Friday, July 15, 2016

All Things Being Equal

My latest column in the July edition of Chicago Parent.

My husband hails from a family of seven children and is the fifth consecutive boy. I often tease him that nary a soul looked up when he arrived home from the hospital, baby boys being old hat and all.

I am not sure if Joe’s strongest stance on child-rearing is based on birth order or an innate sense of fairness, but he consistently argues:

“What we offer to one child, we offer to all.”

It has proven to be a maddening and expensive concept.

After my oldest son’s somewhat traumatic birth, therapists suggested he engage in activities that develop core strength. Ice skating was high on that list.

My husband peered over my shoulder as I registered Danny for Learn-to-Skate.

“You’re not doing ALL the boys?”

The righteous indignation was palpable.

I had no intention of dragging three little kids to an ice rink. At that time, lacing up just one pair of skates was daunting. We eventually compromised and agreed to hold off on little Joey until he could, you know, WALK.

A while later, we discovered my first son enjoyed chess. I located a local group and planned to send the two oldest boys. Joe again rallied around the cause of no man left behind.

“What about Joey?”

“Joey thinks chess pieces are army guys. And that they should fly.”

“Sign him up.”

I begrudgingly agreed.

Over and over, one child would express an interest and Joe would demand the whole motley crew gain exposure. I was ready to mutiny when I noticed something.

Jack, the tag-along kid for skating, developed a passion for ice hockey. Within one year, he went from the rejection of not making a house team to being promoted to a travel team. Fast as lightening, the kid now sleeps with his hockey stick and speaks with religious fervor over the happenings in the NHL.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

And Joey, my bundle of energy and limited attention span, flourished under chess tutelage. In learning to consider consequences more than one step out, his grades and focus improved enormously. He also gained confidence in being one of the only second-graders proficient in a complex game.

I could not have predicted that outcome in a million years.

With a new appreciation for exposing children to a plethora of activities and sports, I sometimes get frustrated when parents insist:

“That (sport/activity) just isn’t my child’s thing.”

How can you be so sure?

For the uncoordinated child, sports offer repetitive motions and drills that rival years’ worth of physical therapy. Music lessons can actually improve balance. Martial arts and swimming have been known to help with ADHD.

Many local park districts, schools, and communities provide affordable alternatives to privately run programs.

It was never my intention to be so tired or so poor running these kids here and there. I still try to hide my disappointment when long-term interests fall to the wayside (piano, cello, swimming, soccer). I can only hope that the strong base provided will remain should a passion suddenly reignite.

I do not blame parents who think I am crazy. Yet a long time ago, before my husband and I had kids, we both agreed to offer our kids just one thing:

The entire world.

But they would still have to take out the garbage first.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Source

The following appears in the June edition of Chicago Parent.

As a semi-practicing Catholic, I was a bit surprised by Pope Francis’ recent comments on “helicopter parenting.” In his treatise on family life, His Holiness suggested that parents who constantly keep track of their children are actually sabotaging their kids’ independence.

Perhaps if the institution had done a better job tracking its own black sheep, I’d listen.

 A little helicopter priesting would have gone a long way.

One of my favorite expressions is “Consider the source.” It is why I can’t bite my tongue when the neighborhood know-it-all tells me everything I’m doing wrong (while her son sets the dog’s tail on fire after gorging on forbidden processed foods).

Consider the source.

It is why I ignore Facebook posts and articles about not sticking up for your child when he or she is being treated poorly. These posts usually come directly from the people who run everything, dictate everything, and simply don’t want to be challenged on anything.

Consider the source. 

I do not welcome financial counsel from the bankrupt and I do not seek marriage advice from the thrice-divorced.

Consider the source.

If a friend of mine is a regular patron of Denny’s, I simply cannot take her restaurant recommendations very seriously. Her favorite entrĂ©e is Moons Over My Hammy for chrissakes.

Consider the source. 

When I had my first baby, I would listen reverently to the park mom pitching the latest theory on parenting. She seemed to know her stuff. She spoke with authority. She had cute shoes. Twelve years later, I now see her rotten kid around the neighborhood and the only word that comes to mind is “jagoff.”

No, my sources no longer include online gurus, celebrities, or moms with cute shoes.

They are instead the parents of adult children I find intelligent, warm, and accomplished. These moms and dads miraculously raised wonderful people without the aid of the internet or fad parenting.

These are the sources I consider.

So when I asked an old acquaintance how he managed to raise five of the nicest boys I have ever met, I took his comments to heart:

Love them. 

Keep them busy. 

Buy plenty of duct tape. 

The advice was both simple and breathtakingly complex. Loving them was easy. Keeping them busy now requires a matrix worthy of Stephen Hawking. And assuring our house is flush with duct tape at all times? My husband could use a third job. But the advice still guides me every day.

I would encourage every parent to find the right voice. The right source. And seriously. Load up on duct tape.

 You’re going to go through that sh*t like water.