We Are Both Right

Hey Jamie Oliver — do you need an intern?

Do your kids brown bag it? Or buy school lunches? ©Steve Zazeski /stock.xchng

I’m raising Jamie Oliver’s protégé — which means that on this first-day-of-school eve, we’re less concerned with loading supplies in the backpack or laying out the perfect outfit. We’re back to talking about grey chicken nuggets.

That’s right. Grey chicken nuggets. My soon-to-be-fourth grader’s kryptonite.

And if the new school’s cafeteria doesn’t pass his stringent inspection tomorrow, it will be home-packed lunches every day this year too. (Except I’m not waiting for the official verdict, considering he’s in the same district with the same food service vendor. I was already at the supermarket this afternoon stocking up on sandwich stuff and snacks.)

So for our family, the convenience of writing a check to fill a pre-paid meal account isn’t even an option. Either my husband or I pack a school lunch for L. every morning before work. It’s a part of the daily rush I could honestly do without, but it does make me feel better that he’s eating a healthier meal than the school’s processed mac-n-cheese, tater tots and ketchup that counts as a vegetable.

Oh, except for Wednesdays, which if the same menu holds from last year, is breakfast for lunch day. The pancakes and waffles have been deemed acceptable by my resident gourmet. So now I only have to come up with four creative ways to serve tuna, chicken, ham and peanut butter/banana sandwiches with fruit and a complex carb snack.

Extra work aside, it does strike me as kind of funny that he turned out this way. It’s not even that he’s an especially picky eater. He is just selective. And has a leaning toward finer foods. (I think I know where that comes from.)

Still I’m not the type of mom who calorie counts for her kids, or freaks when they ingest sugar. I do want them to eat healthy and I push that when I can, but I wouldn’t tackle you if you handed my child a fruit snack made of corn syrup. (I might just stow the rest of the pack away in my bag and not return them later).

So the fact that my son is interested in where his food comes from (and just where do grey chicken nuggets come from?) makes me proud. He’s taking charge of his own health — not because I haven’t — but because he understands how it factors into the bigger picture.

And there doesn’t seem to be any degree of peer pressure that is making him sway off course. I’ve asked him at various points during the year how many of his friends bring lunch and how many buy. There’s a different answer every time, but it seems that the majority buy school lunches most of the time.

And I’ve asked him if it bothers him to bring his lunch sack and sit at the table waiting for his friends on line in the cafeteria, or if any of them make fun of him for bringing lunch. His shoulder shrug says it all. He really doesn’t care.

As long as there’s fresh bread and something he can identify inside that aluminum foil, he’s happy.

How about your school-age child? Do you pack lunch, or do they buy lunch at school? Also, are there any superior school menus out there? I’d love to know.

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School lunches are bought not packed in Amanda’s house.  Which makes me think that I might just have to check out their school menu, if we ever consider moving.

Skipping the Hubby’s Class Reunion and Vice Versa

I didn't see the need to step into the middle of my husband's circle of friends at his class reunion. Would you? ©Sean McCleary/stock.xchng

Amanda and I were running down our weekend plans last week — for the sole purpose of justifying why we (I) have been so delinquent in posting on our site. (Do five functions in two days buy me a pass?) Aside from all of the other kid-related stuff we had lined up, I happened to mention that part of the plans included my husband’s 20th high school reunion.

“I don’t know about you, but I never saw a reason for spouses to go to school reunions. You didn’t go to T.’s did you?,” I asked, expecting her to agree. “Because I’m staying behind on this one. I mean, I don’t even know these people.”

As it turns out, her opinion happened to be a little different.

But I was sticking to my guns, finding no reason to “reunite” with people I had never met. It was a precedent my best friend and I had set five years ago at our 15-year high school reunion. Why bring the hubbies (i.e. pay for an extra ticket) when they would just stand around talking only to each other anyway? They could go to a bar and do that.

