Friday, October 3, 2014

A Development in the Lunchbox Art Topic!

My friends, there has been a significant development in the lunchbox art situation. Apparently, there is an actual parent out there, one who has his own logo, who has a real kid and actually did the lunchbox art that I posted about earlier this week:

You can tell from the fact that he has a logo attached to his emails that he is just a regular dad, and is not professionally benefitting from making insanely complicated lunches for his child.

Anyway, this is what he wanted to say to me:

"If you are going to call my lunches fake and participate in the tearing down of other parents on your blog, the least you can do is not cut the watermarks off my pic since you don't have the common decency to link to my blog. Yes I'm talking about the My Little Pony one. And by the way, yes my daughter takes them to school and yes they make it intact. Thanks."

To begin, I did not alter these images in any way. I copied them from Pinterest. So, just so that he gets full credit, his logo apparently should have been included on the Pinkie Pie image. Please take note of that. The fact that 2 of the 3 images that I randomly selected from Pinterest came from one man, who has his own logo, might at first suggest to you that, in fact, I was correct in arguing that nobody (with the exception of those who are actively self-promoting on the internet) makes these kind of lunches.

He, however, is apparently very offended that I suggested that the rest of us do not need to start websites with our own logos making elaborate lunches for our children. It is, as you all know from reading this blog, my regular goal to "tear down other parents." I would like every one of the parents on earth just torn to shreds, mostly because I insulted your lunch art.

So I have now rectified the situation, by not only providing his very nice logo here, but also, at the same time, providing his website, because it is in his logo, which again shows that he is just a regular parent, just getting through the day. You can all now go see all the elaborate lunches he really made, that his child really eats, and that really get all the way to school, and that he really wrote on with a sharpie to make bread look like a baby.

You can also watch a video of him doing situps.

Also he wrote a book called "Adventures in Lunchboxing," which you should all go out and buy, because it is a realistic depiction of how we all make lunches in the morning, and is not at all intended to aggrandize this one parent, at the expense of all other normal parents out there, just trying to get out the door.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Legend of Whimsical Lunchbox Art

Normally, as I am (or my husband is) scouring the fridge for something remotely edible to throw haphazardly into my daughter's lunchbox, while also trying to drink cold coffee and get breakfast on the table, we do not think about art. It just doesn't come up at that time of day.

But according to a mythical legend that persists in the world of internet parenting, there are a number of parents out there - parents who are better at parenting than everybody else - who not only think about art while they are packing their child's lunchbox, but they carefully (SO CAREFULLY) make art out of their child's lunch.

Don't even go look at Pinterest, you'll want to kill yourself. I've collected some examples here.

"Oh look, I've just whipped these up for you, while you're crying because you refuse to wear pants to school and your sister just peed on the floor. This is a normal thing for me to do, because my parenting style is so whimsical and loving and free-spirited and joyful that I just can't help but express my love for you with carefully sculpted fruits, vegetables, rice, and bread. It means that I love you more than anybody else loves their children"

Every time I come across pictures like these, they are embedded in actual articles that somebody wrote, with titles like: 

“'Lunchbox Dad'” Creates Impressive Edible Art For His Little Daughter"
"Massachusetts Dad Has Been Drawing Awesome Pictures On His Kids' Sandwich Bags Since 2008"
"Creative Mom of Two Packs Up Magical Bento Box Lunches For Her Boys"
"These Super-Cool Dads Turn School Lunch Into Works of Art"
"Mom Creates Amazing Lunch Art For Her Kids"
"'Lunchbox Dad' Turns Plain Sandwiches And Snacks Into Edible Masterpieces."

I'm not linking to these articles because they are awful.

First, they tell you that if you do these things "for your kids," then you are "impressive," "awesome," "creative," "super-cool," "amazing,"and "magical." 

They do not admit - ever - that these things were clearly not made for actual children's lunches. And if they were, they were made many hours/days ago and are probably now stale and soggy to eat, and also they were made because the person who made them is a self-promoting artist, just trying to get some internet attention, and the blogger is a self-promoting blogger, looking for clicks, and NONE OF THIS IS REAL. 

But you are a failure. Because you did not turn your daughter's sandwich into Pinkie Pie (wtf kind of sandwich is that anyway?), and you also did not fill up an entire compartment of a tupperware bento box with frosting and m&m's. Also, you tell me how to get a lid on that cat lunch. You tell me.

