It’s Not All Mary Poppins

And this is one of the GOOD ones

I wish to diverge a little from my usual topics so that I may mock my youngest child.

My youngest child, who is, I remind you all, a MODEL teen. I mean that quite sincerely. At seventeen she is sensible, respectful, polite, cheerful, easy-going. She does her homework without reminders or monitoring. She cooperates cheerfully with her tutor, and does the extra work he assigns without complaint. Her teachers like her, the neighbours like her, her babysitting clients adore her. She dresses fashionably yet unskankily. She has nice friends, and her romantic taste improves with each boyfriend. (Don’t let us linger over version one. I was horrified and, three years later, she is appropriately mortified by the very thought of him. So it’s all good.)

So, what I’m describing is a paragon, pretty much. I have nothing to complain about with this child. I know that, and am suitably proud/grateful.

However, she is seventeen.

For a while, when there were more of us living in the house, we were each doing our own laundry. However, there are only three of us now, and, as it happens, I actually like doing laundry. (Yes, yes. Weird, I know. We all have our quirks.) But since I do enjoy the task, and having assured that my children know how to do it, I am quite happy to do the family laundry. It’s not total altruism, either: taking on this task allows me to hand off tasks that I loathe. (A little quid pro quo and I am free of dishes. For the rest of my life, if I’m lucky.)

Normally I do a load every couple of days, one person’s laundry at a time, so that we each get a load done per week. An extra load every so often for household things — linens and whatnot. There are no set days, so the night before I will ask whoever it is to please leave their laundry in that hall in the evening so that I can scoop it in the morning. Because I, you see, get up at the total butt-crack of dawn, long before it would be reasonable to expect people to be bringing me baskets of laundry, even if I am going to be washing, drying and folding that laundry for them.

Emma’s offering last week looked a tad… meager. I waited a while to start the load, double-checking with her when she woke. “Is this all your laundry?”

Yes, it was.

“For the entire week? Are you sure?” My obvious skepticism riled her a bit. Yes, it was, for sure, the tone making it clear I was being foolish to even ask. I could cease forthwith with the impertinent questions, thankyousoverymuch.

Call me crazy, but I’ve been doing laundry for a lot of years, more years than the girl has been alive, and I know when I’m seeing a full week’s worth of dirty duds. And in this particular basket? I was not seeing them.

But she had declared herself, with some indignant vigour. This was indeed her full week’s complement of laundry. I needn’t trouble myself further. Really.

So I didn’t. I’m rather a fan of natural consequences. One doesn’t need to argue when one has natural consequences on one’s side, and I could feel them all, jostling around behind me as they lined up in my corner. When this spartan smidge of laundry was completed, and the girl ran out of something critical before next week, or wanted to wear something that was still mustily lingering in some dusty corner of her room? Oh, well… Natural consequences rock, I tell you.

So when I came to hang that laundry? There was: one pair of jeans. Barring spills, stains or obvious dirt, we do wear our jeans far more than a single wearing. And there was a dress in there, too, so only six days required jeans. But still… six days on one pair of jeans? Eeeeeh. Possible. Unlikely, but just barely possible.

There were five pairs of socks. Did she go sock-free inside her slippers all weekend? I’m doubting it.

There were six shirts. Hm. I will wear a shirt more than once. But I am in my late forties. I do not reek like unwashed goat have the body odour challenges of even the sweetest adolescent. Six shirts for a week is highly unlikely.

And the final, damning bit of evidence: There was one pair of underwear in that basket. One. Time to call the girl out.

“Emma, there was only one pair of underwear in your laundry.”

“Oh.” I can hear the defensiveness rising. She’s caught, and she knows it. She decides to add a smidge of aggression, hoping, I’m sure, that I’ll just go away and cease with the embarrassing … facts. “Yeah?” It’s not a full-out attack. We don’t do that, Emma and I, but I can hear the edge. I’m sure I disappoint her by persisting.

“So, you think that’s an unreasonable question? To wonder why you only had one pair in an entire week’s laundry?” (Particularly since I expressed doubt when you gave it to me? Ahem. I don’t say that, but she hears it anyway. We also don’t go for “I told you so’s”, Emma and I. But she knows she’s earned one.) My voice is mild, but she knows I’m not going to go away without an answer.

“No.” She pauses and it all comes out in a rush. If you’re going to eat crow, there’s no point in lingering over it. “Okay, you’re right. I didn’t look hard enough when I brought you my basket.”

That’s good enough. I don’t need her to grovel. She’s acknowledged my point and her error, and I hand her the folded laundry without further discussion. (Is it my fault if the ONE pair of underwear is in the VERY CENTRE of the VERY TOP of the meager pile?

Okay, yeah, it is. Heh.)

And you know what? She is my third child. She is the seventh of eight children in this blended family. I am so used to teens and their ways that I didn’t even consider the implications of her statement until much later that evening.

