A Memo To My Kids From The Department of Fairness

A Memo To My Kids From the Department of FairnessDear Children,

It has come to our attention that you two siblings have been engaged in consistent disagreements concerning the fairness of treatment in the household with respect to each other. Such arguments have increased in frequency to the point it becomes necessary for our department to step in and act as arbitrator.

We have reviewed your recent claims and deliver the following decisions:

Claim #288: In the case of “Who Got More Time On the iPad”, your parents made a judgment call based on who got dragged to the other sibling’s extra-curricular activities more often during the week, and have tried to find the proper balance between making the non-participating sibling perform homework, and keeping them occupied enough not to drive the other parents in the cramped waiting room at the dance studio crazy.

It is our decision that all iPad use will not be tallied and accounted for in equal amounts between the two of you as per your request, as your mother does not have the mental capacity to keep track of that kind of data. Your mother has asked that you cease and desist with all further complaints on this matter until you have children of your own that you need to shuttle around town.

Claim #7191: We find that there is no point in arguing over who received more Cheetos, as it has come to our attention that neither of you completed eating your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and apple slices in the first place.

Henceforth, all crunchy side dishes will remain off the table until said “growing food” portion of the lunch is completely consumed.  Once this task has been completed, you will then receive a serving of Cheetos deemed appropriate by the Preparer of the Lunches.

Furthermore, the Preparer has rejected notions of counting out equal portions of desired processed cheese snacks and requires you to just get over it already.

Claim #553095: In response to the disagreement over which party was more injured in your recent physical altercation, and thus, deserved more attention, we offer this simple piece of advice: Keep your hands to yourselves.

Claim #1469370: All decisions regarding which television show you will watch on Saturday mornings will be made at the discretion of whichever parent has had more coffee.

You will be permitted a total of two shows, with one show choice per child. Should you begin to watch Woody Woodpecker, but decide midway to agree with your sibling and watch Phinneas and Ferb, you are thereby forfeiting selection and will not be allowed to choose the next program.

Our recommendation to you? Pick a show and stick with it.

Claim # 918882947750123:  With regards to accusations of devotion equality and child preference, make no mistake. Your parents love you both equally and fiercely. You are stuck with them loving you unconditionally and thinking you are the best thing since sliced bread.

To settle future issues of this nature, please submit claims to The Department of Hugs and Kisses.



When I Realized My Kids Are Good Kids

Seated at the fancy Grand Hotel, in Mackinac Island, MI, I started to sweat. A slight panic attack lurked in the back of my mind as I glanced down at the fine china on the table, the massive assortment of silverware stacked around the place setting, and our two young kids eyeballing them with wonder and mischief.

We were on vacation and, on a whim, decided to bike over to the swankiest resort on the island and fork out a small fortune to stuff our bellies full with the lunch buffet.

It was a gorgeous hotel, full of history and old-school luxury, and expensive decor.

And my kids can’t tell the difference between a $1 plate from the Target bargain bin, and the $100 plate they were about to carry back from the buffet line.

Throw in the fact that my kids’ squabbling had reached an all-time fever pitch, lunch in this fancy hotel seemed rife for disaster.

I ate my meal in a state of heightened alertness, whispering quick reminders to my kids not to use the butter knife as a drum stick, and to “please use your napkin to wipe off that glob of fruit on your chin instead of your forearm.”  I prayed they wouldn’t spill that outlandishly heavy crystal goblet of lemonade all over their laps under the eyes of all the older folks surrounding us that were probably ridiculously rich and ridiculously annoyed by young children.

And, even though I spent the meal worrying about how my kids would do, we ate our shrimp cocktail, high-end mac and cheese, and piled-too-high plates of the teeniest pastries without much drama.  Sure, there were some small mishaps.  And the tablecloth didn’t fare well. But we didn’t get kicked out, either.

At the end of our meal, as we pushed our chairs back to leave, the woman next to us leaned over and said, “Excuse me.”

I thought she was going to let us know the back of my daughter’s dress was crammed into her underpants. Or that we’d left a flip-flop under the table.

Instead, I heard her say, “I just wanted to tell you, your kids were so amazingly well-behaved! And I have nine grand-kids, so I know what I’m talking about. They’re not all like that.”

I blushed with embarrassment. My kids gave her a quick “thank you” as they rushed out of the dining room to pounce on the plush, circular sofa in the lobby, and I expressed my gratitude for her lovely comment.

Then I immediately felt ashamed.

Ashamed that I’d thought less of my children. Ashamed that I didn’t give them the benefit of the doubt. Ashamed that I thought they would behave like wild animals, when in reality, that’s not how they are.

My kids are good kids. And I need to remember that.

Being in public magnifies the lens in which I view my kids, especially in places that seem, and pardon the Southern in me coming out here, high falutin’ . Every noise they utter sounds like it’s coming through a bullhorn.  Every wiggle seems like I’m sitting with a herd (A herd? A litter? A barrel?) of monkeys.  Every fork drop sounds like parental failure.