These articles keep popping up, and I hate them. They are the perfect embodiment of the internet parenting industry making parents feel inadequate because they can't do impossible things. 

So please just remember. The whimsical lunches are not real. Professional artists (or overly-guilted parents who are going insane) made them. You are not expected to make them. Just throw whatever you have into the lunchbox. Your kid probably won't eat anything you make anyway, no matter how whimsical it is. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Golden Moments

I just figured out a new key to parenting happiness. Like all of them, it doesn't last forever, but man when it works, it works.

Yesterday, 10 blocks from home, Mae melted down, as 2 year olds do. Penny did not melt down, but she also didn't vacate the stroller, so that I could cram Mae into it and get home asap. I tried to coax Mae home, and she RAN the other direction, straight toward NYC traffic. I had to chase her down. That made me pretty mad. By the time we got home, I was carrying Mae under one arm, trying to push an umbrella stroller containing a 40 lb kid, one-handedly (which is almost impossible even when it contains nothing but a stuffed animal), and Mae was screaming "PUT ME DOWN" and strangers were looking at me like I was a kidnapper. So, on the scale of parenting happiness, I was pretty much at a negative 100.

We got home, the girls decided to go potty together (Mae has a little practice potty in the bathroom). I was honestly relieved just to get a moment to compose myself alone. I was still really mad. After a few minutes, I heard Mae yell, "Mommy I made poopies!" So I got up with a grumpy moan to go clean the poop out of her potty.

I walked into the bathroom and Penny was up to her elbows in a soapy sink, CLEANING MABEL'S POOPY POTTY. I stood there stunned for a minute. Penny said, "It's ok mommy, I flushed Mae's poop and now I'm cleaning her potty." I said "why?" She said, "Because it makes less work for you." And then my heart basically exploded with love.

Penny has often been a difficult child. She's sensitive and stubborn, has been since birth. Until Mae turned 2, Penny was always the one I expected trouble from. But this last incident. Man, it changed me. It changed my view of her. It changed our entire relationship. And it's lasting. I am living off that one moment, her with soap up to her elbows, cleaning up her sister's poop, making an effort to help out. I don't know when this one will wear off, but it's pretty powerful.

And that's how you make parenting work. You save those little moments that make your heart explode. They don't happen every day, but they don't need to. You save them in your visceral memory and bring them back and live them again. Over and over. They're so powerful, so simple, and the next time you feel like snapping, you can dip back into one of them and buy yourself a little bit of generosity, understanding, and patience. It so easy to forget (and so hard to teach) that we, as a family, are all in this together. When a 5-year old reminds you of it, and shows you that she learned it, that's like gold.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Use Your Phone to Better Ignore Your Kids!

This pair of articles pretty much sums up what annoys me the most about parenting advice. First, this article: Parents on Smartphones Ignore Their Kids, Study Finds. It's all full of pearl-clutching concern about the downfall of the modern family because parents pay attention to their phones instead of their kids. Then this one, far away on another website, but posted only 9 DAYS LATER: The Overprotected Kid, with a url including the phrase "hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone."Because according to this article, citing a whole different group of doctors, we're suffocating our kids and need to ignore them more often.

So here's my solution - let's all stare at our phones more in order to allow our kids to go get dirty!! Whadayasay parenting advice industry??

In fact, I've never been all that upset about parents looking at their phones around their kids. I'm sure that automatically disqualifies me from the parenting advice club forevermore, but what did parents do before smartphones? Or take it even further, before televisions, telephones, before any kind of electronic distraction? I'll tell you what a lot of moms did - they did needlepoint. And they darned socks. And they knitted things. They sat in a chair and distracted themselves from the care of their children, by staring at something in their lap.

And oh, how we long for those bygone days, when mothers would sit in their rocking chairs, sewing away, while their children roamed free. But heaven forbid that mother in the rocking chair is reading a New York Times article on her phone. Or keeping up with work emails. Or just reading someone's blog post in order to feel a little less isolated from the world of grownups. Those things are BAD PARENTING.

Read stuff on your phones if you want to. Or read a book you love. Your kids will play imaginative games by themselves once they realize you're not an eternally-available playmate.

But here's the thing that I keep noticing. Whenever women ignore their children in order to do something appropriately domestic, it's a heartwarming reminder of the good old days. If you ignore your kids to wash the dishes, everybody's cool with it. When you ignore your children to, for instance, answer a work email from your phone, or READ something, that's destroying the family. It's selfish and wrong. But the kid is getting the same amount of attention either way.

