Why I Teach my Kids That the Most Important Thing to be is KIND

As per usual, leaving the children’s museum after a morning of fun has become a struggle and a half. Tears over the things we did not do on this trip. Tantrums over wet pants (despite reminders that playing in the water is both against the rules and, as evidenced, leads to wet pants). Full body, pregnancy aches and pains. The kids and I are tired, hungry, and over stimulated, but we make it to the parking lot via patience and promises of skittles.

A young mom approaches; her stress shows in the sweaty gleam of her makeup and the exasperated movement of swinging a toddler held for too long from one hip to the other.

“Excuse me, but do you happen to have jumper cables? My battery’s dead and we’re stuck.” I can hear in her voice that I am not the first person she has asked. Over her shoulder I see an SUV with the hood popped, a few cars down from my own. I flash from fuck, I really just need to get out of here to I would be so pissed if that were my hood up and my panic brewing.

“Yeah, I do. Let me just get my kids changed and in my car real quick.” She looks relieved and a little guilty (which she should not be) as she apologizes, noting that I obviously have my hands full. I tell her I do, but it sucks that she’s stuck and it’s really no problem to help out.

I can feel four little eyes and four little ears – all attached to the humans I created and am raising to be civilized – at attention for this exchange. As they stand in the back of our car, waiting for dry clothes and treats, I ask: “What’s the most important thing to be?” The response is quick from both: “KIND.” No further explanation is needed – they get it. Stalling our day briefly to help a stranger in need takes priority over our slight levels of discomfort.


Why do I teach my kids to be kind, above anything else?

To counteract all the ugliness around us. In this shitstorm of a society filled with hatred, horror, and division, the only way to fight back is to create a little army of humans who will do better someday.

My kids need to be decent to each other, to their parents, to our dog, and to an overwhelming number of people with whom they must coexist daily. At 2 and 4, they are vastly selfish and need every possible bit of practice in kindness.

As they grow and form relationships, they should expect the same treatment from others. Accepting that this two-way street is mandatory will be a lot easier if they’re already following protocol in their own lanes.

It doesn’t cost or hurt anything. Seriously. 90% of the time, being kind takes absolutely nothing away from us.

The lesson reminds me to dish out compassion throughout my own day. I’m grumpy, and I don’t always like people. I go from neutral to irritated in seconds flat, and have to work hard to have a filter when I do. So I guess, at 38, I still need the practice too.


The most important thing to be is kind. No day is left lacking in opportunities for this reminder.

When one of them is cooling off from hitting the other, of course, but also when one is basking in a compliment, a toy shared, or some other act of sibling sweetness.

When we bring dinner to friends, or when friends bring us dinner.

When we see a man sleeping outside and talk about how not everyone has a place to sleep, how a smile is better than a stare, how much we have come to like a particular homeless couple who we visit regularly with homemade lunches. Kind is the most important thing to be to all humans, no matter how different they may seem.

When someone holds a door open for us, remarks on a kid’s cuteness, moves their grocery cart to let us pass, or picks up one of the thousands of things that I drop and can’t reach – all small acts that could go unmentioned. Of course I model by saying thank you, but I also work to tell my kids explicitly “wasn’t that so kind?” or “that kindness made me feel good.”


As an adult, I understand the complexities and nuances of life within a society. We often have to balance our idealistic qualities for protection. At some point, a person or situation may prove that our kindness has been exhausted and abused. It is possible for more than one thing to be the most important way to be. I want my kids (and myself) to strive for happiness, health, empathy, intellect, and success. But those all follow kindness, and my 2 and 4 year olds need to get that one down first.

So when an out of the ordinary circumstance – like someone asking for help with car trouble – presents itself, we choose compassion over convenience. That afternoon, on the way home from the museum, our conversation takes great turns. We talk about how it would feel to need help from a stranger – how it may be hard to ask, and feel upsetting to not know what to do. We talk about how it felt to stay calm and patient for long enough to figure out how to use jumper cables (or sit in the car quietly during the process, at least). We talk about how it feels when a little kindness gets us out of a jam. We talk about how car batteries and engines work. For the last ten minutes of the drive, we listen to my son lose his mind screaming and crying, because it’s long past nap time. But the example of how to be a decent human is still more important.

