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!

5 Tips for Good Parenting

3879111346_b191905bcd_zFollowing are a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way. You aren’t likely to find these in any parenting magazines, but they’ve worked quite well for me!

 

 

 

  1. Pick a fight. Story was worse than a teenage boy when it came to sleeping in. I could jump up and down on the bed, tickle her, drag her from one corner to the other—it didn’t matter; she wasn’t going to budge from her slumber. I tried nearly everything and then hit the sweet spot. Story loved to argue, and she just had to correct anyone who got her name wrong, so I picked a fight. Over and over. “Wake up, Story Banana.” “My name is Story Bolton.” “Oh, yes, Story Banana Colton.” “No. My name is Story BOLTON.” “Right, right. Wake up Bolton Banana Story.” “Mom-my! My. Name. Is. Story. Bolton!” And she was up! This worked for at least a year.

2. Instill a healthy fear of sugar bugs. We can all agree that oral hygiene is very important and that kids don’t give their teeth’s health a lot of attention. To give Story a better reason for thoroughly brushing her teeth, I told her that every time she ate, she would get sugar bugs that would eat holes in her teeth if left long enough. (She wasn’t really sure about this until I asked her to see if she could feel them crawling around and let her imagination take over.) The only way to kill the sugar bugs is to brush them with toothpaste. I’m happy to say that Story has excellent brushing habits. She especially likes to drown any that may have survived the brushing with mouthwash.

3. Lie. Don’t judge me. We already do it: Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Elf on a Shelf. I just take it a bit further. Story is not allowed to have caffeine. She understands and accepts this (after a longer-than-I-cared-for question-and-answer session about the effects of caffeine on children’s bodies). Her acceptance was too good to pass up. So now, anything that I don’t want her to have has caffeine. That glass of red stuff I’m having with dinner? Oh yeah, that has caffeine. You want a root beer float in the car? Sorry, that has caffeine. Of course, I can’t use it on everything or Story would figure it out, but it certainly comes in handy when avoiding an argument or endless questions,

4. Use her competitive nature to your benefit.
Story is verycompetitive. I tried tempering this somewhat but eventually gave up and used it to my advantage instead. For instance, Story was quick to potty train, but she was afraid to use public restrooms, or maybe it was just her way of manipulating me into going only where she wanted to go. Who knows? But the fact remained, her stubbornness took the spotlight anytime it was necessary for her to use a public toilet. I was able to help her past this fear by challenging her with a timed event: “I bet you can’t go pee by the time I count to ten.” Her eyes would sparkle and there she’d go. I’d count faster every once in a while to make her lose and stir up that competitiveness a bit. I certainly didn’t want it to become too boring for her.

5. Teach the meaning of grounded early. I had the wonderful opportunity to instill the fear of this particular punishment early on. Story asked me if the older neighbor girl could come over to play, and I informed her that she couldn’t because she was grounded. This, of course, piqued Story’s interest and led to several questions. I used a broad definition: “Being grounded means you cannot do anything fun.” One evening, when Story was being particularly disobedient and asked me if she was going to be grounded, I said yes. Anytime she asked if she could do something, I would respond with, “Is it fun?” If yes (which was every time), she couldn’t do it. At one point, she was sitting on her bed doing nothing, and I asked if she was using her imagination. She said yes, and I told her to stop because that was fun. That one evening had quite the effect on her, and now I have an effective replacement for the now-ineffective time-out.

Let’s hear from you! What parenting tips and tricks do you have?

 

 

It’s Not About the Destination

I love my planner. With work and family, I have multiple things going on and need a place to get it all out of my head. It helps keep me sane. It also offers me a new inspirational quote each week. This week’s quote was especially fitting as I prepare for a road trip with my two little ones to my cousin’s wedding, about seven hours away.

A good traveler

I learned about three years ago, when Riley was born, that no plans are fixed. Okay, it took me about a year to fully let go of the control I longed to have over plans, but I learned and relearned how to be flexible. By the time Maddie came around, I’d mastered it (or at least as much as any control freak can). So, on my road trip, I do not plan to have any fixed plans. There will be no “I will arrive by this time” or “We will stop at this rest stop.” I fully intend to either arrive early or late. I may stay a night in a town I hadn’t planned to stay in, and I probably will be stopping along the side of the highway at some point.

The second half is a little harder. I fully intend on arriving.

Like you should with any quote, I am choosing not to take this quote at its literal meaning. We will arrive, although I may arrive a little wiser than when I left. I have traveled by air with a baby, then a pre-toddler, and then a toddler when I made my yearly trip home for Christmas with Riley while we still lived in Colorado, and I know that you do not arrive as the person that you were when you took off. Usually the person getting off of the plane is much more haggard, a little wiser, and either set back by or touched by humanity.

