We Are Both Right

Pretzels Anyone? A Sugar-less Halloween

This Halloween will be like no other, now that my daughter is a preschooler.  You see, I’ve tried to keep her away from the gobs of Halloween candy that tend to get thrown into the bags of the oh-so-cutest trick or treaters.

But an innocent toddler she is no more.  Last year, I was able to entice her with pretzels instead of lollipops, but I think she will be much wiser to my tricks this year.  Nope, no more toddler yogurt snacks filling in for mini-Musketeers.  This year, she’ll be snubbing her nose at animal crackers and tearing open the Kit Kats.  Guess the party’s over in my world.

Don’t get me wrong, I never was the mom that forbid a gram of sugar from ever coming within 50 feet of my child — but I did put up a valiant effort to impose some limits.  A bag of M&Ms here, a lollipop there was OK with me.  I never used candy as a bribe and even if I did buy the occasional candy reward, my kids knew that they weren’t leaving the store with those dipsticks attached to a bag of pure sugar.

Up until now that is.  My Little Mermaid is going to be swimming her way through a sea of candy, trying to keep up with her big brother who boasted for days after last Halloween that he had filled his treat bag up to the bellyache line.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not one to shy away from a Snickers bar.  I ate peanut M&Ms religiously every afternoon when I was pregnant with L.  Ice cream is still one of my favorite snacks.  So it’s not that I’m trying to spoil the enjoyment of a sweet treat for my kids (or the best holiday of the year), but I twinge at the thought of so MUCH candy.

I guess the best I can do is to keep track of what S. is unwrapping as we make our way from house to house.  My strategy is to steer her toward the chocolate, since there has to be more nutritional value in that than chewy squares of colon-clogging colored corn syrup.

And maybe she’ll be delightfully side-tracked when we happen upon one of those houses that has a bowl full of pennies or (score) a mini-tub of Playdough.

But in the end, it’s one day, and I’ll let her (mindfully) indulge the sweet-tooth she inherited from me.   Once we get home, I can hide the excess of treats from the little one with a short-term memory.  Her brother on the other hand will be making a mental inventory of every last Starburst he brings in, but that’s a story for another day.

Originally published in October, 2010

Who’s Keeping Score When Buying Holiday Gifts for Kids?

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One thing I’m learning as a parent is that no matter how hard you try to be fair, there’s always something your children will throw back at you when they are adults. 

Case in point: the family grudge match I heard about this Thanksgiving where a grown woman whined to her mom that her brother always got more Twinkies than she did when they were kids.  Twinkies!  I mean, really?  If I was their mom, I would ask: “Is that the best you can do?”

Maybe if one baby got the hand-me-down crib and a twin sibling got a new one, you might have to make it up with a new car in sixteen years.  But Twinkies?

It leads me to think that as much as I strive to teach my children about being grateful for what they get and not to keep score, there might be some value in rethinking my strategy on buying Christmas gifts for my kids this year.  Either that, or I’ll have to hear in 2030 that the reason they won’t eat a holiday meal together is because she only got a scooter the year he got a basketball hoop. 

Up until now, we haven’t found the need to add up the value of their Christmas presents (although it might have helped the budget).  We never were compelled to scrounge up whatever we could find in the half of a toy aisle in the supermarket on Christmas Eve because we realized at the last minute that one child had two more wrapped presents than the other.  (Granted, we were parents to an only child for five years and it’s now only our daughter’s fourth Christmas — really the first for which she is fully aware and, most importantly, able to count).  

The more I think about what this balancing act entails, buying gifts for kids seems to be getting more complicated by the minute.  Not only do I have to select and hide special Santa wrapping paper, but now I have to be calculated enough to know exactly how many gifts and the value of each of the gifts for my kids prior to Christmas Eve?!  Before the stores close?

And exactly which formula is a parent supposed to use?

Quantity?  Split it right down the middle, even-steven.  He has eight, she has eight.  Easy enough — especially for my friends who observe Hanukkah and give one gift for each night. But then I guess you have to give some consideration to matching values since each and every Hanukkah gift gets a whole night’s worth of attention.