My myriad of hopes and dreams for my kids, of course, doesn’t end at kindness, but it starts there. And so I drill it into their little minds:

“What’s the most important thing to be?”


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PSA: There are Some Problems Even Mama Can’t Solve


The cry comes in the middle of the night, in the deepest part of my rare third trimester pregnancy sleep (as it always does). Groggy and slightly irritated, I zombie walk into the kids’ room, not knowing which kid is upset. Owen is sound asleep; I cover him with his blanket on my way to Addie. I sit on the edge of her bed, move the pillow covering most of her head, and push a chunk of sweaty hair out of her face.

She rolls toward me, eyes barely open, and reveals her sorrows in wails. Awakened from a dream, she mourns the loss of a ladybug once grasped in her little palm.

“I’ll never find a ladybug again!”

The source of the dream: an afternoon spent digging in the backyard garden bed, recently abandoned until next spring, and hunting under rocks for bugs. My irritation fades and my heart clicks with the genuine sorrow in hers.  I search for a way to tell her she is just reliving her day without diminishing the real weight of her emotions.

“Your beautiful imagination gives you such big dreams. It’s hard to have a bad dream when it feels so real.”

I help her get comfortable again; what a disaster she is in sleep. Most nights I find her hanging off the edge of the bed, with blankets and pillows in mounds. Her stuffed animals are tossed aside in favor of armfuls of Kleenex and the nighttime water bottle that lives on the shelf above her head. I reposition limbs, blankets, garbage, and loveys.  Since she was a newborn, she has slept with arms and legs outstretched – body and heart open to the world. No wonder she feels so much hurt when her dream ladybug disappears.

After a moment, she opens her eyes and I hand her a stuffed ladybug: “Look, you found one already!” Skeptical, she holds it for less than a second before chucking it. My first attempt at righting the wrongs of dreamland has failed.

I try again, stroking her hair softly: “Close your eyes and think about ladybugs flying around you, red ladybugs crawling on the green grass, sweet ladybugs landing in your hands.”

She turns back to me, locks my eyes in hers, and exorcist style grunts. “I want to smash the ladybugs”. Then she rolls away from me again, and drops back into solid sleep.

Bewildered and slightly concerned about the real ladybugs in her future, I leave the room. I have dug deep on this one (for the middle of the night, especially) and come up without a fix or an understanding of what she wants.


It happens on occasion – usually when I’m feeling a little overconfident in my maternal capability – that an issue arises for which I have no immediate or ongoing solution. No matter how deep I dig into my Mary Poppins carpetbag full of parental tricks, I come up short. There are some problems that even moms can’t solve.

I can’t fix it if the kids each insist on singing different versions of The Wheels on the Bus simultaneously, but fuss about the other one singing.

Repairing broken granola bars is out of my wheelhouse. (“If you eat both pieces, they will go back together in your tummy!” is a common phrase in our house).

I can’t get Owen five hours away to visit Grammy, even when he spends a full twelve hours in a meltdown over wanting to, out of nowhere.

When too much glue leads to a rip in the construction paper jack o’ lantern face, I can suggest covering it with the mouth. I can offer empathy, or a do over. But I cannot bend the laws of physics and unrip the paper.

When Owen refuses to participate in an obstacle course at soccer, no matter how cool he thinks it is, and then cries that he missed out, I don’t have a fix. I can only offer a consoling snuggle as we watch from the bench.

 When Addie still hasn’t put on her underwear after half an hour of warnings that the pizza will be delivered soon, and then cannot be the one to answer the door (because c’mon – we have some decency left), I can’t solve the problem she has created. I can’t deescalate her meltdown or keep it from spiraling into ruining the whole evening, no matter how many ways I suggest to move on.

