Best Friends Forever

Finding a best friend is a childhood rite of passage.Finding a best friend is a rite of passage for most children, and my daughter is no exception.

I met my first best friend, Debbie Miller, when I was in kindergarten and we were inseparable until third grade when I changed schools. While we aren’t still in touch, her friendship left an indelible mark on me. I have the same hope for my daughter. But, last year we were new to the area and her school and while she made friends, she never really made a best friend connection. My daughter is not shy but she struggled to find that one friend with whom she connected. I was hoping that when she started back to school this year that she would find that person.

There were several girls in her class that she knew from the previous school year, but as girls tend to do, they had already paired off with one another. I noticed Maddy seemed to have her feelings hurt when she would see friends walking into school holding hands, excluding her. And so, to my delight, she has finally found her very own best friend. Well, if I am being honest, her BFF found her!

Maddy and Angelina were in cheerleading together this summer and then ended up with the same teacher when school started. I didn’t notice them playing together much during cheerleading, but once school started, there was a shift. I started hearing a lot of stories about Angelina and at cheerleading Angelina became determined to stand next to Maddy. Maddy seemed oblivious at first, but in time they became to rely upon each other.

After talking to Angelina’s mom I found out that she was an only child, just like my Maddy. They just seemed to be a natural fit for one another. This past weekend, they had their very first play date together and I honestly don’t know which one of them was more excited. In the short two hours they played together, there was laughing, crying and then more laughing. Observing their play date was like watching the child’s version of the movie Beaches. I loved it!

I am so happy for each of them that they have found a friend that makes them feel a part of something and gives them a sense of belonging. Maddy’s BFF from first grade may not end up being a life-long friend but for now, these two are being the best friends they know how to be to one another.

First Grade Blues

My experiences in elementary school were wonderful, and I think this in no small part due to the great teachers I was lucky to have. Most vividly, I remember with affection my third grade teacher, Mrs. Rykosky.  She created a fun, safe learning environment and instilled in me a life-long love of reading. I remember being mesmerized each day as she would read to us from books such as Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach.

But, almost as important, I knew she loved being with our class each day. I can remember building clubhouses in our classroom and performing shows for her and the rest of the class. She was genuinely kind to every student and showed an interest in each child and who they were. I loved going to school every day because I loved being with Mrs. Rykosky.

And so when my daughter started kindergarten last year, I naturally assumed she would have the same experience as me. And she did. She had a wonderful teacher who really seemed to “get” who my daughter was and what she needed to be able to learn. When Maddy started first grade this year, I just assumed that would be the case again. But I was wrong.

Some of her struggles I know are based on the transition from half-day kindergarten to full-day first grade. But not all of them. My daughter is a child who has never really experienced discipline problems in child care or school. She is active but for the most part compliant. Now she is receiving “color sticks” for inappropriate behavior once or twice a week and she is devastated. Her behavior hasn’t changed, but expectations have. She is struggling to figure out how she can do better or what she is doing wrong. She broke my heart the other night when she told me, “I don’t think my teacher likes me.”

It would be nice if every teacher your child had was a Mrs. Rykosky, but that just isn’t reality. The best we can do as parents is to listen to and support our children, and be an advocate for them if necessary.

So, what do you do when your child and your child’s teacher don’t seem to connect? For starters, I keep reassuring Maddy that her teacher does like her, that she is just different from her teacher last year. Her new teacher isn’t good or bad, just different. Secondly, I reached out to her teacher to let her know that I had concerns and wanted to talk with her. Lastly, I talked with Maddy about things she could do to avoid conflict. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, sometimes you just have to change your behavior to meet the needs or expectations of another person. That’s just part of growing up. It is still a work in progress, but it is progress.

My Son, the Gamer

I vehemently dislike video games. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the hand-eye coordination that my son has, or maybe because I can’t hardly play, let alone succeed, at any of the complex games he enjoys. So, it’s not surprising that I cursed the day my husband brought a gaming system into our home.

My son Jansen used to be an avid reader, a worthy competitor at board games and creator of the most intricate geometric drawings. But now, his every waking moment is focused on gaming. He seldom engages face to face with his friends, and his goals are all about advancing to the next level. Tearing him away from the living room is like pulling a band aid off a scab. One would think I was torturing him if they heard his moaning and groaning.

