Why Birthday Parties In The ’80s Were The Best

Admit it: kids’ birthday parties suck. The battle to keep up with the Addisons, the Madisons, the Jacksons and the Jadens become a nuclear arms race of forced fun. Bounce houses, pony rides, magicians and fun parks are the order of the day. Cakes come from high-end bakeries that specialize in molded shit that matches a theme. All parties have a theme. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Ninjago, Disney Princess, My Little Pony: theme, theme, theme. Everything matches. You, personally, may be expected to match. Fuck that noise. We need to rise up and party like it’s 1988.

You may have forgotten how to do so. The ability to party without matching plastic forks has become lost to the mists of time. But you can do this. In the before time, in the long long ago, children celebrated birthdays without themes. Without molded bakery cakes. Without bounce houses and outside entertainment.

In 1988, the golden age of children’s birthday parties, we rocked it. Here’s how.

You give out real invitations you fill out by hand.

Which in 1988 caused enormous drama about who was invited and who wasn’t invited. This indicates a vicious kind of social standing that must be mediated by a teacher. Now you’re not allowed to invite anyone unless you invite the whole damn class. It’s easier on the teacher and makes sure no one feels left out. Prepare your house for an onslaught of thirty children. No wonder parents shell out for a secondary location.

Parents need to hang out.

Dexter Chatuluka/Unsplash

There’s a simple reason for this. In 1988, children’s birthday parties did not suck for parents. There’s one reason for that, and that reason’s called free beer and parental socialization. The longer the party went on, the more fun everyone had. This year, be that hero who hands out the beer.

Venues stay simple.

In 1988, the snot-noses had two choices: home or the park. At home, you might get to play some boring-ass party games (see below). At the park, you got to — wait for it — play at the goddamn park. Parents would break for cake and ice cream and Kool-Aid, probably the kind with copious amounts of red dye #4.  And in the dark ages of 1988, they expected kids to get hyper. They called it a “sugar high” and dealt accordingly.

Learn something from these wise women.

Speaking of cakes …

Lena Otvodenko/Reshot

Your mom baked it. A few kids, like my brother, had a mom with some decorating skills and cake pans who managed to turn out, like, a Smurf that looked mildly Smurf-like. Most of you were either stuck with melty Transformers or regular old cakes someone had scrawled “Happy Birthday” across. If you were really lucky, your mom bought the cake at the grocery store. Super duper lucky? You got a cookie cake or an ice cream cake. This was the pinnacle of fancy-pants in 1988. And your ass best say thank you.

Bake that damn cake yourself.

There is no freaking theme.

You really wanna party like it’s 1988? I have a theme for you: Birthday Party. The Birthday Party theme includes a cake with the words “Happy Birthday” scrawled in shaky letters, courtesy of Betsy Crocker’s icing tubes. Plates are the cheapest paper plates Target sells; the silverware is white plastic; drinkware is traditionally red solo cups with people’s names scrawled on them. There may be a plastic table cloth and bowls of the following offerings: chips and Doritos. A veggie tray and ranch dressing may be provided. Classic drinks include Diet Pepsi and, thanks to Stranger Things, New Coke.

Party at home? You play party games.

This generation has never pinned a tail on a donkey. Think about that. Remember the interminable wait for your time, the surety you would be the one to get closest to the tail and hence win the prize (probably a yo-yo you’d tangle and break immediately)? You may also have played duck-duck-goose in 1988. You also played such antiquated games as Freeze Tag, and TV Tag. People went on scavenger hunts. Does your child even know what a scavenger hunt is? They’re about to learn. Whichever team wins gets a cheap-ass toy from the Target One-Spot.

Adults ignored the children unless there was blood.

Adults have come to this party to drink and socialize, not fucking hover. Seriously? Kids should run feral. Once, after my cousin opened her presents, I ripped the head off her brand-new Barbie-doll and hid behind the couch. She cried so damn hard her mother did eventually intervene, and everyone was pissed, mostly because I interrupted the aforementioned beer drinking.

Goodie bags mean candy.

What better way to send a child home than with a bag full of sugar? In 1988, you didn’t drop a shit ton of money on plastic crap from the Oriental Trading if you were cheap, and actual Lego minifigs if you aren’t. Kids got Tootsie pops and Pixie Stix and Reeses Cups and sugar, sugar, sugar, plus a pencil or two.

It sounds half-assed. It sounds like very little effort. That’s the goddamn point. We’re talking about regular children, not Prince George.  Just make sure you bring the beer, and everyone will love you. Your kids will have a blast, because their friends showed up and they got presents. They really don’t give a fuck if they got presents.

Swear to god. The presents are everything. And in 1988, we made all the other kids sit around and drool while the birthday kid opened them.

Nothing like a little envy to make a birthday that much sweeter.

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How I Survive The Hell That Is The End Of The School Year

I’m tired. Like all the time. So far today I have had 5 cups of coffee, but I am still dragging my high heels behind me at work. You see, it is April and this is me: Spring Mom.