As much as I want them to believe in the all-powerful nature of their Mama, I cannot literally make the sun rise or the rain stop falling to suit our desires.  


The reality is some things are beyond the scope of my control. And isn’t there a lesson in that somewhere? It hurts me when they hurt, but accepting the flow of the universe is a must for survival and happiness. Things will come up when we are apart; unexpected transitions at school will throw Addie, and Owen may need something only I understand when he is at Mimi’s house. ALL of the issues created out of their own willingness to participate or cooperate are sometimes better left as teachable moments (right???).

As they grow older, and life changes, we all have to reconcile new challenges. Hopefully this Mama’s continued snuggles, love, and middle of the night presence will solve some of the problems – ladybug dreams and beyond.

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Is It Bedtime Yet?

“Life is filled with sunshine and rain. Some days are fancy and others are plain.” – Remember Forever, Rainstorm Publishing

And some days – like Tuesdays – are very, very long. With a mix of sunshiny joy, rainy tears, stormy tantrums, bright blue skies and eyes, foggy pregnancy brain, and everything in between.

Tuesdays are my least and most favorite days right now. Addie is home from preschool. Kevin is gone from long before the kids wake up to after they go to bed. It’s just the three of us (and Penny Dog) to fill the day which, right now, takes every minute of my focus and energy. We have little independent play, frequent cries of boredom, and much fighting. It’s utterly exhausting.

At the same time, I am relishing my two big kids before baby sister arrives, enjoying how capable and fun they are, and being constantly wowed by their interests and achievements. By this time next year, Addie will be in full time school, Owen in preschool, and I will be back to baby business.

I try to cherish every moment, like I am supposed to be doing, but in reality I’ll settle for enjoying some and surviving others. Here is how we fill an average Tuesday.


First thing: scooter ride, dog walk, Mama-sore-hips-stretching walk, playground. Exercise and fresh air for all.

Cheese Meltdown

Back at home, we had a string of five back to back meltdowns within the span of ten minutes. A fight over who got to sweep which outdoor table; a little brother destroying preschool artwork (fixable); tears over sweatshirts; screams for treats; a piece of cheese that broke and will never be whole again. Tragedies, all of them, resulting in tears (from all of us).


Luckily, I had some preplanned activities for the day/week (a must right now, although they sometimes fail to even launch). After everyone recovered and snacked, a little structured creativity was a good breather. This one was a hit: Disappearing Letters.*

11 am when we wrapped up  – only 7.5 hours until bedtime. They begged to watch their current favorite movie, Sing, so we made it special by eating lunch in the living room (a rare treat from this clean freak Mama). Anything different from routine can go two ways: total disaster or fresh and exciting. Maybe because food and screen time were combined, maybe they were getting tired, or maybe I just got lucky, but this was a solid hour and a half of quiet time. Plus Owen was fed and sleepy at nap time on the dot.



While the young monster napped, the older beast had be restrained for quiet time. Since dropping her nap over the summer, this is often a battle. But some golden days – like this one – it becomes an opportunity for sweet together time, side by side downtime, or a combination of the two. **

By the after nap portion of these kinds of days (okay, of every day) I am seriously wiped out. Today required an afternoon outing, somewhere that the kids could run wild and I could sit and watch, conserving energy for the evening hustle, intervening only when needed. One of our new favorite spots for this is an indoor kids’ play space in town, called Time Out.*** After a hour and a half here, they were sufficiently beat, and it was technically late enough to start dinner.

Dinner … I have learned my lesson about making a “real” dinner on the nights that Kevin is not home to eat with us. It’s kid food all the way. For a final, fun, activity, I put them to work on their own mini pizzas on english muffins. Classic kid dinner.


Eyelids and spirits were drooping fast at the dinner table. Tuesdays are a firm no bath night. Neither kid had the energy to protest getting wiped down, putting on pajamas, and only getting one book each before lights out.

