The Tightrope of Parenting

I participate in a group at church in which parents get together to discuss random life challenges while our kids attend Sunday School. Even though I can’t tell you the names of half the people in the group (and it’s like 5 people), I truly look forward to the conversations each week. I always end up learning something.

One week, a mom relayed a story about her preteen son getting into a fight. Or, rather, getting punched. Her reaction was very different from that of her husband. She was horrified by the fact that this happened at all and wanted to talk it out with the aggressor’s family. Her husband thought their son needed to stand up for himself and was disappointed he didn’t return the punch. As a group, none of us knew which one was right, and the mom herself had mixed feelings. Initially, I chalked this up as one more reason I’m happy I have two girls – less likelihood for physical confrontation. But that’s a stereotype, and even if it’s statistically true, having daughters does not make me immune from being faced with tough parenting choices.

Parenting is like walking a tightrope without a net. It’s a constant balance between being a confidant and a disciplinarian. The one who calms fears and the one who commands respect. The arms that hold you and the arms that push you forward. Should we shelter them from the storm or push them out into the rain? My philosophy sounds something like this – let them watch the rain from indoors while you teach them to build their own umbrella.

We can’t stop the rain from falling or the punches from being thrown. All we can do is build up our children so they are able to decide for themselves how to handle it when it happens. We may or may not agree with how it turns out, but at least the situation was theirs to own. They’ll never learn from our mistakes the way they will learn from their own. Our job is to help them process it all. Teach them to breathe. Help them discover who they are.

Kids are not a demonstration of our successful parenting techniques. They are people with personalities, tendencies, and genetic intricacies we will never fully understand. To think we can form them like balls of clay is absurd, and if you try, you will be constantly frustrated. Instead, let us treat them like the individuals they are, leading them down the wide path of human decency, making room for the millions of ways there are to walk it.

Easier said than done, I know…

Izzy and the Grumpy Cloud

I wake in the morning, and what do I see?
A cloud full of grump hanging right over me!

“Be gone, Grumpy Cloud!” I say to the fluff.
Even steam from my shower just isn’t enough.

As Dad drives to school, it follows the car.
We have to act quickly, we’re not going far.

“Go faster!” I urge him. He won’t even speed.
At this sluggish rate, will I ever be freed?

I need him to hurry, but what can I do?
Come on! I can’t stand it. “DAD, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

I shout with no warning; a total surprise,
Then Dad turns around, and tears fall from my eyes.

“Just take a deep breath,” Dad says, “stay cool.”
I tell him I’m sorry, then run to the school.

I slouch in my seat throughout math class and reading.
Ignore it. Ignore it. I keep on repeating.

I make it to snack time, but crackers and juice
Are hard to enjoy with this cloud on the loose.

Then outside at recess, I’m running around,
I trip on the cloud, and I crash to the ground.

I wail out in pain with my cheeks glowing red,
But that cloud keeps on growing right over my head.

This cloud must be stopped, but it keeps getting darker.
I head to the art room, and take out a marker.

I map out my plan with the perfect precision.
This war can be won by the smallest decision.

My next stop is gym where I gather my tools.
Will it count as a win if I’m breaking the rules?

I knot up my jump rope without being seen,
and I lasso that cloud like a rodeo queen.

I’ll tie it up tight to the side of the bleachers.
It’s just a balloon, I’ll tell all the teachers.

It grows even bigger as I heave and I ho,
and then the rope breaks, and I scream out, “NO!”

I’m sent to the office and ordered to wait.
The principal’s calling my parents? Oh great.

Dad picks me up, and I’m covered in cloud.
Although he is mad, he says nothing out loud.

Now back in my house, I’m defeated at best.
Will I ever get rid of this terrible pest?

And here comes my sister, worst pest in the world.
A bundle of drama that looks like a girl.

“Go away, Gwennie!” I shoo her like flies.
But watching her face, I soon realize

She sees my cloud too, and she’s not impressed.
She sticks out her tongue, and she thumps on her chest.

