Big Babies

I've read several articles recently discussing how today's kids are coddled too much. In some ways, I suppose I agree.

Look at the game of dodgeball, for instance. This elementary gym class staple was nixed when my own kids were younger. Apparently somebody determined it was too dangerous or something.

Photo © 20th Century Fox 2004

I must respectfully disagree. Personally, there was nothing like the fear of getting hit by one of those missile-launching boys on the other team to inspire me to hone my dodging skills and build a little character.

Contests and competitions for kids are another case in point. "Let's not say there's a winner or loser, shall we? Let's just give EVERYONE a trophy for participating." Sorry kids, but in real life there will always be winners and losers. It's best to learn how to accept that and bounce back from it in a healthy way.

(Oh all right, coddling parental confession time here: The only way I motivated my now soccer-obsessed son to even try the sport was because he knew he would get a participation trophy in the end. Heh, heh.)

But there truly are situations where parental coddling isn't helping our children "grow up," such as allowing the child to dictate the rules concerning Internet access and computer use. I once attended an Internet safety talk and listened as one mother asked what she should do since her child refused to give his password to her. I'm serious! And I've personally witnessed several instances where parents are afraid to see their precious babies fail at something, even allowing a child to skip school on a test day in order to give him or her more time to prepare.

So while it's pretty obvious some of the coddling is not beneficial and definitely under parental control, in other ways, perceived coddling of kids today is also a result of the changed world we live in.

When my hubs and I were kids a few, er…decades ago, we could do things like hop over to a nearby park for a pickup game of baseball, or bike miles on deserted back roads to visit a friend's house to play. Today, it's not safe to allow our children to exercise these freedoms. Now everything is pre-arranged into official play dates and time-intensive organized sports teams.

My siblings and I grew up doing weekly chores which included feeding and caring for our dog (including potty runs); setting the table; doing the dishes; cleaning the bathrooms and toilets; dusting; vacuuming, etc. Hubs and I set up this nice comprehensive chore chart which is posted on our refrigerator with a dry-erase marker so jobs can be easily checked off as they're completed. Trouble is, days go by with nobody having the time to fit them in! Sports, after-school clubs and ridiculous homework loads (especially in the advanced classes) take up so much more time today than they did when I was a kid.

It's clear, we're not helping our kids become responsible, confident, contributing members of society by overindulging them and allowing them to slack on chores. But what's the answer? Should we reinstitute the game of dodgeball and go back to giving trophies to winners only? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Do you coddle your children? What steps do you take to avoid overindulging your own kids?

Quote of the Week

© Photograph by Holly Bowne

"I seldom think about my limitations,
and they never make me sad.
Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times;
but it is vague, like a breeze among flowers."
~ Helen Keller ~

Sibling Rivalry's Happy Ending

They bubbled with shared laughter as they cruised up the road together toward the movie theatre. Then my 18-year-old daughter suddenly stopped laughing, turned to look at her 15-year-old brother sitting in the passenger seat beside her saying, "Josh, seriously, what are you doing here?!"

Maybe I should back up. See, last Saturday afternoon, my daughter Ashleigh had organized a group of friends to attend a showing of Iron Man II. Just to clarify, this would be eight of her high school senior friends.

Since the show they were attending started fairly late, she'd invited everyone over a few hours beforehand to hang out and eat pizza. The house was soon filled with laughing, chattering seniors while freshman baby brother Joshua said a quick hello and resumed playing his X-Box game.

It wasn't long before a few of the boys from the group drifted into the family room to witness Josh shooting his yucky weapons at icky bad guys. He invited them to join him in the game and soon a small cluster of boys was either wielding yucky weapons or merely enjoying the icky show.

In the midst of one battle, I overheard this:

"Hey you know what, Josh? You should come with us to the movies."

"Yeah, Josh is cool, why don't you come Josh?"

"You wanna come with us?"

I was working in my home office so while I could hear the discussion, I unfortunately didn't have the luxury of observing the shocked play of emotions that must have danced their way across my daughter's face as her thought process churned due to this unexpected shift in the conversation.

Do I look like a complete jerk and say, no WAY is my baby brother coming along with me and my friends?

Will Josh get the mental vibe I'm sending him right now and just politely decline the offer? Josh? Josh?!

Uh, no. No such vibe made it past that sweet baby brother smile and gracious, "Sure! That'd be great, guys."

And so it came to pass that our freshman son left with the group of seniors to attend the 9:05 p.m. showing of Iron Man II. And despite one glitch when Ashleigh felt forced to give Josh a meaningful big sister glare, relegating him to the end of the row when she suspected he was trying to plunk himself in the middle of the group as they filed to their seats, she was actually a pretty good sport about the whole thing.

I couldn't help but think back on their childhood sibling rivalry stage. It was actually a rather brief phase in the whole scheme of things, although it didn’t seem like it at the time. For some reason, I had absolutely zero tolerance for any type of sibling rivalry behavior. There was no name calling and no physical stuff. Period. And whether it's bad or good, I never subscribed to the concept of "let them work it out, as long as no blood is drawn."

Nope, the minute I saw or heard a situation beginning to degenerate, I would take immediate action. Sometimes I would put them to work doing chores in separate areas of the house. Occasionally, I would sit them both down and have them play something I called "The Compliment Game."

They would have to give each other three genuine compliments concerning something they loved about the other. And it could never be something superficial such as, "I like your shirt." After a few instances of implementing this "game," one or the other would wail, "No, not compliments AGAIN!" But almost inevitably they would end up giggling by the time they were done.

Don't get me wrong, they still have their occasional moments. "He's always hogging the TV." "She's still on the computer mom!" But for the most part, we've moved into new territory. And it's been pretty cool watching their progression from loving toddlers, to sibling rivals and now to witness them becoming true friends.


