I Used To Write My Kids Little Notes — And I Miss It

I wish that young-mom me had listened more carefully to the wisdom of aunts, cousins, and grandmas. “You’ll miss this one day,” they said. “All of it. Even the things you didn’t realize were things.”

As my not-so-tiny-anymore kids age at what seems like lightning speed, I am starting to feel the absence of them in tiny flashes. No more LEGO injuries, fewer toys to put away, quieter mornings. All good things, but with that calm and quiet also comes an odd sense of loss.

Before I actually became a mother, I envisioned I would write letters to each of my kids once a month (or at the very least once a year) and that I would show them the letters when they were old enough. It would be such a special moment and forever treasure.

Somehow, though, in the midst of running through life, writing hundreds of resumes for clients in between carpools, doctors’ appointments, practices, games, and dance recitals, it just never really materialized.

During my pregnancies, I assumed that I would create beautiful baby books documenting all my kids’ milestones in books that they would treasure like I did the one my mom created for me. I picked out beautiful books and brought them to the hospital to get their newborn prints.

My daughter’s baby book was in great shape until about month 16, when my son joined the party. At that point, taking a shower became a small victory and leaving the house was a full-on miracle. Baby books were no longer even in the realm of possibilities. Spoiler alert: my son’s book has tiny finger and footprints and the rest of his milestones are saved in iPhone notes and on an old Blackberry I keep in my junk drawer.

Somehow, writing lunchbox notes became my thing. From the first day of preschool, before my kids could read, I started writing little notes on scrap paper with hearts, stars, and lots of XOXOs.

When my kids were really little, I wondered if they even noticed. Often, my notes, which typically read “I love you. Love, Mommy XOXO” came home wet, crumpled, or in the same pocket I had lovingly folded and placed them into that morning.

I Wish I'd Paid More Attention To The Tiny Moments of Childhood Before They Were Gone
Courtesy of Rebecca Henninger

One day, I came into my office (downstairs and laundry-room adjacent of course) to find a perfect post-it in my daughter’s chubby toddler writing: “I love Mommy love Alaina.”

Little love notes started popping up around the house and I kept writing mine to them, confident that my kids would always remember notes from mommy and would, as a result, write them for their kids. Notes started to build up in outside pockets, saved for weeks at a time and then moved to other special places.

My notes began to be little pep talks on days with big projects or exciting events, stand-ins for my presence on field trips when I wasn’t a class mom, or an invisible kiss on the cheek after a long morning of standardized testing.

Like most things in childhood, I wish I had been more aware of how finite it was. As moms, we move so quickly through the days and, just like that, things that we never contemplated having an end are over. Without notice, the opportunity to savor that very last one slips away.

Similar to the last time my son napped in my lap and the last time my daughter wanted me to lay with her at bedtime, I never thought about it being something I would miss. In fact, many mornings I cursed the note and was tempted to just reuse yesterdays, just like many days I would silently stress about the things I could get done if I didn’t have a sleeping baby on me.

On an otherwise uneventful Thursday, my daughter dropped the bomb. I could stop writing notes—if I wanted. Casually, she said, “Mommy, you don’t have to write notes to me anymore if you don’t want to.”

It wasn’t a big deal to her, but I could see (and hear) the meaning behind it. “Mommy, I’m a little too old (and way too cool) for notes in my lunchbox. My friends see them, and I feel embarrassed.”

Foreshadowing many more moments to come I’m sure, this was a window into a future of dropping at the corner, far enough away from the crowd of friends, and being way less fun, funny, or needed that I used to be.

I hope I can hold on to more of these lasts, that I can be slightly more present in the moment and more consciously grateful for the whispered “I love you,” the tiny forehead kisses, or those sweet, not-so-chubby-anymore fingers that almost imperceptibly slip into mine when no one is looking.

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The Best Kids YouTube Channels? We’re Reviewing ‘Unspeakable’

Searching for videos on Youtube for kids? Never fear, we are here with a mom YouTube review of the kids YouTube channels your kids are obsessively watching, so you don’t have to watch it too. You’re welcome. Today’s channel – Unspeakable.

Scary Mommy TV is your official roadmap to determining which YouTube channels are appropriate for your kids by rating cursing, mature messages, product pushing and, of course, how hard it is on parents’ ears.

Nathan Johnson Graham, a 22 year old, is Unspeakable. This YouTube Channel has insane challenges and crazy pranks and should come with a warning that says, “Hey kid! You cannot do any of the shit he does!”

The YouTube channel Unspeakable acts out the dreams of our little ones by filling a living room with packing peanuts, snow and even sand. I don’t want to know who cleans these messes up, but it better not be a mom!

