow our kids to go to the neighborhood park by themselves because we’ve taught them about “stranger danger” and being aware of their surroundings and knowing what to do if someone grabs them.  We know we can’t “helicopter” twenty four hours a day even if we wanted to.

We watch the news and discuss it as a family so they understand that the world is bigger than them and their problems.  Yes, it is scary.  Yes, it is rough.  But it’s also beautiful and intriguing and inspiring.

“Keeping them little” seems to be more about appeasing what parents want versus providing kids what they need.

And I struggle with believing all this to my core but wanting to remain open minded and nonjudgmental with these parents.

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The Running of the Bulls in Spain

I turned 40 last year.  Son of a bitch!  It was not met favorably.  I have no desire to be older and wiser.  That’s something defeated people say.

But it was happening whether I liked it or not.

Luckily, my parents and Doug softened the blow by gifting me a wonderful vacation abroad.  I was ecstatic and grateful but mostly excited to plan out where I wanted to go.  After weighing our options, we settled on Paris.  Neither Doug nor I had ever been and who wouldn’t want to visit the city of love?!

So it was settled…until Doug gave me a mischievous grin and said, “I have another idea.”

He. Suggested. We. Run. With. The. Bulls. In. Pamplona.

“What better way to spit at forty in the face?!”

Bam!

A few months later, we were on a plane headed to Spain.  After a few relaxing days in Barcelona, we took the train to Pamplona.  Straight into the San Fermin Festival.  Eight days of drinking sangria, bullfights in the evening and, of course, the running of the bulls every morning at 8 a.m.

Our original plan was to watch the run first.  Determine some sort of game plan, get an idea as to how dangerous this event really is.

Nah, screw that.  We both recognized that watching the run would probably scare us out of doing it.  And we didn’t just travel thousands of miles to puss out last minute.  There would be no watching first.  We were all in.

It’s not like we were going in totally blind.  My brother in law had put us in touch with a buddy of his who ran a few years earlier.  He and I exchanged a few messages and we got great tips.  One of which probably saved us from being trampled to death.  (I find that to be a helpful tip.)

The morning of the run we woke up after just a few hours of sleep.  We put on our white shirt, white pants and red scarves and headed out to the city center.

And read the rules:

photo (1)

Uh, that’s it.  These are the guidelines to follow when running along side 14 scared, sometimes pissed off, bulls along a street road the width of my kitchen.

Super.

The first thing we did was walk down to the beginning of the race to see where the bulls were being penned.  They looked “normal” enough until they turn to snort at you in contempt.  Doug and I just started laughing.  “What in the HELL are we doing?!”

We could be on the Eiffel Tower right now.

The run lasts for just two and a half minutes from the time they release the bulls to the time they are corralled in the bullring so the trick is to find a spot that is safe but also gives you the most time to run along side them.  My brother in law’s friend warned us about the “corner of death”.

photo (2)

Hence where he saved our lives.  We thought we had found a good spot along the course.  “If we stand here, we can see the bulls come up around the bend.”  We stood there for a hot second until we realized we were standing literally in the worst possible place ever.  The Corner of Death, of course.

We crossed the street and moved down about thirty feet.

There are three horns that go off during the run.  The first horn lets the runners know that they should start running. And by running, I mean, hauling ass.  The second horn lets the runners know that the bulls have been released from the pen and that they are coming. (a.k.a. when you pee yourself a little).  The last horn tells you that all the bulls have been corralled in the ring and the race is over.

We took our mark and we waited.  Laughing.  “What the HELL are we doing?!”

The first horn blew. Doug and I started running at  “normal” pace, determined to stay together the whole time. The second horn blew and all hell broke loose.

First of all, you go from running a ten minute mile to a three minute mile.  I was like a Kenyan sprinter and not by choice.  You either kept up or you were trampled by people.  Thank God for adrenaline.  Doug and I were split up immediately.  I had no idea where he was.

