Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


Are You Ready for Sleepovers?

sleepoverHave you had the opportunity yet to have your “baby” ask if they could spend the night at a friend’s house? I recently was asked by my 12-year-old if she could—and I quickly responded with, “Why don’t you just stay here?” I would much rather keep my children home, where I can see exactly what they are doing. I remember my mother saying the same thing to me when I was younger and thinking, “It’s not as much fun staying here!” My mother would never let me spend the night at a friend’s house until she spoke with the parents.

I have now become that embarrassing mother that wants to get to know the parents, where they live, what they do for a living, if they have other children, what shows they watch on TV, what games they play, books they read, results of the FBI background check…I know it seems a bit extensive.  But in all seriousness, even though it may be uncomfortable, I feel it’s really important for me to take the extra step and get to know the people that have the ability to influence my babies for an entire evening. I know I am embarrassing my children by doing so but hopefully one day when they are older they realize the importance and can understand how embarrassing it is for us, too.

There are a few ways to go about reaching out to the parents of your children’s friends to get to know them. Something that I do is set up a play date where I and the other parents will all be present and we can chat over coffee. Sometimes I have to make the first move in the conversation. This is easy if I have some ideas in mind of what is important to talk about, to fill in those awkward moments of silence. In the article 7 Steps to Prepare Your Child for a First Sleepover by Kate Rope from Parents Magazine, one parent says, “When I’m hosting I put it all out there. I say, ‘We have no dog, no pool, and no guns. We are going to watch this show, eat pizza and go to bed.’” I tend to follow the idea of “putting it all out there.” This way there are no questions of expectations and a good understanding of rules and plans.

The idea of someone else telling my kids what to do or allowing them to do things I wouldn’t makes me uncomfortable. But a conversation with the parents of my kid’s friends goes a long way in ensuring that I feel they will be safe, so to me, the extra step is worth it!


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I Don’t Know How They Do It

“I don’t know how they do it.”

I often hear this phrase when the conversation turns to my previous employment as a preschool teacher, or even just talking about early childhood educators in general. The assumption is that having many children in a single space is more difficult than having just one or two.

It seems like it should be true. We hear stories of how teachers in grade school must conduct class in a certain and often strict manner. Surely teachers in preschool must use some sort of control mechanism to maintain the calm and functional bliss that is demanded by their circumstances?

 

Baloney! I recently had a group of children and families over for a celebration at my house. We had around 15 children, mostly between the ages of four and five and with a few toddlers in the mix. It was chaos for sure – there is no other way to put it. But, I felt like it was controlled without having to be authoritative. No one had to put the kibosh on anyone’s play. No one got hurt. There may have been a moment of crying or two but situations were resolved peacefully.

It wasn’t until the end of the night when the comment came.

“I don’t know how their teachers do it all day, every day.”

While I didn’t respond, what I wanted to say was, “How do you do it?”

We have to be fair to ourselves, give ourselves credit for the roller coasters, the fits and the fury that we as parents face on a daily basis. Before I had children I used to say that having them would be a piece of cake as I had a ton of knowledge and experience in the classroom. But when I had my first child that thought changed. Why? Because it’s different.

All of those skills I had for the classroom? Some of them apply and some just don’t because being in a classroom is different from being in your own home, with your own children. A child knows who their parents and/or primary caregivers are. They know there is a difference between them and their teachers. They also have the peer/social components of being in a classroom that affects their behavior. I don’t know many families that are composed of fifteen plus children all around the same age.

The environments and routines are different, too. My home is my home and toys go, well, anywhere and everywhere. In the classroom they go someplace specific. Routines are pretty consistent but in a completely different way than at school.

So, the next time I hear someone say, “I don’t know how they do it,” I’m going to say, “Yes, you do.”

Unless they don’t have a child in which case, “Have you ever herded cats? Well, it’s not really like that.”


