I’m In The Sweet Spot Of Parenting, And I Don’t Want It To End

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a writing colleague and we got to talking about our children. I mentioned something about my kids cleaning their own bathroom, and that I loved how independent they’ve gotten even though in a lot of ways they still feel little to me. “Ah, yeah,” she said knowingly. “You’re in the sweet spot.”

The sweet spot, she told me, is the enchanted period of a child’s growing up when they are past needing you to wipe their asses and tie their shoes and pack their lunches, but haven’t yet become so independent that they’ve decided they don’t need you at all. Sandwiched between diaper bags and poopy blowouts and unfathomable exhaustion on one side and attitude and sneaking around and pulling away on the other, the sweet spot is the golden age of parenthood.

My sister gave birth to her third child a couple of years ago after an extended gap. There are nine years between her second and third kid. That little boy is the most precious angel to ever grace the surface of the earth, but he’s still a baby, and babies are a shit ton of work. My sister had to regress her lifestyle back to scheduling her days around naps, always having extra diapers and a snack everywhere she goes, and planning vacation sleeping arrangements around a baby who goes to bed four hours earlier than the rest of the family. And someone always has to wake up early, because babies wake up freaking early.

I have friends on the other side of the sweet spot too, friends whose kids are firmly entrenched in their teenage years. My blood pressure rises when they relay their stories of explicit social media exchanges, drugs and alcohol and sneaking around, anxiety over grades and getting into college. I still have total control over what my kids see on the Internet, whether their homework gets done, who they talk too, where they go and for how long and what time they come home… How am I going to relinquish this control?

Seriously, I’m asking. How do you do it?? I think the teen years might actually kill me.

My kids are right in the beautiful, comparatively calm middle of these two extremes. They are capable of impressive levels of critical thinking, and yet still assume I know way more than they do. Just today my son and I had a conversation about terminal velocity. He had no idea he went over my head with his talk of how atmosphere and gravity limits the maximum speed of a falling object. He still thinks I know everything, and far be it for me to correct him just yet.

My 8-year-old daughter is independent, preparing her own breakfast, cleaning her own room, riding her bike by herself to the neighbor’s house down the street. But she still needs me to do a few small things, like brush her hair in the morning before school or read that special picture book just because. When she cries, I am still the first person she runs to. I love that she still needs me like this. She is still my baby, but minus the work of an actual baby.

It’s the same with my 12-year-old. He’s gotten to where he can cook with a fair amount of confidence (and without catching the house on fire), and when he does chores, it’s a genuine help. He cleans the bathroom as thoroughly as I do and even mows the lawn. And yet he still often climbs into my lap for a snuggle. He still likes me to lie beside him at bedtime while he reads his book. He’s not a baby anymore, but he still likes hanging out with me.

Here in the sweet spot, we get to stay out late but can still keep tabs on our kids. I no longer dread the nuclear meltdown that will happen at 8:01 because my baby is not in bed at exactly the appointed time. This past New Year’s Eve we stayed at a friends’ party until 3:00 a.m. My daughter crashed on the couch with a few other kids around 1:00, and my son stayed up partying with the other big kids until 3:00.

And yet my kids aren’t old enough to go out by themselves and get into trouble. I cannot imagine the fear and frustration of waiting up for a kid who is breaking curfew. What if they’re not responding to texts? What if they’re hurt? Or worse? How do parents get through this stage??

I’m going to cherish every moment of this sweet spot. The teenage years are fast approaching, and based on the stories my friends tell, I’ve got a serious roller coaster ride ahead of me. For now though, I’ll put on my blinders and enjoy what time I have left with these sweet babies who, thank goodness, aren’t actual babies.

The post I’m In The Sweet Spot Of Parenting, And I Don’t Want It To End appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Perfect For Easter Baskets: Little Golden Books For $2–$3 On Amazon

Who doesn’t love the Little Golden Books? They are a fun way to revisit old classics, like Pete’s Dragon or Pinocchio, or get our kids excited about reading by reeling them in with some of their new favorites like Trolls or Grumpy Cat.

Amazon has many of the LGB titles on sale right now in the $2–$3 price range, and bonus: most of them ship free with an Amazon Prime membership. There are tons to choose from, and they are perfect for Easter baskets:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest part is choosing a few, and not just buying them all. I can’t be the only parent who hoards children’s books, right?

