Bye Bye, Olympics

At the beginning of these Olympics, I commented on friend’s Facebook status that this would be the worst host city ever. Between Putin’s anti-gay propaganda, terrorist threats, and poisonous water in the hotels, I wasn’t excited to watch at all, and I felt bad for the athletes who’d worked so hard to get there.

Of course as soon as the opening ceremonies started I had to peek. The President of the IOC took everyone to task, saying it wasn’t fair to put their politics on the backs of the athletes. After that moment I was happy to keep watching.

That, and my kids were totally into it. They enjoyed the summer Olympics in 2012 but this is the first year they were able to really start digging into the big picture issues. I let them stay up late whenever they wanted and we talked politics, geography, history. We looked up about a hundred facts online every time they had a question. (Younger was particularly concerned with when America had beaten Canada in men’s hockey and it was actually quite difficult to find that stat. I’m still a little annoyed by it.)

We talked about why it’s fun to watch the Olympics. I told them about the 1984 winter Olympics, when my ever-patriotic mother actually whooped and applauded the American team walking in with their cowboy hats on. And how fun it was for me to watch with my kids, as it was for her.

I told them about the year Older was two and we’d decided it would be a good weekend for a getaway with the grandparents. We rented a house in New Hampshire and were ready for a nice relaxing weekend, when Grammy and Grampa both came down with the flu. Older commented, “Well at least you had something to watch.” (Was he referring to the Olympics or flu action?)

It turns out there was a lot to love this year. We were amazed by Ted Ligety, entranced by the cross-country relay, and discovered freakin’ slopestyle! Younger Son dug Katie Uhlaender’s tough attitude and red hair, in fact we loved anything that happened on the bobsled track. None of us could wait for snowboard cross and then we found out they were doing it on skis too?!

Of course I couldn’t dream of getting anyone to watch figure skating with me but they did listen to the story of Plushenko, and we all felt he was wrongly criticized for dropping out. But I am sad that I missed out on seeing more of Jonny Weir sending “the message that one can fight intolerance simply by putting on a tiara and showing up for work.”

We even dug the ads. My favorite was the oddly creepy Cadillac commercial with an over-zealous American businessman, but only because he was played by the oddly creepy evil bad guy from Justified (Neal McDonough, as the terrifying Robert Quarles in season 3). Nes pa?

And I had a soft spot for the incessant one with Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society, a character based on a professor that my husband and I had – yet another story the boys enjoyed. The incessant ad usually haunts your dreams for a few months after the Olympics, but I won’t mind if that one does. (Actually the last winter Olympics incessant ad wasn’t bad either because it used Lou Reed’s Perfect Day.)

On the last day of the Olympics I dragged myself out of bed at (a very late for me) 8:00 (because I was tired from watching Olympics for two weeks). Older was already sitting on the couch watching the men’s hockey final and telling me to hurry up and watch with him.

They were both looking forward to the closing ceremonies and asked if they could stay up even though it was a school night. As if I ever say no. Even though it was sad that the Olympics were ending, this was still fun because we knew the athletes and could remember all the cool stuff we’d seen. The best moment was when they actually poked fun at themselves and didn’t open the fifth Olympic ring.

Younger asked, “Will there always be Olympics?” and Older celebrated a little when I said definitely. Then he pointed out that “They shouldn’t do the closing ceremonies until the Paralympics are over.” I am so pleased at how their horizons seem to have actually broadened as a result of watching this year.

Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back, besides the thrill of watching athletes win, and the sympathy of knowing that when they lose, there are a lot of people who don’t actually see their dreams realized but life goes on (and still, they did something great).

Maybe it’s the idea that people care enough to see this event continue beyond politics and pettiness. That the world can be made to feel smaller even when so much of it is out of control. That ultimately, we all want the same things from life. Peace, people.

A Computer-Free Weekend

“People are getting overrun by technology. The future is here.” – Younger Son

The other day Older Son had to explain what a meme is to me. That’s the first time that’s happened in twelve years. But it describes what I got in my email last week so I thought I’d be cool and use it. The meme in question was a bunch of pictures of people with their noses in cellphones and an Einstein quote that said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

Like many memes, I can’t find proof that Einstein ever said that, so it’s probably just someone’s opinion. Einstein wasn’t the type of guy to refer to people (especially those younger than him) as idiots. Nor do I believe we have a generation of idiots on our hands.