“I didn’t look hard enough.” I took that statement totally at face value, because I know what her room looks like. I know what her six older siblings’ rooms looked like at her age. I know what her younger sibling’s room looks like. I took her statement at face value because I am inured to adolescent household incapacity. Barring outright department of health violations, I leave an adolescent’s room to the adolescent. They can live in whatever kind of swamp they choose to live in, so long as they keep the door shut. Emma, as it happens, voluntarily cleans her room — about once a week! Voluntarily!!!She doesn’t maintain the clean worth beans, but she cleans. And did I say she does this without being told? So, again with the “nothing to complain about”.

But really? If this were NOT a teen we were talking about, but a NORMAL person? “I didn’t look hard enough?” How hard does one have to look to find laundry in a laundry basket???

There does come a point in a mother’s life when she wonders why she bothers with fripperies like laundry baskets. Why not just a garbage bag hung from the bedroom doorknob once a week? Because really, it would save valuable floor space, not having that laundry basket lying around empty. Valuable floor space, which could be much better used storing, oh, I don’t know…

dirty laundry, maybe?

February 16, 2011 Posted by | my kids | , , , , , | 3 Comments

expecting respect — teen version

A recent online conversation about teens provoked an email exchange, which seemed to me to be the essence of a pretty good post. This one’s about teens, not toddlers, but those of you with toddlers will soon see the parallels between teen and toddler behaviours! Anyone with teens certainly sees them. 🙂

And thus the parenting response is quite similar in principal, though different in execution.

In the conversation, one woman had said she didn’t sweat the small stuff, that she ignores the eye-rolling, sarcasm, and sneering. My hackles went up instantly.

The principle — don’t sweat the small stuff — is sound. The thing is, eye-rolling is an expression not only of disrespect, but of contempt. In studies done of marriages, certain behaviours are strong indicators of divorce within a predictable time-frame. Habitual expressions of contempt, which include sneering, sarcasm, and eye-rolling, are among them. John Gottman, the mathematician-turned-psychologist whose research is the cornerstone of this idea, comments that “respect and affection are essential to all relationships working and contempt destroys them.”

Teenagers may try to sneer, mock, and roll their eyes all the time, but they’re not “small stuff”, and I strongly believe you should sweat them.

My kids got my iciest rage if they ever sneered or rolled their eyes at me. “You may be angry at me, but you WILL express that anger respectfully, just as I am respectful with you.”

People have to learn that they can control their behaviour even when their emotions are involved. And that learning doesn’t come without lots of practice. I expect it of toddlers, in a rudimentary way, I expect it of teens, in a much more sophisticated (though not fully adult) way.

As I expect it of myself. Only seems reasonable.

My oldest might have sneered or rolled her eyes twice. The younger two learned from their big sister’s example, and, though my youngest has come close to the edge with sneering, I don’t think she’s ever once rolled her eyes at me. She has also been known to apologize for mood swings — without being asked!

While I have told her she can’t take out her bad mood on me, and she can certainly apologize for mood-driven bad behaviour, I don’t expect an apology for the mood itself, because mood swings? They’re small stuff. You don’t sweat ’em. (Like with the todders, “you can be angry, but you may not…”)

“Small stuff”also includes door-slamming, petulant tears, protestations of eternal misery, stomping up stairs, pouting…

I endeavour to help them put the moods in perspective, but very rarely do I attempt to do that WHILE the mood is ongoing… Expecting a teen to dissect/analyze an emotion while it’s being experienced is the very definition of “exercise in futility”. Wait. I lie. I did that with my FIRST child.

Live and learn.

I think the most important thing that I’ve learned re: teens is to observe the moods without being drawn into them. To let them roll over and through, but don’t get involved with the child until it’s over. My primary role during the negative mood is to ensure that its expression is respectful, and that innocent bystanders are not used as whipping-boys. “Respectful” doesn’t necessarily include calm or reasonable. They are allowed their emotions. It does mean “not aggressively rude”.

And when the teen is calm, when their rationality has asserted itself over the (probably hormonally-enhanced) emotions, THEN you can have the talk. (Which, with teens, particularly boys, might be three minutes at most. You learn to be CONCISE, with teens.) You can debrief, they can learn that you still love them… and that they have the power to control their own responses. That emotions are signposts, not roads, that they give us a certain amount of valuable information, but it’s the brain that gets us there.

And that if they roll their eyes at the momma, they risk losing one.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | aggression, manners, my kids, parenting, power struggle, socializing, tantrums | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

And over at MCMM

The travelling teen and the cell phone bill

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Mid-Century Modern Moms, my kids | , , | 3 Comments

Love is affirmation

loveheartsWhen you’re up to your neck in the immediate, unceasing, second-by-second demands that is parenting a young child, you tend to think this is as tough as it gets. You tend to think this defines parenting.

You’d be wrong, of course. On both counts.

Parenting teens and young adults is far less second-by-second, true. You don’t need to worry about their bathroom habits (apart from getting your younger adolescent male into one), they can wipe their own noses, they can dress their own selves, they can read their own stories.

If you’ve done your job well during toddler years, you’ll have minimal temper tantrums and other toddler-esque behaviour so common to the adolescent stereotype.

But as you reach the point in parenting where you can be apart from your baby for hours (even days) at a stretch, where they can get themselves to their playdates hang with friends, where they can even cook a meal, you reach the age of Really Big Parenting Issues.