This post contains affiliate links, which means we receive a small portion of the sale if you make a purchase using this link.

The Incomparable Magic Of Watching Your Child Learn To Read

We’re snuggled in my 7-year-old’s bed, his head resting on my arm wrapped around his shoulders. He holds one side of a Winnie the Pooh book and I hold the other. He reads the last sentence out loud, then looks up at me, beaming.

“Mommy!” he squeals. “I read the whole thing!”

“Yes, you did!” I reply. “Look at you!”

It’s a moment I’ve experienced with each of my three kids, and it’s incomparably magical every time.

There are many noteworthy milestones in a child’s life, but there is nothing like watching your child read a whole book all by themselves for the first time. The learning to read process is wondrous and mysterious and unique to each child. When the various moving parts all come together and it finally “clicks,” it’s like seeing an entire world open up for them. As a parent, it’s an unbelievably fun and rewarding thing to witness.

Our oldest daughter read extraordinarily early. I remember telling a kindergarten teacher that she was reading fluently at 4. “Some kids memorize books and seem to be reading,” was her response. Um, no. The kid could read practically anything you put in front of her. She had a freakish interest in letters and words from the time she was a baby, and formed a connection to the written word much earlier than our other two. We used to joke that she came out of the womb with a book in her hand. (“Book” was, in fact, her first word.)

Our second kid read quite a bit later. In fact, I started to wonder at age 7 if she was ever going to read. She did okay with the mechanics for the most part, but she didn’t enjoy it. She never read for pleasure and pushed back on every attempt to get her to read for school. She was our feral child, much more interested in galavanting around in nature than sitting down with a book. But one day, her older sister started reading a series about cats, and she got hooked. She went from complaining about reading to spending hours a day devouring novel after novel.

Now our third kid — my baby boy who just turned 8 — is just entering that fluent reading stage. In the past year, he’s gone from sounding out most words to only having to decipher the big ones. And it’s been every bit as exciting and amazing as it was with the other two.

Reading is a significant tool for learning — perhaps the most important one as a child gets older. When you can read, you can go to any library and learn about literally anything for free. Reading stories can make us more empathetic and tolerant as well. Both fiction and non-fiction reading affects the way we think, the way we look at the world, the way we understand others and ourselves. I can’t imagine a life without being able to read.

Of course, there are some downsides to a child becoming a fluent reader, especially if they read early. It’s a special parenting moment when your 6-year-old scans the magazine covers in the check-out line and says, “Mommy? What’s an ‘orgasm’?” (Thanks, Cosmo.) You have to start shooing them away from your phone when you’re texting your husband about something you don’t want them to know about, or tell them to stop looking over your shoulder when you’re reading an article about Syrian children and their parents’ dismembered bodies. That whole new world is not always age-appropriate, so it adds a new complexity to parenting.

But that’s nothing compared to being able to discuss things they’ve read, or watching your child get so engrossed in a book that they don’t want to put it down. One of my favorite things to see is a kid tucked into bed with a book and a flashlight, even if it means they’re staying up later than they should. It’s a beautiful thing.

There aren’t many parts of parenting small children that I’d want to relive, but this is one. As much as I’m thrilled that my last child is reading, I’m a little sad that this is the last time I’ll get to see this process unfold in detail before my eyes. Watching a child enter the world of literacy is like watching a seed open up and become a flower — you know that it’s going to happen, but it still seems miraculous and magical every time it does. I have been awed by it with each of my children, and it will forever remain one the greatest joys of my parenting journey.

My Daughter Doesn’t Have To ‘Shut Up,’ And Neither Do You

An old friend and I were attempting to catch up the other day when, less than five minutes into our conversation, she paused, laughed, and said, “Boy, she doesn’t shut up, does she?”

Christ, I thought. Not again. Not this again.

You see, this isn’t the first time I have been asked this question. In fact, I’ve heard multiple variations of it over the course of my daughter’s short life (“Does she ever calm down?” “Does she ever slow down?” “Does she ever stop talking?” and my personal favorite, “God, she’s so loud”) but that is because my daughter is 3. Three freakin’ years old, and like so many children her age, she is friendly. She is outgoing. She is enthusiastic, inquisitive, and insightful, and yes, she is chatty.

