I Let My Kids Express Their Big Emotions, But With One Major Caveat

“You’re a bad mom! I HATE YOU!”

My driver’s seat bulged into my spine from the impact of my 9-year-old’s foot. Did it sting a little when she told me she hated me? Honestly, no, it didn’t. I know she doesn’t hate me. I know it now and I knew it when she said it. She was furious because she’d come with me and her 13-year-old brother to his annual well visit and the doctor had suggested that as long as both kids were in the office, they may as well both get their flu shot. Mari had thought she’d get to sit in the corner reading her book but instead ended up having to get stuck in the arm. She felt blindsided and betrayed, and she totally, completely, all-the-way-down-to-tantrum-town, lost every last bit of her chill.

I’ve read a lot about how important it is for us to allow kids to express their big emotions. I’ve even written in favor of it. So, when my daughter first started to lose it, I acknowledged how upset she was without shaming her or diminishing her feelings. She was reasonably upset, and the tears didn’t surprise me. Getting a surprise shot just kinda sucks. But when, even after the shot was over and done with, her crying continued to escalate, I tried to help her calm down. She wasn’t having it. It was during the car ride home that she kicked my seat and told me she hated me.

I’d had enough. I pulled the car over and turned around so I could look at her. “Enough. The shot is over and done with. You are no longer crying because you’re surprised and scared. At this point, you’re raging out of pure anger, and you’re making me and your brother miserable with your screaming and crying. If you can’t calm yourself down in the next couple of minutes, you’re grounded.”

She managed to settle herself down, and later that night we reconnected so we could talk more about why her reaction wasn’t okay and what to do differently next time.

Because, even though I am pro let-kids-express-their-feelings, I am very much anti let-kids-ruin-everyone’s-day-with-their-feelings. I’ve had this rule for as long as I’ve been a parent, and both kids know it. You’re allowed to feel all the things you need to feel, but you don’t get to totally annihilate the peace of everyone else in your environment. You can be angry, but if you scream and bang on the kitchen table, I’m sending you to your room to finish your outburst. And if the outburst in your room is so loud that it’s ringing through the house and stressing everyone else out, I’m going to shut that shit down too. Expressing our emotions is a skill we all must learn. But so is managing them and expressing them appropriately in a way that doesn’t infringe on other people’s well-being.

So much of the advice given to parents these days is to let children express whatever they’re feeling, to simply listen to them, never tell them to stop crying. (Saying “never” about just about anything to do with parenting is kind of ridiculous anyway, but that’s a whole other essay.) I agree that we should encourage kids to express how they feel, but we need to bring some nuance to this discussion. Children’s emotions and how they express them aren’t black and white, so the way we respond to those emotions shouldn’t be either. Anyone with a toddler and older knows kids are perfectly capable of using their emotions to manipulate their environment, to get what they want, or simply to escalate and vent their own white-hot fury.

I don’t want to send the message to my kids that their feelings are more important than the feelings of everyone else in the room. Whether we’re at home with just family around or out at a restaurant surrounded by strangers, I will not allow my kid’s emotional outburst to escalate to the point that it disturbs others. My son will often get so frustrated with homework that he’ll scream or slam his calculator on the table. Not okay. You can be frustrated, kid, but I’m over here trying to cook a nice pot of chicken tortilla soup and you’re harshing my mellow. Take a deep breath, walk away for a minute, ask for help, call a friend. You have plenty of available options for managing your frustration that don’t involve shitting all over my chill environment.

Explaining appropriate expressions for our feelings is just as important as giving our kids space to express their emotions. So I talk a lot with my kids about how to express or control frustration, anger, and fear. As adults, we are often required to tamp down intense feelings, to find a healthy outlet for them as opposed to, say, fighting a random stranger in an intersection because they cut you off in traffic. (I mean, we’ve all wanted to, haven’t we?)

So, after my daughter’s outburst about her flu shot, we talked about how next time she can ask to have a moment to collect herself and take some deep breaths until she can accept the situation. No one likes shots. We all sometimes have to do things we don’t like — it’s part of being human. So we have to have tools to help us settle into acceptance.