And I’m not talking about kids who skip school, won’t do homework, and fail courses. I’m not talking about backtalk (again with the ‘do your work in toddlerhood and you’ll see a whole lot less of this in adolescence’), weird hair, piercings, emotional storms, rowdy parties and skanky ‘fashion’. Though, lord only knows, all that is draining enough on the poor weary parent, and puts your long-ago angst about ‘he won’t eat his peas’ and ‘she won’t nap’ in perspective. But even then?

That’s all small potato stuff.

I’m talking about pregnancy scares. Teens with friends who commit suicide, or teens who consider it themselves. Drug use. Running away from home. Estrangement.

Serious stuff.

And, while we’ve been blessed with (and have worked hard for) children who have done very little of the Big Stuff, we do have eight kids between us. We’ve suffered a decent amount of anxiety, pain, tears, sleepless nights, betrayal… Not as much as some, but more than you’d choose. If you were given the choice.

Which is why, when my husband received two beautiful Father’s Day missives from two of my children — one a very sweet card with a meaningful hand-written note, the other a long amazing letter of healing and love — we both cried. These are not his bio-children, but mine. He’s a mere step-parent, and those of you in blended families know just how very, very, very difficult it is to be a step.

Way harder than being a bio-parent, I believe. This is a man who is in their lives not through any choice of theirs, but of mine. Though it’s been more peace than pain, more laughter than anguish, it has not always been easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all hurt each other. I’ve felt the wrenching pain of divided loyalties, and I know my kids have, too. And, while as a parent you know that you’ll love that child no matter what, you’re not always so sure of the child’s feelings. Particularly if you’re a step-parent.

Once in a while you receive affirmation as a parent. Sometimes it comes from family. Sometimes it comes from random strangers. Sometimes it’s something the child does inadvertantly.

And rarely, oh, so precious it is, the child goes out of their way to open themselves, to be vulnerable, to let you know how much they love and appreciate you.

It’s a gift. And I am grateful.

Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | my kids | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dustballs, beware!

I am sick!

(No, not really. Just officially. Shhhh…)

The husband leaves for work. His eyes scan the unnaturally quiet home, and widen in faux concern.

“What are you going to DO all day at home, all by yourself with no one to talk to? Want me to round up some small children to keep you company?”

He’s so funny.

In all honesty, I’m in the mood for housework, and experience has taught me that when that iron is hot, I’d best strike like crazy. SO MUCH gets done!!

So, with no tots here, and nothing more exciting than dustball-wrangling happening at Mary’s house, perhaps you’d like to pop over to Mid-Century Modern Moms and find out what Important Life Lessons the son is learning, a month into independent living.

June 5, 2009 Posted by | health and safety, Mid-Century Modern Moms, my kids | , , | Leave a comment

Small world?

Emma’s got a new boyfriend!

Actually, an exclamation point isn’t necessary. Emma is a friendly, warm, pretty and… curvaceous girl. Boyfriends, or boyfriend wannabes, have never been in short supply.

They’ve been going out for three or four weeks now. Declan’s been over for dinner once, and in and out of the house enough that I’ve decided I quite like the boy. (Such an improvement over the last one. It’s reassuring to see your kids learn as they go!)

Yesterday, Declan’s mother, having decided it was time to Meet the GF’s Mother, dropped him off. I see him cross the street, followed by a woman a little younger than me… and I recognize her. Vaguely. From somewhere.

In the dusty reaches of my memory, something stirs, and I can tell by the look on her face, it’s happening to her, too.

“You’re… someone’s mother,” I say. Because I am Astute and Insightful. “I mean, I know you’re his mother, but…” Because that’s her category in my mind. Somebody’s mother.

She catches the vagrant memory before I do.

“You do daycare!” Which she’d known all along. Ha! We are both Astute and Insightful. “You looked after my son!”

“Declan?” I turn to BF. “Declan and Niamh?” (Niamh is his younger sister.) And suddenly I see it. He is indeed. Those same eyes. “Ha! You’re Declan!”

(Thankfully for Emma’s peace of mind, I have never seen Declan’s wee naked butt… or anything else. He came to me as an after-school kid; he’d have been six or seven at the time. Emma was three.)

Declan’s eyes are darting between the two of us. He’s not sure whether to be alarmed or reassured by this radical development.

“Wow. Emma’s sure changed,” mother observes, and I chortle. From curly-headed, bounding moppet to beautiful young woman. Yes, she sure has.

And the mothers talk about change, and reminisce, and wonder at life, how quickly it happens, life passages, growth and challenge and gratitude. About kids and husbands and…

Declan wanders into the house, reassured, calling out to Emma. “Hey, Em. Guess what?”

May 19, 2009 Posted by | my kids | , , , | 4 Comments

Children are so observ…

Children are so observant!!!”

We all know what I think of that notion… And, in case you thought it only applied to toddlers, my very own children continue to provide evidence that that particular “truism”… ain’t.

January 30, 2009 Posted by | Mid-Century Modern Moms, my kids | , , | Leave a comment