My husband and oldest son have reassured me that gaming enhances an individual’s fine motor skills, especially for pilots. But the last I checked, Jansen wasn’t interested in pursuing that career choice. While I know it’s common place amongst school age boys to be completely engrossed in gaming, I didn’t want that to be the only thing in my son’s life. After talking with other moms, I knew I had to start setting some limits.

Jansen now has one hour a day for gaming and is required to read 30 minutes daily. With extra time on his hands, he now participates in youth group, hangs out with friends at the park and even volunteers to go food shopping with me. These days, it is nice seeing my son interacting more with live individuals instead of interactive games.

Growing Up, Not Apart

When I got remarried and moved in with my husband and his three boys, my then 5 and 6-year-olds started sharing a room again. They’d had their own rooms in our townhouse, but given the fact that we were becoming a blended family where the oldest teen got his own room and the other two teen boys shared, having the two youngest do the same made sense at the time. This arrangement worked well up until last summer.

Toward the end of third grade, Liv, the only female child in the family, started expressing her desire for her own room. After a year plus transition process, everyone has moved either out or around, and Liv has gotten her wish.

Though having Liv and Levi share wasn’t my preference at the time they started to, I came to cherish having them together. Waking them up at the same time with a song, doing “This Little Piggy” with Levi and then giving Liv butterfly kisses while the other looked on, these are all things that won’t happen in the same way. So many milestones were reached and meaningful moments made in their shared room. I’ll always remember them learning to read as we snuggled over new classics as well as the ones I loved as a child.

Life really isn’t about the number of moments, but the ones that take your breath away. Like Levi gently removing his big sister’s glasses and placing them on her night stand after she’d fallen asleep in them or Liv looking at her sleeping baby brother and asking me, “Isn’t he precious?” They’re more than just brother and sister. They’re best friends.

When I realized moments like the above may be a thing of the past, I had to capture them. So I snapped pictures of the walls decorated to reflect both their personalities, the his and her bedding and them. Lots of them. Because when it’s all said and done, it’s just the room that Liv and Levi shared for a short while. The love and friendship that they’ll hopefully share for a lifetime extends beyond those four walls. My prayer for my children is that they grow to be adult friends who skipped over the phase where their school friends were more important than their sibling. After all, as long lasting as friendships may be, family is forever.

Developmentally, it was time for Liv and Levi to be in separate rooms. Even so, it’s been a massive adjustment. Liv slept in Levi’s bottom bunk the first few nights and Levi finds countless reasons to make his way back to what is now Liv’s room, especially at bedtime.

With all the change, one thing has remained the same. Every night I hear them calling, “I love you,” back and forth and am assured that they’re growing up but not apart.

You Can Give a Child Asparagus, But…

They say that children’s taste for foods is acquired in utero, and that by offering your children a variety of healthy foods at an early age they will grow up to enjoy eating healthy foods. But there’s also another saying: you can lead a horse to water, but… or in this context, you can give a child asparagus, but.

When it comes to offering healthy food, try, and try, and try again.

When I get home from work the number one thing on my mind is what I’m going to make for dinner. Sure, it needs to be quick, but it should also be healthy, somewhat fun and filling. And now that there are four mouths to feed that is becoming increasingly difficult.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, Schmee, I’ll admit that we ate a lot of delivered pizza, but we also ate healthy, home-cooked meals. So, why won’t Schmee eat what is served to him every night? Why won’t he try the pork shoulder I smothered with love as it smoked on the grill for 13 hours? Why won’t he even taste the asparagus sautéed with onions and mushrooms, lightly oiled with a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly grated pepper? He’s always been this way, no matter what we’ve offered.

He’ll eat broccoli, but I long for variety. I don’t even want to tell you how many pounds of mashed potatoes I made this past week. What am I going to do with my little Schmee and his limited pallet?

At least there’s hope for Sweet Pea. What a relief to see that she will eat just about anything you put in front of her, and she’s so cute when she tries something new. She stares at it with penetrating eyes, looks at me for affirmation that it is for eating before taking a little dab at the lip and then (usually) popping it into her mouth. I love the puckering, inquisitive look she makes as she tries to discern the unique flavor compounds she is experiencing. Not everything is a winner, but at least with Sweet Pea’s tastes, there are more winners than losers.

I understand that each child is different, and that Schmee may come around later. Yet as an involved and discerning parent, I feel compelled to want my children to eat and eat well. I’m just hoping that this horse eventually takes a drink.

Embrace Your Child’s Individuality

This past summer I signed my daughter up for pee-wee cheerleading and it has been an adventure, to say the least.