Spring Mom, who can’t keep up with the calendar of birthday parties, chorus concerts and art shows. Spring Mom, who is sick of math sheets and reading logs and Wordly Wise quizzes and Science Fairs. Spring Mom has given her all and is currently on the Spring-Mom slide, when she cuts corners to keep the peace because if she doesn’t she just may fall to the ground and never stand up again. At least not until summer.

It is April. I am kind of checked out and so, this time of year, I take short cuts. I do the best I can and I lower my expectations just a little. Two more months — I got this. Two more months of early morning alarms and school projects — take-home folders, and PTO sign-ups. Two more months of book sales and soccer practices and laundry piles and uniforms. Two more months. I can do this. I can’t do it as well as I did in September, but I can do a damn-good, mediocre job.

I often wonder if I am on the only one who takes shortcuts, but hey, I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it? I know that I am doing the best I can and sometimes self-care is taking short cuts. Here are some of my Spring Mom confessions:

– I literally just put my coffee mug and one cereal bowl in a dishwasher full of clean dishes and pressed start. I mean really, why take all of the dishes out? Such a waste of time and energy.

– I skipped a shower this morning and went to work with dry shampoo and my daughter’s American Eagle Body Spray adorning my unwashed body. Sorry, not sorry.

– I picked up towels off of the flower, folded them and put them in the clean towel drawer in the bathroom. My daughter refuses to use a towel unless it is fresh out of the dryer. She also refuses to do her own laundry. I guess you could say I tricked her. I actually do feel kind of bad about this one.

– We are ordering pizza tonight and Chinese Food tomorrow. Come @ me. IDC.

– The washing machine is full of laundry that has needed to be moved to the dryer since last Saturday and it now requires a second washing because my way of doing laundry only made the clothes dirtier. Go figure! This is precisely why I am considering a no-laundry-during-the-work-week rule.

– I am on a complete and totally-satisfying carb binge and I don’t plan to ever stop. I freaking love it. I spent 2 years limiting or restricting carbs altogether and I finally said eff it — #carbsorbust. I love them and they are worth the extra 15 pounds that I am pretty sure sits right on my waist line since that first bite of bread 6 months ago. The scale has got to go. I love carbs.

– There is literally not one pair of matching socks in my house. Not one. Four people. Hundreds of partner-less socks. I can’t even. Where the hell do they go?

– I serve fresh Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and my kids’ lunchboxes are filled with a potpourri of snacks each day because I just can’t win these battles. At least not in April. Snacks for lunch it is.

– I can’t remember the last time I made a bed. Really. It has been years.

The list goes on and on. I do have good days, where everyone in the house brushes their teeth both the morning and the night-time and we eat protein and veggies for dinner. On these good days, the homework gets done diligently before dinner, and we are all sound asleep by 9:15 p.m. The dishes are cleaned and put away and the laundry is folded and neatly placed in drawers. These days, however, are rare.

And that is okay.

I am a mom doing the best I can with what I got and sometimes my best is rewashing the dishes in the dishwasher. Sometimes sleep is more important than chores and a family board game is more important than homework.

I am pretty sure my own mom walks into my house and wonders when the laundry will get put away. I imagine the kids probably wish they had a mom who could do it all and make Monkey Bread for their school snack and homemade waffles for breakfast. A mom who eagerly matches socks on the living room floor while helping with math homework and cooking Chicken Cacciatore for dinner.

Right now I am just not that mom. Right now, I am tired. I am tired and I love carbs.

And that’s okay, too.

Summer mom is just around the corner, and she is pretty freaking amazing.

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If Your Daughter Acts Like A Mean Girl, I’m Gonna Call Her Out

I’m not generally in favor of involving myself in other people’s parenting, but if your daughter displays mean girl behavior in my presence, I will call her out.

The other evening, I was driving my 8-year-old daughter and her three friends to soccer practice. I love driving my kids around with their friends because I learn so much. I learn what books they’re all reading, who their favorite (and least favorite) teachers are, what they watch on YouTube, what music they like. They’re in the backseat chattering and sort of forget I’m there—they let their guard down.

So, the other night, one of my daughter’s friends started badmouthing a little girl that my daughter has known since pre-K. The little girl had been held back a grade, and my daughter’s friend was railing on about how she “heard” the little girl had been acting up in class and people were saying she “deserved” it.

It wasn’t the first time I’d overheard my daughter’s friend engaging in that kind of catty “mean girl” talk. She is often harsh and judgmental with her words (“What? I hate that song. You like it? UGH”), but the other girls usually stand up to her just fine, so I mostly keep out of it. And the first couple of times I heard her talking about someone who wasn’t present, I let it slide and diverted the conversation to a different topic without explicitly correcting her. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe she was having a rough day and was lashing out uncharacteristically.

But this time I didn’t let it go. I happen to know the little girl who was held back since my daughter attended pre-K with her. I know her mother too. I know she and her husband struggled to help their daughter adjust to school and that the decision to have their daughter repeat a grade was a difficult one.

Not that any of those details ultimately matter. Even if I didn’t know the little girl, by this point, I’d heard my daughter’s friend say enough shitty things about other children that I was sure her behavior was habitual. She needed to be called out.