Good Neighbors, Great Friends

We’ve lived in our cul-de-sac for a little over four years and up until this summer my nine-year-old son Levi has been frustrated that he didn’t have a buddy in the neighborhood. Sure, we’ve got triplets with two boys right next door, but they’re a year older and not in quite the same place as he is developmentally. So, I was beyond excited for Levi when a friend who is the same age and attitude moved into the house two doors away.

After a little bit of a rough start, Levi and (I’ll call him Michael), soon became best buds. They act, behave and even seem to think alike. It’s been so much fun watching them run between houses playing Nerf wars, dressing up in Star Wars costumes and bringing Minecraft to life with pick axes and diamond swords when I’ve run them off of Xbox. And sleepovers are hassle free. No packing, dropping off or picking up required. Best of all, when one or the other has had enough, they just zip back across the yard. Boom. Done. They’re great friends.

Given how well the boys have gotten along, the fact that they had their first fight on Christmas Day was unfortunate. Sometime that afternoon Michael popped in as we prepared to leave for vacation. Levi had gotten the Diamond Edition Minecraft sword and pick axe and I could hear them battling downstairs. They were a little more rambunctious than usual but I chocked it up to too much Christmas excitement. The next thing I knew, I heard the front door close and assumed Michael had to get home. When I came downstairs, I could see from Levi and his eleven-year-old sister Liv’s expressions that something had gone wrong. “I told him to get out,” Levi explained angrily, but I could tell tears were close to the surface. According to Liv, when Levi kept boasting about defeating him, Michael punched him in the nose! “I’ve lost my best friend on Christmas,” Levi shrugged, again trying to act macho about it all.

Of course I wanted to rush in and help the boys patch things up, but had to finish packing, so I only asked Levi to think about whether there was anything more to the story and if he wanted to go out of town with things the way they were. As much as I wanted him to, Levi didn’t go talk to Michael that night before we left and it hung like a cloud over him for most of the trip. Time and again I had to fight the urge to contact Michael’s mom and intervene, fearing that the longer the silence stretched, the more awkward things would be, not only between the boys but between us as moms who’d formed a bit of a relationship through them.

I needn’t have worried. On our way home, Levi asked if he could text Michael. Apparently there was more to the story, and he wasn’t merely an innocent victim. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Michael should have resorted to violence, but I also know my son’s behavior can be provoking. Levi must have known it, too, because his text simply read, “I hope you can forgive. Your best friend – I hope.”

Everything turned out well in the end. For Levi and Michael, and for us moms too.  What a relief! We get to choose our friends, but not our neighbors. Life is so much better, for children and their parents, when you’re both.


Making the World a Better Place

The neighbors were having a gathering the other day, and all of the families had at least one child in the range of 6 – 16 years. Our little Schmee is only a couple months into being 4, so I was cautiously optimistic about how he would fit in with the group. He, however, felt confident that his wooden sword (a Vitamix stir stick circa 1980) would help his cause.

Making the world a better place, one neighborhood BBQ at a time

We’ve been in the neighborhood for only a few months now, so the activity has been quite subdued. The neighbors warned us about all the play activity that would start up as soon as school let out for the summer. Apparently a group of children, eight of them and counting and all boys, take over the neighborhood, marching the younger children in pick-up boot camp, fending off evil monsters and bad guys and generally keeping mayhem at bay.

What struck me most about this gathering was not necessarily the awesome food (these people can cook!), nor was it the feeling of being amongst old friends. It was the pure joy of watching a group of children with such a wide age range amongst them treat each other with respect. It was also the joy of being among adults who showed their respect not only for each other but for all the children, as well.

Sometimes we think of children as not being able to show compassion, understanding and empathy towards one another, and yet this group of children proved that presumption wrong. It’s no wonder that these children could play for hours on end with little to no arguing. They had superb role models: parents who really listened. And when there was something that needed worked out they helped the children talk through it. No blame was cast. No assumptions were made. So, when the children found themselves at odds and by themselves they, too, were able to listen to each other, talk about and solve the challenge at hand.