At the end of it all, I am about to fall over from exhaustion – physical, mental, and emotional. My back is shot, my belly has been one solid Braxton Hicks contraction since 2 pm, I am craving silence and stillness, and have no energy to face the regular chores. But, while brushing her teeth, Addie reached out to give me a hug, saying “Thanks for the nice day, Mama”. And, on his eighth time out of bed to go pee, Owen said “That was fun make pizza, Mom, and watch Sing, and go Time Out, and scooter ride.” Their little faces and words of gratitude make it all worth it.

Signing off now for a giant piece of pie and the season premiere of This Is Us (if I can stay awake for it). Nighty fucking night. May everyone stay in their own beds until sunrise.


** Fall counting worksheet and matching/memory games from: https://www.giftofcuriosity.com. This site is awesome – tons of free printable and activities, and a $10 credit to buy others when you subscribe by email. They’re not paying me to say this or anything, I just love when I come across a good resource for keeping the mini beasts entertained and learning.

*** http://timeoutnplay.com I promise, they’re not paying me either. No one is paying me, actually. No one at all.

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ALL the Drama

Addie emerges from the kids’ bedroom, where she has been cooling off from a howling, sobbing tantrum over my “ruining her life” by not letting her run into traffic when we left the park. I catch a glimpse of her creeping silently (should have been a clue) down the hallway into the kitchen. The next thing I know, she and Owen are laughing maniacally as they spit milk into a metal colander. Turns out Addie has been doing this in her room, and then trying to lap up the milk like a cat, as evidenced by the giant milk puddle on her chair and the trail of droplets on the carpet.

The spitting out of beverages into bowls has been a separate, ongoing issue (gross little humans) so they are given immediate consequences (time out for O, cleaning up the mess for A). Owen, only a minor accomplice, recovers quickly. But Addie, whose master plan has been thwarted by her stick-in-the-mud parents, launches into a full meltdown. Eventually she stops shrieking long enough to reveal her explanation.

One hand raised, moving up and down for emphasis on every other word, face blotchy and red with tears and voice shaky, she offers up the following. “But MOM, when I was in your TUMMY, I SHOULD have been born a KITTEN!”

I mean, how can I really dish out a punishment for that flawless logic? If you were meant to be born a cat, you must lap up milk with your ill-equipped human tongue; even better if it has been spit from your mouth into a leaking vessel.

Meanwhile, back in the land of the 2 year old, I hear for the millionth time, “MOMMY! Fix this.” Owen holds up a piece of his garbage truck that has broken off, been glued back and breaks off again on the daily. With every second it takes me to assure that his sister and my babysitting charge are both out of imminent danger and walk toward him to “fix” it, his wailing frustration builds. If the garbage truck is not put back together in whatever he deems an acceptable amount of time, he is full blown kicking, screaming, and crying on the floor. Only to tear the damn piece off again minutes later.

This is what we are dealing with over here, folks: ALL the drama.

We have 2-year old drama, 4-year old drama, and pregnancy drama.

Our trinity of tempers creates daily clashes of moods and hormones. Combined, we have ALL the overreacting.

Addie throws herself on the ground upon being told to wait just a minute before I can turn on an episode of Super Why. “I will NEVER do anything else and I will NEVER be happy!”

I lose my patience with Owen when he refuses to try to get himself down from the toilet or pull up his own pants. It hurts my back and crunches my pregnant belly to bend, squat, or reach down to do it all day long, but only one of us can act like a stubborn toddler (me: it should clearly be me).

One kid demands PB&J, the other cream cheese and salami, for lunch. I demand to only make one sandwich a day, considering I spend an absurd amount of time making food. The result is that every lunch is a battle and at least two of the three of us (always including me) loses.

Not a one of us knows what to do with the afternoons. No one has the same energy level, no one wants to be bored or entertain themselves or others, and we just cannot see eye to eye on park or no park, art project or play outside or any other question that leads us toward survival until Kevin gets home.