On the contrary some scientists believe that technology is actually speeding up our evolution. Whether that’s good or bad is up for debate but, it is what it is (to quote an overly-used and somewhat annyoing meme).

What I do agree with is that we are living with screens in our faces, and it’s becoming more and more pervasive, like it or not. I’m not anti-computer. In fact I need it to do most of my work and my laptop is probably my favorite thing. Next to my iPod of course.

But I’ve been taking computer-free weekends more and more often now and I’m quite enjoying them, more than I thought I would. This time it was a LONG weekend – Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house – and I left the computer behind. Egad.

There were times over the weekend when I missed my technology. I needed it to look up Christmas wish lists and basketball schedules, and check our now-online family calendar (a move I resisted as long as I could – what do we do during the next week-long power outage? Paper is still good for a lot of things, like calendars. And contact lists that don’t get destroyed when they go through the wash in your pocket).

At these times we had to fight over the one available computer. Luckily when we wanted the movie listings they were still in the newspaper. We found ways to get around the hardship.

And I could always borrow someone’s phone or iPad to get to the internet. It was very meta (is that a meme?) to be watching a TV commercial about how advertisers are losing viewers to handhelds while two people sat on the couch looking at their handhelds.

But Grammy’s house is family time. We played games and made craft projects and baked. Older Son and I built his science project while Grandpa let Younger Son try out the drill press. We read books. Real ones! (I really hope books make it. I HATE reading on a Kindle and I’m not afraid to say it. Oh crap the tech police may be after me at this very moment.)

I finally convinced one of my kids to play double solitaire with me, which was what I did at my Grammy’s house. My sister pointed out that she still has the deck of cards we used.

I found that by far, I’m happiest when my whole family extricates ourselves from technology. More often than not we have to leave the house in order to do this, but that’s just fine. For this weekend it meant a climb on a glacial rock, a long walk to the beach, and watching surfers ride the waves in the warm sun for half an hour.

So much better than what you find online.

I got way behind on Facebook and had to recover from that. And realized, is it that important to keep up? I basically only use it to get messages from people who don’t have my cell number. Or, strangely, can’t look me up in the phone book (another book that I’d really like to see survive. God I feel like a dinosaur).

I even sat down with a pen and a piece of notebook paper to write this weekend. It felt old-fashioned, and odd, but good. I had a small victory over technology. Its hold over me is weakening. My son and Einstein can relax – we’re gonna be OK.

Bike Path: Kill or Be Killed

After a week of riding the (gorgeous, incomparable) bike trails on Cape Cod, I’ve learned alot about human nature. First there are the types of people you will find using the trails:

1. The Tour de France’rs

They have their bodysuits, their space-age helmets, their front-arm-leaning handlebars, fanny packs and camelbaks, and feet cemented to the pedals, so they AIN’T stoppin. Just stay out of the way because the peloton is coming through, and you will die if you get in front of it.

2. The Neurotic Parents

They want to teach their kids to ride, but maybe they should’ve thought about doing that at home, before they got on the biking superhighway. Sometimes they have to stop and lecture their children about “how angry it makes me when you do that.” Often accompanied by grandparents pushing empty strollers. Occasionally you see a variation of this with three or more adults pulled over to the side of the trail, all fussing over one crying child in a bike trailer.

3. Walkers, Joggers, and Dog-walkers

They have every right to be on the bike trail. It’s supposed to be a safe haven for people trying to enjoy a walk or run without having to risk their lives on summer-traffic-filled roads. But I’m not sure they’re any safer with the bikes than they are with the cars.

4. Teenagers, Old Folks, and European Tourists

Lesser seen, but still present. Teens will be surly and/or dangerous-looking. So will the old folks. Europeans will be half-naked and stopped on the side of the trail eating berries.

5. Rollerbladers

Really?

6. Normal People Out for a Nice Bike Ride

Like me and my family, who were just trying to get through it all unscathed. And at least one of your party will be asking, “What’s the point again? Why are we riding bikes in a straight line for hours?”

Repeatedly.

My scariest moment was when we passed a dad and son who were pulled over, and mom was just getting back into the flow of traffic. Older Son was in the middle of the lane passing her and I was starting to make my move when I noticed there was a daughter, maybe four years old, trying to turn around and find her family. Older slowed down when he saw her swerve across the lane of traffic.

