A Climbing Wall: The Art of Parenting

“I need you to check in with me,” I said to the 9-year-old as he placed his foot on a ledge on the climbing wall. “I am what keeps you alive.”

In the boys’ endless quests for adventure, the climbing wall at the gymnastics facility was their next journey. There was fun and challenge to be had on the walls and in the attempt to swing up into a little “cave,” but the greatest fun was to descend into the pit, hook up to a harness, and scale the wall. My job was to belay them. My job was to keep them safe, to keep them alive.

This was a new adventure for me as well. I had no experience in belaying and it’s been way too long since I’ve tied any knots in Girl Scouting (“Form a guy, give him a tie, poke him in the eye.” – viola! – a figure-8 knot). I realized as a stood back, craning my neck, watching my fearless boy climb straight up that there was a great deal of learning happening in a short period of time.

Mr. Ornery was learning strategy of placement of hands and legs. With encouragement from the two men who climb each week, he was learning to focus on his legs to push him up higher. He was also learning to listen to others (even if he had just met them) who had more experience and thus could give him some guidance. If he could reflect deep enough, he was learning to respect his elders.

He was also learning to trust himself and develop confidence. The first couple times, the wall with an overhanging cliff loomed against his skill. Several attempts later, he fought to keep his toes in the footholds and extend his arms high enough to get the next rock. Scrambling over the edge, he shot to the top to ring the bell and joyously called out, “I did it.”

He was learning to trust his mother. “You sure you got me?” he’s asked several times as he reaches far up to the top. He knows he’s high enough that a fall would be devastating. He knows he’s connected to a rope, but he’s not so sure that rope is secure. He knows the rope is connected to me, but he’s not so sure this system is going to work. So, I remind him that he’s safe. I remind him that his mom has him. I remind him that he checked in with me at the start so that we’re in this together – he’s ready to explore, I’m ready to catch. Just as he used to walk off as a toddler and then circle back to check that I was still there, now as an adventurous third-grader, I’m still there. I’ve got his back in this life.

As I hold the rope, I contemplate this parent stuff. I’m responsible for keeping my kids safe, but also for encouraging them to try new things. Before clicking onto the rope, we review the knots together so that my kid thinks of safety first (helmets, seat belts, paying attention – whatever it is, safety matters). Before giving advice about the next possible step, I hang back as much as I can and let him struggle for a bit. Of course, I have an answer for him because I have a different vantage point (I’m not on the wall and I’ve already had a lot of experiences in life), but some of this he needs to wrestle with and I need to hold my tongue.

I am also reminded that part of what makes this parenting gig tough is that I don’t always have all the answers and new things (like belaying) come at me all the time. The great thing is that there are others, more experienced climbers, who can provide help – check the knots, teach me to hang the rope up at the end, provide soft encouragement. And there are more experienced parents who can give advice and share wisdom and provide soft encouragement when the going gets rough. There’s no way I could do this without them (and I’m looking for them as we approach the teen years!).

So, I’m learning to say “Go for it.” I’m learning to coach my kids just a little but hang back as much as I can so that they can figure it out. I’m learning to let others mentor and teach them skill sets that I don’t have. I’m learning to support but not hover. I’m learning to figure out what makes each boy tick and what they need on their journey. I’m learning the outward expression of the love withing.

Before you venture forth, my dear sons, check in with Mom.

And I will say, “Climb on.”

Advertisements

Parenting: The Science/Art of Prediction

When the boys were young, the day care center parking lot drove me crazy. Young kids are short enough that drivers cannot see them when backing up and every time I picked up or dropped off, I worried that a kid would be hit by a car in reverse. The new video technology is helping but it doesn’t guarantee anything. Kids in parking lots still stress me. This past weekend, the younger two helped me go grocery shopping. They eagerly unloaded groceries from the coveted “car-driving” cart into the back of our van. Without thinking, I stepped to the side of the van to put the “don’t-want-it-smushed” bread into the front seat. Then I heard a man yelling. The car beside me had started backing up at the same time that The Little Guy had decided to move our cart backwards to take it to the corral. The man’s yells stopped the driver moments after she had already bumped into the cart and into my son. He was fine. He was protected by the cart and by his angels. But the woman was in tears and I was in disbelief. I had failed to be there. Failed to predict my son’s movements. Failed to predict the driver’s movements. Failed to protect from harm. Lifting up thanks as we drove away, I reviewed the situation with the boys trying to reinforce safety.

