Thursday, August 30, 2012

What I've already nixed off my list of "fun" things to do on a rainy weekend with kids

I already have anxiety about Labor Day weekend.

It's a day off work.
I get to sleep in (at least until the stupid dog starts whining).
I only have to make the kids' lunches four times next week.
I don't have to forcibly drag my oldest out of bed.
After a drought-ful summer, I suppose we need it. 

According to the National Weather Service, the "remnants" of Hurricane Isaac pass through Illinois at a snail's pace throughout the Labor Day weekend. (Note: Though this post pokes fun at my rainy predicament, my heart goes out to the victims in Hurricane Isaac's path as they suffer through this horrible natural disaster.)

Not since I was a stay-at-home mom with two little kids have I had such trepidation about a weather forecast. I remember days gone by waking up to the sound of rain pattering on the windows in the summer or on a weekend and my heart would sink as I would realize that it would become a day of me getting nothing done but trying to find ways for my kids to entertain themselves. And yes, all you old-timers, I know full well that it is not my JOB to entertain them, but it IS my job to make sure they don't squander 48 hours or more of their lives away on video games and crap TV.

Plus there's this other thing: I LIKE doing stuff with my kids. The problem is, they sometimes don't like doing stuff with me.

So give me some ideas. And to let you know that I have already thought this through as much as I can, here's a list of already-discarded activities:

1. Bowling (youngest hates it)
2. Movie (they've seen them all already with their dad)
3. Read books (say whaaaaaat?)
4. Starved Rock in the rain with the dog (I don't think it's going to be the "fun hiking" kinda rain)
5. Board Games (I'm game - them not so much anymore)
6. Trampoline in the rain (Please. They don't call me "Captain Safety Kennard" for nothing)
7. Rock Climbing (this was high on my list by nixed by my son who strained his back doing #6)
8. Build a fort (this could happen, but again it just houses the drones that play the video games and watch TV for 48 hours)
9. Make cookies (The last thing my hips and thighs need is to turn my 48-hour + weekend into a feeding frenzy)
10. Organize their bedrooms (again, this was high on my list but nixed by BOTH kids - imagine that!)

Even when I Google "Things to do on a rainy day", stuff like this comes up:

This is not me, nor are these my kids.
1. Put on your own play (um, really?)
2. Create a family recipe book (pizza, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, DONE.)
3. Do a craft. (Back in the day, I was all over this. But now, unless we are experimenting with combustible materials or sharp objects, they're not interested.)
4. Tell family stories. (Uh, we don't even want to GO there.)
5. Make shadow puppets. (Have you seen the kind of shadow puppets teenagers make with their hands? Gross.)
6. Get pizza delivered for lunch and eat it picnic style on the floor. (We call this "Tuesday".)
7. Teach mom how to play the video game all the kids are playing. (That's called "becoming an enabler" and I won't have any of it, with the exception of perhaps the Wii, and then I'm only good for about 20 minutes.)
8. Start a new hobby like brewing your own beer. (That's not such a bad ide.......wait. No. That's not family-friendly.)
9. Go to an arcade. (I'd rather do the craft using combustible materials.)
10. Use modeling clay to create mini sculptures and take turns guessing what everyone's creations are (see "shadow puppets".)

 I'm sure I'll come up with something; I always do. And I'm sure we can squander the day away doing bits and pieces of things, like building Legos, playing around with the dog, and perhaps watching a little bit of TV. It's just so much easier when you have three days at home to have the option of spending it outside at a place other than your postage stamp backyard. According to the forecast, though, if the three of us live through the weekend, they're predicting Isaac to have vacated by Monday and the forecast is calling for 83 and sunny. Keep your fingers crossed, for my kids' sake and the sanity of their mom. And if you have any brilliant ideas in the meantime, let me know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My parenting is weak, but apparently only 50% of the time

So, I'm a sucker for quizzes. No, not the quizzes you need to study for - I'm no good at those. The quizzes I like are the ones that, in 20 questions or less, are "scientifically designed" to tell you more about yourself in 10 minutes than you've figured out your whole life.

But I think there's something to them.

I happened upon a Assessing your Parenting Style questionnaire that was supposed to figure out what kind of parent I am based on how I answer a bunch of questions. (Obviously heavily based on the Baumrind Parenting Theory that labels parents into one of three categories: authoritarian (telling their children exactly what to do), indulgent (allowing their children to do whatever they wish), or authoritative (providing rules and guidance without being overbearing).

In this case, there were four choices: Eagle, Labrador Retriever, Grizzly Bear and Sloth. (I was pretty sure I wouldn't end up as that last one, and if I did, then of course the quiz would be considered a piece of crap.) It was put together by Walt Larimore, M.D. and author of the book God's Design for the Highly Healthy Teen.)