There is no cursing. There is no violence. There is no mature content. It’s safe for the kids – IF they don’t try to copy these crazy stunts.

The sound level was ok for most of it. They yelled, sure, but it was bearable.

Were there lessons learned? No. Were there good messages? No. Were there three silly guys without a care in the world? Hell yes.

Do you want your kid watching other people have fun? Normally, I’d say no. But when a mess is involved, I’d say yes. And apparently, the packing peanuts? Recyclable and biodegradable.

For more, check out our reviews on FGTeeV and Collins Key. Until then, happy watching!

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Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much For Brain Development

If your five-year-old is anything like mine, he or she has made you question something you thought you knew. For instance, whenever we go someplace, my kids ask me, “Are you going the right way?” They know I get lost often, and they think they’re going to tell me the way to go. They sometimes think they know everything — and while we know they absolutely do not, this age is actually the best time to teach them as much “everything” as we can. Because as the five-year-olds that they are, their brain development matters immensely right now.

There are critical periods in a child’s development which happen in spurts; during these periods, the connections between brain cells double, giving our children between the ages of 2-7 the ability to learn faster than any other period in life. Our kids’ brain development matters immensely both before and after that span, of course, but it’s especially important in those years between 2-7.

It’s during these critical years that we can help our kids develop a growth mindset: the belief that their abilities can improve over time and with effort, rather then the black-and-white belief that they’re either good at something or they’re not. This kind of mindset can help them for the rest of their lives. To help foster a growth mindset, we can praise the process instead of the result — telling them we appreciate the way they worked to solve the problem or learn the skill, whether the outcome was success or failure. We can let them know that failure isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but something we can learn from that can help us improve.

The social and emotional health of our children, especially during the age we’re living in, is also important. In addition to promoting a strong growth mindset, we must also introduce our kids to a wide range of possibilities no matter their gender or interests. Since kids’ brains are so malleable during these years, allowing them to “sample” all kinds of different experiences with music, art, math, sports, and language will lay a broad foundation that can be narrowed down in later years.

And while we’re all at home these days, it’s a great time to let them discover. My daughters, who just turned five years old, are chemists scooping cups upon cups of flour and mixing it with any liquid they can find while making a complete mess in my kitchen. By night, they are coloring and enjoying quiet time with their books. The pandemic has practically given them free rein of my kitchen and the ability to make a mess any time of day, which ultimately allows me to get shit done — and helps develops their brains, to boot!

Young girl looking in microscope
MoMo Productions/Getty

When my girls turned five, along with their gifts, they received a calendar of daily chores and a mason jar with their names on it. They also received a little bit of a lecture about the importance of chores and the importance of saving money. For each day they complete their chore, they receive a quarter to put into their save jars. This is also important for their brain development, as they are learning to be helpful to their family members and that everyone has a role to play in our home. When their chores are not finished, we talk about what happened and how their actions may have hurt our family in some way, like forgetting to give everyone a fork at dinner as they set the table. Ages 2-7 are a prime time to develop emotional intelligence, and chores (and talking about them) help them hone those important interpersonal skills like teamwork and empathy.

In her newsletter Confident Parents, Confident Kids, social and emotional learning expert Jennifer Miller shares plenty of tips and tools to strengthen our kids’ social and emotional health during this all-important stage of brain development. Whether it’s at the dinner table, or in the car driving to the grocery store, or in the grocery store itself, every bit of what we are teaching our kids gives them the opportunity to grow as little beings. 

Recently, my daughter asked me to sign her up for Chinese lessons so she can speak to her bestie in Mandarin. Who am I to hold this little girl back from learning Chinese? So, I’ll look for a Chinese tutor — but not because I want to dole out money to simply make my kid happy (though that’s definitely part of it). I want to foster her love for learning, her desire to want to speak with her friend in her native language. And I want to show my daughter that she can try anything (within reason) … right now, while her brain is the most receptive it will ever be.

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YouTube For Kids: We Watched FGTeeV and We Have Thoughts

Are your kids watching safe content on YouTube?  Whether it’s FGTeeV, Collins Key or Unspeakable, we are exploring kids YouTube channels and reviewing the ones your kids are obsessively watching so you don’t have to watch it too. You’re welcome. Today we’re reviewing FGTeeV!

Scary Mommy TV is your official roadmap to determining which YouTube channels are appropriate for your kids by rating cursing, mature messages, product pushing and, of course, how hard it is on parents’ ears.  Subscribe to Scary Mommy TV so you don’t miss an episode. 