Addie wakes up in the middle of the night, comes charging into our room, flings herself on the bed, and wails: “my voice doesn’t sound like it usually does”. How do I begin to unpack that one? I have zero ideas what the actual fuck she is crying about. And then I cry a little, because it’s the tenth time one of them has woken me up on this particular night, and I have a cold. Waaaahhhh.

We are a trifecta of tantrums, a family of fussiness, a collective hot mess of meltdowns.

As much as we sometimes fuel each other’s fires, going through these dramatic phases together has some advantages (poor Kevin, though). It forces us all to have a little more empathy and go easy on each other, to spend quality time being grumpy together, and to get a bunch of issues out of the way simultaneously. Just like when a cold passes though the household: it seems harder for everyone to get it at once, but can actually be worse when we get it one at a time and end up with at least one person suffering for weeks.

Until it all passes, my solution to the daily triple breakdowns is the same as it has been since having a second kid: whoever is the most upset gets comforted first. These days, that is true even if I take a moment to console myself with a mental reminder that fleeing my house and hopping on a plane to anywhere-but-here is not a realistic option. Not today, at least.

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Fruitless Efforts

Post 2


A friend posted this quote recently and I made a half-kidding comment that it was a good #parentingtip. It echoes a true sentiment in raising the under 5 crowd, at least. The gist of it – that trying to alter permanent conditions (or people) only brings misery – keeps rolling around in my mind. It has been guiding my moment-to-moment parenting in a positive direction since, or at least pushing my mood up a notch.

Although not a new philosophy (in parenting or life), and certainly not my original idea, it came as a well-timed reminder. Addie is a homebody-to-the-bones by nature, but I cannot change that school starts at 8:30 am and does not take place at our house. What I can control, for my own happiness, is how I reconcile the two conflicting facts. She also cannot change (at least until more of her frontal lobe develops) that transitional times feel, to her, like an emotional assault, or that she has to cover her body with clothing anyway. All I can do is give her the tools to smooth it all out and wait until she grows up.

Owen, to his core, maintains high anxiety about talking to unfamiliar people. Neither of us can change that he is sometimes inclined to clam up, look away, and tremor when a waitress tells him “good morning, cutie!” But we are not interested in disrupting the social nature of pleasant greetings among humans. I am long past the times of stressing myself out in navigating his interactions, or attempting to cajole a reply from him. I refuse to thwart his genuine feelings by telling him not to be shy or that it is all okay – when it is so clearly NOT okay, to him.

Instead, I try to help him balance his need for space with the common courtesies required to participate in the world. I pat his back so he feels the safety of my presence; I gain his eye contact to keep him from checking out of the interaction; I ask him if he wants to say good morning back, or if he wants mommy to say it for him; I show warm smiles to both my bashful boy and the kind waitress.

As humans (I think) my kids have no control over fears and preferences that are parts of their temperaments, or of the natural occurrences in life that stir them up. I want them to learn that they can work with their own outlooks, attitudes, reactions, and behaviors instead.

Do not waste your lives in fruitless efforts to change others: an important lesson for my kids as well. Owen took your fairy tales book and pulled your hair? Addie stuck her finger in the frosting on your cupcake? That behavior was not okay but you still need to use your words, move away, ask for help, or let it go.Those are the reactions my kids can control, the responses for which I want them to strive, and the behavior that gets everyone back to copasetic with the least grief.

The most fulfilling shift is when I can reframe things that may not be permanent, but make me crazy in the moment. If I change my verbal reaction to their shitshow, and help them to look at themselves more positively, it is a win for us all. It sure feels better to hear: you are so creative and have the biggest ideas for art projects, BUT we will have to save that one for another time, than: I told you six times already I am NOT getting out glue and scissors and making a mess right now – stop pestering me! It feels better to say: it is so great that you love to drive your trucks around, and you are such a good boy to play quietly by yourself, BUT we have to say goodbye to them now and take a nap, than it does to get exasperated and toss him into his bed while he cries.

