Friday, January 30, 2015

An offer my daughter can't refuse

If you’re in business or politics, the last thing you want is to be associated with bribery and corruption.

But as a mom, I’m here to tell you that despite what the parenting experts tell you, a little bribery is not all that bad – at least, not when you’re dealing with a 3-year-old like my daughter, Kate.

Doling out bribes – maybe we should just call them rewards – is an art. Offered too often, at the wrong time or in jumbo sizes can give kids the wrong idea – and they’ll turn the tables on you and won’t do anything unless they’re given something in return. After all, kids will learn to depend on rewards in order to cooperate. So I’m careful not to get too carried away. But bribery (without the corruption, of course) is a daily part of my parenting toolbox.

At breakfast: “If you eat your cereal, I’ll give you some gummies.”

At the mall: “If you’re good while we’re shopping, we’ll stop at the play land before we go home.”

At bedtime: “If you brush your teeth, we’ll read a story.”

Right now, Kate hasn’t caught on to the fact that what I’m bribing her with isn’t all that special. The gummies in the morning? Well, those are actually gummy vitamins – something she’d get anyway. Letting Kate burn off some energy at the mall play land before we go home is my chance to relax for five or 10 minutes before heading home. And the bedtime story?  I love reading him stories at bedtime. The fact that Kate will happily brush her teeth without much of a fight if I offer it to her is just a bonus.

Of course, there are definitely times I up the ante. I bought Kate a little necklace at Target the other day so she’d stop whining and sit in the cart long enough for me to get all my shopping done. I let her watch three episodes of “Sofia the First” so I could read a magazine in peace and quiet. Last Saturday, I groggily told her that she could eat a Nutty Bar for breakfast if she’d let me sleep for 30 minutes longer (and yes, it worked).

Does this make me a bad parent? Heck no. I’m sure the parenting experts will tell me I’ll traveling on a slippery slope. But you know what? Those parenting experts don’t live in my house. And kids, like anyone, tend to respond to bribery – or, if you prefer, rewards or incentives.

Now if someone wants to offer me a large sum of cash, diamonds or a new car, perhaps I’ll rethink my stance on bribing my daughter.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The secret life of Super Mom

Even the most casual fan of Superman has got to wonder: Why didn’t Lois Lane ever put two and two together and realize that Superman and Clark Kent were one in the same? Sure, they were never in the same place at the same time, so it would have been hard to do a side-by-side comparison. And Clark had those glasses. But still. You’ve got to think that someone as seemingly smart as Lois Lane would have made the connection.

But then I start to think of my very own superhero, the Super Mom. She’s brilliant and articulate about current events. Her kids are always well-behaved. Her house is spotless. She serves balanced meals, made from scratch. And her whole family is just ridiculously cute. Always.

This is in stark contrast to my life. My most brilliant ramblings usually have to do with reality television. My 3-year-old daughter likes to run away from me at the grocery store. My house is messy. Pop-Tarts and frozen pizza is considered dinner. And ridiculously cute … well, I guess we are. (One out of five isn’t bad.) Except in the mornings, when we’re all crabby and un-bathed. It’s not pretty.

In short, I’m normal. But yet, I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing wrong. If Super Mom can do it all, why can’t I?

That’s when I got to thinking: Maybe Super Mom doesn’t really exist. Sure, from the outside, she may look like she has it together. But really, it’s just a big fa├žade. She’s just an ordinary mom, like Clark Kent, with some super powers she can unleash on occasion. As outsiders, we only see the fabulous dinner party the mom of two was able to pull off. We don’t see that behind-the-scenes, she got in a fight with her husband because he forgot to take out the garbage, yelled at her kids for getting underfoot (and then sent them downstairs to watch “The Lion King”) and actually had the whole shindig catered.) By the time we arrived, “Super Mom” was calm, cool and collected. “Oh this? This is nothing,” she says. “Hardly took any time at all.”

Why don’t more moms make the connection? It would sure save a lot of heartache to realize early on that the secret behind Super Mom is that she really doesn’t exist at all – or that, rather, she doesn’t exist all the time. No one person can do it all every minute of the day.

We all think other moms are doing it better, but really, we're all doing the same thing – trying to do our best.

I didn’t make the beds this morning (or yesterday or the day before, for that matter). I don’t wash my floors unless I absolutely have to. I’ll let my kids watch television instead of engaging them with educational flash cards.

But the kiddos and I make cookies together all the time. We dance in the living room. We always read before bed. In short, we have fun. When I know I’m having guests over, I’ll go into a cleaning frenzy. (Please avert your eyes from the mess in the living room should you stop over when I’m not expecting you.)  