Parenting, it really boils down to one’s ability to predict. Science or art….hard to tell.

And this starts early, shortly after the mesmerizing awe of the newborn look and smell. Soon, the parent is desperately trying to predict the infant’s sleep cycle. If the baby falls asleep at 9:00 pm, do you predict he or she will wake up at 11:00 and therefore there’s no reason for you to get to sleep yet, or might the little cherub sleep until 1:00 am and you can delight in at least 2-3 hours of peaceful rest. After a night or two, or a year or two, you realize there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to a kids’ sleep cycle and you might as well give up trying to predict anything!

The toddler years are the nightmarish, desperate attempts at predicting the Tasmanian devil’s every movements. Is she too close to the steps and about to tumble down? Is he going to flush that Match Box car down the toilet or is he just happily driving it along the bathtub rim? Is she likely to choke on that piece of food? Is he going to bump his head on the glass table or duck just in time? Apparently at this age, unpredictability is the only predictable aspect of parenting.

You feel like you have a sigh of relief as they enter into the school-age years. Now they can dress themselves, feed themselves, sort-of toilet themselves, and sometimes even entertain themselves for practically an hour (if some electronic device is involved!). You start to feel smug and almost have empathy when you see the bedraggled parents of toddlers chasing kids down the grocery aisle. But then you rapidly realize that there’s a whole new level of prediction which is further complicated by trying to predict interactions with and influences of other children as well. “I’m sorry your friend just blocked you from Minecraft chat. It wouldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that you just blew up his carefully constructed building, would it?”

It’s a brain-spinning nightmare, really. The more experience you have with kids, the more adept you get at this game of parenting prediction, but really there is no level of perfection that any parent could ever attain. My life is full of little moments of failing to predict kid behavior (scribbles on walls, broken TV sets, holes in the bedroom doors, plumbing emergencies for toy extraction) interspersed with near constant mental energy trying to predict larger and more consequential situations.

For example, currently I’m trying to predict the likelihood that a guy who goes by the name James will continue to use my address as a meet-up point for people trying to sell electronics on an app. When they arrive, he approaches and then runs off with their item. Within minutes, he has it up on the app for sale. The local police seem unconcerned and apathetic. My neighbors seem to consider it “interesting.” Property management seems to be pondering what to do. I seem to be the one stressed that victims will eventually get fed up with “James” and come storm my townhome. The question is, will I and the boys be home then?

So, here’s my conclusion. There’s no way we as parents or as humans could possibly predict everything that would befall our kids or us. We get better with each experience, we rely on family and friends to lend advice, we pray and we hope, and that’s the best we can do.

For now, I’ll predict that my boys are going to be really excited about an upcoming surprise and that the first winter snow that is falling tonight. That’s about as much as I can predict. And that’s good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

The Top 2 Most Ineffective Words in ALL of Parenting

The other day, I made a little video on my phone of my youngest boy. Of course, I had to have him repeat his question for the video because the first time he asked, I didn’t have any video recording running. I should just run video nonstop at my house. After all, I have three boys – feel sorry for me.

I was in the kitchen baking and The Little Guy came up and asked, “Mommy, if I make this noise (something between grunting like a pig and clucking his tongue or some concoction of extreme annoying noise) when I’m near you, would you say ‘Stoppit’?”

“Stoppit”
“Stop-it”
“Stop It!”
And “Quitit”
“Quit It”

They’re actually 4 words in total, but they roll of my tongue so rapidly and frequently that it seems as if it’s just 2 words after all.

I can’t even count how many times a day I say these simple “words” but clearly enough that the boys identify them as frequently used enough to completely ignore them. And they are right – these words are entirely ineffective.

The other day, Super Tall Guy lay on the floor wiggling and kicking around his feet. I kept repeating “quitit” “Quit IT!!”….he kept moving. I kept getting frustrated seeing all the papers that were being scattered and how he was kicking into Mr. Ornery also rolling around on the floor. “Quit it!” and yet he was not stopping.