My daughter was doing her best to stick up for the other girl, saying she was a really nice person, that she’d known her since pre-K and she never got in trouble for being disruptive. But the gossipy friend wasn’t having it—she just kept talking as if having been held back a grade was some kind of punishment for bad behavior.

I turned down the music and addressed my daughter’s friend via the rearview mirror. “You know, saying ugly things about someone, especially someone who isn’t here to defend themselves, really isn’t a very kind thing to do.”

“Oh, I know, I’m not saying anything bad, I’m just saying what other people were saying.”

“Well,” I said, “there’s a name for repeating mean things that people say about others. It’s called gossip. You’re saying things about this person even though you have no idea if they’re true or not, and you’re doing it when the person you’re talking about isn’t here to defend herself. If I were held back a grade and found out someone was saying I’d deserved it, it would really hurt my feelings. What if she were here in the car with us? Would you still say all these unkind things about her?”

“No, I guess not.”

“I didn’t think you would. And that’s all the more reason not to do it when she’s not here. If we’re going to talk about other people, it should only be to say something nice about them.”

The little girl changed the subject—to another little boy she wanted to badmouth. I waited to see if she’d catch her slip-up before I needed to correct her again. Having heard what I’d just said about gossip, the other three other girls in the car remained quiet, and the awkward silence was enough for our little mean girl to realize she needed to put on the brakes. After that, I started an entirely new conversation about the weekend’s upcoming soccer game.

I haven’t discussed this exchange with the girl’s parents, and unless the issue comes up again, I’m not sure I will. I don’t think this is a parenting problem because her two siblings, one older and one younger, are extremely polite, thoughtful, and kind, and I know the parents encourage generosity and kindness in their household. I also know that the parents are proponents of the “it takes a village” mindset and would have no problem with me calling out their kid. They also wouldn’t hesitate to call out one of my kids if they were having a dicky moment.

But, to be honest, even if I didn’t think this little girl’s parents would be okay with me correcting their kid, I would have done it anyway. I was nice about it, and also, there were two other little girls in the car besides my own who were being forced to listen to her venomous talk. Remaining silent would have made me complicit, and it would have sent the message that I tolerate that kind of behavior. Kids die by suicide because of this stuff. No way am I letting it persist in my presence. So, really, if your kid acts like a jerk and I hear it, whether you like it or not, I am going to correct them.

After soccer practice, once we’d dropped the other girls off at home, I told my daughter I was proud of her, not only because she didn’t join in on the gossip, but because she actively spoke up and defended the girl who wasn’t present. I told her I expect her to always do this. I told her there is way too much ugly in the world, and those of us who want to spread kindness need to also be proactive about stomping out hatefulness—we need to be upstanders. And, to me, part of being an upstander is correcting someone else’s kid when they’re acting like an asshole. And I welcome anyone else to return the favor.

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Why I Changed My Mind About Homeschooling

“Time to buy a bigger minivan,” I texted my husband on the day we decided we were pulling our tween from public school and instead, opting to homeschool her.

Of course, I was kidding about the van, though homeschooling itself is no joke. As I quickly discovered, homeschooling is a major time commitment and a big adjustment, especially since our kids have only known a public education since they were in kindergarten.

So why did we do it? Well, that’s a loaded question.

Essentially, our child had struggled for approximately 18 months. She’s respectful, creative, and inclusive. But I knew something was going on because of grades, teacher comments on her work, and the hours it took to complete homework each night.

We finally received multiple eye-opening diagnoses which helped us understand what our child’s needs were. And that’s when my husband and I sat down and had a heart-to-heart. What was best for our child in this situation and in this season of our lives?

Let me be clear that we are not anti-public school. My husband’s parents are both former public school educators. My husband and I both attended public school. I’m a former public university teacher. And two of my four children who are school-age attend a phenomenal public elementary school.

Despite our public school backgrounds, our child was suffering. She used to love every part of school from the bus ride, to the ever-growing backpack keychain collection, to four-square at recess with friends, to learning all about science and acing her spelling tests. But over the course of the year-and-a-half, we watched her slip into a dark place through no fault of her own.

It was as if my child had a broken leg, yet was expected to run a marathon and keep up with the other runners. An impossible feat.

The second I threw out the possibility of homeschooling her, I felt a wave of peace wash over me. All of the sudden, we had an escape, a plan to head for safety and relief.

I know that sounds dramatic, but the truth is, when your child is suffering, you’re going to go into all out Mama Bear mode. The time had come to make a big and positive change.

When we told our daughter that we were opting to homeschool her, she grinned and squealed. It was as if I told her I bought her a pet unicorn. Yes, the moment was that magical.

Those first few weeks of homeschooling took a lot of time and adjustment. Based upon some of the recommendations of her doctor, we decided on workbook learning, plus lots of reading time to build vocabulary and comprehension skills. This was just one option of many. For some homeschoolers, they utilize online schools, others join homeschooling co-ops, and some use combinations of these.

It was in those early homeschooling days that seemed to crawl by when I learned what my child needed in order to learn. I was able to provide those exact things.