Which leads me to my next consideration… price.  I would think that this is the least effective method of balancing out gifts for kids on the holidays.  What five-year-old girl knows or cares that her older brother’s XBox plus one game equals 18.5 Barbie dolls.   I guess it just has to appear even, so maybe a little background on the gift might be helpful, possibly along the lines of “Santa gave you one big gift because it took a lot of elves to work on making that air hockey table, while your little brother only wanted a few small things, so he got a game and a remote-control car that cost, um, I mean, took the same amount of time to make.”

Or if I’m getting really desperate maybe I’ll take the approach we use when pumpkin picking.  All you can carry, so Santa had to pick wisely.  Better yet, we’ll tell them that even Santa falls under TSA rules now, so his toy tote had to be under the specified weight and dimension for carry-on bags.  Your choice, one big gift or twenty smaller presents — no liquids please.    

My last ditch effort in keeping everything fair might be to run a three-by-three square on each side of the tree in blue painter’s tape.  That would make a good lesson in volume, if nothing else. 

All I know is that time’s ticking and I better get to work — got any other ideas?

An Organic Approach to Allowance and Chores

I guess you could say that my children are learning the values of volunteering. Or maybe their status is more accurately described as an internship. Because anything they do around the house in the way of chores is unpaid — at least for now.

It’s not that I don’t believe in allowances — I just haven’t made it to that point yet with my eight-year-old son, or my daughter, who’s just three. Instead, the whole concept of giving a child an allowance for completing assigned chores has evolved somewhat organically in our home.

You see, my son has gained a reputation as our resident money bags. Since he was a toddler, he’s had a trained eye on the ground at all times, looking for coins. A gross habit — and one which I reeled at — but there he would be, running his hand along the bottom of the counter at the check-out in the supermarket or under the desk at the bank. There were days when he would collect a dollar’s worth of change in one round of errands around town. I think I used more than that in wipes to clean his hands after every discovery.

His proudest moment — finding dollar bills in the shoe section of Target on a shopping trip with my mom. We taught him to check around to see if anyone would have dropped the money before the finders keepers rule can go into effect. This side gig turned out to be a pretty profitable one for him, which meant that he was never all that interested in an allowance. There were a few times that he wanted multiple packs of Pokemon cards and, with that motivation, he agreed to help his father rake the leaves for $5 (an afternoon, not a bag).

Around the same time that L. started picking up loose change, he also became intrigued with dusting. So much so that I bought him his own plumed feather duster and he would follow me around on a Saturday morning asking what else he could dust.

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And in the last year, both of my children developed a penchant for sweeping. We now have several small brooms and dustpans that are theirs for the taking whenever the mood strikes. (With a shedding dog, I never turn down that kind of help.)

This set of circumstances means that chores and allowances just don’t go hand-in-hand at our house.

It’s still important to me that my children understand the value of earning money, and saving and spending wisely. I also want them to learn responsibility for keeping our home in order, by putting their clothes in the hamper, fixing the blankets on their beds and putting toys back in their place. Other than that, we don’t have much structure around the concept of allowance and chores.

How do you approach allowance and chores in your family? By the book or as it comes?

Taking a Pass on the Mommy Playgroup

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Watching my children play and playing with them is a joy. Having to socialize around that, not so much.

I will admit that I have been slow on the uptake with modern day parenting protocol. Playdates, playgroups — it’s all so formal and orchestrated. Whatever happened to the days when you would run up to your mom on the corner at school at dismissal time, and ask if your best friend could come over and play?

It was all so spontaneous — and unlabeled.

Now we have to schedule “playdates” and abide by the playdate rule book of bringing an approved snack and inviting mom in for coffee on the first few dates.

To me, playgroups just sound like a quota on playdates, which is why I have remained uninitiated. I didn’t do the sorority thing in college, and yet was far from a loner. Instead, my friends and I came up with our own harebrained schemes that were unscripted (like scaling buildings, for instance) but without a pledge sister telling us what was expected. I guess it’s the same reason why I have avoided the structure and intimacy that playgroups seem to command.

With our family’s schedule, and a full-time job outside of the home, I probably wouldn’t be a very dependable playgroup friend anyway. I can barely find time to sleep, let alone coordinate my schedule with a dozen other women on a regular basis. I feel guilty enough that I don’t get to see my friends of 20 or 30 years as often as we would like because of everyone’s hectic schedules as the kids get older.