Somebody might argue that washing the dishes is modeling good grownup behavior and is therefore instructive. But since when is washing dishes (or floors, or cooking things) the best model of adult life? When a kid asks to play when we're cooking, we say "Mommy is cooking right now, I'll play with you later." That's modeling a good adult activity. Why can't we say "Mommy has to do a little work right now, and then I'll play." Or, "Mommy needs just a few minutes of quiet time to read, and then I'll play." What's the difference? It's all modeling appropriate adult behavior. Doing work electronically from home. Taking a few minutes for a mental health break. These are things that will serve our kids well some day. We're the only ones who can teach that. If we only prioritize domestic activities over kid-time, we tell our kids that domestic activities are the most important thing we can do. If we prioritize work, or self-care, well, maybe they will too. And they'll realize that being a domestic goddess is not the pinnacle of womanhood.

Modern motherhood is full of all kinds of double standards. The phone guilt is one of them. Next time you feel like a bad mom for checking your phone, imagine it's a pretty little needlepoint project, and then decide whether it's really all that bad.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Childcare is Good

A new mom insult has come to my attention today that I, thankfully, have never personally encountered.  From two different moms, I've learned that some people actually approach working mothers and say some variation of "someone else is raising your child" to their faces.  Either in pretend kindness - "it must be so sad to have someone else raising your child," or in outright judgement - "why did you have kids only to let someone else raise them?"

First, I can't believe anyone in the world with a shred of decency would have the slightest thought that accusing a working mother of not raising her children is remotely acceptable or any of their business.  I imagine that a person who would say that would also probably walk around half naked, smeared with ranch dressing, randomly french-kissing passersby and bestowing pirate hats upon them against their will.  Because decency.

And yet.  People are saying it.

So up go my mommy hackles.  For any mom who has ever heard, or will ever hear something so ridiculous directed at them, please remember this.  You do not abdicate your motherhood as soon as you hire a babysitter.  All moms, no matter how many other obligations they have, get help from other people.  It doesn't matter whether you work in an office all day, half the day, only on Wednesdays, or you spend most of your time in your home, taking care of your kids or working on a degree or writing from your bedroom or making sure the family doesn't run out of toilet paper.

It is absolutely the most human thing in the world to get help with caring for your kids.  It is a time-honored human practice for moms to outsource their childcare from time to time so that they can do other things. The people who tend to insist the loudest that mothers need to constantly carry their babies and nurse them for 5 years seem to forget that those ancient childrearing practices they love so much also included multiple caregivers, and the influence of those other adult figures was and is beneficial. Why do we care so much more about baby-carrying than we do about babysitting?  They're equally prevalent in ancient parenting, they're equally "natural", and yet moms are praised for doing the one that literally ties them to their children, and attacked for doing the one that allows them to do something other than mothering.

There is an almost instinctive attack in contemporary motherhood talk against any mother who does anything other than mothering.  A mother who needs to do other things is so easily and so often criticized for having the gall to have other things to do.  Who does she think she is?  Some kind of man?

And this is not just for mothers who work outside the home.  Even moms who stay at home, those amazing herculean people who put up with so. much. crap. every single day, all day long with no rest, even those marathon-mothering women are guilted for asking, just every so often, for a break, or some time with adults.

Your children will not forget you are their mother if they spend time with another adult.  They will not look back on their toddler years and think "I learned all my values from that daycare center."  Even if you work in an office all day, and only see them for a couple hours on weekdays, they know who you are and they follow your lead.  Imagine your own mother.  Now imagine your kindergarten teacher.  Now imagine that someone told your mother that your kindergarten teacher was actually raising you.

Your kindergarten teacher was an important person in your life.  But she wasn't your mom.  And even though you spent many hours a day with your teacher instead of your mom, you could tell the difference between them. The values you inherited were mostly from your family, and if you were lucky, enriched and accompanied by things your teachers taught you.  All the adults in a child's life have the chance to support and love a child, and a child who meets and learns to love multiple adults is a kinder, more confident and well-balanced person.

Even more importantly, a mom who meets and gets to spend time with multiple adults is a kinder, more confident and well-balanced person.  It works both ways.  Accusing a working mother of not raising her own children is a crushing, terrible thing to say to someone.  It's not true.  And it creates a crazy ideal of motherhood that isn't realistic or beneficial to anyone.

If I ever hear someone say that, I hope to God I have a tub of ranch dip in my hands.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bribe Your Children

Well, I just read this article making parents feel terrible for bribing their children, and it pissed me off.

