Monthly Archives: November 2014

Nagging Apprentice

First of all, let me tell you how very pleased I am with my decision to have my daughter first. (For all of you who are thinking, wait a minute, you didn’t get to choose the sex of your baby, all I can say back is hush, let me have my moment.) Because it’s not often that I do something involving my children that goes so absolutely and completely right.

Having the girl first has worked out brilliantly: it’s like having an extra nag. Just when I think I’ve reached the end of my nagging limit (hard to believe, I know, but it does happen sometimes), Clementine is there the to tap in and take over. And not only that, but she manages to bring a fresh twist to the nagging as well, so that not only is her subject/victim being nagged with renewed vigor, but he is also being nagged from an entirely differently angle, one that he hasn’t even begun to put up a defense against.

Consider the other night. After nearly five solid years of nagging at my son, Clyde, to organize his backpack I was, if not “done,” then at least taking an extended, year-long break. I listened to Clyde lament the fact that he had lost his homework yet again, and all I could manage was a snarky, “That’s a shame. If only you had something safe to put your homework in every night. Something you take to school every day anyway. Something small enough to carry over your shoulder, yet big enough to hold all of your assignments. That would be awesome. Can you think of anything you have that would work?”

And then Clyde opened his bag and I swear I could hear the Scooby Doo theme playing in the background as bats flew out, and there was no way I could muster the energy for one more bit of sarcasm. Which is exactly when Clementine came to my rescue. She took one look at the mess of Clyde’s backpack and said, “Dude, no. What is this?”

“These are things my teachers told me to save,” Clyde replied, defensively. And that’s when Clementine’s nagging left mine in the dust.

Hands on her hips, eyes rolled up to the ceiling, Clementine shook her head and said, “Don’t listen to your teachers.” And Clyde was hooked. He listened, rapt, as Clementine explained her system of organizing homework. “First thing you do,” she said, “is get a folder and label it ‘Crap.’ Then you put everything that your teachers give you in that folder and you leave it on your desk at home. Chances are you’ll go the whole year without opening it, but if you do need something from it you’ll know where it is. At home.”

I felt like I was watching someone being introduced to “The Secret:” part of me wanted to let loose the “oh, please,” that was trapped in my mouth, and another part was saying, “Eh, let them believe what they want.” But probably the biggest part of me was just grateful that someone else was dealing with the Garbage Bag Formerly Known As Backpack.

And then she went above and beyond in her nagging duties. Clementine rode that nag all the way back into the barn: she then went into a tirade about the state of Clyde’s desk and his handwriting, and he listened to her yet again. It was truly a Triple Crown nagging achievement.

And that’s when I realized that the day had come when the student passed the teacher. And I was surprisingly okay with that.

At least, I was until she turned to me and said, “And about your purse…”

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Money Pits

Recently, a friend of mine told me a story that made me both instantly and insanely jealous. He told me that he had been paying some bills and had noticed that there was an unusually large amount of money in his account. Concerned that some checks had failed to clear, he spent a long time time going over his account to try and find out exactly when the problem began, only to finally trace it to a point sometime in the early summer. Which, coincidentally, was the same time his youngest child had graduated from college. That’s when he realized that there wasn’t a mistake in his account: the reason there was such an unusually large amount of was because, for the first time in over a quarter of a century, he wasn’t paying for anybody but himself and his wife. He felt like he had just gotten a raise.

Personally, I think when that glorious day comes I will feel more like one of those athletes who trains all year with extra weights on their ankles, or an open parachute on their back, or maybe with their legs tied together in the pool. I imagine myself bursting out of the starting gate with so much extra energy (read: money) and spring in my step that it doesn’t even feel like I’m actually running, but rather like I’ve just had my wings unclipped for the first time in years.

Does that sound too harsh? Don’t get me wrong: I love both my children, and am still happy with my choice to have them, but damn, are they expensive. I mean, they cost me money all the time. And I don’t just mean for the extra stuff, like ballet shoes and soccer uniforms, but for the stuff that no one would ever consider to be luxuries. Like ramen. And sheets.

Yes, sheets. Four people in one house means at least two beds (unless your life is a skit from Hee Haw), and twice as many beds means twice as many sheets. Which means that you’ll either be spending twice as much money on linen, or the same amount of money and just get crappier stuff. At least for the children. (Come on, there’s no reason that both of us should suffer from a low thread count. I mean, at least I’m still going to have my sheets in a few years; the ones I buy for the kids’ beds will invariably be lost by then. How, you ask, does one manage to lose a sheet? No clue. No clue whatsoever. I’ve found it best for my own sanity if I don’t look too deeply into those things anyway.)

There’s also the multiplication factor when it comes to things like vacations (any airline ticket times four is painful), phone plans, and even books. (There was no way Clementine and I were going to share the seventh Harry Potter book—which meant, of course, two books.)

When they were younger I thought that having two kids meant that at least there were some things I would get to reuse, but, of course I ended up having children of not only two different genders but also two very different personalities. I don’t think Clyde is going to passing his size ten ballet shoes down to Clementine anytime soon, and even if he was willing to wear any of her ”Pro-Feminist Cat “ hand-me-downs, I think that ship sailed when he got to be five inches taller than her. And counting.

Still, wheneverI get too down about my fiscal hemorrhaging, I think of my friend and his late life “raise” and I feel slightly mollified. And hopeful. Just think: I’ll be like the guy who liked to hit himself in the head with a hammer. Why? “Because it always feels so good when I stop.”