Her frustration quickly melted away. I sat beside her at the dining table watching her rapidly grasp concepts and succeed at tasks that were nearly impossible for her in the public school setting. Just last week, the math work that had tortured her for years abruptly clicked. On her own, she got 24 out of 24 triple digit math problems correct.

Most importantly, she knows I care. If she has a need, we band together to meet it. And thus, she’s able to learn.

I admit, because of my misconceptions about homeschooling, I was initially embarrassed when someone would notice my tween with me, midday on a weekday, and ask me why she wasn’t in school. Would that person think I was weird? Subversive? Anti-public school?

As a child, I only knew two homeschooling families, and truth-be-told, I’d developed a few assumptions and stereotypes because of that. What I quickly realized, however, is that people are genuinely curious, and I had the opportunity to educate them. I’d respond with a smile, “Yes, she’s in school. We homeschool!” And more often than not, the person would share with me that they also had considered homeschooling.

Those of us who homeschool are diverse. No, we’re not all in a cult. No, we don’t think public school is the worst thing since low-waisted jeans readily exposing lower-back tats. No, we don’t think we’re better than anyone else.

So yes, this progressive mama of a multiracial, adoptive family homeschools. Yes, I have a minivan, our family’s go-to place for blasting Lecrae through the speakers while running errands. And yes, I support public education and teachers.

In this season of life, we’re embracing homeschooling. By 3:45 p.m. each day, all my children are back together again. My middle two arrive home off school buses, having spent a full day in a wonderful public elementary school with teachers who adore them. The baby squeals and runs to embrace them, and we sit around the kitchen bar and talk about the day while eating a snack. It’s a beautiful thing, the diverse ways my children learn.

Homeschooling has been a game-changer for us, an option we are thankful for. It’s bringing our tween’s joy and love of learning back. And that is worth every sacrifice.

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Stop Asking Young Kids If Their Friends Are Their ‘Boyfriend/Girlfriend’

Adults are constantly saying things to and about kids that make things unnecessarily weird and potentially damaging. But what makes it awkward is that people sometimes don’t see the harm in saying these things, so when I point it out to people—family and strangers alike—I look like the asshole. Sorry not sorry cashier, but I don’t want you telling my son that women would kill for his eyelashes. And no, stranger at the rest area, my “beautiful daughter” is not a heartbreaker and I won’t keep her locked up. And I don’t know, Grandpa, if my 8-year-old daughter and her 8-year-old friend who happens to be a boy will get married someday. They’re 8. They are too young to be thinking about marriage. They are too young to even be thinking about dating a boyfriend or girlfriend.

But people do this all the time. They gender a feature on a child—long eyelashes are no more a female feature than short hair is a male feature. They place blame on a child for another person’s potential to have hurt emotions—specifically a female for hurting a male ego. If someone is heartbroken by unrequited love, it is not the object of one’s affection who is responsible for changing anything they do; nor should they hide themselves in preventative safety from someone who “loves” them. And when people see kids of different genders playing together, they are blinded by the heteronormative and inappropriate notion that boy-girl friends are more than just that—friends.

Stop asking young kids if their friends are their boyfriend or girlfriend. First of all, when you do this, you are assuming that there are only two genders of either male or female and you are basing that on how a kid presents themselves in clothing, hairstyle, and physical features. A child may be nonbinary or gender fluid and not identity as solely male or female. Also, a kid’s assigned gender may not be their true gender, so to just make assumptions makes you look silly.

Assuming different gender friends are more than friends also makes the leap that straight relationships are the norm and are expected. If you are going to be gross and put a romantic label on a child, then why don’t you do it when you see what you assume to be two girls or two boys playing together? It’s because the world is biased and instead of teaching our kids that they can love whomever they want and be whoever they need to be, we are reinforcing the harmful idea that heterosexual love is the “right” love. We are not showing and telling our kids that sexuality, like gender, is a spectrum. We are not showing our kids that there is no such thing as normal when it comes to love, marriage, and family.

When I was in elementary school, I knew I was different. I knew I was gay. But I also knew that was not an okay thing to be. So I just kept my knowledge and whatever elementary schoolgirl crushes I had to myself. But certain situations made me feel the flames of the fiery hell I was taught about were reserved for queers like me.

Valentine’s Day was a nightmare because there was an expectation that if I were to have a Valentine, they would have to be a he. First dances, first kisses, first dates; I didn’t experience any of these in a way that felt right or could be talked about. I knew from a very early age that if I was going to get butterflies around someone, it was supposed to be a male opposite my then-female identity who was causing them. I knew this because it was not uncommon for relatives of mine to ask me if I had a boyfriend.

They also asked me if my male friends, the ones I was playing hide and seek or home run derby with, were my boyfriends. No. Gross. The boys I played with when I was a kid were like brothers. They were my equals and annoying buds who I loved but not love-loved. But the second someone made assumptions or jokes that my relationships with these guys were anything more than grateful friendship, it changed.