She charges ahead like a knight off to battle,
But in place of a sword is a pink baby rattle.

Backward and forward, her footwork’s quite grand;
she’s slapping the cloud with the back of her hand.

Oh my, what a scene! As I step back and see,
I start to feel giggles. He he he he…

HAHA HA HA HA, Mom and Dad join in.
I can’t hardly breathe as I say, “Gwendolyn!”

She stops when I point and she looks at her foe.
I know how to make this old grumpy cloud go!

“I’ve got it!” I say, and then drop to my knees.
I tickle her tummy and give her a squeeze.

The giggles we’re making are rising like bubbles.
The cloud’s disappearing, and so are my troubles.

We’re laughing so hard that my eyes start to tear
Then I look to the sky, and I notice it’s clear!

So now the cloud’s gone, and the sun’s shining bright,
I realize it never had a chance in this fight

I just need to focus on all that is good
‘Cause laughter does more than a cloud ever could.

I am Me

Are you your father’s daughter?
Are you your mother’s son?
Are you the oldest in the house?
Are you the little one?

Does Grandma call you “baby doll?”
Does Uncle call you “bud?”
Do you like to keep your boots real clean
or splash around in mud?

Are you a funny giggle box?
Do you like telling jokes?
Are you a star out on the stage
entertaining all the folks?

Or would you rather just be quiet,
spend free time reading books?
Will you try almost anything
your mom or daddy cooks?

Are you tall or very small
or somewhere in between?
Do your eyes look black as night
or maybe, are they green?

Do you rise up with the sun,
or stay up with the moon?
Are you a calm and patient soul,
Or does nothing come too soon?

When someone asks you who you are
or who you want to be,
Don’t be afraid to smile and say,
“I’m happy to be me!”

Should I Have More Kids?

I can’t tell you how many hours, days, and even years I have spent brain wrestling myself over this one. But finally, I found my answer. Not with the flip of a switch, but gradually, like waiting in the half-darkness of a neighborhood bonfire, moving my lawn chair around as I squinted through the smoke, finally seeing the white hot embers of a fire in ideal marshmallow-roasting condition.

That’s how I found my answer. Spoiler alert: I didn’t find yours. If you are looking for someone to answer this question for you, let me send you a coupon for a magic 8-ball. While I don’t have answers for you, I can relate, and I will give you advice. I know what these brain-wrestling matches look like, and maybe the questions that helped me the most can help you too.

First, I want to acknowledge the privilege of being able to ponder this question. The ability to conceive a child when you want to is a gift that so many people have not been given. I write this post knowing it is a moot question for too many. Truth be told, it was one reason I felt like I should have more kids. For all those moms-in-waiting who can’t have their babies or lose their babies or continue to wait for their babies, why would I not want to have more kids? What greater gift is there than growing life inside your own body? Take advantage of that privilege, dummy! On the other hand, I am one of few women I know who has not had to face the loss of a pregnancy. And why, when I have two healthy children, why would I want to risk that? Be satisfied with what you have, dummy!

As someone who has made this impossible decision, here’s my advice to you.

1. Listen to Your Heart

I remember one mom of three telling me that after she had two, “I looked in the rear view mirror, and I just knew there was an empty seat. Our family wasn’t complete.” How magical is that? I thought for sure I would have that feeling too.
After my first, I said to everyone who would listen, it’s going to be a LONG time before I do that again. But 3 years later when I laid eyes on my second daughter, I felt it so clearly, we are definitely going to do this again. (Apparently, planned C-sections don’t illicit the same snarky exhaustion as a 30 hour labor). But here we are, over four years later, and we haven’t done it again. And we won’t. The heart may be your guide, but it’s fickle.

2. Listen to Your Head

Think about the risks. Do you or your partner have any health issues? How have your other pregnancies been? How old are you?
Let’s be real. Since I’m talking to women who already have a child or two here, please consider that you are needed. If your last pregnancy almost physically killed you or mentally wore you down to the brink of a breakdown, consider that. Your pre-existing kid(s) need you.