Next you heard the yelling, the screaming of other runners. “Corre! Corre! Corre!” (Run!)

Then you heard the bulls.

The stomping of their hooves on the pavement and then the loud huffing of air through their nostrils. (I will never forget the sounds. Ever.)

At this point I was just frantically looking for a niche in the wall to jump into for safety., a door jamb to hide inside.  While running a three minute mile.  And dodging tons of other terrified runners.  Like a human frogger.

Suddenly, I was slammed up against a wall.  I turned my head and I could see a herd of angry, frightened bulls charge past me.  Within just a few feet of my back.  If I had stretched out my arm, I could have touched one.

The seconds felt like minutes.  And then it was over.

My immediate concern was Doug.  Where was he? Was he okay?  I peeled myself off the wall and started running up the street. I found him a little farther up, perfectly fine.  He had been jammed in with another group of runners, just ahead of me.

We were exhilarated. Flying from the adrenaline.

photo (5)

I would never do it again.

But it was one best days of my life.

Baby PTSD

I don’t like babies anymore.

Seriously.

I am not wistful when I look at pregnant women. I don’t smile softly at their glowing cheeks or reminisce lovingly when I see their bellies. I feel sorry for them. I internally thank baby Jesus that it’s not me. F that. Being pregnant sucks.

But I’m even less interested when I see a baby.

I don’t want to touch your baby. I don’t want to hold it. I don’t want to babble stupidly at it trying to make it laugh. I don’t want to hold its tiny fingers or smell its powdered head. F that. Babies suck too.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have baby PTSD. And I’m pretty sure it should be a medically recognized disorder.

Last year there was a woman at the bus stop who was pregnant and subsequently gave birth. So many of the other moms oohed and aahed over this tiny human. They spent their time whispering in the baby’s face, commenting about her cute outfits and asking the mom an array of questions about her routine.

Is she sleeping through the night yet?”, “Has she tried rice cereal?”, “You can give her a little Orajel for her teething if it gets too bad, right?”

These questions made me want to punch a squirrel and that can’t be normal.

Or maybe it is.

I’m so far past that point in my life that I can’t even imagine going back to it.  Nor do I want to.  Sleepless nights, changing diapers, hauling around an oversized diaper bag that reeks of spilled formula and stale goldfish, manipulating a jumbo stroller through a crowd, packing 17 outfits for one outing to the local zoo, Baby Einstein videos on repeat play.

Miserable.  All of it.  Just miserable.

One of the best days of my life was the day I watched my last diaper bag be sold off at a garage sale for $1.00.

Peace out, bitch!

Doug and I figured out that the last time I touched a baby was in 2012 when my cousin gave birth to her son.

And up until this past Sunday, I swore that the next time I ever touched a baby was when one was presented to me carrying my family blood.  It would have to be related to me in order for me to want to look at it, let alone hold it.

But God has a sense of humor apparently.

On our flight home from Puerto Rico this week, a very young mother who spoke absolutely no English was seated behind me on the airplane.  She was carrying in her arms a newborn baby who couldn’t have been more than 4 to 6 weeks old.  A little boy.

I could see her struggling as she tried to figure out a way to put her oversized diaper bag in the overhead bin while holding the baby who was squirming and fidgeting despite the oversized blue hospital pacifier shoved in his mouth.  I could see her glancing around, slightly panicked, not knowing how to ask for help.

Oh, Jesus.  Fine!  Damn it, I’ll help.

Necesitas ayuda?”  (Do you need help?)

Ay, si!”

And next thing you know, a little tiny newborn is placed in my arms for the first time in almost three years.

I know what you’re thinking.  I had this rush of emotion taking me back to when my own children were tiny newborns and I remembered how sweet and warm those little bodies were.

No.  That shit never happened.

I did, however, do what I knew to do.  I bounced gently in place, cooing softly in his ear, holding him close to my chest and waited patiently for his mom to get completely settled with her luggage, buckled in her seat and ready, with her gear in place, to take her child back.