Clearly my words were not helping him understand what his behavior was and why it was such a problem. “Super Tall Guy, please stop moving your feet around. You are messing up my papers and kicking your brother.” “Oh,” he replied, “I didn’t know.” My first thought was ‘how in the world would you not know? Don’t you feel yourself knocking into things?!? What’s wrong with you?’ But that question is not helpful. My commands were not helpful. I needed to educate him on exactly what was the problem and help him see how he was affecting the world around him.

“Yes, Little Guy, when you make that noise near me it makes my brain feel really crazy and Mommy doesn’t like it. But you can make that noise in another room if you want to.” Now the Little Guy can make an association between his behavior and how he is affecting the world around him. He can also choose to make annoyingly obnoxious noises in another space if he would like (for example, beside his older brothers who just punch him or start copying him!). What he now knows is that Mommy doesn’t just yell “stoppit” and “quitit” all the time for no apparent reason.Im perfect

I mean, I do. I do say them all the time.

But the first step to change is admitting you have a problem.

And visualizing the change you want to be.

Find the Someone’s

His hood was pulled tight around his ears, blocking the winter cold as he burst through the door. It was way past his bedtime, but his eyes danced and the biggest smile ever flashed across his face. He kicked off his shoes and bounced away into the living room. I turned to my friend, gave him a brief hug, and say “Thank you.” “It’s good to be a friend,” he said as he turned to leave.

After a rousing basketball game (I almost typed “unsuccessful” there – as in his team didn’t win – when I caught myself. The act of playing is “success.” The ability to catch, dribble and toss a ball is “success.” The joy of the swoosh and the cheer of the parents around the court is “success.” I shall remember.) Anyway, after the game, I dropped Super Tall Guy off at a friend’s house – a dear couple who used to go on training runs with me years ago when my three were a little easier for someone else to handle. A delightful set of friends whose kids have gone on to college and beyond and yet their house remains an open door of love and hospitality. Though we have only seen each

other a couple times in the past year, I jumped on Mr. G’s offer to show Super Tall Guy his canaries.

About 4 ½ hours later, Super Tall returned, beaming from ear to ear, bouncing around the house with stories about holding birds, cleaning cages, writing down the “secret” number of the birds, and naming them (Sunny 1, Sunny 2, The Dark). He showed me how you can hold them without squishing them. That if you blow on them to “see their bellies” you can tell if it’s a male or a female. He talked until sleep took over.

It’s going to take a village for me to raise these boys.

  • It takes the daily help of my mother who despite being in her 70s, carts around a 9-month-old foster baby wearing his “my-head-is-misshapened” helmet.
  • It takes a father to unclog the drains, put up plastic over drafty windows and change the chandelier light bulbs over and over as they are knocked out by arching footballs.
  • It takes a sister to help juggle the schedule and take the oldest one skiing while I stay within a warm house.
  • It takes a school to sit down and meet and develop a plan for the new kid in the class and commit to doing what needs to happen to help him succeed.
  • It takes a Big Brother, Big Sister program to bring alongside a mentor and a friend for a kid without a father.
  • And it takes a whole bunch of friends for me – texting friends, dining friends, babysitting friends, comforting friends – to be able to survive.

But what really warms my heart are friends from years past who step up and take a kid for a couple hours and when you thank them profusely over text as you tuck your bubbly boy in bed, they reply – “Really glad to love on the kid.”

You see, that’s what all kids need – someone to love on them. And it can’t be me because I’m too busy racking up awards of “Meanest Mom Ever.” It has to be someone outside the family. Someone who really shouldn’t care that I chose to adopt three beautiful challenging boys. Someone who doesn’t have to give up their Saturday night to show a 90-pound clumsy 8-year-old how you hold on to a delicate bird. Someone who will love on a kid because that’s what the kid needs and they are willing to give.

If you have kids – find those someone’s.

And if you can – be that someone to a kid. You have no idea how profound and powerful you can be when you love on a kid.

Even if just for a day.

Thank you, Mr. G.

Do not read this post….

….If you’re looking for parenting advice. Because if you’re anything like me – trying hard to be a good parent – making it sometimes and beating yourself up more than you should, you’re probably getting pretty exhausted.