“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief which he proposes to remove.”  – Samuel Johnson

I realize, with these wise words in mind all week, that it is foolish trying to control other humans in the first place (not to mention infuriating, exhausting, and utterly pointless). In no other circumstance would I attempt it. I cannot make the person in front of me in line move faster because I am running late, or expect my husband to change into a mind reader to better suit my needs, or require better grammar from strangers just to please my picky ears. All fruitless efforts, and who has the energy for those?

As for my mama mental fountain I am finding it unfair to rest my feelings of content or discontent on my kids. They are small, and their own people, and right now there is a disconnect between their true nature and the rules of the civilized world. My happiness is instantly thwarted when I get sucked into the why can’t my kids be different vortex. I can guide and assist them, and I can control my reactionl when they act like monsters, and that is it. Except when they have I love you more contests with me, or offer unsolicited acts of kindness to each other. I am more than willing to let those good vibes change my disposition.

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The Snail Days of Summer

Summer break is here, in all its snail-paced, infuriatingly unscheduled, glory. We’re relishing the relief from the mad morning dash, from shuffling people around (and being shuffled around), and have quickly relaxed into the slow.

It has only been two weeks for Addie (Kevin’s break starts today), but we have glimpsed many phases of summer already.

The best times have been the luxurious morning snuggles while watching cartoons and snacking on dry cereal. The kids lounging in their cute pajama shorts and nightgowns until way too late in the morning and in tank tops in front of the fan in the stale afternoon heat. And all the lounging in between.

We have done pool days, sprinklers in the backyard, and popsicles. The kids have attended birthday parties, parks, and library events. Home has been filled with hours of reading, Lego fests, and movies. Art projects have been created from kid imagination, and also completed through Mom/Pinterest instructions.

There have been copious amounts of fussing, whining, fighting, biting, destructive behavior, and spinning in wild circles. We have had a solid taste of summer grumps. But mostly, the tone has been downtempo.

The days are literally long; the sun is out, so we are up, early and late. We move slowly and so do the hours. The minutes often drag past. In the snail days of summer, everything slows down.

This pace, these lack of plans, are hard on my nerves. Having an idea of what is coming next, having some structure, curbs my anxiety. And it doesn’t help when the kids get wild and troublesome from too much free time. But everyone needs a break from the scheduled, at least for the start of the summer.

Addie needs the break from structure and transitions. She needs free time and fewer restrictions, after a tough year of preschool. Her emotional health is my number one priority this summer. The year was damaging, and she needs to feel like the good kid that she is on the inside, so she can act like it on the outside, when she starts a new school in the fall.

Owen is thriving on independence and the need to figure things out for himself – whether it’s how to put on his own clothes, or how to pass the time when left to his own devices. He needs me next to him without holding his hand, reminding him of the rules of life and patiently standing by while he absorbs their weight. And it all takes time that we don’t have during school days.

I need the slow pace too. I’m wiped out, and on my two week vacation from babysitting. I miss the baby shenanigans already, but am regaining some energy from a lighter workload.

This is how the first chunk of the summer will go: snail days, in which we soak up each other’s company (for better or worse), take things day to day (mostly), and slow down to relax and recover. Adventurous days will follow soon, and then the dog days of summer will be upon us before we know it.


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They Go Where I Go

One of the most simultaneously boring and strenuous aspects of adulthood has got to be the errands and appointments and chores. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I remember when handling the mundane business of life felt overwhelming – before having kids. Now there is exponentially more to do, less time, and more people to drag along with me.

It’s all a crazy juggling act now, with two or three kids in tow. Doctor appointments, smog checks, pharmacy, post office, dog food, and budget grocery shopping at four different stores. All shuffled in around meals, naps, activities, school pickup, and moods. I get tired thinking about it.

Heading out every day requires planning. Each stop has different logistics: stroller – single or double? Shopping cart – double cart if we really get lucky? What distractions do I bring?  Are they super grumpy (needing bribes)? Will I need them to STFU while I have conversations with adults?

And the snacks – we must always bring snacks.

