I have a dear friend about whom I’ve written before. She’s the one who went from a corner office in Chicago to SAHMhood in North Carolina. Despite the challenges therein, she still finds time to worry about all sorts of things I can’t. I’m talking about things like what kind of plastic bottles are made out of, whether or not her food has been genetically tinkered with, and how much hand sanitizer is too much hand sanitizer. I admire her for doing this, mind you, and say that without sarcasm.
She was recently on Facebook talking about one of these sorts of things (the pink slime McNugget bit, I think) and I quipped that I could make a list of 10 things I worried about before I got to what went into making a McNugget. She challenged me to do just that. Here I go:
- My kids not getting run over, anywhere: To start with we live on a very busy road and, given our lack of a driveway, park our minivan right on it. This means every day, at least twice a day, we’re down on that road either getting in or getting out of the van and walking along the sidewalk. No one’s ever come close to running out in the road but, in my mind, it only takes once. Then there are parking lots. Maggie and Henry love to race everywhere including to the front door of any store. One of these days I worry they’ll forget that cars are also racing around in parking lots. They’re smaller (and a tad more fragile) than cars by a pretty wide margin.
- Maggie falling in with the “wrong” crowd: I know she’s just in second grade but I’ve been worrying about this since she was about three. Back then, there were these two boys in her pre-school class. One was this very sweet and quiet little boy who had the most tremendous crush on Maggie. The other was loud and, as they say about kids that young, “always getting into things.” The latter liked Maggie well enough but wasn’t going to be locked down. Which one do you think she liked and which do you think she ignored? I distinctly remember one afternoon watching her walk right by the nice kid on her way to see the not-so-nice one and the look of hurt on that poor three-year-old’s face. I felt his pain, too, but in a completely different way. It was one of the first times that I could fast forward in my mind. How would this feel when she’s 16? Oy.
- Sticks: I have a real thing about sticks. Every time one my kids picks up a stick, all I can envision is one fall after another that end with them somewhere impaled somewhere through the face. You name it: eye, cheek, up the nose, down the throat, anywhere a stick could possibly go (and probably a few it really can’t.) Of course, no one I know has ever had a stick accident and I certainly didn’t myself. This does nothing to stop me from seeing these horrible things. I do my best to not act crazy when they play with sticks but, inevitably, end up gently suggesting we find a new game that doesn’t involve them and breathe a silent sigh of relief when they agree.
- Not passing on my own bad habits: I guess I should count myself lucky that I can identify a few of my own worst habits. I’m sure I have others that I blithely ignore, but I am well aware of, for instance, my proclivity towards procrastination. I am a horrible pack rat who sees value in old college papers and printed out e-mails from fifteen years ago. These are things I already see in my older two kids. They share a room with not only with each other but also enough toys for a dozen kids. They don’t play with most of them but the idea of throwing them away sets them off. Worse than the toys is their love of every piece of paper to which they ever set pen, pencil, or crayon. Getting Maggie to throw away old homework is difficult enough that I just wait until she leaves the room. I also have a horrible, almost debilitating, love for commas but can’t tell, yet, if I’ve passed that on to any of my kids.
- The twins not killing each other at any given time: For the first year of their lives, Oliver and Theo barely ever acknowledged each other’s presence. They interacted in various ways with everyone else in the family and, pretty much, outside world. Point of fact, the only people, places, or things to which they paid no attention were each other. In one way, not a whole lot has changed. It’s not like we ever walk into a room to find them stacking blocks or playing ball with each other. They don’t walk around hand-in-hand. But they interact. They definitely interact. Problem is they interact in a very specific way – whatever toy or book one has, the other wants. Given that they lack the verbal skills to discuss these conflicts in a calm manner (a trait that also seems to haunt their older siblings, for the record) they just start whacking away at each other. Theo, the smaller of the two, has been known to sit on Oliver. Thankfully, they’re not alone all that often and, even when they are, are prone to vocalize their dissatisfactions quite energetically. Separating them isn’t all that difficult and neither has yet managed to really hurt the other. At some point, though, that could change. It bears watching.
Finding balance between being a parent and letting my kids be themselves: I’ve touched on this before and seemingly come back to it again and again. That shouldn’t be that surprising given that I think this represents one of the core challenges of parenting. If you let the kids run roughshod then you’re not doing your job. It certainly could be easier at times to just let them get their way but it’s definitely not often better. On the other hand, if you take it too far, then you’re suppressing your children’s abilities to be themselves. Just this weekend, we finally let Maggie get the haircut she has long wanted. We’re telling ourselves it’s a “pixie cut” but, when it comes down to it, I think it is a boy’s haircut. Coupled with her love of boy clothes, she will be mistaken for a boy by those who don’t know her until the hair grows out. Is it better that we let her get this cut that she really wanted or would it have been better to save her the probable teasing that will come her way? I guess we’ll see.