Fast forward to a few months ago when my husband found out the Class of 1991′s reunion was a go.  Since most of the planning was happening via Facebook, I suggested he pose a question to the group asking if his classmates were inclined to bring a significant other. I was interested to know if I was in the minority, choosing not to accompany my husband to a party where he would know everyone and I would know no one.

It’s not that I have any reservations about mixing and mingling with people I don’t know. In fact, I have made a career out of socializing with strangers (literally). It’s just that in this case, I thought tagging along would be out of place. Counterproductive, actually. These people had a lot of catching up to do and getting to know me wasn’t a priority.

Survey says: the majority of his classmates felt the same way. There were a few coming in from out of town who were planning to bring a spouse (understandably). For the most part though, the attendees were going sans partner.

Funny enough, during my morning commute a few weeks before M.’s reunion, this same question came up on a radio show I happened to be listening to. Except in this case, the wife was up in arms that her husband preferred to go on his own because it was the perfect opportunity for him to reconnect with any old flames.

I long-pressed my Bluetooth earpiece to dial up M. and let him know what a good wife I was and why he wouldn’t want to screw that up — right? In my mind, I’m thinking, please don’t let anyone at this party look like me circa 1993 and make him think that he’s back in college again.

But before I let myself daydream any further, I justified to myself that if I ever had to worry about keeping my eyes that closely trained on my husband lest he stray, I should also be nervous about him going to the supermarket to pick up something for dinner. (I know, I know — a super lame justification, but it made me feel better at the time.)

When the big night came around, I had to summon up all my confidence to advise him to go with the better looking shirt of the two he held up for my approval. And he did look good. Probably even better than he did in high school. And with a kiss, I saw him off to a night that would turn out to be the start of something good.

Because not only did he reconnect with friends he had lost touch with, but he made friends with a few people he never really got to know well in high school. Turns out a lot of them live in the area where we live now. And not surprisingly, many have children the same age as ours. They had such a great time, plans are already in the works for the group to hang out again soon — this time with spouses. You can bet I will be along for the ride. Because now that they’ve had the time to reconnect, it seems more natural to step into the picture. And who knows, maybe it might make sense to go to that 30 year reunion after all.

How about you? What’s your stance on attending someone else’s class reunion?

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Amanda just invited me (theoretically) to any high school reunion where she might need back up. I’ll have to think about that.

Picking a Perfect Age? Think Preschool.

What's the only thing better than being three? Being four! © We Are Both Right

When I was still in the lovesick phase of having a newborn, I heard a newly pregnant friend say that she wished the doctor would just hand her a preschooler in the hospital instead of an infant. They were much more fun at that age, she insisted, and could actually do things.

Of course I begged to differ, nuzzling my nose against the silky head of my perfectly soft little baby. But I didn’t say anything — because even then (pre-blog) I knew we were both right. There’s something wonderful about every stage of childhood, from the pure innocence (and dependence) of a newborn to the nuttiness of having a pre-teen. (Notice I’m not touching the teenage years.)

And yet, nine years after hearing that comment for the first time, I might actually believe it enough to say it myself. The preschool years are some of the best — from a parent’s perspective at least.

Just think about it. You’ve left behind the confusion of infancy, where you are always trying to guess if that cry means it’s time to eat or there’s diaper rash brewing.

You are mostly past the unpredictability of a toddler, who’s teetering on the edge of the forbidden stairs one minute and screaming on the floor for a “cwackie” the next (which means you will be wrong whether you hand over a cookie, a cracker or a lovey).

And you are starting to see the first inklings of independence. As in putting on underwear herself. (But not yet asking to be dropped off at the mall so she can buy underwear with your credit card at Gilly’s or Victoria’s.)

It’s a relief to finally arrive at the preschool years, because when my daughter turned three, I felt like I was actually starting to see the light. The preschool years, which span from three to the cusp of five years old, feel almost like a reward for all that time spent in the trenches, covered in spit-up and being a human teething ring.

Now it’s finally a two-way street and there’s lots of fun to be had.

