What's Your Parenting Mantra?

I think the hardest thing about parenting - aside from the whole sending what is essentially your heart out into the world completely unprotected, plus the amount of vomit and snot you have to deal with - is that it keeps changing.

I remember when Ironflower was a baby and I took her to Target for the first time by myself. All these scenarios kept running through my head;

  • What if she has a poop-splosion?
  • What if she starts screaming and I have to breastfeed her in public?
  • What if I have to go to the bathroom? Is it okay to put the carrier on the floor? Can I bring the cart in?
  • What if she starts screaming and breastfeeding doesn't work? 
  • What if someone tries to kidnap her?
  • What if someone sneezes on her? 
It took a while for me to be comfortable parenting an infant, is what I'm trying to say. And just when I got comfortable with it, Ironflower started to turn into a toddler. She weaned herself. She started throwing things. And she got very, very opinionated. 

One night, (because of course it was at night after I'd taught all day and my very pregnant with Lovebug feet were swollen and sore) Ironflower fell into the side of the coffee table. The table had corner and edge protectors, but naturally she managed to avoid those and hit the hard side. I'm pretty sure both of us cried. 

Hot Guy was, I believe, on stage or on the radio  - someplace where I couldn't call him. Ironflower's forehead had a small cut and a growing bump. I tried to ice the bump and she fussed like she'd never fussed before. I called the pediatrician. 

Part of me - the part of me that wasn't a freaking out still new-ish mom crazed by the hormones of her second pregnancy - knew that she had no signs of concussion and would be fine. But I called anyway. The mellow doctor on call assured me that she would be fine and to apply ice (how I miss the non-hysterical medical care we got in the midwest). "But she hates the ice! She won't let me hold it on her head!" I probably wailed to the poor guy. 

"You're the parent," he said calmly. 

Oh. Right. 

So I held the damn ice on her head and by the next day she hardly had any bump at all. I, however, had toddler heel shaped bruises on my thighs and a healthy respect for my daughter's lung capacity.

parenting advice

I also had a parenting mantra that worked really well. "You're the parent," echoed through my head as we negotiated walking, talking, sharing, dressing and all of those other milestones that can make parenting young children challenging. It's all I want to say to the desperate newer moms in the Facebook groups I read, as they discuss how much their 2 year old hates the car seat/potty training/receiving the wrong color cup. When you've got an infant, your goal is to soothe them. That's not a good plan when your 18 month old is determined to run into traffic. Your goal has to go from soothing to correcting.

But now, now I've got kids who don't run into traffic. They don't scream if I give them the wrong color cup. In fact, they don't really care what color their cup is. It's liberating, but it's also terrifying. No pediatrician has helpfully provided a mantra for this stage. And while there's still correcting and soothing to be done, it's a lot more complicated than saying a resounding "No!" or nursing on demand.

The closest I've come is, "Don't raise assholes." And while I'm proud that my kids don't knock toddlers over in their haste to be first in line at the ice cream truck while yelling, "Moooooooom, give me money, don't be a bitch***!" I don't feel it incorporates the entire experience of parenting elementary school aged kids.

Though, to be honest, if more people adopted that as a mantra the world would probably be a better place.

Anyway, do you have a parenting mantra? Has it evolved as your kids have gotten older? 

***This really happened. Local readers, it was at Finch Park a few summers ago. 


Fun With Creative Galaxy!

When I first saw that Amazon Prime Instant Video  had a kids' show called Creative Galaxy, I wasn't sure if I was the right person to review it. Hugmonkey, though he is only 5, tends to watch more "big kids" shows. Mostly because he wants to keep up with his siblings, not because he is especially interested in big kids' shows. He was reluctant to watch Creative Galaxy at first, assuming it was for "little kids" since we were watching while his older siblings were at school.

watching laptop
He started out like this. 

It took all of five minutes for him to be like this. 