She is especially talkative when I am on the phone, when she does not have my full, and undivided, attention.

Of course, I would love a few minutes of silence. I would love to have an uninterrupted conversation, and I dream of lying on my bed, kicking up my heels, and talking (just talking) while on the phone. But I don’t want said silence to come at a cost. I don’t want said silence to come at my daughter’s expense, and I sure as shit don’t want her to “shut up.”

Not now.

Not ever.

Because there is nothing wrong with “being loud.” There is nothing wrong with eagerness and expressiveness. There is nothing wrong with enthusiasm and curiosity, and there is nothing wrong with her.

There wasn’t a damn thing wrong with what she was doing.

Make no mistake: I do not let her talk over others or through others. She doesn’t shout at the library, and she knows better than to scream through a movie. Well, at the very least, she understands what is and is not appropriate. But again, she’s 3.

But implying that she should stop singing? Stop playing? That she should stop speaking in her own damn home just because I am busy? Just because I am on the phone? Yeah, no. Fuck no, because saying “shut up” isn’t just rude, it is ignorant. It is offensive. It is demeaning. And it is dangerous.

If she hears these words and like-minded messages enough, she may feel like a burden or a bother. She may feel inhibited in speaking her mind. Much as I did. Much as I still do.

Make no mistake: I grew up in a happy home. A loving home. A picture-perfect nuclear family sorta home. My parents cared for me and nurtured me as best they could, and they rarely told me to “shut up,” but I knew early on that I was “too much.” I danced too much. I sang too much. I talked too much. I climbed too high. I ran too far, and I was too loud, too hyper, too crazy, and too sensitive.

I needed to calm down, quiet down, simmer down, and settle down. I needed to breathe, chill out, rest, and relax. And I did.

Over time, expectations silenced me. Society swallowed me, and I became the girl I “should be.” A sweet and loving little people-pleaser who rarely stood up and never spoke her mind.

But I now know I didn’t need to “shut up.” (I don’t need to “shut up.”) You shouldn’t “shut up,” and my daughter better not “shut up,” because her words matter. Her thoughts matter. Her feelings matter. Even that story she just spent the last 15 minutes telling me —  you know, the one about Darth Vader and Cinderella riding a chicken? Yeah, it fucking matters.

And so do you.

So does your voice.

So to you, to my younger self, and to my sweet little girl, I say this: Be bold. Be brave. Stand strong, and take no shit. Talk as loud (and proud) as you like because you aren’t obnoxious. You aren’t annoying. Your words aren’t empty and pointless, and you aren’t a bother. You aren’t too much.

Instead, you are empowered and impassioned. You are fierce, fervent, and intense, and you are exactly as you should be.

You are exactly who you need to be.

How I’m Teaching My Child Respect Through The Fine Art Of Saying ‘No’

When I tell my 4-year-old something like, “Don’t ram the skateboard into your little brother,” or “No, I don’t want the cushions off the couch,” he sticks out his bottom lip and accuses me of being mean. On his most diplomatic days, he tells me he doesn’t like my words. Yup, he’s offended by my parenting, which is total bs because I’ve always been conscious of disciplining in gentle, respectful ways.

I started out four years ago, clinging to the idealistic philosophy of attachment parenting. What new mom doesn’t want to feel empowered to soothe her baby’s every upset? Attachment parenting encourages co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and letting your child run your life. (Just kidding. Kind of.) In this mindset, the cry of a baby or toddler signals distress that a parent should fix.

This was all warm, fuzzy, and beautiful until I became so drained and lost in parenting this way. I was bitter even, because — damn — I wanted to know that I still existed on my own when a child wasn’t attached, but I wasn’t sure I did. I wanted to feel free to leave the bed when I woke up without army-crawling with crossed fingers, hoping my little parasite of a toddler wouldn’t sense my absence and need a nipple stat! I wanted to fill my son’s needs, but I wanted to care about mine too. They were all sacrificed in the name of motherhood.

As time went on, I started to value having more boundaries. Mother-led weaning and sleep training, amen! With my changing ideals, I had to embrace more crying, but it wasn’t easy. I had to reprogram the way I thought about and reacted to my children’s tears. I value being a firm parent, one who has high expectations of her children, but damn, that means there are a lot of times my kid’s not happy, and his unhappiness kind of sucks.