But when I really step back (and I do have to step several yards back) to see my kids for who they are, they are good, well-behaved children.

They remember to use their Excuse Me’s, Please’s, Thank You’s and May I’s. They have the ability to remain at their seats and not run around like lunatics anymore.  And they listen to me and my husband (for the most part) when we ask them to do something. They are considerate and kind and adorably charming.

And they are children.

I shouldn’t expect them to behave like adults, because they are not adults. They are 8 and 5 and behave as such.

Yes, they are curious. Yes, they can be loud. Yes, they are not quite the masters of the fork and spoon and napkin as I would like.  But they are not the pack of wild animals my mind makes them out to be.

It’s so easy for me to feel as if my kids behavior is a reflection of not only me as a parent, but as a person. And my kids are NOT me. They’re not even an extension of myself. I need to let them be, and trust that I’ve given them the tools they need to get by in public. And I have, because they’re doing it, and doing it beautifully.

It just took a total stranger to make me see it.

When it comes down to it, that lunch at the Grand Hotel was more my issue than theirs. My sense of paranoia was more about how I thought we would be perceived, than it was because of any history of rotten behavior on my children’s part.

In the future, I’ll stress out less when we’re out as a family. I’ll remember that my kids are good kids. Even with fruit smeared on their faces.


More Than a Good Mother?

My daughter, son and I had just finished the five-minute train ride around the zoo, checking out moose and wolves on a hot summer day.  A grandmother was sitting behind us with a toddler that was, how should I say this, less than stationary.

As the train rolled in to the station, the toddler started to head off the side of the train before it stopped. Both of my kids lunged for the little boy to prevent him from leaping, and my daughter turned and yelled “Oh, don’t let him get off yet!” The grandmother, defending herself, said she wasn’t going to let him get off just yet.

Then, as the grandmother stepped off the train, she turned to me and said, “She’s gonna make a great mother some day! Already looking out for little ones, huh?”

I’m sure this was supposed to be a compliment, meant to express how impressed she was with my child’s compassion for total strangers. All I could say was “Thank you.”

My daughter took that compliment and beamed with pride. To some extent, the grandmother is probably right. My daughter possesses a level of caring and empathy and compassion way beyond what I model for her.

But the more I thought about it, the more bothered I became with that comment.

Why MOTHER? Why do we say to females that the qualities of compassion and concern for others qualify you for motherhood, but not some other profession, like a physician, who makes sure everyone is health? Or a teacher – someone who often selflessly makes sure children are learning how to navigate the world in our absence? Hell, even a Zoo employee?

And do people even say that to men? That if they show some kindness to a stranger, they will make a fantastic father?

I know this elderly woman meant well, but I think I would have swallowed that compliment easier if the emphasis was on how impressed she was with my daughter’s sense of humanitarianism. And the mere fact that she didn’t even acknowledge my son’s concern as well gives me pause, but that’s another post entirely.

So, what makes someone think a stranger will make a good mother?

If you Google “signs she’ll be a good mother,” you’ll learn a host of things to look for, like “Babies will love her,” or “She doesn’t mind mess.”

This makes me vomit in my mouth a bit.

Most of these articles were written by men, for men, about traits a chick at a bar might possess that would indicate she has strong maternal instincts.

I’m sure some guy was thinking, “you know how we hook men in to not cleaning up their shit? Tell them that the woman that will make a perfect mother ALSO prefers to live in squalor.”

And the Baby Whisperer thing? Please. I’m not even sure my own children would have let me hold them upon first meeting if they hadn’t been yanked from my loins. Babies are temperamental and fickle. Some may just always love men, or only prefer softer frames, or have a strong fondness for folks who dig natural deodorant. Just because they don’t immediately warm up to a woman doesn’t mean that woman won’t kick ass as a mother.

Thinking that if I slightly altered my search, I might find some answers that make me less sweaty and twitchy, I Googled “what makes a good mother.”

This search produced results from credible sources, like physiologists, doctors, and reputable parenting forums. They described qualities a bit easier on my gag reflex. Things like being attentive when your child speaks to you. Showing interest in your child and the things they love. Loving your children madly.

Not one single article said that the sign of a good future mother is the concern for a complete stranger on a zoo train, or anywhere else for that matter.

I have no doubt my daughter will be a fantastic mother one day, if she chooses that path. But I also have no doubt that those same qualities would also make her a great activist, teacher, health care worker, counselor, hair stylist, wife, friend, or any other profession she chooses.

I just hope that the next time someone tells her she’ll make a good mother one day, I can be quick enough on my feet to say, with a wink, “That, and save the planet once her kids are tucked in.”

Because I know she’ll be incredible no matter what she does.

A Mother’s Day Playlist

Hey Dads out there, this one is for you. (Okay, Mom’s, you can certainly read this too!)