Take today for instance. I woke up with her snuggling beside me, wondering exactly when she left her bed and climbed into mine last night. Then, as I packed a lunch for my son, she perused her camp calendar over breakfast and figured out what activities Thursday and Friday would bring. We talked about Ancient Egypt (from the point of view of the Backyardigans) and she put on her own shoes while I brushed my teeth.

Then, as we were walking out the door, she threw a comment my way that might as well have come from one of my co-workers: “I love those shoes and your bag is so cute.” (OMG, are we going to have fun shopping in a few years, or what?)

When I picked her up from camp, she was singing a made-up song with one of her friends while they rode trikes around in circles, giggling contagiously.

In the store a few minutes later, she walked close beside me, “helping” to push and asked if we had a coupon before dropping a Princess toothbrush into the cart. (Proof that there is hope for getting past the smuggling things out of the store stage.)

And tonight, after consoling her during an episode of Popsicle-induced brain freeze, I got about twelve I love yous — and a little hand rubbing my back as I tried to warm her up. It’s stuff like this — the mutual admiration, the unending curiosity, the half-innocent-half-enlightened conversations, the rapid learning — that makes me want to bottle up these days, weeks and months.

So if I could freeze-frame any part of childhood, it would most definitely be ages three and four. How about you? What is your favorite age?

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See why Amanda is a fan of the toddler years — terrible twos included.

Bring Back the Reality in Youth Sports

Whatever happened to sometimes you win, sometimes you lose? ©Sarah DeVries/stock.xchng

Sports are life.

And I don’t mean that in an obsessed, narrowly-focused way, if that’s what you were thinking.

It’s not that life is all about sports. It’s just that sports are very much like life.

When you play sports, you have a goal in mind. You practice and work toward that goal because that’s where you want to be.

And sports aren’t always fair — just like life. Sometimes the teams are not well-matched. Sometimes an official’s call doesn’t go your way. Sometimes you just lose. And get over it. And move on. And go back at it again the next day.

So when it comes to kids playing sports, I’m all for it. For exactly these reasons. I want my children to be focused, dedicated, good losers and great winners — in whatever they choose to do in life.

You know my type, right? The parent who stands on the sidelines at a child’s game and jumps around like the Super Bowl is on the line. Crazed and chest-pounding when the kid scores a goal.

Yeah. Crazy.

Except that’s not quite me. (I’m more of the pacing, photo-snapping type.)

But as much as those parents get a bad rap about sending youth sports in the wrong direction, I kind of identify with them. At least more than with the new-age sports parent who thinks that everyone should win and the kids shouldn’t even know that the idea of keeping score exists. Because that’s what I’m seeing more of every week when we walk out onto a field.

My son’s eight now, five years into the world of youth sports. You would think by now we could all (kids included) face the reality that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But no. Parents get upset when a child comes off the diamond crying because a ball went through his legs. Parents tell kids that the game was tied, even and (especially when) it was as lopsided as the “mercy rule” would let it get.

I just don’t go for that. When a child cries because she is disappointed in her performance (and believe me, it’s not because anyone put pressure on her), acknowledge that you understand she wanted to do better because she knows she can (which is why she’s disappointed in herself to begin with). And that if she goes back out there and tries again, and keeps practicing, she’ll make it happen next time. Don’t stand there and cry with her and say this is too much pressure and tell the coach that your baby needs to go home now.

Remember how your toddler would fall down and wait for your reaction to know what his would be? Same thing. You get hysterical, and give in (and up) and so will he.

Children can gain a lot from sports. Physical stamina. Focus. The value of teamwork. A huge sense of accomplishment. Persistence. An orientation to adversity.

That’s all real stuff. Things that will come up throughout their lives. And sure, no three-year-old needs to be face-to-face with adversity every Saturday morning, but a little can’t hurt.

My son started playing soccer at three years old because he asked me every day when he could be on a team. There was no coercion to get him down there every week. And the coaches had great drills that allowed the kids to have fun and learn skills within their short spans of attention. So when he started coming off the field during their “games” waving his fingers every time a goal was scored, I knew he was into it.

