Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Superparent Complex

I readily confess that I frequently try to do too much, particularly where my kids are concerned. I can give you all the rationalizations in the world for this but the bottom line is that I'm on a ridiculously competitive quest against myself to prove that kids miss out on nothing when their moms work outside of the home. I firmly believe that proposition to be true and yet I admit that I try to stay a few steps ahead of the inevitable guilt by overcompensating.  Just last week, one child let me know she needed 17 red velvet cupcakes for a book talk scheduled to take place at school the next day and one of her sisters called me just before 4:30 pm to let me know that she desperately needed me to pick up a husky hat (a silly hat with a husky/dog head) because she desperately needed it for the very next day.  I had already committed to attending a meeting for 10th grade parents at our older daughter's high school that night and knew I wouldn't have time to bake cupcakes so I agreed to buy them on the way home. I laughed at the husky hat request and reminded my darling that I was picking up cupcakes and then going to a meeting and would be happy to deal with the hat request another day. "But I need it for tomorrow..." I could have and should have said "no", "you can't always get what you want when you want it",  or "I need a little more notice". Instead I said "I'll do my best but you'll have to live with it if I can't find the hat". She agreed (totally disingenuously, as I later learned). Despite it being a miserable rainy night, I got the cupcakes and I attended the meeting. I visited 4 different stores and never did succeed in finding the hat though. There was a moment there that I felt horrible and unsuccessful because I hadn't accomplished all the tasks on my list. That feeling was quickly replaced by appropriate anger with myself for ever having gotten into this position in the first place and for feeling even the slightest bit as though I'd let anyone down. I was also more than a little peeved with the child who insisted she need that ridiculous hat and that the matter was time-sensitive. At the end of the day, the problem is mine and only mine. Kids need to hear "no" and parents need to be able to say it. My kids only think I can make things like husky hats miraculously appear because I've fostered ludicrous expectations. Silly me - it's so much more important to teach them to manage their own expectations than it is to feed my supermom ego!

As you probably know, kids' books and movies often depict families where there is no mom except the occasional evil stepmom. For this reason, today's book selection can be found in the adult fiction section of your library or local bookstore - it's Lisa Genova's Left Neglected. So many of us teeter on the brink of total collapse as we try to get through an insanely long daily to-do list  This is the story of Sarah Nickerson who teeters on the brink and then falls off the proverbial cliff. One minute Sarah barely has time to breathe and, in the next split second, she sustains a serious brain injury and her life is changed forever. The scary part of the story is that it could happen to any of us. However, I prefer to take away the more reassuring message that change can be good and that challenge leads to opportunity.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Because I said so!

Parents must sometimes make decisions in the best interests of their child or family that the child does not support. Most of us recognize that you can't always please your children (Ha! Remember, I have 3 teenager girls, making this the understatement of the century!) but many of us still try, on some level, to reason with our children and make them understand why we have made the decisions we have made. Speaking for myself, I think I do this primarily out of respect for my kids and belief in their ability to understand reason and secondarily because, on some probably unattainable level, I'm hoping for a break through and a child that embraces the decision they initially abhorred. Ridiculous, I know! If all else fails, I am a proponent of "because I said so". It is a gift to parents that should neither be undervalued nor avoided. Sometimes, it's all you've got.The bottom line is that, as parents, we sign on for a lot and wear many hats but none is a "cool" hat or a "best friend to our kids" hat or even a "popular with our kids" hat. While we may change hats regularly or wear many simultaneously, it seems to me that parents may never shed the "best interests of my child" hat or "strong advocate for my child" hat and with each of those hats comes the responsibility of paying close attention and sometimes making tough decisions.