It does for your kids too. Little kids are usually grossed out by love or affection not given by their parents or family members, and the idea that the relationships they have are somehow more than friendships is embarrassing. Kids are teased or shamed for having different gender friendships, and it’s bullshit. So stop alienating kids by labeling innocence with adult concepts that perpetuate heterosexual relationships as the baseline for normal.

I am so thankful my kids have a wide network of friends. Two of my three kids are outgoing and make connections pretty easily. My third kiddo struggles a bit to form these bonds; social settings with a lot of people can be overwhelming, and one-on-one friendship time is better for her. As a parent, my job is to help my kids navigate relationships in healthy ways; I approach the subject in terms of a nondiscrimination policy. They know they shouldn’t eliminate a potential friendship based on gender, race, religion, or socioeconomic background. And they know YOU shouldn’t view their relationships in ways that are romantic or territorial.

Kids need friends who they can rely on—no matter their gender. They don’t need adults who think they are clever making stupid jokes about prom or marriage.

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Why My Husband And I Don’t Eat Dinner With Our Kids

In our house, we have two kinds of dinner. Informal dinners mean the kids eat at their table, a small, kindergarten-sized thing in the middle of the living room, and my husband and I eat on the couch. For formal dinners, my husband and I, plus any adult guests, eat at the kitchen table. My kids and their friends? They still eat at the kids’ table. Yep, no matter what, my kids are at the kids’ table.

My kids (who are 5, 7, and 9 years old) have decent table manners; I eat lunch with them in the kitchen sometimes, and we take them out to eat regularly. Our kitchen table is huge, a big farmhouse table a friend built us, so it’s not a space issue. Once in a while, we do have them in the kitchen with us, but very rarely. They don’t watch TV while they eat. They carry their plates to the sink. But they sit at the kids’ table and here’s why. 

Formal dinnertime with my husband is my time with him. Not my kids’ time with him. Not time for family togetherness. Not time to be Mama and Daddy. Time to be Eliza and Chris, drink some wine, eat some decent food, and have adult conversation. If the kids wander in, we don’t shoo them out. I might pick up my youngest and put him on my lap. Our 9 year-old might sit down and try to talk about dinosaurs. But we steer the conversation away, they lose interest, and they leave. Because this is not kid time.

My husband works all day at a high-stress job. I alternate between frantic parenting and frantic writing all day, with bouts of frantic cleaning in between. By the time we see each other, we’re usually drained. The last thing we want to do is parent small children, talk about bugs, hear about salamander biology, or discuss homeschool (which I also did during the day).

Yes, I think my 9-year-old probably needs to move up to the big table. But honestly? I don’t want him to. Once he doesn’t fit in the chairs, part of me wants him to eat on the damn couch.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, family dinners can help enhance their language development as they hear more words used; kids get “unique opportunities … to learn as they hear longer discussions that include explanations and narratives.” They also say that families talk more during dinner than at any other time, including during reading time and while playing with toys. The AAP says, “Making the “Family Table” a priority from an early age can serve as a ‘vaccine’ against many of the harms that come to children from a hurried lifestyle.”

Well, that doesn’t all to all families. It doesn’t apply to our family.

My kids are being raised by a writer and an English teacher. My 9-year-old has dysgraphia, but he reads on a 9th grade level. I’ve heard my 7-year-old use the word “plethora” in a sentence — correctly — and my 5 year-old can not only explain the idea of infinity, he’s actually learning to read actual words. He read the word “coop” at the zoo last week. So you’ll excuse me for not showing much concern about their vocabulary development.

We also have actual conversations with our children on a regular basis. I know this might sound radical to some people, but we talk to our kids regularly about pretty much everything. I talked to my 9-year-old about what toxic people are and why we have a right to say they shouldn’t be in our lives. I talked to my seven-year-old about why he likes Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” so much. Because we listen to music in the car a lot, I solicit their opinions on music often. We talk about what they like and don’t like about school and what we should do differently or keep the same. I tell them stories about being a kid. My husband tells them stories about being a kid. We tell them stories about being babies. In fact, we talk to our kids damn near constantly when we’re not engaged in another activity. So you’ll excuse me for wanting a damn break. I’m a little sick of hearing about probable life cycle of ice age mammals.

In fact, I had a conversation with my 9-year-old about the points I’m making in the last few paragraphs. He agrees that I talk to him about things all the time. He also agrees that he and his brothers have very large vocabularies, and as he said, “When we go to Target, we like, have conversations about whether aliens are real.” I read him this paragraph, he suggested some changes, and then continued playing Mario Brothers.

Hence, the kids’ table.

Not that the kids are never at the kitchen table. We do science experiments there. They eat breakfast there. They often have lunch there, and I sometimes eat with them. We play board games there. But more importantly, we make a serious point to do other things together as a family. We ride bikes. We go hiking. My husband takes the kids fishing. Hell, I sometimes play Bubble Bobble with them (we have an old school NES). We don’t need some magical nexus of family life. We are each others’.

For many families, whose kids are in a ton of activities, I get the need for family dinners. I really do. People get scattered; there’s a serious need to make a gathering place. But my kids are with me all day every day. They don’t do many traditional teams or activities, at least during the after-school hours, when they might interfere with dinner. And when they’re teens, and drawing away from us, I fully expect to change my tune.