3. Listen to Your Wallet

I know, this is so lame. But kids are expensive! Now, if you are one of those families who thrives on minimalism, makes your own clothes, and considers coupon-cutting an exciting Sunday afternoon, kudos to you! I sincerely admire that. But for the rest of you shameful consumers like me, things add up. Sometimes it is not even the things you choose, but it’s things like medical bills or high-priced organic hemp baby formula. The point is, the expenses can be unpredictable, so make sure you are prepared to take it on. Financial stress is toxic and truly is no laughing matter.

4. Listen to Your Family

If your partner in life is adamant about having or not having more kids, you need to listen. What are they truly seeking? Why do they feel so strongly?
And of course, listen to your existing kids. It might not be in their words (if they even have words yet), but you likely have an inkling as to how full your hands are. What will be the effect of another sibling on your existing ones?
Don’t forget about the grandparents if you are lucky enough to have them. Especially if they are heavily involved with the children and/or you depend on them for childcare on a regular basis, the effect on them should probably be considered. The status of your support system (i.e. the proverbial “village” that it takes) is a key factor in raising healthy children.

5. Keep Listening

Sometimes it is hard to hear your own voice over the din of other people’s opinions. Keep trying. Ask yourself, am I making my decision for the wrong reasons? As a lawyer, I fully understand we could argue all day about what the definition of a “wrong” reason is, but as a woman and a mother, might I suggest that the only wrong reason is one that’s not your own.
If you’re not having more kids because you are terrified every time the child you have gets a cold and you know deep down that your heart can’t handle more sleepless nights, then who is to say that’s the wrong reason?
If you want to have four kids because you can’t stand the thought of an odd number, who is to say that’s the wrong reason?
If you’ve always longed for an idyllic holiday season when a big group of adult children comes home to reunite, who can say that’s the wrong reason?

I think all we can do is acknowledge that this decision will be different for each family. In the end, there are just as many pros as cons, but the weight of those pros and cons depends upon who you are, what you believe, and what your circumstances are.
For me, I got comfortable with occasionally doubting my decision not to have another kid. Some days, I can tangibly feel that doubt coursing through me, my arms aching for the weight of a sleeping baby. But eventually, it shakes off of me somehow…
I guess the high-pitched screaming about who hit who first and whose turn it is with the remote kind of helps.

The Tooth Fairy’s Request

Warning: This post is for people with all of their adult teeth only! If you still have baby teeth, stop reading NOW!

Are they gone? Ok, good. Now let me ask you a question. Why are you still torturing yourself with sneaking into your child’s room and digging around under their pillow while they are sleeping like some dentally-obsessed ninja? It’s insane!

I remember the first time I played tooth fairy. My daughter was an early tooth-loser (which apparently is expected when your teeth grow in at 4 1/2 months), and I was not prepared. The good (?) news was she swallowed her first tooth (down the hatch with a hotdog at daycare), so I didn’t need to dig for a tooth. We penned an apology letter to the tooth fairy and stuck that under her pillow instead. Still, my heart was beating so hard when I tiptoed into her dark bedroom that I was sure the sound would wake her up. It didn’t, of course, but the stress was too much. After a couple more of these late night adventures, enough was enough. I needed a plan.

Enter: the tooth fairy distress letter. I put the below poem into my daughter’s little rinse cup in the bathroom, and my tooth fairy anxiety was over. The tooth fairy’s request was as good as gold, beyond questioning, and incapable of having its terms negotiated. Please, by all means, feel free to use my method with your own tooth-losers.

Dear [Child’s Name],

You lost a tooth! Good for you!
Now here is what you need to do.

Brush it clean, shine it up,
and drop it in this little cup.

It’s hard for me to fly around
And dig through pillows ‘til it’s found.

So many kids are losing teeth.
I don’t have time to get much sleep.

So, could you please do me a favor?
It will be a real time-saver.

Put the cup somewhere that’s stable,
like in your kitchen or on a table.

Thanks for helping – you’re the best!
This will help me get some rest!

Love,
The Tooth Fairy

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