The thing is, it feels like every time I’m on the internet – email, Facebook, Twitter – there’s another way to “be a great parent”….another advice column….another thing I didn’t do right with Super Tall Guy. Another opinion on co-sleeping, potty training, kid sports, handling emotions, time outs, time aways, time together, quality time, quantity time, quiet time (my favorite!)

And my problem? I actually don’t have time to read all this advice. And I don’t have the emotional energy most days to adequately decide that most of it doesn’t actually apply to my kids and therefore I don’t need to worry about it.

Now – there was that one post I read (wish I could remember it) that said that this current generation of parents is really struggling with parenting and reflecting on parenting and looking for advice. It’s one bit of a post that I actually agree with.  I spend a whole lot of time wondering about my wondering about my parenting!

But for the most part, I wonder….

  • Where the scissors are because we keep putting them up so the boys don’t get them….and then they disappear anyway.
  • Who used the silver Sharpie on the dining room table (but does it really matter “who” did it? Or the fact that it was a Sharpie?!?)
  • If the spiraling football is going to hit the fish tank and knock Lightning McQueen to the floor this time or not (because when else will this beta fish belly up? Or should I just clean the tank again?)
  • If that’s a small turd on the living room floor that I almost stepped on on the way up to bed, or? Nah, just a small rubber brown Ewok.  That, however, on the side of the bathroom wall really is what it looks like it is….
  • If Super Tall Guy will ever forgive me for tossing his Flash Gordon superhero toy in the trash can when he was two even after I told him 5 times that I would if he kept throwing it at the mall play area….and he did keep throwing it? Why did he just bring this up again?
  • If the washing machine can handle 5 pairs of muddy kid sneakers or was that too much? (Oh wait, seems I forget the left shoe for The Little Guy….oh well, it’ll clean off eventually!)
  • Why tremendously full Roxy glassespull-ups explode into a million tiny round gel pellets when you strip off pajamas in the morning….with no hope of really being able to clean them all up?
  • If the life expectancy of a dog is inversely correlated with the number of boys under the age of 6 in one’s household?

It’s probably better for my sanity to ponder this kind of stuff than to wonder if I will really mess these boys up for life, or if there is enough plasticity left in their brains to make it through my trial and error parenting stage? So if you were looking for some advice, I certainly hope you didn’t read all the way through. Maybe next week. Maybe next week.

 

 

 

Parenting 101

I was at the older boys’ basketball session the other day and sat near a man that I knew years ago.  We hadn’t seen each other for many years and now were reconnecting with our sons being in the same basketball league. He had brought one of his friends to come watch and I sat beside this man and “eavesdropped” on their conversation about parenting.

Naturally, I was not silent for long before I just “had” to share some of my favorite parenting books (for boys, it’s currently “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys). This got the conversation going about what does it take to be a good parent.  After realizing that we were clearly depressing the man who was about to become the father of a newborn in a month (you will never get good sleep again, no book could possibly prepare you for this, there’s no guaranteed-to-work discipline technique, we did remember to throw in some of the “good” stuff.

There is a lot of good stuff. And there is a lot of joy in parenting. There’s also some real and natural struggles.  Some of my key points were:where-the-wild-things-are

– Remember to forgive yourself. You are doing your best….and new mercies for the day begin every morning.

– Parenting is an opportunity to see the world again. Things that we have forgotten or have forgotten to look at become brand new through the eyes of a child – the flower, the bee, the sunset, the water droplet…

– Parenting will help you identify all your “faults” and “issues” – just in case you want to work on them for “growth” and “maturation.”

– Baby wipes can clean anything.

– You will never get good sleep again – except for the times when you go away for the night – and it’s really important to do that regularly.

– Most importantly, surround yourself with other parents who are willing to be “real” and not just pretend that it’s the easiest, most wonderful thing they’ve ever done. There are parents who really do experience that….I salute them with one of those fake “good for you” smiles….but really, you need people who will vent and laugh and cry with you.  For you will laugh and cry often at the same time….especially if you have boys….as you try to figure out exactly why he felt the need to kick in the basement window?!?!?!

– Make sure that you laugh more than cry :).