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My son, Clyde, has always hated fruit. Doesn’t really matter what kind: apples, grapes, kumquats, persimmons (which I also think are gross)—it’s all yucky to him. There are two fruits, however, that he holds in particularly high disregard, and those are watermelon and bananas.

It makes sense, I suppose. There is nothing halfway about either one of those fruits: they can’t play both sides, like tomatoes, avocados, or even cranberries. Watermelon and bananas are some of the fruitiest of fruits. And so of course they would just happen to be the two fruits that other people are always the most likely to try to get him to eat.

The watermelon thing comes up every summer without fail, but the banana thing can happen any place, any time. It just so happens that the most memorable banana experience also happened to take place in the summertime. We were vacationing with friends, and in an effort to make the last day’s clean up easier we made a meal out of all of the various bits and pieces of food that were left over, including a very large fruit bowl. Unbeknownst to me (I was in the kitchen attempting to make a thirty-six egg omelet), the fruit from this fruit bowl was handed out one piece per child, with instructions to “eat this before you eat anything else.”

Clyde, of course, got a banana.

My husband eventually found him sitting at the table, banana in front of him, sad but defiant. “What are you doing, Clyde?” he asked. “We need you to help pack.”

“I don’t want to eat the banana,” Clyde replied.

My husband, also unaware of the fruit proclamation, was understandably confused. “So don’t eat the banana,” he said.

“Okay,” Clyde answered, relieved, and scampered off to not help us pack in some other way. And that was that. Until his banana mutiny was discovered, some yelling happened, and my husband put his foot down and defended Clyde’s right to not eat the banana. On the drive home we all joked about it, turning Clyde’s refusal into a kind of McArthur moment complete with Clyde standing atop the dining room table declaring, “I shall not eat the banana!”

For months after that we used those words as shorthand in our family, our way of saying, “Look, I know you really want me to do this thing, but I’m just not into it, okay?” And then we forgot about it. Until last week, when Clyde’s ballet class had “Parent Week” and I caused a minor kerfuffle by refusing to go dance in the studio with all of the other parents.

Clyde was mortified. Apparently I embarrassed him. I tried to explain my reasoning to him, tried to explain that I had every right to say no, all to no avail. He just didn’t get it. At least he didn’t until we got home and told my husband the whole story. My husband nodded his head knowingly, looked at us both, and then summed up the situation perfectly.

“She didn’t want to eat the banana.”

And Clyde finally understood. If he was allowed to have autonomy—if he was allowed to have his own set of likes and dislikes, preferences and hatreds, then maybe I was, too. Maybe I was something more than his mother—maybe I was actually a person in my own right.

At least I hope that’s what he got from the whole thing. I guess the only way I’ll know for sure is when Parent Week rolls around again next year, and we are once again “invited” to come up and dance. Because I’m pretty sure that a year won’t make any difference whatsoever. I still won’t want to eat the damn banana.

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Parent Police

When it comes to my children, I have always tried to pick my battles wisely. The desire to cling to the last few bits of my sanity has made it imperative that I spend at least forty-five minutes of every day not fighting about something; what this means is that while I have been adamant about things like music lessons and getting clear verbal answers to my questions (if it doesn’t work on the witness stand, it doesn’t work for me), I have been somewhat laxer when it comes to things like cleaning your plate (or even using a plate) and going to bed at a reasonable hour.

I always thought that this was my choice as a parent: just like some people choose to spend their disposable income on pumpkin spice lattes while others prefer to save up for a trip to Burning Man, the decisions as to what to discipline my children for are mine and mine alone (well, and maybe my husband’s). Or at least, that’s what I always thought. Apparently however, I was wrong.

While most people would feel awkward about telling another adult they need to stop saving their money for vacation and instead start drinking more six dollar coffees, they apparently feel no such compunction about telling other parents when they should discipline their children. Or, rather, about telling other parents that they should be disciplining their children the exact same way that they themselves are.

When my children were younger I had people chastise me that it made it “hard” for them to enforce the “clean plate rule” with their own children after their kids saw that I didn’t enforce it with my own. A few of them even asked me if I could just “fake it” a little bit to make things easier on them. Because, obviously, making sure my own children weren’t completely confused wasn’t nearly as important as whether or not their kids ate all of their lima beans. (I actually did consider it, but then I thought about how I would feel if my husband asked me to “keep quiet” because some of his friends were coming over and they didn’t want their wives to notice how “uppity” I was, and I said no. And then I considered telling them I would do it if they would enroll their children in music lessons so my kids stopped asking me why they had to practice every day when their friends didn’t. In the end I just kept my mouth shut. Mostly).

Keeping my mouth (mostly) shut when other parents criticize my parenting choices hasn’t always been easy, especially when they misunderstand the reasoning behind my decisions. “You’re supposed to be a parent, not a friend,” they told me. As if making someone eat their broccoli was a friendship issue. Although it is true that I have never tried to force any of my friends to eat their veggies; however, this is not so much for fear of losing their friendship but rather fear of them rejecting all future dinner invitations). No, the reason I have never forced anyone, at any time to eat their broccoli, or honey-glazed ham, or watermelon, is that, frankly, I really don’t care what other people eat. And my children fall into the category of “other people.”

Now that my kids are older, and demonstrably healthy, I feel even better about not changing my parenting style to suit other parents, and even for (mostly) keeping my mouth shut about other parents’ habits as well. After all, my kids never developed scurvy or rickets from their broccoli-free diets, and their friends didn’t turn into axe murderers because they didn’t have music lessons. Or at least they haven’t yet. On both counts. I suppose only time (and police records) will tell.

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