We also talked about how sometimes if you let your anger spiral out of control, you might say things you don’t really mean. I knew she didn’t mean it when she said she hated me, but one day she might say something she doesn’t mean and the person she says it to may not realize she doesn’t mean it. Sometimes you can’t take back hateful words. She said again and again how sorry she was and told me the next day that she’d had trouble falling asleep that night because she felt so guilty for saying she hated me, that she never ever wanted to say those words to me again. I told her that her apology was obviously sincere and I wholeheartedly accepted it.

I know that when it comes to managing big emotions, both of my kids are works in progress. Hell, I’m a work in progress. We all are. But I just want to make sure I don’t send my kids out into the world thinking that their emotions are always more important than everyone else’s right to a reasonably calm environment.

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Instead Of Shutting Your Kid Down, Try The ‘What’s Your Plan?’ Approach

Like many parents, I can see an accident happening several minutes before it actually happens. My daughter is swinging dangerously close to my fresh cup of hot coffee with her blanket cape. My son is riding his bike on the sidewalk but looking up at the sky rather than at the sidewalk in front of him. My daughter is pulling a chair up to the cabinet preparing to climb up, but I can see one of the legs has gone into a crack in the tile, making the chair wobbly. My son is talking and gesticulating wildly at the dinner table, his cup full of milk an inch from the table’s edge.

I know how all these scenarios are going to end. It has even been a running joke in my family that I’ll say, “Watch out, you are about to…” and then the thing I’m about to say will happen happens before I can even get a chance to get all the words out of my mouth. So my kids think I have the ability to predict the future. They take it semi-seriously actually, and will usually stop whatever they’re doing once I express a concern.

But sometimes I wonder if I am too overprotective. I do keep my distance when they’re trying something new, at least, but it’s hard to just sit there and keep my mouth shut when I know someone’s about to get hurt or spill something. But I worry that my intervening might make them dependent upon my foresight rather than their own.

I came across something on Facebook the other day that got me thinking about this again. The suggestion was that, rather than choosing the extreme of either pointing out what’s about to go wrong or zipping your mouth shut and letting the thing happen, you can simply ask, “What’s your plan?”

Love this via The Gentle Mamma

Posted by Wilder Child on Monday, August 26, 2019

It’s kind of perfect. This approach allows parents to bring attention to the fact that perhaps the current trajectory of the situation is not the most desirable one, while giving the child a chance to evaluate the situation for themselves. It might be that they are perfectly in control and can prove as much to you. Or it might be that they really are out of control and need to check themselves, and this gives them that opportunity. Either way, asking a child “What’s your plan?” gives them the chance to exercise their autonomy and try out their planning skills to determine what they should do next.

I can see this working for me in just about all the scenarios I listed above, and then some. With my daughter looking to gain access to a higher cabinet, asking her what her plan is could get her to carefully assess the stability of the chair before climbing on it.

If my son is procrastinating with getting his homework done, I don’t have to nag him and tell him what I think is going to happen (that he won’t finish in time; that he’ll turn it in late; that he’ll get a bad grade). I can simply ask him what his plan is. Because he’s old enough to know the outcome of procrastination — me telling him all the potential outcomes is just nagging. “What’s your plan for homework?” allows him to consider whether he’s willing to risk turning that homework in late without me having to say as much. It puts him in charge of his own destiny.

In this age of helicopter parenting — or worse, lawnmower parenting — asking “What’s your plan?” is the antidote to over-involvement parents need. Although I have to be honest, I may never be able to stop myself from screeching at my kid to get away from my hot coffee — I’ve learned this lesson many times over that if I allow any excited behavior within a 10 foot radius of my coffee, the coffee is definitely going to get spilled. I guess that’s my plan for making sure I don’t end up losing my shit at my kids.

Thomas Barwick/Getty

But I can apply “What’s your plan?” to just about all situations where I think my kids might be heading in a direction where things won’t end well. This gives them a little bit of wiggle room to show me what their plan is. The cool thing is, questioning the plan can go in a positive direction whether your kid has a plan or not. If they really haven’t thought through the potential outcomes of whatever it is they’ve gotten themselves into, now they have been prompted to do that. But, if they have, now you get to hear the creative idea they had all along that you didn’t know about.