One time he ran up to the coach and tugged his shirt and proudly held up a full hand of stubby fingers, jumping and saying “Five. We have five goals.” And the coach bent down and said, “I know, I know. But we don’t keep score.”  Hmmm? My son was puzzled, but after a few more times, I explained to him that for now, everyone was just playing for fun and to learn the game, so we didn’t have to count the goals every time they went in. When he was bigger, we would start keeping score.

And? He kept doing it, out of sheer excitement. And I’m still waiting until the day when we can truly keep score. Out in the open. Because as of third grade, there are still parents pretending like “everyone wins.” And as long as they all get trophies at the end of the year (which is fine and good) there are no losers. When does the reality kick in? And how do you turn that on in two, three, or even five years, when all along you have been teaching the kids that winning doesn’t matter.

The answer is that the drive to win and an understanding of winning and losing comes from within the kids. So why are we denying them that natural feeling when it’s coming about sooner than some of us are ready for?

For my son, it was three. Others might get it at five. But I know for a fact that when these kids learn how to count, they know what a score means. They know if they got more or the other team did.

And just because we’re standing on the sidelines telling them that winning is not important, they still feel it. It’s inherent. We all want to win. At whatever we do. Otherwise what’s the point of working at it? The satisfaction of winning once and a while is a taste of success, something that makes you want it more. And if we take that away from our kids, then they’ll never know what it is to compete.

So what exactly are we teaching our kids when winning becomes a non-issue? That being competitive is in poor taste? We’re teaching them not to care, that’s what. We are dampening their drive and taking away from the lesson of working hard for what you want.

Life isn’t about going out there, lobbing a ball around, and if you catch it, you catch it. And if you don’t, oh well, everyone wins anyway. Think about a child who grows up with everything being fair. He’ll be out there as an account executive someday missing a quota, telling his boss that  it shouldn’t matter that he was the lowest performer, because he tried really hard.

That’s not to say we need to focus only on winning. Good sportsmanship, win or lose, is absolutely important. Trying your best and being supportive of teammates are essential lessons in youth sports.

But in the end, having a measurable goal, whether you get there or not, is part of the game.

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What’s your take on youth sports? Having seen her fair share of over-the-top sports parents, Amanda keeps her cheering (and herself) on the sidelines at all times.

Round Two: Brother vs. Sister with Mommy in the Middle

Are you a referee for your kids? Or do you let them solve sibling fights on their own? ©Julia Freeman-Woolpert/stock.xchng

I can hear my children right now in the family room and the pitch is rising by the minute. Do I really need to go down there again?

It could be that the little one is “accidentally” kicking her brother as he lays on the floor watching the baseball game.

Or maybe he’s back to tormenting her about the fly that got in before and how it’s going to eat them alive.

Whatever it is, I’m now listening to a high pitched scream. Now a cry. And some whimpering. Yep, it’s time to kick it into high gear and swoop in.

“She hit me,” says the one holding his head. “He was taking my toy,” she whines. “She wrote on my cards.” And on it goes.

Sibling rivalry? I don’t know if that’s exactly the right term. It’s not about competing against each other, like in school or sports. It’s a battle that tends to erupt between siblings who have to share the same space. And if you have more than one child, it probably needs no further explanation.

But the question at hand is whether or not a parent should intervene.

There’s something to be said for duking it out and solving your own problems. That’s the way I was raised, with one of my mom’s famous lines being: “I’m not your referee.” So my younger sister and brother and I usually had to figure out our own disputes, sometimes in hand to hand combat, but most of the time by talking it out.

Except that I’m having a hard time just letting them go at it, without jumping in to — well, referee.

Maybe it’s their age gap. Five years means a mismatched fight. Not that my son would intentionally hurt his sister, but if she gets going, I know he’ll be victim to a sneak attack. And my kids aren’t overly physical otherwise. But some days, they really manage to bring out the worst in each other.