Have you ever noticed that parents tend to focus a lot on "firsts"?

We celebrate the first time our baby lifts his head.
The first time she rolls over.
The first word, first tooth, first step.

Then as they grow older, it's…

His first boy-girl party.
Her first dance.
First date, first zit (devastating!), first time behind the wheel of a car.

The other day, I was cleaning out my planner pockets and came across a tiny folded piece of paper. Opening it up, I saw a pencil drawing of two stick figures. On the page were one little person and one big person with a mop of curly hair; they were holding hands. Joshua had given the drawing to me just before I'd taken him on his very first official play date. "So you won't miss me too much while I'm gone," he'd said.

As I sat there, holding that piece of paper, I suddenly realized that as much as I'd focused on firsts, I'd somehow failed to notice many of the "lasts." They'd snuck past me like whispers and shadows, gone before I was even aware I'd missed something. (Of course, this is largely due to the fact that one rarely knows when a "last" will occur.) And now, all that remained was a bittersweet lingering sense that something valuable was gone, never to return or be experienced again.

Things like…

The last time I picked up my "sack of potatoes" and dumped you giggling onto the sofa cushions, only to have you beg me to do it again.
The last time you got up from bed only to come snuggle in with Daddy and me, early on a Saturday morning.
The last time we rode the mall escalator together ten times in a row.
The last time we paused in a walk so you could pick up another rock or stick to add to your collection.
The last time I listened to your delighted squeals as I pushed you higher on the swing.
The last time I slept on the floor of your bedroom so you could fall asleep in your crib.
The last time you held my hand to cross the street.
The last time I cradled you in my arms.
The last time I read you a bedtime story.
The last time you needed me to kiss it and make it all better.

Well, I'm paying attention now. And as much as any last is within my control, I will embrace and treasure it.

For my daughter—as difficult as it will be—I will celebrate with you, your last days of high school. Forever.
The last time I'll be able to kiss you goodnight during the school year.
The last time I'll know exactly where you are at any given moment. (Or at least think I know!)

For my son, I'll cherish your last days as a high school freshman with your future stretching before you like a gilt-edged dream.
The last time you smile at me with your braces on.
The last time I'll ride in the car with you BEFORE you get your license.

And then, to make myself feel better, I'll do what all parents do…

I'll slowly turn and look forward again, to focus on the firsts. Because I know they'll be as exhilarating to experience as the lasts are heartrending.

Image by: Michelle Schantz

Family Vacation Evolution

Photograph © Holly Bowne

Well, I finally uploaded the pictures from our family Spring Break vacation. It was really different this year.

My hubby travels a lot for work and due to his accumulation of a boatload of frequent flyer miles, for the past three years we've enjoyed some pretty spectacular vacations: Hawaii, Cancun and last year Rome! To secure our free flights, my hubby always books them a year in advance. But last spring, when he asked us all where we'd like to go for 2010, our daughter looked at him and said, "Um…Dad, it's going to be my senior year."

Wow. I'd completely forgotten. I couldn't believe the party was over and I hadn't even been paying attention. No more family Spring Breaks?

"Aaarrghhh! I’m not ready for this!" my head screamed.

Instead, Ashleigh told us she was hoping to do something special with her friends for Spring Break. And just as I shared in my Transitions post, this caused an immediate flashback to my own senior year of high school. I had the most amazing Spring Break trip to the Virgin Islands. Hmm…

"Aaarrghhh! I’m not ready for this!" my head screamed again.

Not to mention, here was another change in our family dynamics I was going to have to deal with. Sigh. (I think I've covered the fact that I do not handle change well.) After much discussion, one brave mom agreed to drive my daughter and her girlfriends to Dallas, Texas. The oldest sister of one of my daughter's friends had gotten a job there, and the girls decided the ideal Spring Break would be to spend the week visiting her. All five of them. In her one-bedroom apartment. With one car.

(Side note: They returned and are still friends, which I told Ashleigh is a huge accomplishment. She rolled her eyes at me, but I was serious!)

In the meantime, my hubby, son and I were sitting around rather bored, staring at each other. So we decided to take a spontaneous road trip. We settled on driving to Kentucky, and for the first time ever, we allowed our son bring a friend along on our "family" trip. We knew he was missing his big sister and thought it might make the whole adventure more fun for him.

I was a bit apprehensive about how it would all play out. Our son selected an easygoing friend he's known since his preschool days, and we were able to get adjoining rooms at the hotel which was pretty cool. We perused all the brochures we'd accumulated and made our first stop Mammoth Caves…

We sailed into the alleged hideout of Jesse James, Lost River Cave…

And we visited the Corvette Museum.

(Yeah, I'm the short one in the middle.)

Did you know that ALL Corvettes in the world are manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky? The first one was built in 1953; it had a white exterior and a red interior.

Due to design changes, there was only one 1983 model ever built!

I know you're all impressed with my knowledge about Corvettes about now. (I'm actually pretty car-clueless which is bad since I'm married to a man who has worked in the automotive industry his entire career. Fortunately we've found lots of other stuff we can talk about.)

We spent our days exploring and the boys made liberal use of the hotel's workout area and swimming pool each evening. As we finally headed for home, I contemplated the trip. Well, I'd made it through. Even though it wasn't a "typical" family vacation, it had ended up being a really positive experience. I patted myself on the back.

Well done, Holly. You've managed to conquer one more step in the transition from parent of at-home teens to parent of one at-college and one at-home teen. I'm telling you, this whole weaning process is not going to be an easy one (for me).

Quote of the Week

© Photograph by Holly Bowne

"One's destination is never a place,
but a new way of seeing things."

~ Henry Miller ~