The key idea:
"Mr. Pink said the problem with bribing is not the rewards; it’s the contingency, which is a form of control. “Human beings have only two reactions to control,” he said. “They comply or they defy. I don’t think most parents want compliant children, and I don’t think they want defiant children. They want children who are active, engaged and motivated by deeper things.”"
This is hilarious because what do people say to parents whose children are being unruly?  They say "control your child."  Our job as parents is, yes, to guide and teach and develop growing minds and awareness of good and bad and understanding of the social contract, but it's also, in a very real sense, to keep our children in line.  And my daughter knows that.  She certainly does not always respond to bribes with either compliance or defiance.  She often responds with negotiation, questions, excitement or a new perspective on the conflict.

Maybe I'm not understanding the true definition of bribes, but I think most people would agree that "I will give you bunny crackers if you get in the stroller" is a bribe.  And I don't feel at all that I'm damaging her by engaging in this interaction.  The usual parenting advice industry suggestion is that instead of offering a bribe, I should explain to my 3-year old in very reasonable terms why she should get in the stroller and sit still instead of running around pretending to be a superhero.  Or I should try to change her superhero game into a sitting in the stroller game.  Any parent of a 3 year old is laughing at both of those ideas right now.

The fact is that I need her to get in the stroller because we are in a hurry.  She doesn't understand the concept of hurry and she doesn't care.  I can explain it all I want, but she doesn't want to sit down when it's much more fun to run around, and any pathetic attempt at making up a stroller game is very unlikely to work.  So, because I'm a good mom, I think about a way to make sitting in a stroller a little more enjoyable for her.  I offer the bunny crackers.  And all of a sudden her decision is easier to make.  That's not controlling her, that's making it easier for her to voluntarily make the decision I need her to make.  It's certainly less controlling than grabbing her and strapping her against her will into the stroller, which is my last remaining option.

The fact is, we're always controlling our kids, particularly when they're small.  Whether through "explaining"(which often turns into guilting), making up games, bribing, threatening or physical force, we're directing their choices and their schedules.  We have to.  Nobody wants a world run by the unguided choices of 3-year olds.

And bribing is just a dirty word for rewarding.  Why do you go to work all week?  Because you get a bribe at the end of the week in the form of a paycheck.  In fact, my favorite type of bribe is the kind that my daughter has to save up for.  If she stays in her bedroom all night, she gets a star in the morning.  If she gets 7 stars, she gets a present.  Not only has this taught her to stay in her room all night, it has also taught her to save, to wait, to count and, shockingly, to do subtraction in her head ("You have 3 stars, how many more do you need to get a sticker book?" Her instant answer:"4.")

But the best part is that using bribes on a regular basis hasn't, contrary to the hysterical warnings of the parenting advice industry, caused us to become reliant on bribes.  On the contrary, after a few months of using bribes to incentivize behavior that she won't otherwise want to do, she gets used to the behavior.  And I can start "forgetting" the bribes and she doesn't even notice.

Bribing makes undesirable activities a little more desirable.  I'm not forcing her to do something she absolutely hates, or convincing her that she actually shouldn't hate it.  I'm making a deal with her.  It's respectful of her feelings, in the sense that I'm making it easier for her to make an unpleasant decision.  It's not control, it's negotiation.  World leaders do it all the time.

You've never seen parents as happy as they are in December, when we're all allowed to bribe to our hearts' content.  Advent calendars, elf on the shelf, treats galore.  It's parenting heaven because there's always a tool sitting there, ready to help you make a deal.  And then in January we're all guilted into removing these tools, being told by the parenting advice industry that we're causing permanent psychological damage because we're such lazy, lazy, terrible moms for using the tools that we've found to work the best.

You're not damaging your child.  You're not lazy.  Do what works and don't be guilted.  We're all just trying to make it through one day at a time with as much respect and kindness as we can muster.  If a package of bunny crackers makes the difference between sitting in the stroller and not sitting in the stroller, give the bunny crackers, make the kid a little happier, and get on with the day.  Bribing doesn't control kids, it makes them feel like they have a tiny bit of power in a world that doesn't give them any.  It makes your day a million times easier.  And it follows the first and only rule of parenting: do what works.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Be Nice to Yourself - For Feminism!