And it’s times like those when my parental instinct kicks in — the one that tells me to do whatever necessary to stop whatever it is that’s hurting a child of mine (even if it’s another child of mine).

So I tend to get in the middle — a lot. My objectives are 1. stop the fighting and 2. sit them down to talk out the issues. They have to see each other’s side of the story and under my jurisdiction come up with a satisfactory resolution. Sometimes that’s enough time for them to cool off, other times they just wait for me to leave before starting up again.

Am I getting in the way of normal development, or do you think it really is a parent’s job to manage sibling infighting?

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Hey Amanda, when you’re done with that blood pressure cuff, can I borrow it? And do you want to trade a kid each while we’re at it — mix things up a bit?

Mind the (Sibling Age) Gap

What do the numbers mean? Are bigger sibling age gaps any better than having them close together? ©Kriss Szkurlatowski/stock.xchng

Whether siblings are spaced seven minutes or seven years apart, there are ups and downs to every age gap — no matter how you do the math.

My children are 5.01 years apart (that’s five years, five weeks if I divided right). And there are plenty of days when that adds up just perfectly.

They have enough space in between them that there’s not much competition. At the same time, my son loves to instruct his little sister in all of his favorite pursuits, like baseball, wrestling, fishing and football. And she adoringly follows his lead every step of the way.

I’d like to think that having her around makes him more patient (on most days). And it’s not just her that he has to tolerate.  All little kids gravitate toward him and he doesn’t seem to mind.

I had to laugh when the mom of one of his baseball teammates came up to me as we were marching in the opening day parade, just to say that when she picks up her son and daughter from their after-school program, she is touched by the fact that L. makes a point of sharing how well her five-year-old is batting each day. I heard the same thing from another friend’s mom, who said she doesn’t feel bad about her little one hanging around on playdates because L. always makes him feel included. Which is funny considering that my son is 5’2″ at 8 years old and most often isn’t a match for kids his own age, never mind a child years younger.

Ah, our gentle giant. Still, I worry when I hear him in the next room calling for his sister (just over three feet tall) to surrender in a wrestling match.

At times, I wonder if having back-to-back babies, less than two years apart, would have been better. It would mean twice the work, but all the diapers and potty training would be consolidated. All of the toys at any given time would be age-appropriate — no worries about Nerf darts wandering into the baby’s crib. And the children would be a perfect pair of playmates for each other.

But I have to say that as much as it would have been nice to have them be slightly closer in age, I think a gap of between two and five years gives everyone the space they need to develop as individuals and yet have a strong sibling bond.

From a parent’s point of view, the five year gap gave me and my husband some time to take things slow and learn the ropes. We placed all of our attention squarely on L. for five solid years (and then finally gave him a break!). But seriously, I have to think that he enjoyed being an “only child” for a while.

We also had a chance to recover from the intense infant years and gave our backs a rest from toting baby gear everywhere. There were even three whole months with no day care tuition (woo-hoo) since S. arrived the month L. started kindergarten.

In the time since, she’s benefitted from having her fair share of attention because her brother is mostly self-sufficient and there haven’t been any other babies around.

So I guess we found the right answer for our family, but how about you? What’s the best age gap between siblings in your opinion, and is it what you have — or what you wish you had?

If you hadn’t guessed, Amanda and I are both first-born (that explains a lot, right?). And we each had a significant age gap between us and our youngest sibling.  To me, that meant another student in my pretend classroom and an impressionable actor to direct in my homegrown plays. For Amanda, it turned out to be a road map to parenting.

Discovering the Joys of Summer Camp

What's your version of summer camp for the kids -- at home or away? ©icekitty37/stock.xchng

My kids tell me summer camp is fun. And from my perspective in the parking lot dropping them off every morning, I would have to agree.

To be absolutely truthful, I’m actually a little jealous of them. OK, a lot jealous.

