Friday, April 8, 2016

How to Not Raise A-Holes in 33 Easy Steps

We went on "vacation" in Tahoe last week, which holds a special place in my heart. We drove from San Diego, which, according to Google Maps, is really fucking far. The kids were actually shockingly good. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the nuclear meltdown, for the karmic retribution of an uneventful 600 mile drive with a four- and a five- year old, and it just... never happened. [Insert "Hallelujah, Thank you Jesus" Hands here.] We didn't even have to bust out the iPads in the car, which is something we always SWORE we would never do, but, it turns out, we would totally do. I daresay this trip actually, almost, felt like a real vacation!

Photo courtesy of Daddy Mack
The thing is, this pain-free experience has little to do with my offspring being inherently good children, and mostly to do with the fact that my husband and I go to absurd lengths to assure that the kids' every waking - and sleeping - need is attended to. And to be honest, this isn't even because I love my kids so much that I never ever want them to be unhappy. I mean, I do love them so much but it's mostly because I love MYSELF and I don't want ME to be unhappy, and small children losing their shit in confined spaces with no escape route on the horizon makes me stabby.

Seriously though. Every minute of every day, every eventuality is anticipated and planned for. We have the right pillow and the right blanket and the right lovey and the right PJs and an engaging array of books and art supplies and white noise and night lights and, and, and... It's just crazy. And again, we (mostly I) have created these monsters because I prefer contented silence to the shrieking of rabid banshees. But carried to its natural conclusion, we're gonna have a couple of spoiled little bratwursts on our hands. "A COUPLE IS TWO," as Colby reminds me several times a day. "SEVAWAL IS FWEE OR MORE."

I feel like the tide has been turning for a couple several generations, with each new crop of parents wanting to do more and more for their children. And yes, it's partly selfish, but I think it also stems from a very human desire to see our children do better than us, to give them things our parents didn't give, etc. Not to mention mitigating working-parent guilt. At least, I think it's a sea change. I hope I'm not the only coddling, over-indulgent parent raising entitled, yeller-bellied little I? Beuller? Beuller? ;)

The Tahoe trip really brought this internal struggle into stark relief. Right as you walk into the cabin, there's a framed photo of Stepdad with his mom, dad, and brothers BUILDING this freaking cabin from the ground up.

Meanwhile, I, literally, do not know how to work a DVD player, and my kids, apparently, are incapable of brushing their own teeth or dressing themselves or sleeping without the soothing sound of ocean waves caressing their sweet little seashell ears. These people could navigate Desolation Wilderness like the back of their hand, while I immediately get lost when I lose sight of the Pacific. The Stepdadders could build a fire in the snow and my kids thought this was a television:

I could draw contrasts all day.

When and why and how did we become such a soft species? We eat food we didn't grow or catch, we live in homes we didn't build (I can barely manage to assemble IKEA furniture!), we drive vehicles we have no idea how to repair, we rely on electronics and software that baffle even the FBI. We can, officially, live our lives without ever leaving our homes. And I will be the first person to admit that I find this, mostly, glorious. But at what cost?

Our children are a product of our vulnerable reliance on niche, and diminishing, skill sets. I came away from the trip with this itching need to learn and do real things. DM and I were discussing this whole notion one night (in a hot tub, in the snow!) He said, "I mean, I could probably build a cabin, if I had the time, I just don't understand how they did it before Google and YouTube!" I rolled my eyes. He recently installed his own car stereo and it is the crowning achievement of his life. I think it went to his head. He replied, "Well, maybe I'll start with a shed."

We were laughing about this again last weekend as we drilled NINE HOLES into the wall before we finally succeeded in hanging my new jewelry armoire. Around the fourth try I said, "Ready to build a cabin next?" Ha!

I clearly contribute to our impotence as a family. I would always rather pay a professional to do it than have DM or myself attempt it, screw it up, and then have to call in the experts. But maybe we need to leave a little room to make mistakes. How else are we supposed to learn? A little discomfort is good, sometimes, right? It means we're learning and growing. No pain, no gain.