Since they have opinions now, I also have to trick them into going to do the errands in the first place. Owen is usually game, until the third or fourth stop. Addie is a different beast. If it were up to her, she would stay home in her underwear, lazing around and doing whatever she wanted, all day every day.

But we do it – through tricks, bribes, and whatever else the little dictators demand. After the planning and coercing we leave the house for crucial to our life bullshit like procuring food and toilet paper.

Things have to get done and the kids have to go with me. They go where I go.

Most of the time their behavior in public is pretty great. Sometimes it’s less so: they’re too loud, they fight, make demands, and grab everything. On occasion, they’re so monstrous I am tempted to leave them on the side of the road (which I OBVIOUSLY would never do). They try, but they don’t know how to pretend to be humans in public yet.

Some days, their behavior elicits THE LOOK from passersby. You know, the look that says what’s wrong with those wild animals, and what is wrong with YOU for being such a terrible mother as to bring them out in this condition and have no control over them? I usually ignore it or flash a blank stare. At times I kiss my kids and call them little angels, as though I don’t even notice.

I wish I could convey all the ways I want to respond, in a look of my own. Maybe I should practice in the mirror.

What I would answer, if  the smug and judgmental were bold enough to use actual words, would be some combination of the following:

  • I know, but it’s frowned upon to leave them home alone.
  • Yes, I have tried to control them and, no it’s clearly not working right now.
  • They’re not supposed to have solid emotional control and coping skills at 2 and 3. But you probably should.
  • Trust me, this is worse for me than it is for you.
  • We’re at the bank, for fuck’s sake, not a 5 star restaurant. Get over it.

Here’s the big thing, though. I like bringing my kids out in the world with me to do mundane shit. They are good company and I am quite fond of them. Most of the time, they are well behaved in public – charming even. I get plenty of compliments on their friendliness, good manners, cuteness, and how helpful they are.

And also, we have to do the things, just like anyone else. So they go where I go.

I want my little ones to get to know their community, to be comfortable in the hustle and bustle, and to see how people function around one another. They will be better adjusted for it in the long run.  I may not be taking them on exotic vacations, but I am exposing them to daily life around us.

The time is coming to broaden their horizons (their pretend trips are often to the grocery store or Target). But when we do get someplace a little more exciting (after we win the lottery), they’ll have some practice existing in the outside world.

And I’ll have some practice ignoring the inevitable glares when they act like wild animals anyway. Maybe I’ll have perfected that response look by then.

Target pic



Letting Go Of “You Always” and “You Never”

You never listen. I have to refrain from saying this to my kids eighty-five times a day. Even though it may feel true in the moment, it is not a never, it is a right now. You must have forgotten to turn your good listening ears on. That is what I say instead, in good parenting moments. In worse, I command: Listen to me right now! In between, I try for a silent pause – anything to prevent me from saying you never.

Why are you always such a messy eater? I think. Owen makes accidental messes from eating with speed and gusto. His chunky, 2-year-old fingers can’t quite pull the foil off the top of a yogurt cup without toppling it, but really insist on trying. He also makes mischievous messes: turning over a cereal bowl on top of his head, throwing slobber-covered bread crusts, and rubbing food on his neck (I have no explanation for that one).

You always make such a mess. I try not to throw the words at him. I know they will not help. Be a neater eater, I say instead. Use your napkin, like Addie does. He will get there. Owen will (probably) not be a pigpen his whole life.

You kids always fuss when it’s time to get ready in the morning. I do say this one, but does pointing out their flaw help? Are they suddenly better about getting ready because I toss out a label? Quite the opposite. I say they are fussing for no reason, and they dig in their heels and commit to the fussfest. There is nothing I should say instead. If they fuss about getting ready, so be it. There are lots of ways I can still get us out the door. And if I keep you always out of my mouth, eventually they will get over the fussy mornings. Or maybe not – everyone has issues.

In these long days of motherhood, repetitive, but temporary, little things get under my skin. In order for me to not lose my mind during these phases, I need to let go of you always and you never.

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NOT fussing about getting ready in the morning.