I never had that type of camp experience. When I was growing up — at least in my town and in my circle of friends — camp was a foreign concept. We had backyards, we had moms who stayed home, we had neighborhood friends. Fill up the collapsible above-ground pool with some cold water from the hose and we were set.

And on really hot days, my mother took me and my brother and sister to the library to cool off.  After scooping up anything Beverly Cleary and a few architectural magazines, we’d go home where I would claim my spot on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, right where the air conditioning wall unit blew a stream of nice cool air under the bed, to pore over floor plans for an hour or two.  I know — now I’m making you jealous, right?

But as far as the child in me was concerned, this was the epitome of a fun summer.

I remember literally turning up my nose at the thought of spending a whole summer in camp when I heard about other kids (in far-away regions) who left their parents to spend weeks on end living in a mosquitoe-y cabin and swimming in a murky lake somewhere.

Fast forward to 2009. I get out of my car a few days after L.’s last day of first grade. There’s a Top 40 soundtrack blaring from overhead speakers and Spiderman standing on top of a school bus filled with day campers. The pools are glistening in the morning sunlight, the smells of breakfast waft through the air, and the rock wall and sky trail have caught my son’s eye.

Boy, do I want to be him.

In a few weeks, we’ll be back in the same spot as he starts his third summer at this same day camp. He can’t wait to see his camp friends and be eligible for the baseball tournament this year. He is proud of the fact that he graduated to the big pool and can start diving instruction. This from the kid who had every excuse in the book to not swim when I brought him to swimming lessons in the year before he started camp.

Camp has given him a leg up on me in tennis (although my skill level isn’t that hard to match). By the end of last summer, I might have mistaken him for a California native on the beach volleyball court. He has full access to batting cages, go-karts, in-line skating ramps and a dek hockey court. You name it, they do it. Did I mention cooking class, puppet shows, nature walks and woodworking?

And as if his stories at the end of the day weren’t convincing enough, I get to see the fun for myself in the hundreds of pictures posted by the camp in an online photo gallery every day. And I couldn’t be happier for him. Because although his days are structured, maybe even more than when he’s in school, there’s nothing about camp that he doesn’t like.

Except when it ends. The last day, somewhere around the third week in August when the counselors all have to get ready to go back to college, is tough. The kids cry. The boys too.

(Me? Well I’m secretly celebrating, because most of the time, that’s the start of my vacation week from work.) But I try to entice him with all the fun things mom has planned for his two weeks of freedom before school starts up again. Picking berries at the farm. A trip to the water park. A quiet weekend in the city at the museums. A road trip down the shore.

But I can still count the hours until the first “I’m bored.” At which point I always suggest the library and a cold hose.

Do your kids go to summer camp? Did you?

Looks like Amanda and I might be going to camp together. But that means the kids are staying home.

New App: Stay Away From Mommy’s Phone

children and smartphones

Are you in a tug-of-war with your kids over your smartphone? © yasin öztürk/stock.xchng

“Mommy, I want to type on your phone now… Ma, just let me check the scores on your phone… We want to play Etch-a-Sketch, can we have your phone? Pleeeease.”

I’m thinking about making my own app that drains the battery every time a pair of little hands touch it. Just to avoid the inevitable.

Text me if you want a free download.

Because as much as I love that my children are tech-savvy, including the three-year-old, I don’t want them being savvy on my tech. I only got my first smartphone less than a year ago, and those things are expensive. I have already been *thisclose* to having it dunked in apple juice and dropped out the car window. Why increase the odds?

Not to mention that I generally like to see my childrens’ faces when I’m with them. The tops of their heads are cute too, but it makes me crazy to see so many kids walking around or sitting at a family dinner with their chins down and eyes glued to a screen.

So when I tell them that Mommy’s phone is running awfully low on battery and needs to be recharged, we resort to making a game out of the sugar packets on the table. They can still get a good 15 minutes out of scrap paper and a pen. And when all else fails, we always have twenty questions.

BOR-ING. I know, but at least there’s still hope that if a child of mine is dropped out in the wild someday — and the smartphone has lost its signal — he/she can make it out with a piece of sugarcane turned into a compass.