And then I gave that baby back without any hesitation.

Bam!

I looked lovingly at my own children on the airplane.  You know, the ones who can order their own food on the plane and eat it without needing me to cut it into bite-sized, unchokeable pieces.  The ones who can help roll carry-on luggage through the airport.  The ones who can entertain themselves during the flight by reading their own books, watching their own television shows and doing their own puzzles.

These are the kind of children I will hug and ask questions about.

Here’s hoping I make it another three years baby-free!

Pushing the Pause Button

A good friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she was going to start 2015 by re-evaluating her friendships. Determine who has been a reliable friend, who has consistently let her down and start focusing on more of the former than the latter.  She wished no one ill will, she didn’t point any fingers.  She just decided that she wanted to put her emotional time and energy on the friends who will reciprocate appropriately.

I think most of us can relate.  Only we would like to extend this practice past “friendships” and include all of the relationships we deal with in life: family, coworkers, neighbors. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop spending our emotional energy on the people who consistently disappoint us and hurt our feelings?  Wouldn’t it be nice to transfer that energy to the people who are actively loving, supportive and genuine?

I’m sure it would.

I counsel a lot of people who suffer with relationship issues.  I listen to them as they wade through the intricacies of their problems and the damaging effects it has on their mental health.  I listen to them struggle with the dilemma: do I continue to work on the relationship or do I throw in the towel?

And my answer is to do nothing.  Until you know what you really want to do, do nothing.

It’s okay to push the pause button on a relationship.  It’s okay to take a time out, to take a break when you feel like you’re not making any progress and you’re at a standstill.

Facebook has this genius option to “hide” users from your timeline.  It’s great.  When you have that friend who gets too maniacal during election time, you can discreetly avoid their posts until November passes.  When you have that family member who is over-posting pictures of their vacation (guilty!), you can ignore it all until they’re back home.  It’s also used to take a break from that family member or friend who you might be arguing with, who has recently hurt your feelings or who has pushed your buttons once too far.

Why not piggyback off that idea and relay it to real life?

The truth is that we should.

I think all of us, myself included, are quick to react to our problems instead of responding to them.  A reaction is impulsive. It lacks forethought and planning.  You act without thinking.  And if you’re about to get hit by a ball and react by blocking your face, that’s great.  It’s not great, however, when you’re dealing with your emotions.  More often than not, you end up saying or doing something you regret.  Something that may leave a scar or do permanent damage.

No, it’s much healthier to respond. To take a little time and effort to consider what the problem is, what role you might play in it, what has been working and what hasn’t.  More importantly, to decide what you want to do about it.  Do you want to continue working on the relationship? Is it worth it? Do you want to let this person go? Grieve it like a death and move on with your life?

Or do you change your expectations, create some emotional boundaries and resume the relationship with a better plan for protecting yourself in the future? Maybe it’s not them who has to change because, in truth, you can’t change people.  You can only change your reaction to them.

Push the pause button and figure it out.

We put our own children in timeout when they need time to think.  Why not do it to ourselves?

You might very well come up with the same decision had you reacted.  You might decide that this person/these people is/are toxic and that you want to move forward in life without them as a focus.  That’s okay, too.

But until you know, do nothing.

Because the people who matter will notice your absence, miss it and try to fix it.  Not by glossing over the problem or ignoring it exists.  Not by deflecting blame or playing the victim.  Not by acting defensively or pretending to be confused.

Should they attempt to fix it, you will be ready with a response.  One way or another.

Only a “time out” will tell.

“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Jackson”

Houston, we have a problem.

Things are happening to my most delicious, most precious first-born child.  Acts of God meant to destroy my psyche and question my ability to parent.

It all started about six months ago when Doug noticed that puberty had kicked in for Jack.  “He’s got hair, Jenny.”

He might as well have told me Jack had an undisolved twin.  I was that horrified.