I was a pee-wee cheerleader at her age and loved it, and I thought she would, too. Beginning in June, she had practice two days a week for two hours a day. In a parking lot. In 90 degree weather. It goes without saying that these practices were painful, for everyone.

One evening my husband offered to go with her to practice so that I could have some time to myself. I dropped them off at practice and headed to the local grocery store for some alone time. Within half-an-hour my phone was ringing. My husband was calling to say that I needed to come back and get them. Maddy didn’t like cheerleading and we should let her quit. He even put her on the phone: “Mama, come get me. I don’t want to cheer.” I stood motionless in the middle of Kroger. What was happening? I had only left them alone for half-an-hour. I asked to speak to my husband again and told him to hang tight, that I would be there shortly.

I made her stay until the end of practice and then we headed home as a family. When we got home, my husband and I discussed whether or not we should continue sending Maddy to cheerleading. He advocated for letting her quit; he thought she didn’t like it and we shouldn’t make her continue. I advocated for making her continue. Practices had just started and we had paid a large, non-refundable fee to participate.

But then he said something that gave me pause: just because I had enjoyed cheerleading as a little girl, didn’t mean that Maddy would, as well. What was that? Just because I loved being a cheerleader, didn’t mean she would, too? I hate it when my husband’s right, but he was right. We agreed that we would have her continue for the remainder of the season, but if she didn’t want to do it again next year, it was her choice.

My husband’s words really hit home. I suppose every mother who is expecting a little girl assumes their daughter will look and act just like them. I know I did. I dreamed of matching outfits and matching hairstyles. Suffice to say, not only does my daughter look just like my husband, she acts just like him, too. And I don’t say that to complain; it’s just not what I had envisioned. My daughter is genuinely the funniest person I know. Sometimes it’s on purpose, sometimes it’s accidental. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maybe she’ll be a cheerleader, and maybe she won’t. Either way it’s okay, because she isn’t me. And she doesn’t need to be. She gets to be whoever she wants to be.

Save the Hard Hits for the Field

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge NFL fan. My excitement grows as August sets in – I love the strategy, athleticism and camaraderie of this sport. And like any fan, I get that the hard hits are a part of the game. But the recent exposure of “hard hits” off the field have led me to question the sport and players I have always supported.

Over the past few weeks, the aggressive actions of several National Football League players have been the center of much attention and debate. The latest NFL player to hit the news is the Minnesota Viking’s Adrian Peterson. The indictment alleged that Adrian “recklessly or by criminal negligence cause[d] bodily injury” to his 4-year-old son. Peterson’s attorney has said his client used “a switch to spank his son” and was simply doling out discipline much like “he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas.”

In a statement, Adrian Peterson reported that, “My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day. I accept the fact that people feel very strongly about this issue and what they think about my conduct. Regardless of what others think, however, I love my son very much and I will continue to try to become a better father and person.”

This incident has incited many opposing points of few. At the center of the debate seems to be whether “spanking” is an appropriate form of discipline and whether or not parents have the right to make this decision. This type of debate frustrates me as I think it is clouding the facts. Adrian Peterson is not being accused of doling out physical discipline, he is being charged with causing physical harm to his 4-year-old son. And I believe there is a significant difference!

I do not believe there is only one right way to parent. Parenting is very personal and every parent must decide what is best for their child – which includes the best way to discipline. I also get that for some parents spanking is a viable form of discipline. I know many families that have used spanking for generations and believe that it is right for them. I do not question these beliefs or these rights. I do question how anyone can support the use of a switch, which caused injury to a 4-year-old child.

Adrian Peterson has attempted to rationalize his behaviors by contending that he only did to his son what he endured as a child. And that furthermore he was just trying to teach his child right from wrong. My reaction to this is, seriously? You want us all to believe you didn’t know a better way to teach your 4-year-old child right from wrong. And, most importantly, you didn’t realize you were hurting your son. Again, seriously?

Regardless of how Adrian was raised, he has been exposed to many different experiences and ways of thinking. His position as an NFL player also affords him access to an immense amount of resources. So, at what point should we expect that Adrian would know better than to cause harm to his child?

I hope that the current plight Adrian Peterson and his family are facing causes other parents to take stock of their choices and actions. I also hope Adrian achieves his desire of becoming a better father. But, let’s not cloud the issue. The debate is not about the parental choice to spank, but how we as a culture continue to accept excuses for acts of aggression and violence. And to the NFL players I am pleading – please keep the hard hits on the field.