But right now? Kids’ table it is. My husband and I want a break from parenting. We want some time to be adults before we crash out completely shortly after the kids do. Judge us all you want. Judge my reasons all you want. Maybe it wouldn’t work for your fam, and you think I’m being a braggy bitch about my kids and snotty about homeschooling. But I know that our homeschooling, our chances to be with our kids all the time: those are a privilege we enjoy. They aren’t everyone’s. Some people care more about teams and activities than we do (we’re more free range, again because we have time), and that’s a different parenting choice. Some people just need the space and time that a family dinner affords. We don’t. 

So they have a damn kids’ table. Every night. And I feel no shame.  

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Why I’m Happy We Waited To Pierce Our Daughter’s Ears

I don’t remember getting my ears pierced, because I was an infant when it happened. In fact, almost every girl I knew growing up had their ears pierced as a baby. My sister pierced my nieces’ ears when they were infants, and most of my mama friends also pierced their baby daughter’s ears. These kids are all older now, and none of them appear to be suffering some secret trauma because of it.

So, I’m not sure what held me back from piercing my daughter’s ears when she was an infant. I don’t remember having a big ethical debate with myself. Honestly, I think I just couldn’t bear to see her cry even for a few seconds. Piercing her ears just didn’t feel … necessary. Why hurt her simply to make her look cute or rush to this rite of passage for so many girls? I didn’t feel like the brief shock of pain she’d experience was worth what we’d get out of it.

My daughter is nine now, and I am really happy we made the decision not to pierce her ears. I don’t judge other parents for doing it, however. I know there are reasons to pierce ears that young—babies can’t play with the earrings and get them infected; it’s a tiny pinch quickly forgotten; it helps avoid the misgendering of bald little baby girls (except I could write a whole other article on why this ought to be irrelevant); it’s done and you don’t have to go through the trauma of doing it when they’re older. For some, it might even be a cultural tradition. I get it. Parents have their reasons.

But here’s why I am really glad I did not pierce my daughter’s ears:

Beauty standards are bullshit.

Nine years ago, I was put off by the idea of hurting my baby for beauty’s sake. But what I understood on a deeper, subconscious level, underneath the exhausted fog of new motherhood, was that puncturing holes in my infant’s ears was more than just a minor alteration of a body part to make her slightly more adorable. It was telling her, before she could even speak, that there are certain things society expects of her when it comes to how she looks.

My fear about inflicting pain upon my daughter was deeper and more visceral than a simple wish not to physically hurt her. I didn’t want to send the subliminal message that she must do any particular thing to conform to a societal expectation of beauty. She would absorb more than enough of those types of messages from all directions throughout her life. I often imagine little girls are like brightly painted targets and the rest of the world is firing arrows at them. Every arrow is yet another impossible standard, one more absurd expectation to live up to. I didn’t want to shoot the first arrow.

I wanted it to be her choice.

Somewhere around the age of 5, my daughter began admiring my pierced ears as well as those of her friends. She wondered aloud why hers weren’t pierced—she almost seemed a little annoyed with me. I told her why I hadn’t done it. I asked her, what if I’d pierced her ears and she’d turned out not to like pierced ears? Sure, she could take them out, but when you pierce ears that young, the hole never completely disappears.

I told her I wanted it to be her choice. I told her she could get her ears pierced whenever she wanted to and that we would make a special occasion out of it. She asked if it hurt, and I told her yes, but only a little and not for long. Not quite as bad as when you get a shot at the doctor.

When she finally got them pierced, it was a really, really big deal.

So, my then 5-year-old daughter decided then and there that she would get her ears pierced when she turned 8. It wasn’t something she obsessed over—it was simply something she announced would happen and afterward didn’t say much else about it. Several years passed, and, sure enough, a few weeks after she turned 8, my daughter informed me that she was ready to get her ears pierced.

“I’m 8 now, Mommy,” she said, “and I said I’d do it when I turned 8.”

We took her to the mall on a Saturday, to a little jewelry store recommended by a friend as a good place to get ears pierced, and we let her pick out several pairs of earrings—tiny studs with sparkling gems, unicorns, turtles, hearts. She was nervous but excited, but even more than that, she was proud. She knew the piercing would hurt a little, but she wanted to have those earrings, dammit, and she was willing to endure the pinch. She handled it like a champ, and we went out for ice cream afterward to celebrate.

It’s a small thing, really, whether or not a person has their ears pierced. I know my daughter probably would have been just fine if we’d pierced her ears as an infant. She does love her earrings now that she has them.

And yet I’m still so happy we waited, because the day she made that small choice about her own body was a day that I know made her feel fierce and independent. For her, it was a chosen rite of passage, one that she will never forget and will always be a source of pride.

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I Don’t Play With My Kids, And Here’s Why

Once upon a time, I entertained my kids practically every minute of their waking hours. My first was born in 2006, before social media was ubiquitous and any parenting-related topic had at least 100 articles written on it. My parenting know-how came from What To Expect books, what I remembered from childhood, and what I assumed other moms must be doing.