 

As a new mother, I had my first airplane adventure with Riley when she was three months old. Still new to the scene of motherhood, I hung on to a small amount of my dignity. I had the diaper bag packed with all the essentials, had my own carry-on with my essentials, and was in a generally cheery mood. Most of the passengers were mothers with their children, which I was happy to see. We were going to do just fine.The doors locked, the flight attendants went through their spiel, and we were cleared for takeoff. The front tire had barely left the runway when I felt a rumble. It was too early for turbulence, and unfortunately, I knew that type of rumble all too well. Then the smell hit. Yes, Riley had soiled her diaper at the most inopportune time. It takes about twenty to thirty minutes after takeoff to level out and for the “fasten seat belt” sign to turn off. I couldn’t muster the strength to look up at the other afflicted passengers during this waiting period. Even on a flight full of moms, I knew I would be hard-pressed to find a sympathizer who would overlook the stench she also had to endure. As soon as the flight attendants gave the signal, I made my way, eyes down, to change my little bundle’s bundle. It was my first taste of mom embarrassment. I arrived a little humbler.

Newly a toddler the next year, I was prepared for some embarrassing moments. By this time, I’d been through my share of them. I wasn’t prepared for the maddening adventure that ensued. This time, I was seated between two very busy, very self-important businessmen. If there wasn’t sympathy on the previous flight then there definitely wasn’t any now. Again seizing the opportunity, Riley did not waste a minute and began squirming, climbing, kicking, screaming, and lurching her tiny body in every direction. Keeping flailing toddler hands under control in that confined space is nothing short of a nightmare. My apologies fell on stony stares. Just when I thought I could not take anymore, the businessman to my right pulled out his laptop. A laptop. Riley’s kryptonite. She lost all control and lunged toward it, trying desperately to pound away at its keys. She spent the remainder of the flight completely sideways in my arms crying, reaching, and twitching her body every way she could. The businessman didn’t even look up. I swore never to fly again. I arrived a little harder.

 

The next trip, Riley was full swing into her toddler years. This time, my mom was visiting to help me move to Indiana. The day prior, my mom and I had packed up my entire house and loaded it onto the moving truck. The next morning, we were exhausted and very eager to get on our way. Getting to the airport, though, proved harder than it sounded. Our flight was at noon, so I scheduled a taxi to pick us up from my house by 9:30. It would give us plenty of time to get there, check in, and grab a bite before getting on the plane. As 9:40 rolled around, the taxi was nowhere to be found; 9:50, still no taxi. I was on the phone with dispatch by that time, and they regretfully informed me that in fact there was no taxi on the way. The request had been misplaced, and they would send another taxi. At 10:20, the taxi finally turtle taxishowed up, slowly hovering past each house looking for its destination. I ran to the bottom of the driveway, frantically waving my arms. Its reaction to my hurried call was less than quick. I rapidly explained that we needed to leave quickly and make it to the airport as fast as possible. This fell on deaf ears. There was not a fast bone in this taxi driver’s body. He reversed as if he were driving through molasses, and the pace did not increase much by the time he got to the highway. I made a fateful mistake of asking him if we would be charged for the fare due to the oversight about halfway to the airport. He diligently pulled over to the side of the highway to call dispatch. I was beside myself and desperately begged him while he chatted to please start driving again. Again, it fell on deaf ears. At that point, my mom and I were so stressed and fatigued that we couldn’t help but break down laughing. We eventually made it and still had about five minutes to spare and grabbed some McDonald’s for Ri before getting on the plane. Surprisingly, she sat and behaved like an angel the whole way. There is something to be said about the presence of a grandparent. I arrived a little more jovial.

With my past traveling-with-a-kid experience tucked safely in my memory, I will embark on this road trip fully intending to arrive. I won’t be fully the person I was when I left. I just hope that my sanity arrives with me.

 

I Can Fly!

I heard a story this week about a young man who makes unusual life choices, such as becoming a monk, deciding to quit the monkhood and ride his bicycle back to Indiana from Arizona with no plan or map, and waking up one morning and running a half-marathon. This is amazing and all, but what the storyteller said last struck me the most: “He did these things because no one ever told him he couldn’t.”

How many times do I tell Story she can’t do something? All the times.

“You can’t go potty in the backyard.”Flying

“You can’t be a dragon at school.”

“You can’t have candy for breakfast.”

“You can’t ride the dog like a horse.”