Why can you never go to the bathroom by yourself? I mean really, sometimes I cannot leave what I’m doing to watch you pee.

You never agree on anything. Obviously not.

You always kick me during diaper changes. Maybe it’s time to potty train.

You always fight at Costco. Like every other kid, and most adults.

You always splash water out of the bath. Only sometimes.

You never eat that, so I’m not making it. Except really, I will.

You never keep your hands to yourself. Almost never.

You always run away from me. Only most of the time.

The list is endless.

The danger (to the kids) in you always and you never, is hearing absolutes that they have to live up to. They internalize the labels, they feel bad, and they keep it up to save face. It backfires a hundred percent of the time.

The benefit (to me), in letting go of that vocabulary, is I can skip getting panicked into tunnel vision about little behaviors. I can avoid making catastrophic plans for how to deal with their (genuinely atrocious) issues FOREVER. In letting go of you always and you never, I leave room for the frustrations to become distant memories.

No good can come of making someone relive, and pay again, for minor instances that collectively turn into an always or a never. And so my new mission (among all of the many in progress) is to drop the labels from my kid related vocabulary.

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NOT fighting at Costco. Ridiculously cute.




Book Stacks and Train Tracks

Owen spent the day after his second birthday sprawled on the living room floor in pajamas, surrounded by new legos, train tracks, and matchbox cars. Addie and I spent a lazy morning at the library, browsing our favorite series’ and reading stacks of books in the children’s area. Each kid found flow in their activities – a sweet spot of focus and joy in the doing. Their passions for life reassure me they both will end up happy humans. But how stereotypical are the activities that drive them?

My girl is in her element among the book stacks, my boy in building train tracks.

I hear it about them all the time: such a boy, such a girl. I’ve long questioned society’s insistence on forced gender roles. I have concerns all over the place about the backlash of exaggerated male and female stereotypes. My privilege is kicking me in the face, but growing up as a feminine tomboy in a progressive family in northern CA, I have never bought the ideals of manly men and weak women.

And then I had a GIRL and a BOY who, from the time they could express a mere hint of an opinion, became all girly and all boyish.

I cannot deny the cliché differences in their physical ability. Addie, my little klutz to this day, lazily army crawled on her bony elbows for an eternity. She took first steps at 14 months but remained unsteady (at best) for another year. Owen, on the other hand, was born with the innate desire to move. The first time he stood up, he recognized it to be the key to walking; I saw the eureka moment on his face. Confident running and jumping followed before long.

Everyone tells me how active their boys are, compared to their girls. I hate it when the masses are right.

Never one for conformity, I kept Baby Addie’s pink princesses to a minimum. But she spoke complete sentences pretty early and demanded what she wanted (all the time). Now she collects jewelry, stickers, and little decoupaged boxes full of pretty rocks. When Owen was born we had one little set of cars and a few balls. We now have 6,000 vehicles and buckets of balls that he races and chucks daily.

My girl wants her dollhouse and my boy wants his garbage truck.

Not one to buy into the pink vs blue consumerism, I passed on all the baby onesies that said “feed me and tell me I’m pretty ” or “ladies man”. Still, neither of them was ever mistaken for the opposite gender. Now that they pick out their own clothes, they are walking stereotypes. Owen with his signature skull and crossbones trucker hat. Addie in hot pink (her “favorite pink”) and sparkles.

My girl plays with makeup, and my boy runs around shirtless with tangled hair.

While I refuse to reinforce these stereotypes, or ever question what they should or can do because of their biologically assigned gender, I rarely steer their interests. I try to guide them towards more of what makes them happy, where they can find flow. They are little humans with agendas of their own.

Some days the division works out well for everyone. Owen played for hours that day, with his new birthday toys. Addie read all of her books with anyone available, and alone. We all reconnected to watch a movie. They went to bed happy that night, my girl in heart pajamas, and my boy in fire trucks.

Venn Diagram
“Hi, this is a Venn Diagram.  We’re still developing the McSorley Diagram.” – Kevin McSorley