What's more, I did not wish for earplugs once. Normally, there's at least one voice on every kids' show that grates on my last nerve. Honestly, that gives Creative Galaxy a lot of points in my book. But even better is the show's focus on creativity, problem solving and the arts.  Animated buddies Arty and Epiphany travel the galaxy solving problems with art. It's a fantastic premise and I only wish they'd started the show when my other two were smaller. 

After the first episode we watched, Hugmonkey wanted to do a craft together. It might have been the live action piece at the end that inspired him. In addition to the cute story about helping Arty's mom with goody bags for his birthday party, there were step by step instructions from real kids about how to do the art project. Hugmonkey, of course, had his own ideas. We were to make people out of paper, he decided. 

He was very serious about his craft idea. 

He was so serious that he made me follow his directions too. 

But his turned out the best. 

Hugmonkey has since mentioned that he would like to do some of the cool crafts mentioned on the show, but only if we do them "his way". He's definitely got the clear vision of an artist, that's for sure. We've since watched a few more episodes and I've become even more impressed with Creative Galaxy. I think if you've got a kiddo 6 or younger you should definitely let him/her watch this show. And older kids will definitely be interested in most of the crafts. 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


My Day As A Reality TV Star

Yesterday I was a reality television star.

Okay, co-star.

Among the many jobs Hot Guy does, his favorite is acting. Over a year ago, he auditioned for something looking for actors with type 2 diabetes. The casting people loved him, but the corporation did not. Or something. He was called in again a while back. And then they asked if they could film not only him, but our family. At home. And could they interview me too?

We're not in a position to turn down money (especially money from a pharmaceutical company) so we agreed. And then called my parents and begged them to let us use their house, as it has more room on the first floor and is in much better shape. They agreed, bless them.

And then I didn't really think any more about it.

The day of, Ironflower and I had promised to volunteer at a 5K for pediatric cancer with her dance team. And Lovebug had a soccer game; lots of boys on the team were gone, so Lovebug pretty much had to be there. My focus was completely on getting everyone where they needed to be with the right equipment and making sure everyone had the right clothes for the shoot and whatnot.

It was not until we were back from the 5K and a make up/hair person was fixing me up that I even thought about the ensuing interview. And even then, I didn't realize that "interview" meant "let's get an emotional response from you on camera". If I had, I probably could have made up a fictional back story and given them one, just as I used to do in acting class in junior high. But to get actually emotional about our lives with a bunch of strangers staring at me, cameras pointed at me and my husband and mother eavesdropping?

Fuck no.

Suddenly I realized that all those reality TV people do have a skill; those confessionals are not just off the cuff rants. Every time, a producer is asking them a question designed to get an emotional response. Every time, they have to restate the question to make it SOUND like an off the cuff rant and then they have to spill their guts to a million people.

Hot Guy was awesome at it. Of course, he'd planned ahead and he is a really good actor. The kids didn't have to talk, they just had to act like themselves and ignore the cameras. Which they did unbelievably well. Whatever you want to say about the Duggar children or all those poor kids from Jon & Kate Plus 8, I really don't think the cameras traumatized them much.

But I'm going to hold us back from reality TV stardom. Well, me and the fact that no one has offered us a show. I do think I could get used to getting my hair done every day - my hair hasn't looked that good in years. And I was able to ignore the cameras while we played at the playground. But every time a producer put me into one of those confessional interview situations, I would freeze the way I did when yesterday's producer said, "But what's behind the smile?"

I so wanted to say, "Booze and pills." Or, "Behind my smile is a giant fist; if you want someone to cry around here, it ain't gonna be me."

But I played as nicely as I could for the paycheck. Which is when I REALLY felt like a reality TV star.


Why Common Core Math Is Stupid

Recently I've seen a lot of stupid math worksheets. Both from my own kids' backpacks and posted on Facebook by friends. And what are all of these worksheets attempting to address? The goals of Common Core Math and PARCC testing.