The list goes on and on. Of course, aside from the dragon transformation, she actually can do these things. It’s just not preferable. So, why then do I tell her she can’t? Why don’t I just explain to her why she shouldn’t do these things instead? I’m familiar with Carol Dweck’s work; I’ve read Mindset, and I know the effects of growth versus fixed mindsets. I also know that if you continuously impart negativity on someone, he or she will likely grow to believe it. I know all of this but still, “Story, you can’t.”

While the things I tell her she can’t do now don’t seem like such a big deal, I don’t want Story to grow up to have an “I can’t” attitude. So I resolved to change my downbeat ways.

My first challenge: Story has decided to fly. She began practicing by jumping from one piece of furniture to another. Once she was successful with this, she graduated to jumping from the deck railing. She kept at it even after quite a few falls, which means she’s serious. After practicing from the middle of the slide and not getting much further with her goal, she decided that she needs wings. She’s reassured me that once she has her wings and flies away, she will find me again by using echolocation like a bat.

And this is where I am. Do I make the wings she wants (and has described to me in detail) and let her figure it out on her own? I have to protect her from harm, of course, so I can’t just let her try to fly from a tree. That takes me back to “can’t.” Do I tell her that humans can’t fly, not on their own anyway? Maybe I should just pretend my resolution hasn’t started yet and tackle the next challenge instead. But who knows what that will be? What do you suggest, friends? What would be your chosen course of action?

Play Hard, Work Less

It has happened. I knew that it would. My once stationary, sweet little baby has transitioned to a very mobile 1 year old. Games have become all consuming and all cleaning has gone by the wayside.Toy rings

Like rings on a tree, the rings of toys on the kitchen floor can tell you a child’s age. At three months, your floors are spotless. The counters are wiped, aside from a stray coffee ring next to the always-on coffee pot. The baby is playing happily in her bouncer, and you are singing children’s songs while washing dishes. Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way, but after you experience a few more months, you’ll begin to imagine it was that way.

 

By five months, there is a Bumbo in the middle of the floor. A set of Fisher Price keys, a rattling toy, and a soft, crunchy book can be found in a circle around it. You are now washing a dish, wiping your hands on the towel, picking up a toy, and giving it back to your smiling baby. You turn around and begin washing another dish as you feel those plastic keys hit your foot. You wipe your hands, return the toy, wash a dish.

By nine months, the baby is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by the shape sorter, three different-sized balls, a Little People playset, the walker you are encouraging her to start using, a set of toy musical instruments, four baby dolls, and a set of measuring cups you thought might help entertain her. The toys make a perfect circle around your precious child as she picks up each one for precisely one minute and then throws it down in boredom. You are now singing, with a little more speed to your tempo, thinking about how one might accomplish washing a dish with one hand, while clapping the tempo on your leg and using your foot to pick up a toy and push it back to your poor attention-deprived baby. Inevitably, she ends up in the pots and pans, pulling out each one with a startling crash.

 

By twelve months, she has become fully mobile — perhaps not walking yet but definitely able to keep up with the best of those crawling. The kitchen now holds 80% of the toys that belong in the playroom. The perfect circle is a more modern-looking series of circles that create a wall along the perimeter. The last line of defense to keep her from escaping. You are now looking at a line of dishes that have been patiently waiting for you all week. After creating a new voice for the troll doll that has your baby captivated, you think you can start working down that line. You turn, pick up a dish, and hear the pitter-patter of tiny legs going straight for the stairs.

And so I find myself here.

Yes, Maddie has discovered the stairs. More and more, I have learned that Maddie has a natural sense for adventure Maddies gameand a sense of humor to go with it. I fear she may be the child who will grow up and think jumping out of a plane is fun. Two weeks into her thirteenth month, she has discovered and fully embraced the fun of scaring people. She waits patiently for me to turn my back to that line of dishes, then makes a mad, one-legged crawling dash to the stairs. She will wait at the first stair until she hears me say, “Maddie, you know you aren’t supposed to be climbing the stairs by yourself!” and begin coming after her. She then climbs to the second stair, stands up, holds onto the rails, and waits. I come around the corner and approach the rails. “Mad–” Before I can finish her name, she uses her whole body to scream, “AHHHHH!” I jump and pretend to be frightened. She belly laughs. “You scared me!” I exclaim as I pick her up and bring her safely back to the kitchen. She is delighted with herself and waits patiently for me to turn so that we can repeat the game.

I would lament the change of my not-so-clean house to my we’re-using-paper-plates-now house if the game weren’t so much fun.

Lessons Learned: Buy more safety gates, enjoy it all, find solace in the fact that Apple will likely someday invent a self-cleaning dish app (the iDish), and begin researching how to appease adrenaline junkies without jumping out of a plane.