A friend recently told me that she is thinking about moving. She is a single mom of two middle graders and has decided that at this time in her life, she and her children need to live closer to her aging mother. She knows her children will not greet news of their impending move gleefully but she also knows that she is the decision-maker for the family and that children are adaptable, even when they're certain they are not. She also knows that the benefits of the proposed move will far outweigh the costs. I admire this woman greatly. It's not as easy as it may sound to put your child's feelings (and even protests) aside to lay down the law and force everyone to step in line. Not too long ago, Jeff and I agreed that it was time for one of our children to change schools. The child in question has never been one to embrace change and she felt safe, secure and extremely comfortable where she was. She hated the idea of leaving her school and made her feelings abundantly clear but we knew that the change was necessary and that she would thrive in a different environment. When we took her around to see different schools, she did what she could to sabotage potential admission but was admitted to several schools in spite of herself. She made no secret of the fact that she was furious with us and it would take a long time for her to forgive us (if ever). Six weeks into her new school, she let us know how grateful and happy she was to be there. We agreed that as soon as she felt she loved her new school, then she could buy a school sweatshirt. By the end of her first year, she had a whole school wardrobe.

Making tough, frequently unpopular, decisions like moving homes or changing schools are possible when they're thoughtfully considered and necessary. Kids do adapt and when they do, no matter how fierce their initial resistance, they may even bask in the reassurance that someone really is looking out for them. And their resourcefulness to deal with change may surprise you. If you're contemplating a big change and want to help your youngster cope, consider picking up a copy of Neville by Norton Juster (author of The Phantom Tollbooth), illustrated by G. Brian Karas. The title character in this story moves to a new town and creatively gets his name known.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My mom went to _________ and all she got me was this lousy t-shirt.

On my way home a couple of weeks ago, I slipped into Shakespeare & Co., a bookstore on Lexington Avenue between 68th and 69th Streets in Manhattan. I love this store. Sometimes I take a particular subway route home after work just so I can stop by this treasure trove and see what they've got. My visits are part field research so I know which children's and young adult titles bookstores are betting on and part me-time pleasure. On this particular visit, I was lured in by a series of t-shirts hanging in the window, each with a different title of a classic novel. One featured title was S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders. This particular book has special status in my home. I loved it when I was younger and appreciated it in a whole new way when one of our 13 year-olds read it for school last year and became obsessed. I would bet that when she's my age, if asked what book from her youth changed her life, her answer would unequivocally be The Outsiders. How exciting for both of us that we will meet author S.E. Hinton at the next Children's Choice Book Awards gala on May 7, 2012! But I digress. The t-shirt.... I walked in and walked straight up to the front counter to ask where I could find The Outsiders t-shirt. I proceeded to tell her how my daughter was going to flip when she saw this. The woman behind the counter and her friend who had been hovering nearby congratulated me on being such a good mom because only good parents could raise a child that would get excited about t-shirts based on books. I'll admit it. I was feeling pretty good. Just that day Thomas Friedman has a piece published in the New York Times asking, "How About Better Parents?". Friedman insisted that parents more focused on their children's education could make a huge difference in a student's achievement. He went on to discuss a study by which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D) conducted exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems. Among many interesting and thought-provoking findings was the clear conclusion that reading to your children on a regular base when they are young and parental involvement (like asking your child about his or her day) make a huge difference in terms of their abilities and accomplishments in later years. These propositions seem a little anti-climactic at first glance and then a little more shocking when you face the fact that many parents still don't get it. I'm not sure how you go about changing that since even a compelling article like Friedman's is likely only going to be read by those parents who are already reading to their children and connecting with them. Yet, how can we do anything other than keep trying to spread the word. Books and reading make a difference; engaged and involved parents change the game.

Back to that t-shirt. You know how sometimes you imagine the way something will go down and you're sure you've got it right only to find out you were completely wrong? Well, that's what happened with the t-shirt. I was beyond excited as I handed it to its intended recipient who took one look at the design and asked, "what does this have to do with The Outsiders?. I mean, I'd love it if it had anything to do with the book."  I was ready to get all defensive when I took a look (probably for the first time) at the t-shirt I had purchased only hours before. She was right, of course. It had nothing to do with her beloved book. She was remarkably unimpressed by the t-shirt. What I really should have done was walk into that store and buy her a copy of Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher's fabulous new novel, The Future of Us. I know she'll love it - all teenagers will (it's the story of two teenagers in the pre-Facebook era who discover their future selves on Facebook fifteen years in the future) - it also has nothing to do with The Outsiders but it's a great book that I'm pretty sure she'll connect with and I'm hopeful that her enjoyment of this book will erase the blah-ness of the t-shirt. More on The Future of Us in another post - it's entirely deserving of its own post!