And, the likelihood is, just like that post I read on Facebook, our kids will probably surprise us more often than not. Just because they look like they’re doing something foolish, doesn’t mean they are. Or… it doesn’t mean they haven’t considered the potential fallout. Maybe they are perfectly aware of the potential consequences and want to do the foolish thing anyway. Maybe the failure is worth it to them. And maybe sometimes it’s our job as parents to let them learn in their own way, even when we’re sure we already know the outcome.

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Many Tweens Still Need A Booster When Riding In The Car

Yup, I’m that parent—the one who is an annoying pain in the ass when it comes to car seat safety. I’ve spent a ridiculous number of hours researching car seat safety, and I follow all the recommendations as precisely as possible.

Back in the day, I kept my babies rear-facing as long as either of us could stand it (the current recommendation is to keep kids rear facing at least till two years old, and as long as possible thereafter). I never, ever let someone take my baby out of their car seat when we were in traffic, even if my baby was hollering, and even if a grandparent guaranteed it would be fine “just this once.” And I’m one of those people who cringes if I see a picture of a kid whose chest clip is too high or too low—if I see it in person, I’ll probably mention it to you.

It’s not because I’m an asshole. It’s because I’ve read the statistics about the dangers of improper car seat use and I don’t think it makes any sense to take any chances with this stuff. After all, car seat deaths are a leading cause of death among kids 12 and under. According to the CDC, 657 kids age 12 and under died in car crashes in 2017—of those kids, 35% were not properly buckled up.

Note that it says 12 and under here. So we are not just talking about car seat safety as it pertains to babies and toddlers. By now, most of us know it’s wrong to skimp out on car seats when it comes to infants. And most of us are aware of how important it is for toddlers and preschoolers to be properly strapped in.

But I can’t tell you the number of older kids, tweens, and even young teens I see who are not following the guidelines and potentially putting their lives at risk.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a 7- or 8-year-old riding without a booster. Or a still-too-small 9-, 10-, 11-, or 12-year-old riding without one. Or the number of older kids and pre-teens riding shotgun in their parents’ cars.

Now wait a minute, you might be asking. What kid past the age of 10 is supposed to be in a booster? And come on, can’t we parents decide for ourselves when our kids should join us in the front seat?

Well, I’m glad you asked! I seriously am. Because learning the proper guidelines for tween and teen car seat safety could just save your kid’s life.

So here’s the deal on both of those issues:

Boosters

Most kids aren’t ready to move out of a booster until they are about 10-12 years old. But it’s not about age exactly. It’s about height, how an adult seat belt fits your kid, and your kid’s ability to sit still and be mature for the duration of the ride.

Here are the guidelines for when it’s appropriate to ditch the booster seat, according to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP):

– All kids under 4 feet 9 inches should be in a booster.

– When using an adult seat belt, the shoulder belt should lie “across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat.”

– The lap belt portion of the seat belt should sit across your child’s upper tights, not their abdomen.

– Your child should be able to sit all the way back, with their butt and back against the back seat. In this position, their knees should be able to bend over the edge of the seat easily.

– Your child should be able to stay properly positioned with the seat belt on, without slouching, squirming around, or moving the seat belt all over the place for the entire ride.

– Most kids won’t meet these requirements till age 10 or 11, and often not until 12.

Riding In The Front Seat

Most of us think of our tweens and teens riding shotgun as a rite of passage—and it is! But it should be based on car seat safety guidelines rather than our own personal idea of when our child is “ready.” And it certainly should not be based on any pressure our kid feels to be “cool.”

– The CDC recommends waiting until at least 12 years old to allow your child to ride in the front seat; the AAP says you should wait until your child is at least 13 years old.

– Of course, it’s also about whether they have graduated out of boosters yet (which may be as late as 12 or more, depending on the size of your kid), and also whether they can maturely wear their adult belts.

Listen, I know none of this is fun at all, especially with older kids who are dealing with peer pressure, who might encounter other parents who do things differently, and who may be bratty and stubborn AF.

But there’s no “just this once” when it comes to car seat safety, because the truth is, you never know when an accident might happen. You never know what kind of bad weather you might suddenly encounter, what driving mistakes you might unintentionally make, what distractions you might be faced with—not to mention the many erratic, unsafe drivers we all share the road with daily.

There is just no possible reason or excuse to be lax about any of this, even if you end up being the “no fun” parent who no one wants to carpool with. These are our precious children, after all. And every single time you put your child in a car without proper restraints, you are potentially risking their life, no matter how old they are.

