Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

You Can Learn a Lot From a Cardboard Box

This past holiday season my daughter had quite an extensive list of toys on her wish list, and at the very top of her list was a larger-than-life doll house. And so, much to her delight, on Christmas morning, her wish came true. She received a 47” tall doll house complete with furniture.

Because the dollhouse was so big, so was the box that it came in. I put the box in the basement and forgot about it.

Until a few weeks ago.

It was another cold and dreary Sunday afternoon and my daughter was bored, proclaiming she “didn’t have anything to play with.” Shocking, huh? I rattled off a litany of her toys, including the new amazing dollhouse, and she quickly told me that she had already played with it.  She wanted something new to do.

She asked me if we still had the box her new dollhouse came in and I told her we did. Then she asked me to bring it upstairs so she could make something. I complied and for the next few hours she built a dollhouse out of the cardboard box. She had a blast! My husband and I helped her, but she was the architect. We talked about measurements and how to make levels in the box so that her dolls would fit on every floor. We talked about weights and how to make the house sturdy so that it would hold the dolls. She made furniture out of some of her other toys and even built a staircase for the house. There was cutting, taping, gluing and decorating. It really was incredible to watch her work and see what she would think of next. She left no detail of the house undone.

Privately, I joked with my husband that we should have saved our money on the elaborate dollhouse we bought her for Christmas. She was more interested in, and having more fun with, the dollhouse she built from a cardboard box. Of course, I don’t regret buying her the dollhouse; she does love to play with it. But it is a good reminder that sometimes we forget about the joys of simple toys and imaginative play. Thanks to being inundated with marketing, our children want the latest phones, tablets, gaming devices and toys. And while I am happy to buy some of those things, the key is finding an acceptable balance.

I believe that the hours she spent building a dollhouse out of a cardboard box were invaluable to her overall development. And to top it off, our family spent that time together.

What are some ways that you encourage and incorporate imaginative play with your child?


Motherhood: Be Prepared

It was the Saturday before Christmas and like most everybody else, my daughter and I were at the mall. We had our trip all mapped out: lunch in the food court (according to my daughter, they have the best pizza), Build-a-Bear for a gift for her BFF and then a visit to Santa. I knew it might be crowded but we were prepared. We were going to take our time and enjoy our girl’s day out.

And then things went terribly wrong.

We had finished lunch and had just walked into Build-a-Bear when the fire alarms in the mall starting going off and the lights began flashing. At first I really wasn’t that worried. I assumed it was a false alarm and we continued shopping. Then a clerk from the store approached me and told me we had to evacuate the store. Ok, no problem. I still wasn’t concerned.

But as we left the store and entered the mall, I panicked. People were screaming as they ran toward the exits. I quickly grabbed my daughter’s hand and we began running with the crowd. She kept asking me what was wrong and telling me she was scared. I told her just to keep holding my hand and I would keep her safe.

As we entered Macy’s to exit the mall, the gate to Macy’s closed behind us. We made it outside and started walking the distance to our car. As we approached our truck we encountered a woman who looked both terrified and confused. I asked her if she knew what had happened. She said she had been in Macy’s and that there was a shooter and then a loud explosion. I didn’t wait to hear any more details; we got in our car and got out of there.

Later that day we learned there hadn’t been a shooter at the mall, but there had been an explosion:

A tank had exploded in the food court and from there, panick ensued. I explained to my daughter what had really happened and tried to calm her fears. She said she was never going back to the mall (that actually made my husband happy) and then began asking all kinds of questions about fire and fire safety in our home. She became obsessed with making sure the Christmas tree lights were off anytime we weren’t in the family room.

We have had many conversations about fire safety since then and I think she might even be ready to go back to the mall. But me, I’m not so sure. I honestly don’t remember every being so scared and feeling so helpless. Keeping me safe is one thing, protecting my daughter is on a whole other level. In retrospect, I am pretty confident I overreacted and probably did my daughter more harm than good. But I don’t really know that I would do anything differently if I had to re-live the experience.

Before you have children you think you understand how much you will love your child but you can’t really know the depth of that love until you hold them for that first time. Your whole world changes. You will run like a crazy woman through the mall holding your child’s hand without even knowing why. You just will.

Parenting is Hard Work

This time of year I usually need a reminder that being a parent is hard work. Rewarding – but hard – work. There are a million things to do, places to be and toys to buy. I wish I could create a clone of myself to get everything done.

Facebook doesn’t help. As if only to annoy me, my friends and family keep posting pictures of their beautifully decorated homes, suggested holiday recipes and latest Pinterest projects. Seriously, who has this kind of time? I am doing well to make it out the door each day without forgetting something.

To comfort myself, I tell myself that I am the rule, not the exception. Everyone struggles. But am I really? Could I be doing more as a parent for my family? Should I? Self-doubt as a parent can be overwhelming and let’s face it, exhausting. We are often quick to extend grace and forgiveness to those around us, but do not extend it to ourselves. It is tricky to know when we should honestly push ourselves to do more and when we have set unrealistic expectations. I think the key is being open and honest with one another about our struggles as parents. And to seek support and help when needed.

I read something recently that sums up how I feel as a parent, particularly this time of year: “She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.” If you looked at a typical day at my house you could see just how unpretty some of those details are: dirty dishes and unmade beds, baskets of laundry and empty dog bowls, raised voices and slammed doors. But among all of these unpretty details, there is love. Love for the home our family has created and love for each other. So, from one hardworking parent to another, relax. Cut yourself some slack. I’ll try to do the same.

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.

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.

Babies Don’t Keep

As the end of the school year approached in late May, I readily admit that I couldn’t wait for summer. This past year was my daughter’s first year of school and while it was a new, wonderful experience, I was ready for a break. Bring on summer, I said. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for!

"We feel we have all the time in the world to enjoy or children, but..."

It is now mid July and I am still waiting for that break. It seems we are always going somewhere or doing something. We have been on the go: to camp, field trips, cheerleading practice, parades, Kings Island and festivals, just to name a few! My daughter is having a blast, but most days I feel like I could use a nap. Lately, I have found myself complaining that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. While we have been out having fun the laundry and dishes have been piling up (literally and figuratively). Thank goodness I do not have any friends or family who like to drop in unannounced because I and they would be completely mortified by my housekeeping skills, or lack thereof.

And so, one night recently my husband came home from work and promptly told our daughter, without conferring with me, that we would go to the park after dinner as a family. If looks could kill, he would have been a goner. I was furious. I didn’t have time to go the park. Didn’t he see the state of our house? Who was going to do the dishes? Who was going to make the beds? Who was going to go the grocery store? Who was going to give our daughter a bath? To his credit, my husband immediately realized I wasn’t happy. He asked me what was wrong and I quickly began giving him an exhaustive laundry list of chores that needed to be done. How did he not know? He looked at me and calmly said, “It will all still be here tomorrow. Why does it need to be done tonight? We’re taking Maddy to the park.”

And I had to admit, he was right. It didn’t need to be done that night. We had dinner, went to the park and enjoyed a relaxing evening as a family. And the world didn’t end. No one was waiting for me at my house when we returned to tell me I was a bad housekeeper or mother. The only person judging me was me.

When I think about how quickly my daughter is growing up, I am daunted. We feel we have all the time in the world to enjoy or children, but, in reality, their childhood moments are so fleeting. I am doing my best, with my husband’s help, to savor the time I have. When I was a child, my mom had a poem in her home that says it best:

Babies Don’t Keep

I hope that my child, looking back on today
Will remember a mother who had time to play;
Because children grow up while you’re not looking,
There are years ahead for cleaning and cooking.
So, quiet now cobwebs, dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.