We went out to dinner this one night in Tahoe. Now, normally, I carry enough art supplies to outfit an entire kindergarten class in my mom-purse, but naturally, the one time I show up empty-handed, the restaurant has nary a broken crayon or dried-out marker to be seen. DM and I looked at each other like, SHIT. It didn't help that Jack was particularly tetchy and was on a hair trigger. Now, back in my day, after walking through 6 feet of snow uphill both ways, if I or one of my siblings pitched a fit at a restaurant, we'd leave, or be taken out to the car. We traveled up and down the coast in the covered bed of a truck, no iPads, or seatbelts! My parents couldn't have heard us even if we had cried! But what did I do in the face of parental adversity? I made a CVS run for emergency STFU supplies. Even while I was doing it I was thinking to myself, this is ridiculous. I did it anyway. And we had an uneventful dining experience. But this whole thing has filled me with a new resolve:

Short term pain for long term gain. Yes, taking away screen time hurts me more than it hurts you. But you're being a pygmy shrew and this shit is not going to fly. No more Mr. Nice Guy! Have you ever noticed that you usually only get called a "Mean Mom" when you're giving a particularly solid showing of mom-awesomeness?

Anyway. Thanks for tuning in for another random assemblage of thoughts tumbling out of my brain. On a not-really-that-related not, a friend posted this really interesting survey the other day, about how insulated you are from the real world. (PBS: Do you live in a bubble? I got a 48, by the way.) It really got me thinking, about the cost of living life in our little fortresses built from Amazon Prime boxes, and made me want to get out more, learn, challenge myself, do "real things," for my kids' sake and my own. Mostly for theirs because there's still hope for them :)

Here's my working list of things I want my kids to do before they graduate college. Alternate title: How to not raise assholes in 33 easy steps.

1. Learn another language.
2. Live in another country.
3. Work through college, including at least one year in food service or retail.
4. Play team sports.
5. Travel alone.
6. Eat at a restaurant alone, with a book instead of a phone. (At Applebee's, apparently ;))
7. Have roommates.
8. Learn how things work, something, anything.
9. Learn to change a flat tire.
10. Learn how to change your battery.
11. Learn how to do laundry.
12. Know how to make a few meals that won't cause acute gastrointestinal distress.
13. Build IKEA furniture with a friend (and remain friends).
14. Build something other than IKEA furniture.
15. Travel somewhere you can't reach by plane, train, or automobile.
16. If you eat meat - catch, kill, and eat an animal. But not a cute one, or I will cry. Preferably a fish or a bird or something.
17. Keep a journal. And lock it so your little sister/big brother doesn't read it.
18. Get a library card, and use it. Read books, lots of them.
19. Get involved with a local cause or organization that means something to you.
20. Go to a drive-in movie (do those even exist anymore?) BUT DO NOT HAVE THE SEX. Or, do. But for the right reasons. And use protection. Okay nevermind we'll talk more about this later.
21. Mow the lawn.
22. Keep a house plant alive (still working on this one, personally).
23. Plan a surprise party.
24. Volunteer for reasons other than your college applications or resume.
25. Learn how the government works.
26. Learn how credit cards (and debt, in general), work. Learn to budget.
This made me laugh.
27. Do nice things for people who will never know.
28. Keep up the dance parties in your PJs.
29. Write notes and letters - on real, actual paper (or whatever replaces paper once we use up all the trees).
30. Talk less, smile more :)
31. Keep learning new things. Challenge yourself. Do things that are difficult, uncomfortable, even a little bit scary.
32. Surround yourself with people who make you feel better about yourself, and be that person to others. Give people the benefit of the doubt, including yourself.
33. Don't be a dick.

What would you add???

This post from Renegade Mothering is so good and on point:

How to raise an excellent toddler.

And this post! "Are Today's Parents Getting a Raw Deal?" The whole time I was reading it I was nodding vigorously in agreement. This is what I was TRYING to say above, but better!

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