You’ve heard of FGTeeV. If you haven’t, tell us your secret because I can hear it from a mile away in my house! FGTeeV is the gaming channel of the very famous youtube family, Funnel Vision – there’s funnel dad, funnel mom, Lexie, Mike, Shawn and Chase. Funnel Dad is the star of the show. He scores serious dad points with the kid viewers with his silly humor, gaming and funny rap songs that he writes and performs with the kids. 

Okay, so what what do we think of the FGTeeV YouTube channel. Is there cursing? No. You’re safe there. The worst that comes out of this channel are poop and fart jokes.  Is there mature messaging? Absolutely not. In fact, if anything it’s very immature messaging. Is there product pushing? The family does showcase birthday gifts, family vacays, new video games and lots of candy eating. And now for the noise factor. Get some ear plugs. Funnel Dad is loud and can scream at high pitched levels that will both shock and impress you. The noise level is pretty intense. 

If you thought this review was helpful, subscribe to our channel to get our upcoming reviews on Collins Key, Unspeakable and more YouTube Channels your kids love. Have a channel you want us to review? Let us know by leaving a comment on our youtube video. 

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My Daughter Is An Emotional Martyr And I’m Concerned

My daughter is what I call an emotional martyr. She sacrifices her own feelings, her own wants, to make other people happy or to avoid conflict. Granted, she doesn’t do this all the time. If we’re trying to decide where to go to eat, and she wants pasta and everybody else wants wings, we will probably end up at Olive Garden.

But her assertiveness ends with her love of carbs. Her willingness to subvert her own wants and needs shows up most in her interactions with her older brother. He has ADHD, and, because of his impulsivity, he’s often reprimanded. If we’re running late because he’s dragging his feet, if he forgets to do chores or doesn’t complete them the way they’re supposed to be completed, if the kids get in a fight, somehow my daughter always ends up being the one apologizing. She hears me yelling or lecturing, becomes anxious, and makes excuses for him or tries to take the blame onto herself. She’ll say we’re running late because of something she was doing, she was going too slow, she couldn’t find her shoes — even when it’s not true.

And sometimes when the kids have a list of chores, they’ll announce to me that they have finished, and I’ll come to check over their work, like I always do. One time recently I lavished praise on them because they’d done such a good job completing their chores. Even the family room had been set up as if we had company coming over, the blankets folded, the pillows in place, the MP3 remotes charging in their docks. I hadn’t even asked them to do those things. And when I checked under my son’s desk in his room, which is usually a mess of dirty socks and guitar picks and food wrappers, I discovered it was perfectly clean — a first. I gave my son a huge hug because I was so proud of him.

But a couple of days later, it somehow came out that my daughter had been the one to clean underneath my son’s desk. She was worried he would get in trouble if it wasn’t clean, and she saw he wasn’t doing it, so she did it for him. She’d also cleaned the living room by herself. In fact, she had done most of the work for my son because she was worried he would get in trouble. He did clean the bathroom by himself, which my daughter hates doing, but it was clear to me she’d done way more than half the chores.

I had to have a long talk with both of them, with my daughter about not doing other people’s work for them, and with my son about how awful it is to take advantage of his sister that way. I grounded him for a day over it and gave him extra chores to do on his own. But then, of course, my daughter felt guilty. I feel like I can’t win.

Girl covering face with hands
PhotoAlto/Anne-Sophie Bost/Getty

My daughter’s emotional martyrdom goes beyond that of a sister sticking up for her brother. I’ve witnessed her doing this in other environments too. If we’re trying to decide what game to play for a family game night, she often gives up what she wants to avoid conflict. She has told me stories about how she avoids conflict on the playground too. Her friends will be trying to decide what to play and she abdicates to avoid confrontation. If an argument breaks out, my daughter will often give up what she wants to keep the peace, and she’ll try to smooth over any disagreements within the group. I’ve witnessed this happen a few times — I see the panic in her eyes, the tension in her shoulders. She really doesn’t want to witness conflict, much less be a part of it. She just wants everybody to be happy. Which wouldn’t be so awful if she didn’t subvert her own wishes in order to make that happen.

Her behavior tips just past the point of people pleasing. I wouldn’t want her to be a people pleaser either, but this propensity she has to give up what she wants, or even to take blame when she shouldn’t, worries me. In a culture where women still aren’t quite seen as equals, where we’re still told we look prettier when we smile, where we’re seen as aggressive if we speak directly, where a wage gap still exists, where women so frequently carry the bulk of the emotional labor in their families, I want my daughter to let go of this inclination she has to avoid conflict. Or at least, to channel it in a way that doesn’t put her own needs last.

