The Best Gift I’ll Ever Give Them

During our family reunion this summer, the aunts asked me how Riley likes being a sister. I enthusiastically replied, “Great! She loves her sister! They hardly have disagreements.” And it was true. Riley loves her sister and has since the day I brought her home. I was worried that it would be a difficult transition for her. Going from being an only child to one-half of a pair is tough, and Riley unwaveringly believes in doing things her own way. So, I was pleasantly surprised and very proud as I watched her bend and make room in her life for her new little sister. She affectionately refers to her as “my baby” or “honey, honey,” a term she adopted after she once heard me say it. She will correct me if I tell her that she and I will be doing something, upset that I might be leaving Maddie out. “And Baby, Mom,” she’ll tell me. To this day, Riley has only asked to send Maddie back two times. Not bad for a little girl who spent two-thirds of her life with all of the attention on her. (more…)

Get Off My Lawn!

picket-fences-349713_1280Now that Story is five, she is expanding her social circles. On the day I stood in mute horror as a horde of children ransacked my house, I realized she had created a neighborhood circle and my house had become their hub.

I don’t know how many there were. I couldn’t have kept count if I’d tried. At least one door to the house was open at all times, and children came and went as they pleased. They played a running game (tag? race?) with Remy, our dog, in the house—it was a rare sunny day outside, mind you. My immediate job became keeping the younger kids from being trampled as they inevitably fell. The hallways are only so wide.

They raided the kitchen shelves and ate like teenagers. I found an empty bag of precious potato chips on my living room floor. Granola bar wrappers and banana peels were wedged in less conspicuous places. Who got in the bathroom trash? Never mind, for the sake of my sanity, I’m going to assume that was the dog. One kid got locked in Remy’s crate.

Just as quickly as they made their attack, they retreated, and Story sat calmly on the couch watching an episode of The Magic School Bus, talking to me about lizards as if nothing had happened. I didn’t imagine this, I swear.

The neighborhood kids still come over but keep mostly to the backyard. Except for two, that is. These two are at my door as soon as I get home from work—I’m talking in the garage before I can even open the car door. On weekends, they try to come right into the house without ringing the bell. If one door is locked, they’ll walk around to the other. Only if the other is also locked will they knock. Even when Story is gone, they still want to come in.

They accosted Ali when she came over for our monthly dinner. Ali stepped out of the car, and there they were. “Whatcha doin’?” They followed her inside. I tried to explain that Story had company and couldn’t play today, but that was met with “But Mom said we could come over.” I let them stay for twenty minutes, and they made themselves at home, as usual.

In the midst of the chaos, Ali advised me to set some boundaries. That’s a good idea, but how? I grew up in the woods, not in a neighborhood, so I’m not well versed in cul-de-sac protocol. What am I supposed to do? Do I lecture the kids on their lack of manners or tell the mom that she needs to watch her children better? Should I purchase a cane and yell at them from the front window, “Get off my lawn!”? Am I just being prudish and not respectful of the free-range style of the other mother? Should I just let it be? After all, I would much rather Story be here with her friends than at someone else’s house.

I don’t know the answers, and if you have some, please share. I do know one thing though: I’m hiding the potato chips from now on.

Parental Apologies

DaycareA couple of weeks ago, a co-worker invited me, or really Riley, to have a playdate with his daughter. He was anxious about the request and began rapidly and apologetically explaining his reasons behind it. He explained that his wife was going back to work and that they would be dropping off their two children, ages five and three, to daycare for the first time. His daughter, the three-year-old, would be in Riley’s class. He further explained that his daughter was very shy and that he was worried about her making friends. He said that she didn’t warm up to others quickly, and it would be great if she could have a friend there before she started. I told him we were happy to do it and hoped that it would indeed make that day a little bit easier. I also over-shared with him that Riley was a member (perhaps founding member?) of what I call the “mean girls club” at school–a group of three girls that includes her best friend, Hawk (a nickname made up by Riley for a sweet little girl named Juliet when she was unable to pronounce her name). This group of girls are very competitive with each other, which is probably putting it lightly. Basically they don’t share well together, they battle over who will be first for anything, and it sometimes comes to blows (well, pushes). By pickup time though, they are the best of friends. I’ve often gotten a confused tilt of the head from the daycare teacher as Riley proclaims while leaving, “Mommy, can we go to Hawk’s house? She’s my best friend.” That’s when you know it’s been a particularly rough day. (more…)

Devil Dogs

Hi, folks. This week I’m going to tell you a heartbreaking tale of how two best friends will forever (for a while anyway) be separated from one another (no more sleepovers).

Meet Remy, a playful and talkative German shepherd who will have a conversation with you even before you have your coffee in the morning. She is quite well behaved for being just a little over a year old. Her only “bad dog” moments involve chewing the feet off of some of Story’s stuffed animals. And I’m sure they deserved it.

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This is sweet Savannah, a Rottweiler. She belongs to Ali’s pack and has so much love for the family that her little bobbed tail never stops wiggling. At six years old, she still has some of the puppy playfulness with the responsible nature of an older dog. Her “bad dog” moments involve giving too many kisses and slobbering all over people.