- Getting Henry to eat anything: The boy loves his grilled cheese. He’ll eat Trix yogurt all day long if you let him. That there is just about it. He used to like pizza and then he didn’t. Then he liked it again but only if you cut it into really skinny slices. I’m not sure where he is now on the pizza question but I can tell you where he is on chicken, beef, vegetables, fruits, ice cream, and pretty much anything else in your fridge or mine. As soon as he started transitioning to real food (or not, as the case may be) we augmented his diet with PediaSure. It used to have a bear on its label and, accordingly, Henry refers to it as “bear drink.” He still has one every morning and this may be the only thing that has kept him from turning into one big cheese sandwich.
- Not spoiling my kids: Sometimes it is so easy to make kids happy. You’re in a store and they ask you for whatever cheap little toy it is that catches their eye. It may only cost a couple bucks, so why not? They’ll be so happy and you’ll get that thrill and satisfaction for being the one that made them that way, right? The problem comes in the fact that it is all so fleeting. Like a sugar high that is inevitably followed by a crash, so too is the purchase of this theoretical toy. It’s not often something for which they’ve longed as much as it is simply the bauble of the day. Within a short time it will lay, discarded and ignored, on the floor somewhere. Your own rush will also be transient because, the next time you’re in a store, they’ll want (and eventually expect) that this process will be repeated. While harder in the moment, saying no to your kids will eventually make them appreciate it more when you, in fact, say yes. Despite that wonderful little morality play, this doesn’t mean I always succeed at saying no; I just try my hardest to.
- My kids wandering out of the house while I sleep: I honestly I have no idea from where this one comes from and this may or may not be the first time I’ve admitted it to anyone, anywhere. I’ve mostly kept this one under control but that doesn’t stop it from popping up from time to time. Fact of the matter is that I lock our front door every night not so much to keep big people out but to keep little people in. I don’t think anyone, except maybe Maggie, can unlock the front door, so I’m pretty sure we’re safe on that one. Henry did walk outside the other night to go find Amy, but he didn’t get very far. It was the closest this insane fear ever came to being realized.
- Finding a better house for this family: Right now we have three bedrooms and one bathroom for six people. Of course, two of those people don’t yet make use of the “facilities” so to speak, so the crunch isn’t yet in full bloom. Maggie and Henry share a room, which works – for now. The clock is ticking on that one. We don’t have a driveway, we have to walk up 53 steps to get to the front door, and the house needs some significant exterior help. Add to this that the public school system in this city isn’t as good as we could hope and I know that at some point sooner rather than later, we’ll need to relocate. We definitely need a new house and we’ll probably be well served in a new town. There is a lot to like about our house and even a lot to like about the City of Lynn and if it were just Amy and I, we would probably have no problem staying where we are. But it isn’t and that’s the crux of the issue, isn’t it?
Now I’m sure that my friend worries about all these sorts of things too. I’m not saying that she doesn’t. I’m in fact saying quite the opposite. My whole point is that people like Larisa are able to find the mental time and space to worry about all these things that vex everyone and then add on to it these big picture items that aren’t on my radar.
I’ll readily admit I don’t know much about PBA’s BPA in plastics. I guess there are concerns that by killing bacteria all the time, you don’t build up any immunity to common diseases. I’ve done a bit of reading on genetically modified foodstuffs and can still say I am not at all concerned about those.
Part of it simply is that I believe in the sometimes trite idea that, if I survived these things, so too can my kids. Yes, I’ll acknowledge that none of the above actually existed when I was kid but certainly other things did. I grew up a house where both my parents smoked. I’ll go ahead and wager there were pesticides on my foods worse than whatever genetic hocus-pocus is going on now. This list could go on.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m letting my kids run around in the back of the van on car trips the way I roamed free in the back the station wagon. I strap them into car seats and boosters the like of which didn’t exist in the seventies. I’m not letting them run out of the house at seven o’clock in the morning and just expecting them to return at some point later in the day. But I will let them eat at McDonald’s and watch television and play video games. I don’t believe any of these things are inherently evil the way some do.
It is in the end about balance, right? My kids watch TV but they love to read books. They’ll play video games but they’ll also run around the playground. They eat McDonald’s on occasion (well, not Henry) but they’ll also help us cook a healthy meal at home. That, to me, is balance and if I can achieve that then, well, most everything else should, if not take care of itself, be at least easier to deal with.