Besides, there are other (good) reasons why my children are not often permitted to play with my phone — or my husband’s for that matter.

For one, there’s the business we conduct on our phones. You know — the daily activities that we get paid to do that actually let us cover the cell phone bill at the end of the month. Yeah, that thing called work. And the people we work with, who probably aren’t amused past the second random text from a goofy child.

Like the ”my dad is stinky” text that wasn’t quite meant for the ops director. Or the heavy breathing from a three-year-old who accidentally dialed the CEO. My husband has preemptively deleted all important numbers from his phone to avoid the chance of this happening, except now he doesn’t know who’s calling him.

I guess that’s better than discovering a misdirected photo message, like a staff member did when her nine-year-old son sent me a picture of her laying on the couch which was meant for his sister whose name precedes mine in his mom’s phone directory.

Oh well, kids will be kids. Except mine shall remain phoneless and app-less. At least for as long as I can help it.

When Amanda showed my kids the app for Talking Carl on her iPhone, it was a good thing we couldn’t “find” it in the Droid Market. But I wouldn’t be surprised if her talented toddler comes up with a workaround for that the next time the kids are together.

Hoping My Kids Learn from My Experience (or Lack Thereof)

Is it do as I say or do as I did when it comes to your teens? © Cole Lundstrom / stock.xchng

Sure, I would like for my children to learn from my youthful transgressions so that their teen years are lived without regret. In fact, I would be even happier if they copied my experience down to a T.

That would mean that the biggest fight we’ll have is when they come in late after (soberly) driving home a few friends who had too much to drink –which is about as far as both my husband and I can go in sharing our wild and crazy acts of teenage rebellion with them.

(OK, there might be a few other things, but nothing of consequence. PM me if you really need to know.)

Because the truth is that I have no plans to come clean to my kids about every little (and for the most part I mean really little) misstep I might have taken as a teen.

What good would it do? Yeah, I might feel relieved. They might even think I’m cool and human, if only for a second. But then it will amount to nothing else but permission for them to do the very same thing.

Hopefully, the outcome of any limits they push will be as uneventful as in my experience, but if not? I would feel like I gave them permission to go ahead and try whatever it was.

I would much rather tell them that we would  be disappointed if they made the wrong choices or put themselves in danger — just like being scared-straight by my parents worked for me on the big stuff, like using drugs.

I also have no shame in pulling out other people’s sad stories to make my point.  Along with locks of hair and baby pictures, my son’s baby book includes a newspaper article about a local car accident that killed an otherwise responsible teenager because he made a bad choice one night. While there’s no shortage of these stories, I was compelled to save this one for future reference — like maybe to be wrapped around L.’s learner’s permit. He will absolutely question my sanity, especially when he sees the date of the article and wonders why I was worrying about this before he could even walk, but maybe that will make him stop and think.

Most of all, I hope that the honest discussions we have now are going to make a difference in how our children make decisions on their own. This is part of the reason why we don’t feel the need to shield our school-age son from real-life events, like the drug problems in our schools or the syringes which have been found in parks at local ball fields. He needs to know about the tough situations and choices that he will face in just a few short years.

We have even role-played peer pressure in age-appropriate ways and told him that he’s the one who has to be happy with his decisions — not his friends.  Just the other day, we had another opportunity to talk about being guilty by association. He knows that if he is with someone who does something wrong, like stealing or bullying, he will be just as guilty as the person who did the crime.

So it’s not that we want to paint this lily-white picture and hope that he and his sister just go along with it. Our intent is that they will know the tough choices that come with the territory of being a teen, and that they will have enough self-respect to make the right choices based on what they want for the future.

You think that’s pie in the sky? It worked on me and my husband, and we see it working already with our son. We’ve watched him make choices with his friends that aren’t always the most popular, but he’s got the self-confidence already to know that there’s more to life than what friends think.