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I’m In My 50s But I’m Not Living The ‘Empty Nest’ Lifestyle

Being a mother of five-year-old twin boys at the age of 53 is a whole other level of tired. Like 4th-circle-of-eternal-boulder-pushing-with-Sisyphus-riding-piggy-back tired.

Some days I just don’t know where I’m going to get the energy.

The boys’ constant demand for attention is so… demanding. The endless bickering, boundless messes, bottomless hunger… it all saps my energy.

While they themselves are unending bands of the stuff, bouncing and careening over any and all semblance of peace and order. And Legos and PlayDoh. And happy meal toys and wrappers. And the last remaining vestiges of nerves that make up my life.

I wonder… can I steal some of that energy? Harness it for the stamina I need to entertain these green goblins of go-gettedness for the next fourteen hours? The next 15 years? Because I seem to have zero reserves of go-gettedness left. Zilch.

I don’t recall being anywhere near this kind of tired when my girls where little. But then again, I wasn’t anywhere near this kind of age when my girls were little. I was a young mom to young kids. Now I’m a — well, let’s just say an older mom to young kids.

Which makes my life way more than a wee-bit more exhausting. I would swear I’m anemic, but they’ve tested me for that.

Mercy. Most days I beg for mercy. And mercifully, most days, there’s the swimming pool.

Swimming is their favorite right now. They love to splash in the coolness, to feel the ripples across their shoulders, to dive beneath the surface and hear their warbling words come out in whomps that burst in bubbles above their drifting curls.

So I take them to the pool. For them — and for me. It gives them play. And it gives me peace.

It’s the easiest part of my day right now. Demands diminish in the calm, soft ripples of silver and blue. The boys splash and play like sweet little sprites, and I’m granted a blessed disconnect from the harshness of my real — and really hard — world. Until…

My goggles are slipping! I’m hungry! My noodle is missing! There’s a frog in the pool! Parker won’t talk to me! Tate broke my head! I’m h-u-u-ungr-r-r-ry!!! 

The whines cut the calm like a chainsaw, severing it into the bloody little jagged pieces of pandemonium that is my life.

And it dawns on me. I’m not anemic. I’m exsanguinated. There’s nothing left to bleed.

I saw a story the other day from the Wall Street Journal celebrating a slew of women in their fifties, empty-nesters with newfound freedom to fly the coop and reinvent themselves.

One woman picked up and moved to the crater of a volcano. Another biked across the United States in a peace sign pattern. A third went snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands. None, though, said, “Hey, I’ll raise a second set of kids.” None.

Many women I know commented on the article, saying they’d had their children early, and now they were living their best lives.

Well… I had my children early. And I had my children late. My nest is ragged and worn, with a whole lotta years left to go.

Perhaps there’s a reason God made sure most women don’t have babies after 40, much less 48.

And now, in my summer of 53, with school about to begin again, and Sisyphus and his boulder on my back, and my 5-year-old twins in my nest, and me on my own for the next six months while my husband resumes his football duties — I refuse to believe I can’t still reinvent myself. In my fifties. With a far-from-empty nest.

I will work even harder to make this writing dream of mine come true.

I will continue to carve out words from the smallest slivers of time. I will keep stringing stolen seconds into sentences. I will keep climbing the steep and thorny path of progress while keeping my nestlings as content as two five-year-old boys can possibly be. Which isn’t very. And not often.

But I will not give in. Because inside the exhaustion of it all, there is also inspiration. And there is also breathtaking beauty.

This morning, my little goblins came creeping into my bedroom at Seven-Zero-Zero, as my oldest son says. (They are NOT allowed to leave their rooms until that six-five-nine has flipped. And they waste nary a second once it has.)

For a minute, I so wanted to bark at them to go back where they came from and just let mama sleep.

But then, they are where they came from… curled up on my body like fiddlehead ferns, tentacles tracing my cheek, lips kissing my eyelids, chattering away like baby birds about their daddy and the swimming pool and the desperate need to water the garden before it rains. We have to GET UP… NOW. And how could I be mad at that?

They are where they came from, and they are where they belong. For this season. And for always.