I do not think the goals of Common Core math are stupid; in fact, I think they are the only thing that will prevent our students from falling even farther behind countries like Belgium and Taiwan. I hear a lot of complaints from people who point out that we learned math just fine back in the day; I also hear a lot of adults say that they are "terrible at math", that they don't understand how to calculate interest or how to determine if all those "deals" at the grocery store are actually deals. Even if you don't care about international tests or American students falling behind, do you care about your kids' ability to manage money in the future?

The idea behind Common Core is that all kids (not just kids in private schools, or kids who are naturally good at math or whatever) should understand numbers deeply. For example, as a child I easily memorized the formula for subtraction with regrouping - or borrowing, as we called it then. But I didn't understand the thinking behind the formula. So when the numbers got bigger and I had to decide whether I actually needed to regroup, I had no idea what to do.

Which is when I stopped following the formula and started figuring out things in my head. It worked for me, but not every kid is as pigheaded and determined to be right as I was (am). When I was teaching, I taught pretty much the way I had been taught, except that I tried to use manipulatives to show kids the formulas before I expected them to do it on paper.

And then my district adopted the Investigations Curriculum (since co-opted by Pearson, but still the best math curriculum I've used)  and my principal became a little obsessed with Singapore Math. Suddenly (or not so suddenly, it took me a good year to really figure out how to teach math in a radically different way) we were having long discussions in math class. Suddenly my students made connections between math concepts the way they made connections between reading concepts. Suddenly they were breaking numbers down and putting them back together. Suddenly a student - a completely average student with little support at home - took a shape game we were playing, realized it was just like skip counting and then made the leap to multiplication. In first grade. Suddenly teaching subtraction with regrouping was a discussion of methodologies, with some kids using the formula I had learned and other kids breaking the numbers up a different way. It was amazing.

It was based on this experience that I was initially excited about Common Core and even the PARCC. But then my own kids started at their (highly rated) public school. And I found out that those ideals of deep discussions and making connections had turned into worksheets where kids were forced to solve problems in several different ways - none of which were discussed. Until third grade, when then my kids had to explain their thinking so they'd pass the state tests.

But still no discussions. Just worksheets that forced them to estimate when they could do the problem in their heads,  or to use extra steps when solving addition problems. Worksheets where they had to write out how they solved the problem even though they'd never so much as explained their thinking verbally before. The school districts - and the education publishing companies who supply them - don't want deep discussions that require extra training for teachers. They want to give a different set of worksheets; they don't want to change the way they teach. And they certainly don't want to educate parents on why learning different methodologies is important ( better mental math, deeper understanding of how numbers and operations work together) or how to help their children effectively.

"They don’t allow time for a child to master a skill before moving onto something else. The topics change so rapidly that kids never get a chance to feel successful in mathematics."

I found this quote on one of the many, many, many sites dedicated to complaining about Common Core and various currently used math curricula. At first I was ready to dismiss it, as the author thinks that the Investigations curriculum jumps from topic to topic when in fact it's one of the ones that doesn't, but then I thought about my own kids' more traditional math curriculum. And this is one of my many complaints about it. In fact, it's one of my many complaints about the way we teach math in the United States. (Here is the BEST article about this, ever.) No really, go read the article. I'll wait. 

What I wish I could say to all of the people fighting so passionately against the Common Core and the "reformed" math curricula, most of whom just want the best for their kids and kids in general, is to please stop. It's like spraying Chloraseptic on a strep throat; you're fighting the symptoms, not the problem. Get the antibiotics - fight the fact that districts aren't fundamentally changing how they teach math. Fight the fact that many teacher programs require only one or two math classes for elementary teachers. Fight the fact that textbook companies dictate much of what our kids learn. Fight the fact that few educational administrators could teach a bunch of kindergartners how to add or a bunch of fifth graders how to multiply fractions. Fight the fact that even homeschool curricula don't encourage deep discussions about math concepts. Fight the fact that many people think a focus on deep understanding means that our kids don't need to memorize their multiplication facts.