But the 65-year-old guy coming toward all of this mess didn’t. He just made a grimace like, “Oh my God! There’s a little pink Dora bike in front of me! How dare she? I’m about to crash into her! But I ain’t slowin down, dag-nabbit!”

I told Older he did the right thing. When in doubt, STOP BEFORE YOU CRASH INTO PEOPLE. It’s pretty basic.

Now. To this spicy gumbo, add cars. Every time you come to a street crossing it’s complete anarchy. By the letter of the law (we think), cars aren’t supposed to yield to bikes in crosswalks (I know, stupidest thing ever). But it makes sense if you realize that bikes are supposed to observe the same traffic rules as cars, so a rail trail crosswalk throws everything into confusion.

Cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians, so on the trail, the rule is that bikers should stop and walk their bike across the streets, hence becoming pedestrians and clearly having the right of way.

But no one ever gets off their bike. And the cars can’t always see the crossings coming. They are hidden around corners and in trees, and anyway most drivers on the Cape are in vacation mode. They’re not paying attention or they’re in a SERIOUS rush to get to some soft-serve. If they’re not familiar with the trail, they can be flying along with no clue that a person could jump out in front of their car.

As my dear old sailor dad used to say, the laws of gross tonnage apply. Motor vehicle vs. pedestrian laws don’t matter when a many-ton vehicle is flying toward your 65-pound skin-and-bones baby.

So we taught the boys to come to a COMPLETE stop at every crossing. BUT, those of us who are trying to keep our children from being flattened by cars get in the way of the peloton, who fly through, knocking you out of the way in their hurry to beat you to the entrance on the other side of the road.

Then you’ve got the people who draft off your stopped cars. You and the kids are getting across as safely as you can, when the others come up your butt because they shot out in front of the drivers who stopped for you. Now you’re on the other side trying to climb back on your bike and get….CRAP! Angry Granny!

“ON! YOUR! LEFT!!!!” They yell, annoyed at you for being in their way.

So what does all this mean? It’s simple. People need rules. I have my own problems respecting authority and I’m the first person to say, “Bah! That’s not a real law.” But if there were just some basic right-of-way guidelines (i.e. when a small child loses control of their bike and darts in front of you BY ACCIDENT – stop your damn bike instead of yelling at them and their parents), the trail would be a far less terrifying place.

Dave had a theory that it’s like the townies vs. the college kids. After a few weeks of having bikes dart out in front of their car, or being on a bike and having a car speed toward you, there’s competition between locals and tourists, drivers and bikers. The age-old story. Oh – and it’s hot. And everyone’s stuck with their cranky family.

Of course Dave also managed to get in a little parenting wisdom. Our last human behavior observation, which I’ve been saying like a broken record for years anyway, is this: kids will watch what the adults are doing and do exactly the same thing.

So when he’d had enough of all the shenanigans, Older got in on the act. As he tried to turn left to exit the crosswalk and head for a deli we’d picked for lunch, another crazy grandpa went flying by him (to pass everyone and get back on the trail first) and almost knocked him down. Older yelled, “Thanks for almost crashing into me while I was trying to make a legal and safe left-hand turn.” (We’ll have to work on brevity when it comes to his snippy remarks.)

After this event Dave told him, “If somebody’s out here yelling at people then they’re probably not a very happy person. Don’t let them ruin your day.” So we mocked him, ate sandwiches, and went back into the fray for another hour of enjoyable riding in straight lines amongst crazy people.

But please don’t let this story deter you from riding the trails. Go early or late, go on a Tuesday, go when it’s NOT summer, but get out there and see them, because as far as rail trails go, this one is world class.

Facing Your Fears

There are times when being a mother requires me to be braver than I’ve ever been before. The sad thing is, for me it’s usually regarding something that should be simple, like letting my kids ride their bikes around the neighborhood alone.

I hate that I live in a time when we’re afraid to let our kids be free. I don’t know if it’s parenting styles or the media or my mother working in an ER for 40 years, but I am just scared to let my kids go around unattended. I’ve tried to let them, and they’re starting to branch out a little further now (never without walkie-talkies), but I’m still not confident.