Does this really happen all the time? Was it just by chance I caught this glimpse of hope? I don’t know but I will say that Schmee found his niche. Among all the high-tech gadgets and gear the older boys had, it was Schmee’s “sword” that was the envy of the evening. It could have been the honesty that Schmee brought with him that allowed the other children to show him respect. It could have been the parents who show only the utmost care and interest for others. It could have been the delicious food. Most likely it was a combination of all these things and more that led to such positive relationships being developed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded,” and that seems fitting here. Perhaps if we could show others some respect, treat them with dignity, we might be better off for future generations. Why not start today, with our children?


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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

So often we address our youngsters with warnings about their behaviors: Watch what you are doing. Use your manners. Play nice. It is our responsibility to make sure they learn how to navigate themselves in the world. We have learned from our own experiences that others make judgments based upon the actions they observe, so we want our children to be careful and learn from a young age that actions speak louder than words.

And though we tend to heap this advice on our children, I often wonder if we really get it. We are so busy using the words to get the messages across to our children that we often forget that it is our actions that really make the difference.

Parents often give children advice that they don't follow themselves! Remember that how you act is going to teach your child more than what you say.

This past weekend I watched as an entire row of football fans became enthralled with a 5-year old boy who was “learning the ropes.” The boy, who was clearly a Bengals football fan, was with his father. During the first offensive series he was in awe of the fans around him who cheered and gleefully exchanged “high-fives” as the Bengals moved the ball down field. When the Bengals’ defense took the field the noise around him grew as fans stood up, loudly chanted and banged their seats. At first he looked shocked, his eyes grew wider but than a smile grew across his face when again the “high-fives” were exchanged amongst the fans. Now his hand flew up in the air as he reached for a “high-five” from, me, the strange woman behind him who only seconds before was bounding on her seat and yelling at the top of her lungs.

As the game continued he grew more and more confident in his actions. He mimicked the gestures during the fight song; he reached all around for high-fives and banged on his seat when the defense took the field. Women and men behind him, next to him and in front of him smiled as he “took on” the actions of a Bengals fan. And it was simply our actions that made this impact. No one talked to him and explained why you make noise when the defense is on the field. No one corrected him or reminded him to chant defense. He simply watched, made some observations and mimicked what was going on around him.

And we know this happens all the time. We know our children are watching and yet we often act poorly. We think teaching is about words when we can teach our children so much more through our behaviors. Children learn how to express feelings, deal with frustration, solve problems and socialize with others by watching our actions. It is what we do and how we do it that makes the difference.

This past weekend a group of adults had a great time teaching a new fan the ropes. I sure hope his father was happy with what his son learned at the game!


Express Yourself

My love affair with clothes began early on. Childhood holidays and special occasions were even more special because a new outfit usually accompanied them. As did the fashion show I would put on to model my finery. In high school, though my single mother’s funds were limited, my great aunt’s antique armoire wasn’t. Chock-full of dresses that spanned decades and could be cinched up with a belt, safety pins or whatever I had on hand, that armoire was my fashion experimentation station and contributed greatly to my unique sense of style. Though my grown up wardrobe is nowhere near as quirky as my teenage one, the freedom and joy I experienced expressing myself through what I choose to wear has remained with me. Yes, I’m a self proclaimed fashionista! And proud of it!

Girly-girl? Tomboy? Something in between? Encouraging self-expression without judging others.

So it was no surprise to me when Liv, who is now nine, used to stretch her little baby hand out of her stroller to touch dresses as we passed them in the mall. Once when she was only a few months old, she squealed in delight as a friend of mine pulled a pink outfit out of a gift bag for her. One of my favorite memories of her as a toddler will always be the day she looked out the window and told me, “It not raining. It not snowing. We go to store and buy red clip shoes!”  From what I could gather, she meant heels like the ones I wore to work. (You know – the clackers from The Devil Wears Prada).