I groaned and whimpered because I knew what this meant.  I knew my most delicious, most precious little boy was becoming a little man and while some of you might think that’s wonderful, I find it to be a deliverance from the Devil himself. Nothing good could come from this. Not. One. Thing.

This meant that my most delicious, most precious little boy was getting “older” and my role in his life was going to change.

And I was right.

Exhibit A:

A few months ago, I decided to surprise my two eldest at school with Chick Fil A.  I thought I’d be the hero, bringing in a tasty treat for them to enjoy as opposed to the nastiness that is school lunch.  Benjamin delighted me with a warm hug but then proceeded to half-listen to me while I sat with him in the cafeteria.  (To be fair though, Benjamin is often lost in his own dreamlike reality and probably wasn’t intentionally trying to be rude.  He’s just not “with” us most of the time.)  I wrapped up my 35 minutes with Benjamin and waited patiently by the tables for the fifth graders to start rolling in.

Perhaps it was the look of horror on his face when he saw me standing there or perhaps it was the quick left to right glances he made, checking to see who else might have noticed my presence but, at that moment, I knew exactly what Jack was going to say.

Um, hi Mom.  What are you doing here?”

Hi honey, I thought I would surprise you, come have lunch with you.”

Here’s what I meant: “Jackson, I love you.  I am so excited to spend time with you.”

Here’s what Jack heard: “Jackson, I have come to destroy your self-esteem and elementary school reputation.”

Mom, do you think you could just leave my food and go home?”

So it begins.  First the new found sprouts of manhood on his little tweenage body.  Now the requests to not be seen with him in public.  What’s next?  Secret journals kept in the dark corners of his desk, filled with a list of all the girls he likes in the neighborhood and at school?

Well, yes. I found that sweet gem too.

By accident. (I mean that sincerely).  It was written in a marble composition book, leftover from last year’s school supplies. I was cleaning his room and trying to get rid of some of the excess trash that so easily piles up.  I flipped it open to the first page and there it was.  Staring me in the face, laughing at my naiveté’.

A list of all the girls he thought were cute.

Girls I knew.  Girls whose mothers are my friends. Lovely girls.

God, I wanted to hate them! How dare they steal away my son’s attention from me?! What witchy powers did they possess?

I said a prayer and returned the journal where I found it.

For a long time, I was a bitter betty.  I’d sing my sorrow songs to my older sister who has a teenage daughter and understood my pain.  “Remember when they loved us?  Remember when we gave them life and then they turned on us like feral animals?”

I would try to hug him and he’d awkwardly pat my back.  I would go to kiss him and he’d begrudgingly offer me a cheek.

It was a dark time.

Until my most delicious, most precious little boy unknowingly decided to make his “coming of age” something that I no longer wanted to be a part of.

Because although puberty came with body changes, unwanted girls and the need to shun your mother, it also came with curiosity and an array of eye-popping questions.

Mom? Dad? What’s a glory hole?” (…and I can assure you he wasn’t asking about mining.)

Thanks a lot, “Family Guy”.

Sweet Jesus.

And just like that, I’m tagging out.

Someone please wake me in ten years when he lets me bring him lunch in college and I can stay.

Peek A Boo!

I’ve been radio silent for a number of months.

Been busy this year: working two PRN jobs at local hospitals as a mental health counselor on the psychiatric wards, Disneyworld in April with Doug, the kids and close family friends, celebrating a girls weekend in Puerto Rico with girlfriends I consider sisters, laughing in the face of turning 40 by running with the bulls down the streets of Pamplona, breaking both of my wrists and cracking my jaw in a horrific fall at my home, watching all four of my children finally get on the school bus, kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland.

It’s been an incredibly amazing year and I have definitely changed as a person because of it.

But it’s been hard though.  There have been a lot of hilarious stories I wish I could have shared, a lot of opinions about current events (ahem, Eric Garner and the Ray Rice incident) I have wanted to discuss, a lot of observations I have wanted to pass along.