Sometimes I’m tempted to appease him just so I don’t have to deal with his shit. But I know that dealing with his shit (or rather, having him deal with his own) is actually a crucial part of parenting. I never want my children to suffer from unnecessary upset, and I always want to be available to love and comfort, but surely, there is actually a place for crying.

I’ve learned to see crying as a response that is not only normal, but also sometimes therapeutic on its own. This past summer, my 3-year-old was running along the sidewalk and tripped. To console his cries, I offered him ice, a Band-Aid, or animal crackers. He shook his head and said, “No, I just want to cry.” Tears are healing, and studies show they release depressants from the body, reduce stress, and improve mood. Crying isn’t just a normal response to physical pain, but to disappointment, frustration, and anger.

Knowing this, I feel less inclined to rescue him from his negative feelings. Of course I’m going to support and comfort him in sadness and other upsets, but I’m no longer going to let his disappointment or potential outburst stop me from enforcing a rule, redirecting behavior, or stating a boundary. I no longer feel the kindest thing to do is protect him from negative feelings. Instead, it is to give him opportunities to cope and work through them.

I tell him no and accept his emotional response because permissiveness doesn’t make for a happy kid or a healthy relationship. Children need to know that their parents are true leaders. There are many times he resists this. I’ve even been called a Mean Mommy, but I know he ultimately benefits from a feeling of security. He might think he wants free reign, but really, he wants to trust that I’ll keep him in bounds.

Speaking of being in charge, respecting my son does not mean making him my equal. I allow him to make decisions, but from the reasonable choices I offer. He doesn’t choose what time to go to bed, but he chooses if he wants to read one book or two. He doesn’t decide what we are eating for dinner (lollipops!), but he can choose how much he consumes. He doesn’t decide when we leave the park, but he chooses if he wants to hold me hand or not. I used to give my child too much power in the name of respect. There used to be a construction site right by our playground. He wanted to watch it endlessly, and I actually felt bad for eventually making him leave. Who was I to say no?

My children cry when I tell them no. No, you can’t break the crayons. No, I won’t prepare you a snack after I just served you lunch. No, you may not watch another episode. However, allowing them to cry expresses my acceptance of their feelings, more so than bending the rules or turning a blind eye to keep them endlessly happy. I used to confuse empathetic parenting with keeping my kids from experience negative feelings. Now I know empathetic parenting is understanding their responses — not rescuing them or punishing them, just kind of saying, “You’re mad the TV is off. I get it. We can watch more tomorrow.”

I used to hesitate in doing this because I thought welcoming the expression of all feelings meant needing to endure meltdowns and tantrums, but now I know part of setting boundaries is saying, “You’re upset. It’s okay to scream, but you must do it in your room or outside. When you get done, we can talk and hug.” I want my son to accept his feelings, but I won’t allow myself to be his punching bag, “You can be grumpy, but you may not talk to me with an attitude.”

Understanding why my son is doing something is different than making it acceptable. As much as it’s my job to love and care for him, it’s also my job to teach him appropriate ways to behave and deal with his emotions. Not to mention, children can use emotions to manipulate. By showing him I’m comfortable with his tears and upsets, I take away his power to manipulate.

I am now comfortable with saying no, because there were plenty of times I didn’t say it soon enough, and then I ended up really losing my shit. For instance, just yesterday he wanted me to find a specific shirt and his soccer socks. (I’m not organized enough for these requests!) He also wanted to wear his cleats and shin guards. I was already feeling frazzled by my morning duties and knew my attempt to make him happy would put me over the edge. I told myself, “Don’t try just to end up yelling and feeling overwhelmed. Just say no.”

I enjoy saying yes to my son as often as possible but only when I’m truly comfortable with it. I now say no because I want to communicate authentically. I value authenticity over niceness, and I want him to do the same. By respecting myself through instilling boundaries, he learns consideration and also how to respect himself. We are our children’s models.

I used to want my son to always be happy, but now I know his struggles are often opportunities for growth and learning. When I stand back (and firm), I communicate trust, and that’s what respectful parenting is really about. I say no because I care about his well-being as well as mine.