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When Remy and Savannah met, it was not BFF at first sight. The clusterlove had gathered together at my house for a picnic. The usual sniffing and circling took place, of course. But the kids added another element. Each time Remy would get close to Riley or Maddie, Savannah would jump in to guard them. Remy did the same when Savannah came close to Story. It took a while, but once they finally realized that they both had the same goal—keep the children safe—a friendship was born.

 

Recently, Ali has had to travel a bit, and I volunteered to watch Savannah, knowing it would be a special treat for Remy. Savannah seemed to be at ease rather quickly. Playing with Remy distracted her from missing her pack too much. The two had a blast together. I swear they were smiling the whole time. I would soon find out, however, that their grins were not of pure happiness; there was a big dose of mischievousness—nay, devilishness—as well.

Savannah does not handle being confined very well. Her crate is a metal heap somewhere in Ali’s garage. Remy is used to being crated. Because I was going to be gone during the days, I had to figure out what to do with the two of them. I couldn’t crate or confine Savannah to a room, and it wasn’t fair to Remy to crate her in her own house while her guest ran free, so I let them have run of the house. What could go wrong? Savannah would drool on things and Remy would de-foot a stuffed animal left out? Not a big deal.

I was wrong. Our two angel dogs become the hounds of hell when together. Over the course of the week, their sins moved from understandable to unbelievable. It was as if they spent the day double dog daring each other. Story found excitement in running into the house before me to report on what the dogs did this time. Let me give you a few examples.

  • They scattered the bathroom trash into each room.20150619_181039
  • They smeared coffee grounds all over the kitchen.
  • They used the den as their toilet.
  • They shredded all the cardboard from the recycle bin.
  • They chewed holes in some of my clothes.
  • They pulled down several hangers from Story’s closet.
  • The chewed a hole in the padded part of my lap desk and shook out the thousands of tiny Styrofoam balls, making it look like it had snowed in the living room.20150619_180943
  • They pulled pictures off the walls and chewed on the frames.
  • They quartered a doll and chewed up her bits.
  • They pulled books down from the shelves and attempted to eat them.
  • They ate the still-packaged pasta and sauce before I had a chance to cook it for dinner.
  • They played tug-of-war with my computer cord, while I was using my computer.

These are just a few things the demons got into. If I dared clean up their mess, they would retaliate by upping the victims: Story’s school papers, her artwork, my books, my favorite pillow. By midweek, I understood that I was dealing with pure insanity and left things as they lay. By the end of the week, in the living room alone, I collected an entire trash bag full of destruction.

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After being separated, their demons were somehow exorcised. They have gone back to their good-dog selves, acting like nothing ever happened. It did happen. I know it. But I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I am not the insane one.

We arrived.

We arrived. And as I suspected might happen, I did not arrive the same person I was when I left. I arrived with a little more pride in my heart and a little more self-aware.

The night before we left, I lay in bed and ran through my game plan for the trip. I thought out what my strategy would be during screaming battles. I decided what I would consider a “pull to the side of the road” emergency and what “emergencies” would be considered a lesson in patience. I packed the car with toys and snacks close at hand. I even took some time to repent, for I had committed a good parenting sin and borrowed a portable DVD player from a mom-friend. Absolved and feeling prepared, I went to bed.

License plate road trip

We left bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 7 am for our estimated six-hour drive. I was prepared to make stops frequently, to spend the night somewhere about halfway through, and to practice meditations. I must admit, I was a little nervous. At 7:30, we made our first stop because of me. I drink a lot of coffee in the morning. We piled back in the car and drove peacefully, until 8:30, when we made another stop, because of me. We unbuckled, the girls waited, we rebuckled, and hit the road again. The girls snacked on muffins and veggie chips in the back seat. Maddie babbled something to Riley; Riley laughed and babbled something back. I heard from the back seat, “Mom, my baby is funny.” There were times that they would space out in front of the DVD player, but the majority of their time was spent talking, reading a book, and playing with their toys.

By 3:00, one hour from our destination, I had broken up one verbal disagreement between the girls. It lasted a total of two minutes. We had stopped frequently, mostly to take care of my own needs. Even with all the unbuckling, rebuckling, and the 90 degree heat, the girls did not complain one time. We had smiled, laughed, and patiently tackled each mile.



It was during that last hour that I realized I had planned and strategized fully assuming that my girls would be poorly behaved. My hope was that we would have a fun road trip, but I didn’t really think that that was going to happen. I hadn’t given them any credit. After a little more self-reflection in a traffic jam, I realized my expectations of their behavior are often pretty low. I expect gymnastics class to be a nightmare, the grocery store to be a disaster, and restaurants to not be worth the hassle. Sure, I’ve been burned by tantrums before, but isn’t my job as a mother to be their continuous cheerleader?

I grappled with this question for the next twenty miles, my mom guilt thicker than the traffic. I knew my answer to this question had to be unequivocally “yes,” which meant I had to sort through a lot of “but they” statements. But they bicker. But they didn’t listen that time. But they just wear me out sometimes. The list goes on. I started tackling these statements, changing my answer from the negative to a positive. It was time to have a growth mindset in my parenting.

We arrived at the hotel after eight hours on the road. Riley burst into the hotel room jumping up and down.  “I love my new house! I love my new bed! I love my new TV! I love my new table!” We spent the night at the pool. No meltdowns. No fighting. All smiles. This was the perfect road trip and it taught me an invaluable lesson; I have some amazing little girls, and I could not be prouder of them.
Road trip!