Stop Judging My Kids

Here are a few recent searches on my blog:

when someone comments on your screaming baby, stop judging my kids, negative comments about my child

Are you seeing a pattern there?

Jeez. It’s sad to say, but parents are always going to have to put up with this. If you have kids and take them out in public, you will hear comments. I don’t know why people feel entitled to do it. It’s sort of like how every stranger wants to grope your brand new infant baby just when you’re most certain they’ll end up with ebola.

So it’s best to have a sense of humor if you can, and if you expect it will happen you can have a few snappy comebacks ready. “I know, kids – they’re crazy!” Or “It’s been a tough day.” Or my new recent favorite is, “Thank you for your input.” (Ha! What can they possibly say to that?)

And, seriously: does it really matter what some stranger thinks of you and your children?

Do they have any idea what’s going on in your life in the moment your kid decides to misbehave?

And do they think their helpful advice will straighten you and your bratty kids right out?

As you can see this is a sore point for me. But it’s human nature – we’re always judging people. I judged a woman this morning who was walking down the street with a man. I thought it was gross how he had his arm around her shoulders, and she looked hunched up under his weight. To me the body language said, “I own her.” But what do I know? Maybe she loves being held, or something bad happened and he was comforting her. They’re probably lovely people. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I judged that guy who sat on his baby. But I was judging him, not his kids!! Maybe right there is the key to why comments about our kids annoy us so much – they reflect on something we might be doing wrong. And that, my friends, is some hard stuff right there. No one wants to admit they might be messing up. A lot of us don’t know how to fix it if we are. But it’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you become a parent you’re pretty sure you’re screwing them up somehow.

And maybe that’s why we’re always judging other people’s kids – because then we feel better about what we’re doing with ours. Ah, the vicious cycle. I’m reminded of that lovely old saying, he who points a finger points three back at himself.

There must some brain mechanism that causes us to behave this way, identifying with tribes and outcasting the weak or something like that. But when I tried to research it the only information I could find around judging had to do with religion and quotes from the bible. So get on it, psychologists, I want to know why we’re always picking on everybody else’s kids!

There’s nothing we can do about it: people will judge. Ignore them, love your kids and trust that you know what’s best for them. And remember that some days you get lucky. We were in the grocery store the other day, a place where I’ve had PLENTY of hairy eyeballs, rude comments, and people flat-out trying to discipline my kids. Luckily this stopped happening (for the most part) as they got beyond being three years old and whiny. It was either a really great day in the world, or we just looked like the happy family we are (it’s true). I had three different people comment on my boys, were they twins, they’re so helpful, what nice kids, etc. I was, of course, extremely pleased and proud, but also wondering who put the happy pills in the town water supply this morning.

So when someone cuts us down I try to remember those happy times, when I’m so proud of my kids that my chest is about to burst. It’s natural to focus on the the one negative thing someone said and forget about the twenty positive comments. Put a few good moments in your basket (as Pam would say), and try to remember them when someone disses you. We’re only human – we’re all doing our best – and we’re not at our best every moment.

And PS, to all the friendly “helpers” out there: It’s not your job to fix anybody else’s kids!!!

Why Are You REGRESSING??!!

We’ve had a lot of it around here. So far it’s been a whiny, cranky winter. I recommended in an earlier post that day care providers have earplugs – mine have been in effect. Then for a while the kids stare at you. “What’s in your ear Amy?” And I have to decide if I’m going to answer them nicely or tell the truth.

I’ve taken on a new motto. It’s my job to keep you fed, safe, warm, clean, exercised and rested, but not happy. Even if I tried, I simply cannot do it.

I have to remember that kids grow in spurts – not just physically but mentally too – and it’s a very difficult process. But, if your bones ache when you grow taller, it’s your heart that aches when your brain is growing.

So what’s going on with my kids. The twins have just given up their pacifiers so that in itself is traumatic. But they’re also learning to talk, which is probably the longest and most challenging development in early childhood. And they get SOOOOO mad when you can’t understand what they’re saying (which leads to them yelling it, louder and louder, as if I was deaf). So if I don’t understand what they’re saying, I just nod and smile and say, “Yeah!”