My Son Is A Cry Baby. Here’s How We Cope.

I remember the first time my son was called a cry baby by one of his friends.

I wasn’t shocked. He is one. And admittedly, so am I.

I’ve been a crier for as long as I can remember. I cry when I’m angry, I cry when I’m sad, and I sometimes cry when I’m laughing and pee my pants (I’ve had three kids, so it’s a thing). So it’s no surprise to me that one of my kids wears his heart on his sleeve and cries to get those emotions out.

But it can be hard on a parent to have a cry baby kid. (Sorry about that, Mom and Dad.)

Parents often feel so helpless when a child cries, and it raises our own stress level because we can’t control those big emotions in someone else. If you have a cry baby, you know it’s almost impossible to stop those tears from flowing when they feel things so deeply.

For me, I think I’m empathetic to using tears to express a range of emotions, mostly because I do that too. But when you have a son who does it, and does it often, you can also feel defensive. Yes, when that kid called my son a cry baby, my first instinct was to unleash my protective mama bear instincts and tell him to keep his mouth shut. Society’s open that boys aren’t supposed to cry be damned.

I’ve made it a point to never let him think he’s not allowed to cry because of his gender. In fact, rather than thinking of him as a cry baby, I’ve embraced his sensitivity and uniqueness. I actually love having a sensitive boy now, even though it can be frustrating sometimes. There are times when it feels like the crying is taking over your life because the smallest thing can set them off.

But I want my son to feel safe expressing those emotions he feels. If crying about something is the only way he can get over it, then I get it. After all, emotions are not gender specific. If we’re human, it’s normal to feel angry, sad, lost, confused, and frustrated. And the fact is, we all just express those emotions differently.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel better after a good cry. At the same time, I do believe that there are often more effective ways that we can express our emotions depending on the situation. So here are a few things we do when the crying starts to get out of control.

We often just need to spend more time together. For some parents this is hard because our instinct when someone is crying is to withdraw, walk away, or check out. Sometimes, it even can make us angry. But often, I think an extra snuggle, story, or just one-on-one attention is just what my son needs to keep his emotions in check.

I work on healthy coping skills with him like deep breathing and finding his happy place. It’s taken me a long time to learn coping skills and self-care for myself, but I want my kids to learn them early. We sometimes do deep breathing together or focus on his happy place in his imagination (which happens to be playing video games) instead of whatever is bothering him.

We also try to keep things positive when we’re in a stressful situation. While we don’t tell him not to cry, I encourage him to be brave, strong, and try hard in difficult situations — without mentioning the crying itself. This is a good way to embolden your kid to follow through on something they are nervous about, or try new things, or work hard toward a goal. Maybe a small reward or treat can be in order if they pull through. A thumbs up from across a room when they are looking your way and you see the waterworks coming is a great way to reassure them that everything is okay.

Sometimes, I just have to figure out what is actually causing the crying. If I can get him calm enough to tell me what is wrong, that alone can calm him down. If we talk it through, I can often help him problem solve and fix whatever is upsetting him.

Ignoring the behavior is sometimes the quickest way to get rid of it too. With kids who are crying to get attention or get their own way, you have to ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior when it happens. This really works. Sometimes, I tell my son that if he’s going to cry, he needs to go to his room and do it. Oftentimes, he will be alone for just a minute or two and come out able to handle his emotions.

And lots of times, we just have to cry and hug it out. My son is sensitive, and he also loves snuggling. As he gets bigger, I can forget that he needs that physical contact. When he’s crying, sometimes all he needs to feel better is a hug and to know that I’m there. My presence is enough to help him through.

And if all else fails, I feed him. At least that’s my go-to response if nothing else works. And honestly, occasionally, it’s just a plain old case of a hangry kid, and once he gets a little food in him, all is right with the world again.

And for parents, I think a little quiet time at the end of the day binge-watching your favorite Netflix show is in order on the particularly tearful days. Or maybe you just need a good cry.

My Child Hates Dinnertime

Before my 5-year-old daughter, I had no idea a human being could survive on five bites of food a day, with three of those bites being something made out of cheese. It’s like she’s figured out how to turn the air she breathes into energy somehow. Maybe that’s why she talks so much. I’m pretty sure she only grows because she drinks milk like she was born on a dairy farm.