There will be time later to do the dishes. The time will come too quickly when the kids will be grown. Super Mom can wait. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Confessions of a packrat

The idea of a guest bedroom in my house is pretty laughable. While we have an extra bedroom and an extra bed in said bedroom, we don’t often have overnight guests. Save for a very occasional weekend, the guest bedroom is mostly uninhabited – except, that is, for all of our stray stuff that doesn’t have a home elsewhere. Board games, extra blankets, laundry baskets, old pillows, random junk … it all somehow ends up in this room.

It’s so bad that several years ago, I stopped referring to this room as our guest bedroom and instead call it my Grandma Alice room.

If you’re related to me, this requires no explanation. My cousins and aunts will nod their head in agreement when I talk about my Grandma Alice room. (Most of them have one, too.) That’s because Grandma Alice, like many women of her generation, didn’t like to throw anything away. I still remember her sewing room – there was a sewing machine in there somewhere, buried underneath the piles and piles of fabric, notions and other crafting supplies. Need a Styrofoam egg carton? Grandma Alice probably had a dozen.

My mom is the same way (well, except for the Styrofoam egg cartons). Our former basement family room is now her art studio, with bookshelves filled to the brim, worktables covered her latest projects and bulletin boards covered with photographs and ideas ripped from magazines.

Like mother, like daughter, like granddaughter. At least I come by my packrat tendencies honestly.

But there’s one major difference between my guest bedroom and my mom and grandma’s rooms. I don’t actually use the space in my house. It drives me crazy to know that for a room no one lives in, the closet is surprisingly full and that boxes of junk seem to multiply overnight. So most of the time, I shut the door and pretend the room doesn’t exist.

A few weekends ago, however. I couldn’t take it anymore. While putting a box of my son’s old clothes in the closet, something came over me. I was pulling boxes off the shelves, pulling old dog toys out from under the bed and uncovering forgotten treasures from the back of the closet. In almost no time at all, I was trapped inside the bedroom with a mound of junk at the door the bed off its frame and all the books off the bookshelf. My son climbed over the pile to see what I was up to, and then wisely climbed back out, figuring it’d be safer to go play with Dad than risk getting caught up in my mess.

A couple of hours later I emerged, with a cleaner, more organized Grandma Alice room. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. It’s a room I’m no longer ashamed of – with the door open even. But I do have one confession to make: I really didn’t throw that much away. I bet Grandma Alice would be proud. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pull forward, people. My rules for the school drop-off line.

Mornings always are a little hectic at my house.

Part of it is my fault. I usually hit the snooze button a few times too many, and I spend more time than I should in the shower. So almost every day, it's a mad rush for me to get ready for work.

But I also have two kids: 9-year-old Josh and 3-year-old Kate.

Parents, I don't need to tell you how stressful it can be to repeatedly tell one child to brush his teeth and to not forget to put his library books in his backpack while begging and pleading with the other to please — please — put on pants.

Oh, and I still have to get dressed, too.

(And my husband, who leaves for work about the time the rest of us are getting up, sometimes wonders why Kate's hair looks like it hasn't been combed in a couple of days. It's because it hasn't. But she's wearing pants, isn't she?)

Somehow, we manage to get out the door with all the bags, hats, gloves, extra sweatshirts, lunches, cell phones, iPods and everything else we think we need for the day. But I can't do a victory dance just yet. I still have to navigate the school drop-off line.

Now, for the most part, the daily drop-off goes relatively smoothly — amazingly so, considering there are more than 600 kids at my son's school. (I know some kids are bused and some kids walk, so not everyone is getting dropped off, but still — that's a lot of kids.)

I mean, it's not rocket science. Pull forward, stop to let your kid get out of the car, move ahead and leave the parking lot. Easy, right?

If only that were true. Unfortunately, there are just always people who believe they're above the system. There are always people who aren't following the major drop-off line rules.

Let's review:

Pull forward. I'm not sure why some parents stop immediately after entering the parking lot to let their kids out. Instead of joining their classmates on the playground at the top of the drop-off circle (and by the doors the kids use to enter the school in the morning), they walk through the front door of the school instead. Why? I'm not really sure. My son never has to stop in the office before school.

But I don't really care if kids go to the office before school. What I do care about is the line of cars waiting on the street to turn into the parking lot — the line of cars that's also holding up traffic that's not pulling into the school — all because someone wouldn't pull forward.

Don't get out of your car. Your child doesn't need a hug. Really, he doesn't. Nor does he need help getting his backpack out of the car. Trust me, he can handle it.

And by all means, do not abandon your car. If you have to walk your child into the building, park in the parking lot. That's what it's for. The rest of us shouldn't have to drive around your car sitting idle in the drop-off lane.

Keep moving. The drop-off lane is not the place to have lengthy conversations with your kid. Say your goodbyes in the car — not while your kid is lingering on the sidewalk.

See, it shouldn't be so complicated. But then again, neither should getting my daughter to wear pants.

But just as I hold out hope that someday I won't have to yell at Josh to brush his teeth in the mornings, I believe that we can do it. We can make the school drop-off line stress-free.