Lately though, I have been hearing more about the playgroups that my longtime friends belong to which started out as mommy and baby groups and have matured into deeper friendships as the children got older. It sounds nice — the girls’ weekends away, the joint trick-or-treating trips, holiday cookie swaps.

I wonder though, at some point does it become more about the moms than the children? What if your child doesn’t like the other “friends” in the group? What happens when they go to different schools and make new friends? Do they still have to be pulled back into that playgroup because that’s where your friends are? Or do you ditch the “play” aspect of it, and just meet as moms?

Things change, and my opinion on this might too, if I happen upon a group someday that naturally comes together. Maybe it will be different if I find myself bonding with other moms at L.’s weekend football games or at S.’s preschool. But in the meantime, I won’t be going out looking for a mommy playgroup to join and instead spend the time playing with L. and S. — and maybe even letting them have more playdates.

Playgroups Give Mommy a Social Life Too!

I should say up front that I used to think that playgroups were kind of lame. Unnecessary and formal, I rolled my eyes at the minivan suburban-ness that they seemed to represent.

And then I joined one without even realizing it, and now I don’t know what I would do without this amazing group of women who I’m so glad are my friends.

(Oh, and my daughter likes it too!)

(Also, I now drive a minivan, but that’s a post for another day.)

It was started about four years ago by a group of moms from my daughter A.’s preschool. You know how it is — day in and day out you are standing in line with the same people, exchanging smiles and pleasantries while you wait for your children to be done with school. Finally one day, one of the moms took the initiative and posted a sign that invited all the parents and caregivers and children in the class to meet at a local fast food restaurant that also had an indoor playground.

There was a lot of, “Are you going to go?” “I’m not sure if I want to go,” chatter amongst those in the group who were friendlier with one another, but wouldn’t you know it, on the designated afternoon over a dozen kids and their moms (and one or two dads and grandmas if I’m remembering right) showed up to eat and play and have a good time.

We haven’t looked back. Not only did the kids get along amazingly but so did the moms. And now, after a few informal get-togethers after that first time at McDonald’s, we wound up today as a group of eleven friends (moms to ten girls and one boy) who have grown to depend and count on one another for stuff little and big. And what’s great is, it’s not just the moms and daughters, but the dads and siblings too.

We’ve had a few additions over the years with other parents that some of us have “invited in” (and amazingly, no subtractions), but for the most part we’ve remained a solid core (we all shudder at the word “clique” although honestly, that’s probably what we are).

© hortongrou/svilen001/stock.xchng

© hortongrou/svilen001/stock.xchng

In the beginning the aim was simple — a regular playgroup for the kids. We’d meet once a week, either at someone’s home or if the weather was nice, a local park or beach. Everyone brought something to eat to share, but the rule was you weren’t allowed to go to the store to buy something. We did our best to be a “cheap” “no pressure” group so your contribution to the meal had to be from whatever was in your pantry. Which made for some interesting lunches, but hey — no one ever complained.

Playgroup soon morphed, and we now also have a “book club” (read: the not read the book, wine and snacks club) for the mommies and a Girl Scout troop for the girls (sorry Kenny!). We babysit one another’s children and go on vacation (and mommy weekends) with our families. We stand together when someone is having a crisis and celebrate through the good stuff. We throw birthday parties and baby showers and march in parades. We’ve seen each other at our best and our worst and yet we still marvel at how amazingly lucky we all are to have found each other. Sure, there have been differences, but in the end it always works out.

About two years ago, when my daughter started kindergarten, privately I wondered if we would last. Despite living in close proximity to one another, the majority of the girls would attend school in one school district while three (and count my daughter in this minority) of the children were in another. And with all the girls in second grade, regular playgroup meetings are a (sad) thing of the past. At such a young age, how could these friendships sustain?

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Sure, A. doesn’t see all the girls on the playground every day, but when she does — Brownie meetings and birthday parties and playdates — it’s like they are all four years old once again, happily squealing and hugging one another like sisters.

My youngest son S., will turn 18 months old next week. I’m looking forward to finding a playgroup that suits us — a few neighbors and friends with young children have actually been discussing forming one. It’s something I’m excited about.

But for the record, if this playgroup also ends up having a book club, I’m going to have to insist that everyone read the book (although we can also serve wine and snacks).