So my living room was play-and-learn central, complete with brightly colored alphabet foam flooring tiles and a maze of giant secondhand toys I assumed would teach my 1-year-old to read and probably also how to microwave a potato. Plus, we would do lots of moving activities to encourage gross motor skills. I may have tried baby jazzercise. Play! Learn! Stimulate! Inactivity is for suckers!

By the time my kid turned 2, he still couldn’t read (gasp!) or bake a potato, and I was utterly exhausted from being a helicopter mom. At that time, I didn’t know there was a term for what I was doing, but “helicopter” is an apt descriptor.

When my daughter came along a few years later, I was all set with trying to be perfect all the time. So, for my own mental health, I found myself veering toward a more hands-off approach to parenting.

Turns out, my kids thrive when I don’t try to schedule every moment with pre-planned learning fun. Here are the best parts of letting your kids figure out how to entertain themselves:

1. They learn to create their own fun. 

In retrospect, this is obvious. Of course, kids create their own play. What else would they do? My kids have conceived stories so elaborate that I have jotted some of them down for future development into a children’s book series. They make up their own games too, inventing rules on the fly that only they understand. They collect all the chairs, blankets, and pillows from around the house and turn their rooms into a giant blanket fort. #NoGrownupsAllowed

2. They bond with each other. 

Limiting my involvement in my kids’ play means I’m less tempted to mediate their conversations. Because of this, they interact with one another in ways I never could have predicted. They have the cutest conversations about life, love, and all things big and small, none of which ever would have been inspired by me. They know each other’s hopes and fears. I will frequently ask a question of one child, and the other will answer—they know each other that well.

3. They solve problems independently. 

I’ve overheard my kids spiral into yelling matches just a hair shy of where I really would need to intervene. But almost always, one of them takes a breath, suggests a palatable solution, and they resolve the dispute on their own. Then a few minutes later I hear them apologizing and telling each other they’re the best brother/sister in the world.

4. They read a TON. 

I’m not entertaining them, so when they run out of physical play ideas or just need a rest, reading is their go-to.

5. They explore and investigate.

Children are natural scientists—no scheduling of scientific activities required. My son used to use his magnifying glass to examine bugs and try to light leaves on fire (when I was right there). Both kids know every nook and cranny of our house, have stepped on every blade of grass in our yard, and have tipped every potted plant to see what critters live underneath.

6. They’re never bored. 

This is a big one. The biggest drawback to giving kids activity after activity to keep them entertained is that they grow dependent on others to amuse them. My kids are so used to having to come up with their own ways to have fun that they almost never tell me they’re bored. It doesn’t even occur to them, because they just don’t consider it my job. Sure, we play together sometimes, but I am not the idea provider. It’s up to them to come up with their own play.

7. They learn to clean up their own mess. 

Ah, natural consequences. Gotta love ‘em. Those room-sized forts that my kids love to build? They have to take those suckers down too, as well as any other mess they create with their brilliant ideas. Sure, they’d have to clean up any activity mess, including one I planned for them, but there’s something to be said for making a big-ass mess because your brain exploded with creativity…and then having to clean it up. It’s a metaphor for life.

So, yeah, I still love to play with my kids sometimes, especially if they ask, but as far as coming up with entertainment goes, I’m more than happy to hand over the reins. They probably have a game with imaginary horses in it, anyway.

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What I Realized When I Observed My Son With Autism At School

Today started out as a regular ol’ Thursday.  Alarm clocks ringing, bowls of cereal spilling, frantically looking for that missing homework paper that we most definitely finished late the night before, and then the silence that ensued as my last school-aged child hopped on the big yellow bus. However, today I had to change out of my jammies a little bit quicker and drop my youngest off at the sitter because our district was celebrating American Education week. Today was the day parents were invited to observe their child’s classroom.

If I’m being honest, I used to dread these days. My son is on the Autism Spectrum and while I love a peek at what goes on in school, seeing him struggle in a different environment is tougher than it is to see him struggle at home. At home, I know everything that goes on (well almost). After all, I am MOM!

Regardless, I would always go, show support, smile and sometimes cry inside. Half the time, I didn’t even know why. Probably, because it’s a million little things I’m crying for and about. Sometimes happy tears, sometimes sad tears. Mostly, what-if tears.

But I’m not reflecting to have a pity party.  I’m reflecting because today I went and I sat in the back of my son’s inclusion classroom. I smiled for 45 solid minutes.  I smiled at how he fit in, and sometimes stood out. I smiled at how he followed directions. And, I smiled when he didn’t, because he forgot to write his name on his paper (rookie mistake). I smiled at how he seems to have friends. I smiled at how he tried not to smile when he saw me walk in, but couldn’t. I smiled at how much his teachers clearly love what they do. And, man do they love what they do!

His teachers rapped about antonyms today and I mean they rapped. Yes, there were a couple of parents in the back observing, but I am certain they were not channeling their inner Biggie Smalls for us. They love my kid and his classmates and that love has sparked a love of learning in my little guy that I used to dream about.