I’m constantly asking other moms how far they let theirs go and I get a range of answers. I want to hear someone say, “Why worry? It’s totally safe.” And then when someone does, it’s still not convincing enough for me to feel confident.

One very astute friend of mine pointed out, “When we were young, all the kids were out in the neighborhood. You knew where the moms were, what houses you could go to, and what houses to stay away from.”

It’s so simple and true. Now we don’t have packs of kids running around (safety in numbers), fewer moms at home, and many more creeps (or at least an online predator database that tells us so).

Sometimes I get tired of hearing myself whine about this subject. But my kids are old enough now, I know that they need to roam, and they should. It’s good for them to rely on their own wits, and how else are they going to learn all the things they need to about self-sufficiency? I was just hoping I’d be more convinced of their safety by this point.

I see Older’s friends starting to walk back and forth to school, and ride their bikes downtown or to the park, and I think, he should be doing it too. When I was his age, I walked the quarter-mile to the bus stop and rode my bike for miles. His father walked back and forth to school one mile every day.

So I let him go around the block or a few blocks away until he gets to his appointed friend’s house and calls me. And I know he’ll get there, and I know he’ll be fine, and yet I feel fear punctuated by panic the entire time until I hear his voice.

I heard an interesting theory the other day that there aren’t more bad people in the world, there are simply more people in the world, so more bad things happen (because there will always be a percentage of bad things that happen no matter what we moms do to kid ourselves that there won’t).

Another idea I came across is that we have to challenge our kids in order to let them know that we believe they can handle the challenge. By pushing them away a little bit we’re saying, I trust you, and I trust that you can do this. A far better message than, “The world is too scary for you.”

Sometimes I just remember my father’s old sayings to calm myself down: “Everything’s fine!” “What are you worried about?!” “That’s NOT gonna happen.” He would toss one of these over his shoulder with a “Pfffft!” and a shrug and we’d be off riding motorcycles through the woods. His confidence that we would be totally fine was so comforting to me. My boys – and maybe me – need a woodsy motorcycle ride right about now.

Can Good Behavior Be Taught?

Words to live by

Do these rules really work? Sorta...

People often come here looking for “rules for kids to be nice in child care.” I put the quotes around that because yeah, you can have rules and give kids timeouts if they’re not nice, but it’s really hard (read: nearly impossible) to control kids’ behavior just through rules and consequences. What’s the first thing most kids do when someone gives them a rule?

Try to break it. (Same goes for you – admit it.) So when it comes to teaching kind behavior, I’ve always seen it as encouraging, modeling, guiding, and repeating yourself again, and again, and again, and again…

Someone observed that a child in my program was having trouble sharing. I said, “Well she’s only been with me six months.” My friend thought she should have sharing down by now. But six months isn’t long enough to learn how to share all the time. Really.

Don’t have a heart attack, just realize that this is what working with kids means. Adults sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we can say something once – like “Put your dirty socks in the laundry pile” – and our kids will always do it.

Poor, deluded adults.

So it helps to realize that teaching children “how to be nice” is constant. It’s really the most important thing I’m doing, all the time. And here’s how:

Be kind to the person who’s hurt. This is one of my favorites. Little one whacks another and waits for you to swoop in, grab them, scold them good, and carry them off to timeout. Well why does that kid get to be carried around and talked to when someone else is nursing a bruise? So I usually put my body in between them (back to the aggressor – you get nothing!!) and love and hug that little hurt one as if they’re the most precious thing in the world. Take that, bully.

Then after the hurtee is calmed down, obviously, go back and give an appropriate consequence to the hurter. Make sure they see that you’re upset, and the person they hurt is upset, but they’re not getting an hour lecture because then they get all the attention.

Be aware of your tone. Try to channel your inner preschool teacher and have that sing-song, everything’s happy, let’s just move on shall we? voice turned on as much as possible. At the same time, be firm, clear, consistent, and don’t raise your voice unless it’s absolutely necessary. Have you ever spent hours on a beach with a child who is throwing rocks in the water? Cause and effect. The bigger the splash, the more they want to throw. Soon they’re chucking in boulders instead of pebbles because WOW! Look what I did! When they see they’re setting you off, and you’re escalating, they just go for the biggest splash they can get. And once you start down that path, you can only get bigger. What happens when screeching doesn’t work, and it’s really kinda entertaining them? (Pam gets all the credit for the rock in the pond – I use it all the time and it’s one of the best descriptions of young kids’ behavior I’ve ever heard. Go Pam!)