And so even though we won’t be spilling our guts about our wild and crazy days (Ha.) they’ll still know that we know what we’re talking about.

If Amanda and I had gone to the same high school, we would have been inducted into the Goody-Two Shoes Society together. But I guess I still have more to hide, since she’s planning to tell all to her teens.  (And just to set the record straight, I don’t remember giving her a wine cooler. That must have been someone pushier with brown hair.)

Hey Kids, How Am I Doing?

What grade would your child give you? ©Dominik Gwarek/stock.xchng

Ed Koch has been on my mind lately.

Might sound strange, if you know who he is. But I remember him only for one reason. He was the former mayor of New York who was famous for asking his constituents: “How am I doing?”

And these days, that’s a question I’ve been asking of myself, wondering just how well I’m doing as a mother. Of course my children are alive and thriving. They are well-fed and happy most of the time, and not really in want of anything. But there have been days (more of late) when I have been mad at myself for not doing enough. For falling short. For not being focused enough on them.

It may all be unfounded. Usually my insecurities are.

I also realize that most of the time, it’s my own unrealistic expectations that get in the way of feeling secure in my abilities. Like the day last month when L. casually mentioned on the car ride home from school that it was a good thing they celebrated two birthdays in class that day, because he didn’t bring a snack to school. I nearly spun around in my seat while driving.

What do you mean you didn’t have a snack, did you have lunch, oh, no, don’t tell me we forgot to pack your lunch, what do they do if you come to school with no snack or lunch?

Just as quickly as I asked these run-on questions, he answered that it was no big deal. Kids forget their lunches and snacks all the time. They have spares on hand.

Oh.

So that means I’m not the worst mother ever. Parents forget more frequently than I do? *Begin breathing again*

This little mix-up — where I thought my husband packed his lunch and vice versa — and a few others lately — where the kids have been pout-ier than usual — have made me second-guess that I’m doing as good of a mothering job as I could be.

Then I remind myself that these things obviously bother me more than them. Even still, I needed to make sure. And so I created my first annual mother’s performance review. Kind of like the one I get at work every winter but with a little less emphasis on technicalities (because I don’t think they really care if I wash my hands) and with more focus on the touchy feely (since my supervisor doesn’t give me any extra points for my superior skills in reading bedtime stories).

And with Mother’s Day coming up in less than a week, it seemed like a good time for my kids to tell me how I measure up. On a scale of 1-100, these are the grades my two children gave me this year in ten job responsibilities that matter most to them:

MOTHER’S REPORT CARD

    Kisses and Hugs 92

    Cooking and Baking 94

    Sports 70 (I cheer really good though.)

    Pretend 89   (Although I do still have room for improvement in my development of princess plots)

    Playdates 87  (S. is satisfied, L. says I could improve on the frequency)

    Board games 97  (I do like Scrabble.)

    Bedtime Stories 93

    Rough-housing 0   (Guess it’s up to Daddy to pick up my slack.)

    Worrying/Safety 100 (This makes me proud; all those “wash your hands” and “be careful” warnings have penetrated their brains!)

    Homework help 81  (Is it wrong of me to do dishes at the same time, since he does well enough on his own not to merit too much help?)

    OVERALL AVERAGE 80.3

Pretty respectable (although I did much better in high school.) Maybe rough-housing shouldn’t even be in my job description — I would have been a whole lot closer to 90 if not.

In any case, I didn’t get any comments about being the worst mom ever and certainly no one told me “You’re fired!”  So I guess that means I should keep doing what I’m doing — maybe using less time to worry and more time to, oh, I don’t know, pretend more?

Now it’s your turn. Go ahead and ask your kids to grade you if you dare and let me know what your score is.

Just one last thing though before you go into the boss’ office for your mommy review. You know how trucks have that “How am I driving?” sticker? Do you think anyone ever calls to evaluate them?

Final grades are due by Friday at 5. In the meantime, get inspired by Amanda’s reflections on motherhood — which are much more balanced than mine, that’s for sure.