Are you looking for a super sweet gift idea for Mother’s Day? (Ahem…in case you didn’t know, Mother’s Day is THIS SUNDAY, May 11th). Well, if you haven’t helped your kids with gift ideas, and want to avoid the barren Mother’s Day aisle at Target, I’ve got something that will make you the Winner of Mother’s Day gifts.

Mother's Day Playlist

My good friends over at Sugar Mountain PR have put together an awesome, and I do mean AWESOME playlist of some amazing family musicians. And they’re letting you download it, for free.

That’s right. FREE. Get your CD burner ready, download this fantastic playlist, and give the gift of music this year. With heart-tugging tunes by some of my favorite musicians like Danny Weinkauf, Suzi Shelton, and The Okee Dokee Brothers, the mother in your family is sure to be touched by this musical gesture.

Here’s the complete list of participating artists and their song contributions:

The Not-Its • “Motorcycle Mom”

Lisa Loeb • “No Fairy Tale”

Brady Rymer • “Ice Cream Girl” and “Red Piano Rag”

Danny Weinkauf (with Laurie Berkner) • “Our Love Fits”

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band • “Tu Eres Amor”

Suzi Shelton • “Mama’s House, Daddy’s House” and “Smile In My Heart”

Zee Avi • “Mockingbird”

The Okee Dokee Brothers • “Black Bear Mama”

I know…right?  Pretty great roundup of artists and songs, if you ask me.  Consider it my Mother’s Day gift to all of you fellow Mom’s, Mama’s, Mommy’s, and Mami’s out there.

Want to take advantage of this perfect Mother’s Day gift?  You can download these songs here:



Happy Mother’s Day!

How to navigate existential preschooler conversations…

Somewhere in the mix of discussions I have with my kids, wedged in between the debate about what show is better to watch (SpongeBob or Woody Woodpecker?) and the rebuttals to dessert choices, my kids pull some existential questions out of thin air that make me feel inadequate as a parent.

existential convos

The most difficult one occurred with my daughter, about where, EXACTLY she was before she was in my tummy.

My first answer was that she wasn’t anywhere, yet.  She hadn’t been created.  She didn’t exist.  In general, this is a pretty hard concept to understand.

If you’ve had this discussion, you KNOW this answer isn’t satisfactory.  She had to be SOMEWHERE, right? So WHERE?

She kept on asking.  Pleading.  Almost to tears.  For, if she wasn’t in me, then obviously, she was being left out.

I stammered.  I looked to my husband for help.  I tried skirting the issue and pushing more watermelon.  Yet, my daughter wouldn’t relent until she knew an exact location of her whereabouts before I carried her around in my abdomen.

To tell her she was just a glimmer of hope, a thought, etc, didn’t suffice.  Those were too vague.  Not specific enough.  She wanted an address, preferably in my body cavity..

So, I caved and gave her some cheap answer like “you were in my heart.”

And wouldn’t you know it, that worked.

Sometimes these complicated conversations can be frustrating, having no firm answer to provide my kids when they ask something I don’t know the answer to.  But sometimes we can mull that complicated question over and over together.  Answering questions with questions, we can create solutions that work for everyone.

The key is giving just enough information to get them thinking for themselves, without imposing your own opinion or bias.

Tricky territory, believe me.  Sometimes that age-old “Well, what to you think?” just doesn’t work.  Because, sometimes, my kids just want an answer that will make them feel loved and secure.

I’m being hit with them a lot lately.  My son has been asking me about what heaven is and what it looks like.  Do they have snacks there?  A pool?  Comfy beds?

Yes, I realize my son had just described heaven as a Westin.  Or some fancy, all-inclusive four-start hotel.

And who knows, perhaps it is?  I don’t have a concrete answer to this one, but it is fun to lie in bed and ponder the accommodations and amenities of the afterlife.  Usually, once my son hears that Mommy and Daddy will be there with him, he’s content.

What’s phenomenal about these conversations is that I get a little glimpse in to how my kids’ brains are working.  What they’re thinking.  How they’re processing their world.

It’s a nice change of pace from some of our other, less pensive conversations: rehashing scenes from the last movie we watched, flushing out who needs to clean up various piles of toys, or rating farts based on longevity and volume.

While I usually feel inept at answering some of these harder questions, it’s in these conversations that I feel like I’m parenting at my hardest, and hopefully my best.  In the midst of these discussions, I try to provide enough guidance so that my kids can come up with their own solutions, but also help steer them towards something that seems like truth.  Or at least, to what I know to be true.

All the while, keeping my fingers crossed that I’m at least half right.

The other day, several months after we’d had the “where was I before I was in your belly” chat, my daughter chirped her “Mommy?” from the backseat.  The one that usually indicates her desire for a snack or a Macklemore song.

Instead I got hit with a statement so adorable I almost had to pull over, weakened by its cuteness.

“Mommy, it was fun to be in your heart before I was in your tummy.”

At least there’s ONE answer I nailed.