One child has had an ear infection and strep, leading to two antibiotics and lots of G.I. distress and following me around begging to be held. Another reached the “food phobia” stage and has been eating nothing but crackers for a few weeks and is constipated. Another is beginning to realize that her baby sister is here to stay and is having some stressful responses to that. And the baby is just a baby, and even when they’re a pretty easy and happy baby, they still need constant care.

Miss S, the after-schooler, is dealing with life in kindergarten and all the challenges that come with that. So she wants more affection from me but unfortunately, when she wants it she tackles me from behind when I’m not looking.

Younger Son is working on his colorful language and I’m doing all I can to stop him from using it in front of the kids. He’s a big tough second grader trying to navigate friendships and loyalty, and for a boy who is 100% loyal, it’s very confusing when friends naturally come and go. And he’s decided that he’s in charge of everyone’s behavior around here, but he is a much harsher taskmaster than I. So I’m constantly chasing him around telling him to stop cussing and abusing us all.

Older Son and I have been battling over everything and it’s getting OLD. Then I realized he just turned ten, a milestone birthday. Once on my birthday I was having a terrible day and I called Pam in tears. She said, “It’s your birthday! Of course you’re going to cry! I cry every year on my birthday.” There is something cosmic and powerful happening on those days. A little letting go, I think, and the big fourth grader who is facing a new school and a bus ride and big kids next year is definitely feeling that.

To top it all off, we’re in the shortest and coldest days of the year, when kids are cooped up inside and everyone’s cycle is out of whack. And there’s always the ho-ho-ho-holiday stress!! When my boys want some attention after a long day I’m brushing them off to make lists, shop, wrap presents, and be stressed out and exhausted myself. We haven’t had a decent meal for days.

So there are a lot of reasons we’re all cranky. Is it possible for a 40-year-old to regress too? Probably. Yesterday after an afternoon of being badgered by six kids, my poor Miss S yelled “Amy!” from the other room and I stood in the kitchen and bellowed (not in a very nice way), “WHAAAT?!?!?!”

Of course I apologized.

My problem is that I have very high expectations for behavior. Once kids have reached a certain level I expect they will stay there and move forward only, and I get frustrated when they don’t. “You KNOW this, what’s the problem?” I think. I forget that wise old saying: one step forward, two steps back.

So luckily for all of us, after the holiday rush we have a week off. Oh yeah, I close after Christmas. It’s time to rejuvenate and get ready to start fresh in a new year.

Here’s something funny. I didn’t pick “rejuvenate” for any reason except that’s what you do on a vacation. But if you look it up in the dictionary, it says “to make young again.” Oh dear. Maybe I should have chosen “relax.”

To the Day Care Provider Who Doesn’t Like Her Job

WordPress, the site that hosts this lovely blog, has a feature that shows you the search terms that people use to find your blog. It is meant to help us drive more traffic our way, but I just like to see what people are looking for when they find me. And sometimes I get emotionally involved.

People are looking for a lot of things on the internet. Here’s how they found my blog in the past week:

i dont want to wake up on my own anymore, new home daycare provider dont like my job, gymnastics mat sandwich

OK that last one is clearly my favorite, and I don’t even know what the hell it is. I might not want to know.

The first one made me really really sad. I’m sorry, person. I know I would hate that too. I hope that you find someone to wake up next to soon. But I think it’s you’re looking for, I’m not sure why they gave you my blog. Except that I spend a lot of time complaining about waking up?

But today I’m here to talk to the new home day care provider. Honey, hang in there. I can tell you this: it gets better. (No disrespect or copying of a slogan intended!)

In fact, when I told Carol (one of my MANY mentors) that I was writing about this she said, “You can’t love it in the first year. No one does. It’s impossible.” And she’s been doing this for years now, and she is a total pro, and she loves her work. So you can make it.

My first years on this job were ridiculous. I had crazy kids, crazy families, I didn’t know WHAT I was doing. They ran my house like it was some kind of kid zoo. And they were running it, not me. It took me a long time to be able to be in charge. And if you have your own kids in care, fuggedaboudit! They will make your life worse than anyone else (my older son was three when we started and he was BY FAR my toughest customer).