Letter from a Mom Friend:
"I was taking inventory of my day and I realized I usually score myself based on how few times I lost it on the kids. It's usually something like, "I blew my top and yelled twice, so not bad, but I should try and keep it together." Or by how enriching the day was, so something like, "I Ieft the Today show on too long, or was on personal calls--so I am sure I neglected them too much and I could have been doing rhyming cards with S or having more direct contact with E." And then there is the technology thing, "I spent way too much time on my phone, or online, that needs to stop." And then I thought....Wait! I am not scoring on the good stuff. I made my kids three nutritious meals, as well as ate well in front of them and talked to S about food choices and why we eat what we eat. I kept the TV off, except for her poop-reward obligatory show. We read umpteen books and practiced our German. I didn't drag them out for a thousand errands because I know they felt crummy, despite my growing cabin fever. I said how great they were, praised them for their good behavior and achievements and was the kind attentive mommy most of the day. AND I have postponed my life and career to be good to them and let them know how important they are. AND I only yelled once..... SO the good way outweighs the bad most days. But the guilt overshadows that. So now I promise to myself to score the good with bad, and tomorrow doesn't look so bleak."
Letter to a Mom Friend:
Let's take a quick inventory of the things you did in a single day.  You made healthy food, talked about healthy food, modeled healthy eating.  You praised your kids, respected their need to rest, read a lot of books, and PRACTICED GERMAN.  You gave them attention and affection.  

I think our culture of motherhood is clearly deranged when a parent can do all those things and still have that little thought in the back of her mind that maybe she shouldn't have spent those 15 minutes talking on the phone for her own personal sanity.

You have already given your kids everything they need.  They have love, they have play, they have attention and nutrition, they have a mommy who obviously loves them and spends time with them.  But you pile guilt on yourself whenever you give yourself even a tiny portion of what YOU need.  

Watching the Today Show or talking on the phone to a friend or checking email or reading stuff online is not bad parenting.  It's giving yourself a tiny (tiny!) glimpse into the world of adults.  You are an adult and you desperately need those little glimpses.  Actually, you need a lot more than glimpses, but those tiny little ones are enough to barely keep you going, and you shouldn't put them on the "negative" side of the ledger of today's accomplishments.  

This is something that I struggle with too, every day.  That insidious voice in the back of my head that says that if I'm taking time for myself, I'm not trying hard enough.  Or that if I NEED time for myself, I'm not a good enough mother.  If I need to take 15 minutes out of an entire day to talk to a friend, I must not love my children enough.

But that's bullshit and we all know it, deep down.  That voice in the back of your head isn't you.  It's the voice of some crazy person you read in a parenting discussion forum on the internet.  Or an older woman who has forgotten how hard it can be and tells you how she adored every second (every single one!) of motherhood.  Or the mom you know who only talks about how much she loves and enjoys her kids and never admits that some days it's too much.  Or a movie you saw where the mom gave her life for her child and was a hero.  Or a tv show where the evil terrible mother wanted only what was best for her and left her children to starve as a direct consequence.  Our examples of pristine motherhood are a little messed up.  

It's so clear that you love your kids, that you're an amazing mom, and that you almost can't do a better job.  No, scratch that.  The only way you can do a better job is to do what you did today, and give yourself credit for all the amazing things you do.

The next step is to give yourself credit for the things you did for yourself, too.  It's hard to remember that it's not a zero-sum game.  The things you do for yourself aren't automatically deducted from the welfare of your children.  So go ahead and check your email, look at your phone, talk to a friend.  Your kids also need some time alone to figure out who they are in the world without you.  Give them that time.  And give yourself a break.  Everybody will be happier for it. And as for the yelling, I'm always nicer to the kids when I'm nicer to myself.  What goes around comes around.

Expecting mothers to give up everything, including their own very minor bits of happiness, for the sake of their children is a perverse expectation.  It does nothing for the welfare of kids.  It actually does more harm than good.  And it teaches them that this is how women should behave.  Sacrificing themselves entirely and berating themselves for every tiny moment of freedom.  I'm not saying we should all abandon our children (I can't believe I even feel the need to make that clear), I just think it's important to remember that it's ok to be nice, generous and forgiving to ourselves.  It's actually good for our kids when we're nice to ourselves.  It teaches them self-respect, forgiveness, resilience, respect for women, and it gives them some space to be themselves.

And if it's good for kids and for moms when moms respect their own needs, it kinda makes you wonder who IS it good for when moms heap guilt on themselves?  What are we playing into by attacking ourselves every day?  Why is the guilt so pervasive?  Next time you're calculating the daily list of grievances, think about who it's really for.