But how do you convince a kid not to take the blame when that’s her knee-jerk reaction? I try to build her up as much as I can, to make it clear that her wants and needs are as important as anyone else’s. I tell her not to apologize when she hasn’t done anything wrong. When I see her being quiet, I ask her to speak up, assert herself, make her voice heard. I’ve bought her books about strong women, and I try to model what strong looks like, even though I worry her anxiety over confrontation was inherited directly from me. I’ve struggled with avoiding conflict for much of my life, and my anxiety still shoots through the roof anytime I think I’m going to have to face confrontation.

I don’t want this for my daughter. I want her to stand up for what she wants and what she believes in. I don’t want her to apologize when she hasn’t done anything wrong. I don’t want her to smile just because it makes other people more comfortable. I don’t want her to take on the emotional burdens of others simply to keep the peace.

I do see her starting to absorb these lessons. I see her showing strength in little ways, when she feels safe enough to do so. I’m trying to be stronger and more assertive, too. I suppose the two of us will just have to grow together.

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My First Grader Was Diagnosed With Dyslexia

About this time two years ago, my sweet six-year-old son decided he wanted to hand-make Valentine’s cards for his first grade classmates. I was surprised and pleased that he passed up the lure of all the commercial cards, so we got some construction paper and got crafty.

I gave him a printed list of his class roster and he dutifully copied their names onto the cards in his oversized handwriting. He worked so hard on each one.

I volunteered to help with the class party and when it came time to distribute the cards, the kids zoomed around the room in excitement—but not my son. He tugged on my shirt and when I leaned down to him, he quietly said: “Mom, can you help me pass out my cards?”

“You can do it yourself, buddy! Everyone else is,” I replied.

He shook his head “no,” and said: “I can’t, Mom. I don’t know how to read their names.”

It hit me in that moment just how much my son was struggling to learn to read, and just how helpless I felt to do anything about it. I had to hold back tears.

My son is exceptionally bright. At the end of a year in public pre-K, he ranked in the 99th percentile on the screener for our school district’s gifted program.

I was so excited for him to start elementary school. I had loved school as a kid. Learning came easy for me, and I was certain it would for him too.

When he struggled to learn “sight words” in kindergarten, I was surprised. I had been reading to him every day since he was born—literally. He loved books. I was confident we had done everything necessary for him to be “ready to read,” as they say.

family posing for photo in front of mountains
Courtesy of Janel Lacy

So I was beyond frustrated that when I started having meetings with school administrators about what could be done to help him, the conversation always turned to what we were doing to support him at home.

It took every ounce of self-restraint and decorum in me not to scream: “We’ve done it all! Stop putting the blame on me and teach my kid how to read!”

I went outside our school district for help. We talked to our pediatrician. She gave us a referral to a specialist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital here in Nashville, and we finally got an answer: My son has dyslexia, along with about one in every five kids.

The prescription of sorts from the Vanderbilt physician was structured literacy, which is systematic phonics instruction. Repeated exposure to words, like the daily reading we did together as a family, wasn’t enough; my son needed to be explicitly taught how to connect letters and groups of letters to the sounds in our spoken language.

Before I knew about structured literacy, I can remember practicing his reading with him and coming upon a word that didn’t seem to follow the rules of basic letter sounds. I had no way to explain it. I just thought some words don’t follow the rules. But in reality, I just didn’t know all the rules.

As my son’s reading skills and confidence began to grow, I started to question—why aren’t we teaching all kids systematic phonics? After all, our written language is just a code for spoken sounds, and how can kids “decipher the code” if they’re not taught?

After researching on my own, I came to learn about the science of reading, how our brains associate letters with sounds and that statistically about 40 percent of kids do learn to “decode” on their own. But that means 60 percent don’t, including kids like my son who struggle the most.

As I have reflected on this fact, I believe it’s no coincidence that about 65 percent of kids in the United States are not proficient in reading, based on the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. The same percentages bear out here in Tennessee where I live.

For the majority of kids who aren’t able to pick up the skill of reading through osmosis, the rest of their education is hampered as a result. Their very potential in life is hampered. This is a national crisis.

This is not the fault of parents. It’s not the fault of teachers either. It’s our systems at large that need to change—from the colleges of education that prepare our teachers, to the companies that make reading curriculum, to the school districts that adopt it.

Our state just made a big step in the right direction—proposing legislation and funding to ensure early elementary grade teachers have training in the science of reading and curriculum that supports it. I hope the legislation is passed. I hope our school districts embrace it. They must, if they truly want all kids to succeed.

If your child is struggling to learn to read, ask the instructional leaders at your school how they are teaching reading. If the instruction is not based on systematic phonics, tell them that’s what your child needs. It’s actually what all children need.

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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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