The quiz was based on two major components: Parental Warmth/Receptiveness and Parental Demandingness (is that even a word? Spell check says no, but I'll let it go since the guy's apparently an M.D.) Subsections of Parental Warmth/Receptiveness included a) Love and Respect and b) Affirmation and Appreciation. Of those two sections, you had to check what sentences applied to you, i.e. I frequently communicate to my child that I love him or her; I pay attention to my child when he or she talks to me - even if it means stopping what I'm doing; I thank my child for doing things without asking, etc.

Parental Demandingness questions revolved around a) Media (i.e. amount of exposure to TV/video games/internet/cell phone) and degree of parental monitoring, and b) Boundaries and Expectations, which involved knowing where your child is after school and on weekends, being aware of his academic performance, how often you eat dinner together and if he has chores around the house.

So this started to go down innocently enough. I began the quiz, and was immediately stumped. Hmmmm.... this one applies to my oldest, but not my youngest. This one is definitely how I am with the youngest, but not the oldest.

The light bulb appeared over my head, but didn't turn on - yet. I thought, "well, maybe I need to take this twice - once keeping in mind my oldest son and again thinking of my youngest." So I did.

At the end of the quiz, you tally up your two sections - Parental Warmth/Receptiveness and Parental Demandingness, and based on those two individual sums find out what kind of parent you are in each area. I did that for each, then compared the two. Your style could be one of six: Strong Eagle (high warmth and demandingness balanced), Average Eagle (moderate warmth and demandingness balanced), Weak Eagle (low levels of warmth and demandingness balanced), Grizzly Bear (more demandingness than warmth), Labrador Retriever (more warmth than demandingness) and Sloth (low warmth and demandingness).

That's when the light bulb turned on. But not in a good way. Because here's what happened. No, I wasn't a Sloth (thank you, God) with either kid. BUT, my assessment was dramatically different between my oldest and my youngest. And I have to admit, it didn't make me feel so good.

I mean, I know you have to have different parenting styles to a certain extent with each kid based on their personalities and needs. With my youngest, I was labeled a Strong Eagle in Warmth and Receptiveness and an Average Eagle in Demandingness (that word is really killing me). The warmth and receptiveness part didn't really surprise me - my son is very affectionate and seems to feed on positive reinforcement and generally just wants to please people. He makes it very easy to hug and praise and encourage. I GET what I GIVE in his case.

I was only an Average Eagle in Demandingness since I allow media two hours or more a day (hey, that's ALL MEDIA), but I did score a point for the fact that he didn't yet have a cellphone. So overall, OK parent. A decent balance between affection and boundary-setting. Yay, me.

Here's where the light bulb blows up, sending shards of glass showering down on my head. My oldest is the proud son of a Weak Eagle ACROSS THE BOARD.

WHAT? Crap. Major fail. I looked back at my quiz and compared the sections. I hadn't checked "Frequently communicate to my child that I love him." What 15-year old likes to be told they're loved? Yuk, right? Uh, no, ya Idiot. You NEED to tell him, whether he outwardly likes it or not.

"I enjoy reading and talking to my child in a warm and friendly voice." Well, sure I ENJOY it, but when do I get to DO it? I'm usually nagging on him to do something basic for the 50th time and yelling at him for being late/not walking the dog/smelling funny.

And left unchecked was also, "My child is comfortable coming to me when he is experiencing any one of a host of emotions." I was pretty sure up until now that the only emotions he experienced around me were disgust, indifference and resentment. MAYBE IT'S BECAUSE I'M SUCH A WEAK EAGLE. In fact, my "Parental Warmth"Score for my oldest son was HALF of what it was for my youngest.

Now, I just discussed this enlightening observation with a friend of mine who laughed hysterically when I acted surprised at these results. "Of COURSE you treat them differently! Do you not see that?" I guess my answer is, "Of course I know that. I just didn't realize how much." See, my children are very different (as most are). How I parent one of them doesn't necessarily work for the other.

My oldest, though he needs affection, doesn't necessarily like to be bear hugged like my younger one does. Where I have failed is in finding some sort of affectionate gesture that doesn't make him cringe - a high five or fist bump, or something like that. My father wasn't very affectionate with we kids growing up, but I remember sometimes he would walk by me as I was stretched out on the sofa and wiggle my big toe. A simple gesture, but it meant the world to me.

And as far as demandingness, what put me over the edge from "Average Eagle" to "Weak Eagle" was that a) my oldest has a cell phone and b) I'm not vigilant about making sure it's not in his room at bedtime. Honestly, I'm going to cut myself a break on that one, since it seems to be me against every single outside media force. I tend to refer to my parenting style with the oldest as "picking my battles".