I was once talking to a home visitor who said that year three is when everybody gets it. You turn the bend and suddenly you know exactly what you’re doing. If you can’t make it to year three, that’s OK. No job is worth making yourself crazy, but if you can make it, I think you’ll find the rewards are there. It is a steady job, there will always be people who need care, YOU ARE YOUR OWN BOSS, and when you do get the hang of it, it’s fun. Plus you can wear your pajamas to work.

I had another home visitor, Kathleen, who would tell me with all sincerity, “It’s the hardest job in the world.”

This made me feel better, proud, a little resentful of everyone else whose job was easier than mine, and a LOT less crazy.

Also I should tell you this. Like me, you probably have an official governing body with a bunch of rules you think you have to follow. You don’t. Well, not to the letter I mean. Obviously you have to follow the biggies: keep the kids safe, take care of them, feed them, nap, change, and clean them, nurture them. But don’t kill yourself over making sure you have art, music, drama, P.E., and the proper amount of intellectual stimulation every day. I remember driving myself crazy trying to make sure I hit all those daily requirements – and they are really, truly, impossible for any human being to achieve.

What you have to do is focus on the kids who are with you and what they need in the moment. You may have days where the best you can do is keep everyone sane, including yourself. If that means you pop in a movie and let them all fight for space on your lap, then so be it. When I get worried about this kind of stuff my husband says, “Did they all go home safe and happy at the end of the day? Then the rest is gravy.” (Yeah, he’s a keeper.)

Now here’s some actual advice for getting through the days until you make the choice of whether to keep this job or not. Hopefully it will help you have better days, and you won’t feel so bad about it:

1. Find a mentor. You need someone, or even many someones, to help you on a daily basis. You need to be able to call them and say, what do I do when they won’t put on their shoes or eat their lunch or when Susie won’t stop stealing Johnny’s toys and Janey bit someone!!?? If you have a local agency providing services for providers (most areas do), contact them and find some support.

2. Know that you are in charge. Think Mary Poppins. Be firm, clear, make it fun, and foster an atmosphere of respect for EVERYONE. I used to freak out when kids would fight. I learned from my first mentor, Pam, how to handle bad behavior: by talking for them. “She doesn’t want to be yelled at. Can you use your words to talk to her? Tell her what you want. Would you like a turn with that toy when she’s done? We don’t hit people. Look how sad she is because you hit her.”

Use natural consequences – instant but simple. If you can’t share the toy, it’s going to take a break (and be put away for a while – they’ll forget about it in minutes). If you hit, you need to go away from us. It doesn’t have to be a timeout chair because you’ll be chasing that child into the timeout chair and they’ll still have your attention. Play with the injured child and ignore the misbehaving one.

And don’t worry if they’re crying: kids cry!! We like to pretend that they don’t have to in this day and age, and it’s up to us to do a song and dance to keep them from crying. This is not reality. Seriously – I have earplugs for the bad days.

Remember that you are also in charge when it comes to the parents. It took me a VERY long time to be able to say, “This is how we do it in my program. If that won’t work for you, I’ll help you find another program.” It’s nothing personal and it is not your failure. You have to be in charge of your day or everyone – kids and parents alike – will walk all over you. I really really really really wish I’d learned that lesson a long time ago.

3. Praise and thank the kids for good work. Keep it light, keep it moving, don’t yell. Make it inviting: “Come on! Time for snack!” You don’t have to be a cheerleader, but just use a fun tone. (Rather than, get-your-butt-to-the-table-now-because-I-told-you-three-times-already-that-it’s-snacktime!! Keep that on the inside.) Have rules and stick to them like glue. Dole it all out calmly. “We don’t play in the cabinets. Let’s play over here with the toys.” Expect to repeat yourself a hundred times a day.

I didn’t do any of those things in my first year. I yelled, I punished, I got SO mad at the kids for not listening! Well guess what – little kids aren’t good listeners. And yelling doesn’t work. You just have to accept that, and guide them all day. When you are able to make this shift it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

4. Be consistent and trustworthy with your kids. My twins trust me 100%. We play games where I can see the concerned look on their face – they’re not sure if I’m going to tickle them or turn them upside down or fly them up in the air or make a scary noise – but they go along with it because they know I am going to protect them no matter what. They also know that even if I get mad and my voice is loud, my love is still there. Say “I’m sorry” if you lose it, explain why you lost it, and they’ll get it.