I’ve tried a lot of things to get her to eat dinner — pleading, bribing, crying, hollering, wishing upon a star, invoking Daniel Tiger songs. The child literally does not care about food. You could have her very favorite dessert sitting right in front of her, but if she has made up her mind that she isn’t going to try the casserole, it’s just not happening — ever. If hell were to freeze over, she’d still be sitting at the dinner table with her napkin over her head.

And she’s like some kind of genius food detective. She can see a chopped-up mushroom hiding amongst the hamburger from 3 miles away. She somehow knows when I’ve tried to sneak some spinach into her pancakes in a sad attempt to get one bite of a vegetable into her body. She has a sixth sense for tomatoes that aren’t completely puréed in her spaghetti sauce. Everything is too spicy, too meaty, too dinner-y, not enough like a bowl of Cheerios. She would happily live on cereal for the rest of her life if I let her. I’m sometimes tempted.

She has made me do things I swore I would never ever do to get her to eat stuff. I cut her freaking apples into slices the shape of a heart once because she promised she’d eat them. And she did. I once rocked her stuffed otter at lunchtime so that she would take bites of her grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, I understand that she’s toying with me, but you know what, she ate that damn sandwich so who is the real winner? You’re right, probably her.

At dinner, she doesn’t care if she grows, she doesn’t care if her stomach is going to hurt in the morning, she doesn’t care that the damn cow died so she could have a hamburger, she doesn’t even give a crap about Santa Claus or any of his elves. And I’ve definitely heard the wise advice of, “They can eat what you make or starve.” I never make her anything different than us, but I just really worry that she’ll always choose starvation over tacos.

As a family who loves and celebrates food, this is all hugely frustrating and confusing to the rest of us. We spend our weekends cooking or planning on what to cook. We love having friends and family over and making our whole evening about tasting new recipes and coming up with ideas of what culinary delight we can prepare next. She is like a little non-food-eating alien in our midst who frowns angrily at the beautiful plate of homemade pasta in front of her.

I know that there are some kids in the world who are even pickier than she and will eat only three of four different kinds of food. I’d totally light candles for you folks if I did that sort of thing, or if I had any energy left over from trying to bribe my 5-year-old to take the napkin off her head and just eat one freaking bite from her dinner plate.

We’re really trying to make dinner a little less torture chamber and a little more fun. She recently decided that she wants to be taller than her brother so that helps when there’s a pile of broccoli on her plate. And as she gets older, she’s becoming much more willing to take at least one bite of something just to get us leave her alone. I’ve read that it takes 10 to 15 bites of a new food for kids to like something and so I feel like I’ve made a huge accomplishment if she just gets that one bite down.

We’ll keep trying one bite a time, one dinner at time, and hope that eventually she will enjoy dinner with the rest of us — or at least not make us all miserable in the meantime.

A Promise To My Youngest Child: I Will Let You Be Little

It is trite now to offer up written apologies to latter-born children. To catalog all the ways in which we have relaxed the rules the second (or third or fourth) time around. To humorously list the words they’ve learned too early, the movies they’ve seen too soon, the crappy food they’ve eaten.

In fact, most of these articles aren’t apologies at all but thinly veiled parental pats on the back for being so nonchalant, so easygoing.

Here’s the truth: If we’re willing to admit it: The innocence of our latter-born children is all too often sacrificed on the altar of their older siblings. It just is.

The truth is that in today’s society — where we are redshirting our children so that they can be bigger, faster, and older than their peers — we are pushing our kids to grow up faster than they should.

The truth is that somehow we have decided that being young and innocent is a weakness.

The truth is that instead of encouraging our children to stay young, we are pushing them — or at least allowing them — to be older, bigger, faster, tougher as soon as possible.

The truth is that we expect our latter-born kids to have the same skills, the same abilities, the same behavior as our firstborns.

I am guilty of this as well. Not intentionally, but my 8-year-old has a later bedtime than his older brother did at that age. He has been privy to conversations about topics that are above his pay grade. He has been exposed to movies and songs and situations that have made him older than his years. He has more independence and more responsibility than his brother did at that age. He prefers the company of his brother’s friends than his own peer group.