Here's what I did take away from Dr. Larimore's assessment. I know I parent differently. I know to an outside person it seems as if I am harder on one of my children than I am on the other, and quite possibly I am. I do agree that I need to up the ante with the "warmth factor" between my oldest and me, but I do think that both of them require different parenting styles based on their individuality. My oldest son sometimes needs more of a "my way or the highway" approach, whereas my younger son would wilt at my sometimes militaristic tactics. I don't expect either of them to be like one another, so why should I parent equally?

I don't have the answers. But one day, when we're all sitting at Thanksgiving dinner and they decide to bring up all the horrible parenting moves I made during their childhood, I'll simply tell them, "I gave you what I thought you needed, and I can honestly say I did the best I knew how to do." Now I'm going to go surprise the hell out of my oldest by upping my warmth/receptiveness factor and see how that all goes over. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 6, 2012

How do you light an Olympic-sized flame?

No, I don't mean that huge cauldron that is lit from a torch flame carried worldwide and remains burning until the conclusion of the Olympic Games. I mean the flame that makes good great. That makes nominal phenomenal. That makes some people push themselves to the limit - and then some.

I mean the fire that sits in the bellies of athletes like Missy Franklin, who at the ripe old age of 17, has won four gold medals. FOUR STINKIN' GOLD MEDALS. When I was 17 the closest I had ever gotten to gold was panning for pyrite on a family vacation in the Smoky Mountains.

What about Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee runner from South Africa? What ignited the spark inside of him that made him even think, "Wow. I have no legs below my kneecaps. I think I'll become a track and field star and train to compete in the Olympics."

Or my beautiful, self-effacing niece, Carling, who virtually came out of the womb in fifth position, and now in her early 20's, is a corps ballerina dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen. THAT'S IN DENMARK, PEOPLE.

Back in the days of Greece, a sacred flame was lit from the sun’s rays at Olympia, and stayed lit until the Games were completed. This flame represented the "endeavor for protection and struggle for victory." It was first introduced into our modern Olympics at the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Since then, the flame has come to symbolize "the light of spirit, knowledge, and life."

What I want to know is, how is one born with "the light of spirit, knowledge and life"?

What is it that is so different about these individuals - that their passions burn so brightly at such an infantile age - burn so fiercely that they know nothing but to do what they do. Initially to some, I'm sure it seemed cute and just a little obsessive. When Missy Franklin was little, she was probably known as "our little fish - look at her! We just can't get her out of the water!" My niece may have knocked over a lamp or two in her early days twirling around the living room. But at some point, probably shortly after a mom signed them up for a swimming lesson or a dad proudly dropped them off at their first dance class, somebody out there did a double take and said, "Hey. This kid's got something."

Something. What is that something? Talent, for sure. Undeniable. We all have talent of some sort. But do you see me competing in the 100-yard short story dash? Nope. There's gotta be something else. Something else that turns good into great. Something else that turns a smoldering ember into a flame that burns so bright it can never be extinguished. Is it some DNA string in their genetic makeup that makes them prone to these lofty aspirations? They certainly don't all come from wealthy, well-known homes. In fact, those feelgood Olympic profiles that tug at your heartstrings are usually about struggling athletes whose parents scrimped and saved and went without so their son our daughter could achieve their dream. Or they've overcome some huge obstacle, like an  illness, affliction or tragedy. Could it be that adversity breeds greatness?

It has to be more than just that. More than just talent. More than simply genetics, or adversity. What makes an 8-year old girl decide she's going to devote the rest of her life to being the best tennis player in the world? What makes a teenager turn his back on a normal high school life to swim eight to ten hours a day for a chance at a dream he may never attain? What makes a young gymnast move away from her family to train with a coach on the other side of the country? What makes a double amputee decide he's going to RUN, for God's sake?

It has to be a combination of all the right things. Commitment on crack. Ambition amped. The mother of all motivation. The stars in their internal universe in perfect alignment. All wrapped up in one tiny human being who comes into the world just like the rest of us. But somehow, not at all like the rest of us.

If I could have a tenth of what drives these individuals - to instill in myself, or my kids, for that matter, it would be magical. To have that one thing that becomes the reason you wake up in the morning, that drives you throughout your day, and leaves you hungry for more when your head hits the pillow at night - to KNOW that it's YOUR ONE THING. I just can't imagine.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the Olympics and the stories of these "ordinary athletes". But they're not ordinary, no matter what they say. They have that true passion - that one thing - that makes them extraordinary. And I admire not just the Olympic athletes, but anyone with a true passion - whether that passion is sports, medicine, philanthropy, the arts... whatever fire burns like a torch in your belly. Realize that the light you carry inside you is a rare gift that you were given for a reason you may never know. Keep it burning bright, and keep those of us with just a flicker inspired and motivated just the same.