Like me, Liv’s personality is evident in her attire. She’s a girly girl through and through. Pink reigns supreme. But a few months ago she began to hesitate about what she wears to school. When I questioned her about this, she explained how one girl in her class always looks her up and down and rolls her eyes at whatever she’s wearing. Soon those looks turned into making fun of her. It got so bad Liv cried the morning she saw that I’d laid out a dress she’d begged to wear not too long before.

Hmm. I knew the girl in question. She’s a self-professed tomboy who lives in sweats, baseball caps and high top Converse. As a matter of fact, her mother has lamented to me more than once how she wishes she could get her to dress more like Liv. In possession of this sensitive information, I explained to Liv that even though she and her classmate have totally different styles, there’s nothing wrong with either. What is wrong is judging each other and making the other person feel bad about their choices. I encouraged Liv to remember that though she may not ever wear what the other girl does or vice versa, both of them are  free to express themselves through their clothing, their art, their music, their sport or whatever it is that makes them uniquely them. Liv nodded solemnly but still looked fretful as she headed off to school.

Following up on the situation has been a priority for me, not because I care so much about Liv’s clothes but because I care about her confidence. Third grade isn’t the last place where others will try to influence her behavior, after all. Soon after our conversation, I asked Liv if any more rude comments have been made about her outfits. “No,” she answered with a smile. “She’s actually complimented me.”

I’d be surprised if Liv’s classmate started to incorporate some of Liv’s style into her wardrobe, but not as much as I was tonight when Liv selected neon yellow gym shoes with bright blue laces and only a trace of pink for me to purchase for tomorrow’s field day. When I started to balk at this un-Liv-like choice, I had to heed my own admonition and allow my daughter the freedom to experiment with a new way of expressing herself.

Guess those shoes were a Liv-like choice after all.


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Everyone Needs a Best Friend

Nurturing and cultivating friendships is a vital part of growing up, but for some children, making friends may not come easily.

When we moved into a new neighborhood, my daughter Gabrielle definitely struggled. When we saw a group of children her age playing we immediately went over to introduce ourselves but the kids ran away. Gabrielle ran after them but when she couldn’t catch up she burst into tears. It broke my heart to see her hurting! But there wasn’t anything I could do. I didn’t know how to make the neighborhood children like her and want to be her friend.

But it turns out she didn’t need me to make anyone be her friend. Last summer Bailey came into my daughter’s life. Because of Gabrielle’s special needs, I needed someone to be with her during the week while I was at work, and Bailey gladly accepted the position. A week later, I received a text message from Bailey:  

“I do not think of Gabrielle as a ‘job.’ She has become a good friend and I am glad I am spending my summer with her.” 

I was overwhelmed! My daughter had made a friend who appreciates her for who she is, not what she can or cannot do.

Bailey exposes Gabrielle to the teenage experiences that I can’t: trying on dresses at the mall, laying out at the pool, playing guitar and piano together, rocking out to country music, painting fingernails and braiding each other’s hair. Bailey even took Gabrielle to a festival on her day off, and the two of them had a blast dancing to music and riding rides. Hearing the two girls giggle has been music to my ears!

When Bailey left for college last August, she promised Gabrielle she would stay in touch and true to her word, Bailey continued to be a part of Gabrielle’s life through phone calls and Skype. When she came home for the holidays, Bailey introduced Gabrielle to her college friends and they all whisked Gabrielle away for lunch or ice cream.

According to Bailey,

“Gabrielle may be different in many ways; she may need my help to walk and care for her when she has a seizure, but most of all she needs my friendship and I need hers. Gabrielle isn’t just a job; she is like family to me now. I don’t care for her because it’s what I’m paid to do. I care for her because I love her. She has helped me more than she will ever know. She has taught me selflessness, patience and most of all, unconditional love.”

Everyone needs a best friend. Or should I say a Bailey?

– Diann