You also don’t have to go right to yelling. Asking politely but clearly, “Please get off the bookshelf. Come on down,” or inviting the child to the next activity, “Guess what? Snack time!” can be just as effective. Of course, help them along if they’re not accepting your invitation.

Separation instead of timeout. This is one of the best tricks I’ve learned. You (hurter) go over there, and when you can be nice you can come back and play with us. It’s not sit-in-this-chair-and-serve-your-timeout (because if they get out of timeout 100 times they’ve still got your full attention for ten minutes), but it’s still a separation. No one will want to play with you if you’re mean, jelly bean.

Help them make good choices. Kids know there’s a right and wrong way to do things. Ask them, “Is that the best way to get what you want?” They usually know the answer. When they get it right, let them know. “You made a good choice and I’m so proud of you.”

Ignore bad behavior. Any bad behavior is a ploy for attention. If my kids lose sight of me, how long do you think it takes before someone is screaming to get me to come running back? If the behavior is not hurting anyone, stay back and see how the kids handle it. Sometimes they’ll surprise you. They need to learn naturally from each other, and a little peer pressure at this age is a good thing. Especially if, one day, someone’s doing EVERY BAD THING you’ve ever told them not to do, you will spend your day chasing them around doing just that. If she’s climbing on a chair – so be it. Let her fall and learn that climbing on a chair is a bad idea by herself.

My dad came up with this great phrase that I’ll never forget. He said, “Kids need to get used to a little benign neglect.” I loved that. It is ok to challenge them and let them figure out some things for themselves. I would never put anyone in harms way, but at the same time, let them stretch a little and see what they can learn all by themselves.

Turn it around. Redirect what’s happening into what you want to happen (ooo that sounds so new-agey). We were making banana bread the other day and the toddler was having a BLAST with the kitchen cabinets. After all my pleas, “No Miss A, stay out of the cabinets. Miss A, close that door. Miss A, stop dumping cereal all over the place!” I finally realized what I was doing. Then I said, “Miss A, come here – it’s your turn to stir.” Bingo. You can also use this when kids have had a run-in. Use the moment to teach them how to comfort someone, instead of punishing them for doing the hurting. When my boys fight my standard line is, “Go make it right.” They know it’s more important for them to work out the problem than to apologize to me and get punished.

...count to 10.

...growl it out!

Teach self-defense. If the adult is regulating every situation where someone is being victimized, the kids will never learn for themselves how to handle it. One of the first things I teach is to use your voice to say “Stop!” firmly and clearly (which is more effective than “NOOOOO!!! She’s touching MEEEEEEE,” which is sort of going right back to the pond). I also tell the kids that if someone is grabbing you or your toy it’s OK to push their hands away or hold on tight. We also sing the “If you’re angry and you know it stomp your feet” song to try to teach them how to handle their anger, instead of just saying no no no you’re bad and repressing it until they have three-year-old angst and depression.

Actions speak louder than words. We like to talk talk talk talk and explain to kids why things are bad and how they should behave and why what they’re doing is wrong and how they can’t live a decent life if they spend it pulling people’s hair – how much of that does a 2-year-old get!? Really! Use your body language: remove them from the situation, don’t make eye contact, give them the cold shoulder. Don’t give them what they want until they’re behaving the way you want them to. When that happens, shower them with love and praise!

Drop your own anger and resentment. If you put a child in the category of “bad,” you’ll never get past it. Everything they do will annoy you, and nothing they do right will please you. Stop that right now. You are the adult – recognize that this child needs your help to learn how to grow up right. (I tried to find a link to Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum” telling Larry Daley to stop slapping the monkey because he’s the evolved one, but all the giggling teen clips on YouTube left that part out.) Realize that instincts drive us. The easiest thing for a little human being (who can’t talk) is to grab something when they want it, and hit the person who grabbed from them, and scream if they’ve been hurt.