So, in short, nothing amazing happened today. Well, the antonym rapping was pretty amazing! My kid raised his hand and forgot what he was going to say. A typical first-grade mistake from a not-so-typical kid. And that made me happy. I don’t think I’ve set the bar low. I’ve never been okay with mediocracy before, but I think I am now.

If there is anything I’ve learned in the past 7 years from being an autism mom is that average is okay. Heck, it’s wonderful! When we focus so specifically on the spectrum, and where a person may or may not fall, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. We use the word “special” a lot. Special needs, special education, special diet, special plan within the IEP, etc. But I’m done with special.

Today, I choose ordinary. And I’m proud to have gotten to a point in my life where average is not only okay, but pretty damn perfect. Obviously, every day isn’t perfectly average and full of smiles, but I will continue to look forward to ordinary days like today. Perfection is sneaky sometimes, as it can hide in a regular ol’ Thursday.

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Why We Might Want To Rethink The Phrase ‘Good Job,’ And What We Can Say Instead

Re-think The Phrase ‘Good Job’?

“Good job, Chub,” is a regular phrase in our house. Some might even say it’s overused. We say it when my son successfully goes potty and when he successfully differentiates his right foot from his left foot. We also use the term in a million other contexts that I can’t remember at the moment.

We’ve always thought we were doing the right thing by providing a generous amount of encouragement. But lately, I’ve been wondering about this phrase… should we re-think the phrase “good job”?

First, it’s important to note that we all get motivated by different things. The two main types of motivation are extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation compels you to do something out of genuine interest, like curiosity or a desire to improve yourself. For instance, if your child brings you a book to read because they enjoy storytelling or it has their favorite character, they are intrinsically motivated to read the book.

Conversely, extrinsic motivation is when you complete a task to receive an external factor, like
praise or payment. You’re using extrinsic motivation when you tell your child they can watch another hour of tv if they eat all their veggies.

Technically, there is a time and a place for both motivation triggers and no one style is better than the other. But as a society, we tend to view intrinsic motivation more favorably, especially when setting a foundation for our children. And motivation isn’t nearly as clear-cut as we make it seem. It can be hard to differentiate one motivation from the other. Some things are even a mix of both.

So what does this have to do with whether we tell our kids “good job?”

Well, as this article points out, the fear is that conditions under which we tell our children “good job” can reinforce the idea that noteworthy completion equals success; conversely, it can send the message that struggle equals bad job/unsuccessful. There’s also the concern that we are training our children to be motivated by the expectation of praise.

According to Rae Pica, a child development specialist, one of the biggest problems with the phrase is that it’s too vague. “The expression isn’t remotely informative; the children haven’t a clue about what they’ve done that’s ‘good,'” she said. “So how did that help them improve.”

This makes complete sense. Few things are as ineffective as a feedback that is too general.

Pica also notes that “good job” is often used in situations of dishonesty and children have the ability to detect this. Not to mention it’s overuse makes it less impactful.

The good news is, this doesn’t have to be an “either/or” circumstance. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t give positive feedback. If you would still like to verbally affirm your children, you can beef up its effectiveness with the following strategies. Regardless of how you feel about the phrase “good job,” we could all benefit from some additional methods of encouragement in our toolbox and here are a few suggestions:

1. Describe what you see.

As stated above, the vagueness of “good job” is problematic. You can make the phrase more impactful by describing what you see in detail.

Have you ever told your child that they look “handsome” or “beautiful” when wearing a certain outfit? Well, to some, that could leave your child feeling like they don’t look nice when they aren’t wearing nice clothes. An example of this is saying “Aw, you look so beautiful in your red dress” to your child.

The fear is your daughter (or son) will say dress equals beautiful so no dress equals not beautiful. And in a society where young girls are expected to put a ton of weight on their appearance, this can lead to long-term self-image issues and the reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

Instead, you can say: “You look happy and comfortable! What do you like about that outfit?” or better yet say “I notice you really like the outfit.”

2. Emphasize effort, not outcome.

The idea is that saying “great job putting on your clothes” could suggest that the day your child struggles longer on an outfit with more buttons and snaps, they didn’t do a good job.

If you describe what your child has done, instead of making it a judgment on the outcome, they will learn more from the experience. By saying something like, “Wow, you tried really hard to fasten all those buttons, didn’t you,” you can let your child know that the most important part is that they tried hard.

3. Don’t just comment on “successes.”

One principle I do think is fundamental is being sure to comment on wins, losses, and draws. The choice is yours on whether or not you want to be an “everyone is a winner” parent. But even if you don’t say “good job” when your child doesn’t reach the traditional measure of success, it can be helpful to comment on the process and their actions along the way.

It’s normal to want to emotionally support your child through losses, but it needs to be done in a way that is constructive and honest.

Saying something like “How are you feeling?” or “What do you wish you did differently?” are great conversation starters to encourage older kids to see setbacks as opportunities for improvement instead of failure.

Regardless of whether you find the phrase “good job” to be problematic or not, the beauty of parenting is you get the opportunity to customize the experience to fit in a way that works best for your family and your children.

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