Life just got in the way.

So, thanks to my husband who said to me “I want you to start writing again”, I am going to make a point of getting back on track with my blog.  This time from the perspective of someone who wants to incorporate the changes in her life into her writing.  I’m a different person than I was six months ago.  Vastly different and I think you will see that in my words.

Like always, I want to hear your feedback.  I want you to challenge me when you think I’m wrong, give me another viewpoint when you feel I’m too close-minded.  Keep the dialogue open at all times.

Because I feel like this world has decided to shut down communication too much.

So, welcome back to my blog!  I hope to bust something out this weekend!

Pay Attention, 2014

I’ve come up with a list of things I need to keep in mind for this year (and every year). Perhaps some of them pertain to you as well?

  • Never make a lasting decision on a first impression.   First impressions tend be more wrong than right.  Give it three chances before you decide to call it quits on something or someone.
  • You probably don’t have as many problems as you think you do.  Don’t believe me?  Go work in a psych ward one day or watch the television show “My 600 lb. Life”.  You’ll gain perspective.
  • Take ownership for the problems you do have.  Your family conflict, your weight, your financial status, your social circle may not be all your fault but you do have blame.  No one is an absolute victim.
  • If you’ve got an issue with someone you care about, talk to them about it.  You may not get the answers you want or the results you’re looking for but you will feel better than walking around with the hurt and resentment.
  • You may not need  more friends but you should always be open to the possibility of adding more friends.  Just like with children, you can never have enough people in your life who love you.
  • On the opposite note, if the friendship feels more like work than it should, you need to move on.  People change and sometimes it’s just important to be grateful for the good times you shared and leave it at that.
  • Take the vacation.  Money, time and work can be sorted out eventually but if you continue to put off seeing the world, you will miss out on more than you know.
  • Give out more compliments.  People like to hear they are doing a good job or that they look pretty.  It makes them feel good.  All of us have something that can be championed.
  • Leave your comfort zone every once in a while.  It’s hard to grow as a person if you’re too comfortable with your surroundings. 
  • Be responsible for your own happiness.  It isn’t anyone else’s job to see that your emotional needs are met.  If you’re unhappy with the way things are going, fix it.  People will help you but ultimately, it’s your problem.
  • Be silly and make an ass out of yourself from time to time.  Laughing to the point of tears is absolutely one of the best feelings in the world.  Being able to laugh at yourself just makes it that much sweeter.
  • The only person you need to compete with is yourself.  Someone will always be richer, prettier, more fit, smarter.  You name it.  Just try to be the best person you can be…. that day. 
  • Apologize when you are wrong.  Simple as that.
  • Remember to follow up with people who have been struggling.  Make sure you check in every once in a while to let them know you’re thinking of them and to see how they’re doing.  We can’t have short-term memory loss when it comes to helping a loved one through a difficult time.
  • Be physically more affectionate to others.  The human touch has been scientifically proven to heal.  Give hugs, hold hands, rub backs, kiss on the cheek. 
  • You need to know how to be a good friend before you can have a good friend.  You will always find yourself surrounded by “acquaintances” until you figure out what makes a “real” friend and then you put it in motion yourself.
  • Make the effort as often as you can.  Invitations will eventually stop being extended if you’re constantly saying no.  Life may get in the way more often than you’d like but if you can’t accept the invitations on their time than extend an invitation that better suits your calendar instead.
  • Make friends with a variety of different people.  We are all a hodge podge  of interests and personalities and we should have a cornucopia of friends to honor that.
  • Put yourself out there.  Show your vulnerability and over-share from time to time.   Not only is it endearing, it proves that you are human just like the rest of us.
  • Nobody likes a know-it-all.  You may know the answers more often than the rest of us but there’s nothing more annoying than feeling like you’re talking to a resume as opposed to a person.
  • Sing and dance like  you’re invisible.

May 2014 be a year of emotional growth for all of us.