Know your kids. Will this child respond to a timeout? Or are they motivated by praise? For some kids, all it takes is the stink eye to straighten them out. Or asking, “Is there a better way to do what you’re trying to do?” Sometimes they just need to be walked through the steps. I do a lot of talking for my kids. “Miss C, Miss M wants to use that toy. Can she?” (No, dummy.) “OK when you’re done with it will you let her have it?” Sometimes they’ll hand it over. But I always keep an eye on the toy and make sure the one who wants it eventually gets it. If the first child is clutching the toy for hours in spite of the other’s wanting it, out comes the timer.

And that leads to being trustworthy – do what you say you’re going to do. NO EMPTY THREATS! And:

Be fair. If your sweet darling who is always lovely and joyous suddenly bashes someone in the head, don’t let it slide because she’s not usually like that. Address it. Recently I had a tough day with one of my kids and I told his mother I’m not letting up on him because he knows what’s naughty. He’s not even three yet. Kids are smart – they know if you’re playing favorites.

See everything. I sometimes hear myself muttering, “You really think I’m dumb, don’t you?” So I’ll repeat something that’s happened without saying who did it, and the child looks at me with shock in their wide saucer eyes. Yes you, little person, I know what you did behind my back. And it was wrong and you know it. It helps if they think you’re omniscient.

Praise good behavior. You have to do this for all children, the aggressors as well as the victims. In my classes I often talk about training our kids almost like you would train a dog. You need them to understand what behavior you want to see, so when they get something right (even if it’s bringing a cup to their friend even though they’re not supposed to touch other people’s cups), tell them they did a good job.

I know at 40 years old I still crave praise. When someone tells me I did something right my little heart grows three sizes. This is how our kids feel too. I don’t know why we forget this. We’d rather nag and yell at them constantly when a little “You did a good job” will fill that child up for the rest of the day. And make them more willing to help the next time (really!).

By the way I thought people might be offended if I related teaching children to training dogs, and I asked my neighbor about it. She said when she was a childbirth educator she would watch how couples handled their dogs, and she could tell by that how they would be as parents. So don’t be upset, I’m not saying your kid’s a dog, I’m saying you need to use the same method of consistency, firmness, praise and rewards for good behavior, and yes, letting them know when they’re being bad. We get all caught up in complications when really, when it comes to kids – the simpler the better.

Use natural consequences. Ahh, the hardest concept to understand, especially in finding one that matches the offense. When my oldest son was almost three I remember screaming so loud I thought I might cough up a lung. I just have to get louder, then he can’t ignore me any more! I’ll teach him! And if nothing else I’ll scare the crap out of him! Somewhere we decided that we have to get our kids to submit to our will, rather than treating them like independent beings who need to learn how to make good choices. So we think the bigger the punishment, the more they’ll learn from it.

Think back to your childhood. Did that ever work for you? Or did you just resent your parents for acting like jerks?

So go for the obvious – AND SIMPLE – response. You don’t have to have a nuclear meltdown if a kid misbehaves. If a child takes a toy away from someone, return the toy. That’s it. The toy-taker doesn’t need to be yelled at and thrown in timeout. They just can’t have that toy and they need to go do something else. OR, walk them through asking for the toy and waiting their turn (if you want to get really crazy you can ask them to say they’re sorry for grabbing, but it’s not imperative. That’s a whole other can of worms).

Do have very clear rules about what is forbidden: hitting, biting, kicking, pushing, hair-pulling, screaming at people, teasing and taunting, manipulating, and blaming your behavior on others is never acceptable. (Which means you can’t do it either. Ha ha, that’s just a little day care provider humor there.)

HAVE FUN. For God’s sake, please, just relax, keep the flow moving, let go of the bad stuff, play, laugh, sing, be goofy. That’s all kids want. There is so little time in the rest of our hectic lives to simply enjoy ourselves – try to make their day with you at least a little fun. They WANT to laugh, you just need to give them an excuse. (Don’t ask me to demonstrate their favorite songs where I have to stick my tongue out and sing like a freak.)

Before I end this novella of a post, there is a very tricky situation that I feel the need to address. Adults don’t always understand this, and for me it was one of the hardest things to learn when I began working with young children: they are crying out for boundaries. When you open a day care you imagine that you are going to be filled with the sweet angel-love of babies – and then in an instant you’re living out the Lord of the Flies.