The truth is, that’s just part of being a youngest sibling.

And it’s not all bad.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them when they tell us — explicitly or unconsciously — that they are still little. That they need to be little.

The other night I was sitting at the table while my boys were having dinner. We were having a great conversation about the fun we’d had earlier. With no fanfare or provocation, my 8-year-old silently slid from his chair and climbed up behind me, perching himself atop my chair, and started playing with my hair — the way he did when he was 4.

Cameron Reeves

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell him to finish his dinner. I didn’t admonish him for getting up from the table. I didn’t tell him we didn’t have time.

We just kept talking as he picked up pieces of my hair and silently twirled them around his fingers. He reached for the hairband that passes for a bracelet on my wrist and tried to gather my hair in a ponytail.

After a few minutes of what can only be described as tying my hair in knots, I asked him if he wanted a little help. Instead of immediately bristling at my suggestion that there was something he couldn’t do on his own, he softly said yes.

I realized in that moment how often recently we have been treating him just like his older brother. I realized we have forgotten that he is still little.

I thought about how many times he has wanted to play games that were well below his intellectual prime. That for every time he asked to play Scrabble, he also asked to play Chutes and Ladders.

I thought about the other night when we pulled put the old board books and giggled as we read them aloud for the first time in years.

I thought about the times when he wants to sit in my lap and snuggle.

Cameron Reeves

And so, my sweet boy, I make you this promise:

I promise that I will remember that you are barely 8. I will try so hard to remember not to expect the same things of you that I expect from your brother.

I promise I will cultivate the magic you see in the world.

I promise I will not hurry you through your stories, full of exquisite detail, because your brother has somewhere to be or something to do.

I will read you picture books and not just chapter books. I will bring back the funny voices and point at the silly pictures.

I will be still with you when you curl up in my lap even when there is a pile of laundry or a stack of dishes that need to be done.

I will always watch Curious George even if your brother wants to watch Star Wars.

I will watch you play Sharks and Minnows with the big kids in the pool for a little while before I get in and have underwater tea parties with you and cheer your crooked handstands.

I will shield you as long as I can from the news, the heartache, the hate, even if it means you’re the last to know something. I will protect you from the ways in which people can hurt each other.

I will tell you that you’re too young, and although you might pretend to be mad, I know you are secretly grateful.

I will listen when you tell me that you deserve to be little too. When your brain and your heart and your soul can’t keep up with the frenetic pace of the world around you.

I promise that I will give you the independence you want but also the guidance you need.

I promise I will not hurry you through your childhood. I will not wish away your childhood.

I will put you back together when you fall apart. I will hold your hand. I will hold your heart. I will love you hard.

Monitoring My Kids’ Screen Time Has Become A Freaking Full-Time Job

I’d always had a fairly laissez faire attitude about screen time. We’ve all got limited fucks to give, and I had bigger things to worry about than whether my 2-year-old had watched an episode (or five) too many of Dora the Explorer — like keeping my toddler from coloring on the walls and throwing toys in the toilet, for instance.

Other parents seemed obsessed with their little ones watching television too early, or too much, lamenting the fact that they were turning into glassy-eyed zombies. I was all meh, whatevs. In fact, I’m not ashamed to say I might have plunked them down in front of the TV for a hot minute to watch a little Big Bird and Elmo because — damn! — they never stopped moving and they never stopped talking until then. They were like little Energizer Bunnies, and I needed them to CTFD in 22-minute increments now and then so that I didn’t go all the way off the rails.

Television was never really a problem for us. My kids naturally watched in moderation (Energizer Bunnies are like that) and didn’t get too obsessed with it. And now that they’re older, I can watch with them because most of their shows no longer make me want to stab a fork in my eye.

So, no, our problem isn’t the television. It’s the damn tablets, video games, and iEverything because too much of this crap basically turns my kids into little assholes who forget how to properly interact with other humans.

Before you go all sancitmommy on me and start lecturing me about the importance of setting limits, monitoring the content, or worse yet, forbidding all electronics, let me assure you that I am aware of all this, just like every other informed parent out there. I set limits. I pay attention to what they play and watch.

And I’m sorry, but forbidding all electronics is just not practical. So please stop with that.