And yes, there’s a reason God made sure most women don’t have babies at fifty. But you know what? I’m not most women.

I can raise these boys with the grace and the grit they deserve. With the same grace and grit I raised my girls with. I will. They deserve no less.

And I can also write my memoirs and my musings and murder my little darlings (it’s a writing metaphor, please do not be alarmed…) with the grace and the grit that I deserve, too. I can and I will.

Because I’m not most women.

I had my children early, and I had my children late. My family is beautiful and messy and more-than-I-can-handle most Mondays and a whole lot of other days, too. But still… I am absolutely living my best life and reinventing myself, too.

And while I’m not swimming with turtles off a Darwinian desert isle, it is still survival of the fittest in all its glory. It’s all fight and all flight. And while most days I feel I’ve been exsanguinated, I’m not dead yet.

Have Mercy!

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No One Tells You That You’ll Miss Your Child Before They Grow Up

I look into my daughter’s sweet face, and it’s strange, but I miss her already. I miss her young self and these years where she is still my little girl. Where she still thinks I am someone to adore and spend most of her time with.

I know that we are hurtling towards the teenage years when emotions and angst start to rule her mind and I have already started to miss her, and I wonder…

I wonder how long she will still climb into bed with me in the mornings for a snuggle before she has to get up to get ready for school.

I wonder how long before she will no longer naturally slip her hand into mine when we are walking through a crowded place.

I wonder how long until she stops thinking I’m one of the most important people in her little universe.

I wonder how long before she stops thinking that my corny jokes are hilarious.

I wonder how long before she starts to get exasperated over everything I say or suggest.

I wonder how long before her friends’ opinions start to outweigh mine.

I wonder when she will no longer run from whichever corner of the house she is at when I arrive home for the day.

I wonder how long before she stops getting comfort from me playing with her hair while she rests her head in my lap.

I wonder when I’ll stop getting hugs before leaving the house, even if I’m just quickly running to the grocery store.

I wonder when the promise of a hot chocolate will stop being enough to get her to do extra chores for me on the weekend.

I wonder how long before going out with her friends is more appetizing to her than staying home and watching shows with her Mama on a Friday night.

I wonder how long before she stops needing me so much. Needing help brushing the stubborn tangle out of her hair, needing help getting her cheerleading uniform on properly, needing help with figuring out her math homework.

I wonder how long before I’m not one of the first people she runs to when something great happens and the first person she turns to when she’s hurt and needs some comfort.

I wonder how long before she starts pulling away from my hugs (temporarily I hope, but I know that it might come).

I wonder how long before she doesn’t want me to come tuck her in at night and say bedtime prayers with her.

I wonder how long before she doesn’t beg me to volunteer for the school trip so that we can spend that extra time together on a school day.

I wonder how long before she doesn’t really care if I come to the class play or the holiday concert (and just a head’s up kiddo, I’m going to come anyways).

I wonder how long before she doesn’t curl up right beside me on the great big couch. There’s lots of space but she always wants to be squished right up against me and I wonder how long I will get to have that.

There are so many “I wonders” as I watch my girl grow up. It’s such a hard and beautiful process to watch her sprout her wings and grow up and away from me in her independence. And right now, it makes me sad. It makes me want to grab a hold of this time right now with both hands and try to freeze-frame it. It makes me want to press pause and soak it all in and to emblazon these memories on my brain.

Don’t get me wrong, I know she’ll still love me as a teen, and as an adult, but it will feel different. It will be different. And I’m not ready for the change. The good part is that it will not happen overnight. It will be gradual and while we go through these years, I will cherish each of these things that she still does with me that I love. As they slowly drift away one by one, I’m sure I will find new and still beautiful ways to relate to my girl. New ways to connect with my teen or my adult child.

But I’m sure I will still be sad when one day she doesn’t climb in bed for morning cuddles anymore.

We are Scary Mommies, millions of unique women, united by motherhood. We are scary, and we are proud. But Scary Mommies are more than “just” mothers; we are partners (and ex-partners,) daughters, sisters, friends… and we need a space to talk about things other than the kids. So check out our Scary Mommy It’s Personal Facebook page. And if your kids are out of diapers and daycare, our Scary Mommy Tweens & Teens Facebook page is here to help parents survive the tween and teen years (aka, the scariest of them all.)

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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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