You have to be in command of that island. Firm, but fair. These are the rules, I will not accept meanness, you will not be allowed to act out, the word No is my friend, and do you know what will happen? The kids will love you. They’ll feel safe and protected. Your consistency will allow them to grow. You love them the most by being the grownup, even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do, and it really hurts sometimes. (Parenting: it’s not for the weak of heart.)

And realize that for some kids, all your teaching and modeling and efforts might not be enough. You just do your best and hope they get something good from you.

You may have noticed that this post was less about the kids’ behavior than about ours. Always remember that the grownup sets the tone, not the kids (unless it’s just one of those days). So go out there and be nice to them today. If you set the example, they’re going to follow it. I swear.

Tornadoes and What-Ifs

I think we’re all already in tornado shell-shock from what’s been happening around the country lately. I go between looking at pictures and praying and crying for the people involved, and having to shut the paper because I can’t look anymore.

From gazettenet.comI can kid myself that we’re safe as long as we live here, where tornadoes rarely hit and are rarely very powerful. Then Wednesday happens and I can’t be in denial anymore.

I had Michelle here with me in case I had to take kids in the basement. You never think that the worst will actually happen and I was convincing myself that it was just a precaution. But after hearing the warnings all morning and watching the sky turn green I knew it couldn’t hurt to have extra hands here. Plus a friend to take my mind off things. (And yes, protect me. Thanks Mich.)

I’d been worried all afternoon because I just wanted my kids home. Older was on a school field trip, riding a school bus right up the corridor where the tornado would touch down a few hours later. Younger was at school and I was at home with day care kids, feeling helpless if anything did happen. I needed my kids with me. Thank God they made it here safe and sound before the worst hit.

All we got here at the house was a lot of wind and rain, and it passed pretty quickly. We were relieved and joking around when Dave tried to call me four times in a row. I could hear him saying “Can you hear me?” over and over and I was yelling back at him. I tried to call him back and went to voicemail. I yelled “Figure out how to use your phone!” at some point. Michelle was half-teasing, half-serious when she asked if I had the mute on.

We went back to work and about twenty minutes later Dave burst in. “Do you have any idea what’s going on? Turn on the TV!”

And there we saw the video of the tornado hitting the river and flipping over trucks a few hundred yards away from where Dave was driving home.

The good news was we were all safe and the worst was over, and day care was still happening and there were kids to feed and change and send home. But at some point I had to stop and think, and the first thought I had was, What if that ridiculous phone call was the last time I’d heard my husband’s voice?

To top it off it was Younger’s birthday, and at some point Older came running in yelling that Younger had lost a tooth. What else? What else can happen today? I can only handle so much!

So I wrapped presents and Dave watched more news (away from the kids because we didn’t want to scare them) and we went out to birthday dinner even though we both felt pretty leery about going out before the storms were really over.

A hailstorm hit as we were driving home and the water was just pouring down. The wind was blowing and I eyed the 200-year-old, 40-foot tall, 12-foot round pine tree in my yard. If it ever goes… but at the same time, the trees protected some people I know by taking the brunt of the storm away from their house.

Of course we’d left windows open and the water was forming pools under each one. The boys helped me run around with towels mopping them up. Older was very upset that the couch was drenched and I told him it’s really NOT A BIG DEAL. As I wiped a puddle off a windowsill I thought, I still have a windowsill.

On Wednesday night I tucked my kids into their own beds. As I read to Younger I felt a warmth that I hadn’t noticed in a while. It was the comfort of home and safety and luckily, for me, today – security. I remembered what my father said when he called to make sure we were all safe after the storm: We are the blessed ones.

As I brought the kids to school yesterday I thought about what would happen if my home was flattened. I wouldn’t just lose my home, I’d lose my job. Everything I have revolves around this house. You always think first about what would be lost – all the pictures and memories, do I grab the laptop with the photos on it or my purse as I run out the door? (Preferably both, but after the kids and the cat.) But then you think about, what happens after? How do you go on from something that devastating?

I remembered a resident of New Orleans after Katrina who said the day after the storm that destroyed her town, she was sitting in the rubble of her back yard watching a spider re-build its web. She was struck by how nature just goes on, unphased by disaster. And we go on as well. The day after the storm it was a beautiful, sunny day and we were off to Boston for dad’s graduation. Life goes on – like I hope we would be able to if the worst happened.