It’s not that I’m not doing what I should be doing to help them have reasonable limits on their gaming screen time. It’s just that doing so is an exhausting, full-time job that is really starting to wear on my patience.

The requests to play start as soon as my kids wake up in the morning, which coincidentally is when the arguing starts. Before long, we’re on the verge of World War III erupting in the family room over who gets to pick the game and who got more time with his game and can they please just have a few more minutes. Holy hell! Enough! I want to scream. Just stop talking. There’s only so much a woman can take before she’s had her coffee.

Look, I’ve tried it all. I’ve set a timer. I’ve tried a no-electronics-before-school rule. I’ve threatened to throw the Xbox away (though in my mind I’m thinking, bitch, please). I’ve said “because I said so” and “go ask your dad” more times than should be legally allowed.

I’ve put my foot down and been the asshole parent — for about two days, because Mama needs a break now and then, and electronics are a great babysitter. Sometimes the advice just doesn’t work. Sometimes we don’t have the energy. Sometimes we’re just fed the fuck up with being asked, “Can I play the tablet?” fifteen thousand times a day, so we say “yes!” so we can get 30 seconds of silence and pray that our head doesn’t explode.

Objectively speaking, I will admit that, in the grand scheme of things, my kids have a normal (albeit frustrating) addiction love for electronics and video games. They have spring fever and need to get outside once it isn’t cold as hell. We’ll weather this storm.

But today? Today, I’m pissed off, fed the fuck up, and ready to throw that damn tablet out the window. I do not want to negotiate, or referee, or monitor.

So if you see an older generation iPhone fly out the window, don’t be alarmed. Nothing to see here. Just a mom trying to navigate this whole screen time thing.

8 Of Our Favorite Sensory-Stimulating Toys

Discovering your child has sensory needs quickly opens you up to a whole new world of spiky, squishy, noisy, bouncy things that used to seem like novelties. You’ll suddenly find yourself looking through toy aisles for anything with odd textures, bright colors, or calming visuals.

1. Water Beads

Water beads are a hit in our house. My son has an aversion to some wet or messy things, but that goes out the window when the water beads come out. They’ve been a great tool to get him used to getting his hands wet and can also have a calming effect on him when he’s feeling wound up.

2. Help Hands Tools

When we get out the water beads, we get out the Helping Hands tools. They encourage fine motor development, add some extra fun with the already-fun beads, and they look cool. You can use them with all kinds of materials, like dry cereal, small manipulatives, water, whatever.

3. Chewable Jewelry

If you’ve got a chewer on your hands, chewable jewelry is a handy and discreet toy to satisfy oral sensory needs. Toss some necklaces and bracelets into a dress-up box. Even let your kid wear one to school so they don’t bite their pencils to death.

4. Impression Boards

On a recent trip to our local science center, there was a wall of impression boards, and my kids went nuts for it. There were a ton of different things to play with and exhibits to experience around them, but they kept coming back to the pin board and pushing their hands and faces into it.

5. Kinetic Sand

This is another toy I thought might not go over well with a child who is sensitive to messy feelings, but this has been a favorite. Just like the water beads, this sand brings out a sense of calm in my son when he needs it. Burying small toys in a tray of this is also a fun activity. You can let your kid use small tools like the Helping Hands to dig them out for some extra sensory stimulation.

6. Horse Hoppers 

These are an awesome toy when it comes to proprioception. Bouncing, balance, and grip are all in practice. Hoppers are also great for developing core strength. My kids like to bounce on them even when they’re just watching some TV.

7. Boomwhackers

For audio stimulation, Boomwhackers have a big following. When you hit these tubes against another surface, they emit a musical note. Each colored stick produces a different note, so there is visual stimulation as well. Music teachers seem to really love these.

8. Magnetic Tiles 

These have been a hit toy for children with and without sensory needs, so these are great for playdates. My husband might love them even more than our kids do. They’re compact and easy to travel with, so I throw a stack in my bag if we are going out somewhere that my son will need to do some waiting.

Helping your child navigate the world around them when they are experiencing it in a different way than you’re used to can be a challenge at times. But it can also be really fun to discover new ways of playing and learning. Personally, some of my happiest moments as the parent of a child with sensory needs have been finding toys that are just the right fit for them.

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