5. Have a routine. This is KEY, you NEED a routine. Write it on a piece of paper if you have to and go look at it when you’re floundering. Have a circle time even if they seem too little. It doesn’t have to be a SITTING circle, it can be singing and dancing and MAYBE sitting to read a book if they’re into it. If not, let the kids who want to sit do it, and let the others wander around and play. Circle time is not required. (Maybe I should make that into a t-shirt.)

Once you start doing things daily, the kids will know what to expect and they will follow right along with the routine. They will be happy to get out their mats or put away their dishes or line up at the door. Really, I’m not exaggerating! Predictability makes them feel safe, that’s why nursery rhymes and simple songs work so well. When they know what’s coming, they’re secure and happy.

6. Prepare activities that are educational but EASY (play-doh, blocks, sand & water, chalk and bubbles, puppets, puzzles). It doesn’t have to be fancy to be “curriculum.” If you’re into art projects and your kids can do them, then go for it. My kids eat paint, so I’m not a big project kinda gal. Or just sit down and read. Play with the toys. Pam used to say that five minutes on the floor with them equals ten minutes away for you (and that’s when you’ll be making snack).

Know that the little issues or problems of the families that you are working with will come into your home through their kids. You may not know the details, but you will see it in their behavior. All you can do is deal with them while they’re with you, and be aware that in some cases you may be the one stable and trustworthy thing in their lives. They need you, no matter how difficult they make your job.

And that is not to say that you are their savior: you can only do so much. I’ve had to terminate people over the years and it SUCKS – it is the worst part of the job. But when it gets so bad that you are suffering, it’s time to let it go.

On the flip side, when you find a nice family it’s delightful. I have a group of kids right now who are so easy, because I finally figured out how to pick and choose. It’s up to you who you have to work with, and it may take a couple of years to find a good clientele, but you will learn to see the signs during your interviews.

Remember the most important thing is you have to put yourself and your family first. You need clients and your business, but it might not be worth if you’re all suffering. Over the years my husband has given me many suggestions on how to make my job easier (including taking fewer clients even though the money would be less) because he pays the price if I’m not happy. And then your kids pay the price too, which is unacceptable.

And also – find somebody safe to rant to – another provider, a friend, a therapist – whoever. Because when Dad comes home the last thing he wants to hear is that your job sucked all day and all the reasons why. Dave would ask, “Why are we all putting up with this if you hate it so much?”

I hope I’m not too late to speak to you. I hope you figure out what’s best for you and maybe you can hang in there to get to the rewards. It’s a tough job, there’s no way around that. But if you can stick it out for a while, you can go to bed every night feeling good about a hard day’s work. Knowing you’ve done a service rather than sat in front of a computer all day. AND your life will be filled with the unconditional love of children. What could be better than that?

One Day, Seven Kids

Yesterday was the boys’ first full day off since school started. I was having summer flashbacks – oh Lord, the long exhausting days filled with one disaster after another. The non-stop cleaning and chasing and nagging my boys to quit whatever it was they were doing and find something else. Then giving them four or five different options and hearing, “Nah!” to each one.

Yea, I was dreading it a little.

So instead of trying to come up with games and projects and activities, I set one simple goal for myself: stay present.

The idea was that I would just hang with them, and not be running around distracted all day. Because that’s when they want your attention the most and will start acting like lunatics to get it.

I had the 16-month-old Tornado, three 2-year-olds, a 5-year-old, and of course Younger (7) and Older (9). Just a slight age range there. Shouldn’t be any problem keeping them all happy…

I prepared myself for anything by being totally unprepared.

The morning started off peacefully. In fact, I couldn’t believe how well it was going. Could it be that my plan was working? Older Son has always been into secrets and sneaking. While looking through his Lego catalog he found a Harry Potter secret code. He figured it out, transcribed it, added some of his own letters that were missing, and asked me to make copies for his friend so they could write secret messages. I was so excited. I asked if I could use the secret code and he started writing me notes. I was in the club!!!

Of course pretty soon the notes were all about his Halloween candy and I had to tell him he couldn’t have it until after he ate a good lunch, so even our super-cool secret spy club stuff was invaded by boring old Mommy. But I was spending time with him, making codes and passing notes.

Younger Son was feeling left alone by Older’s attention to his new project, so he started his own. (Usually they are inseparable, so in the rare times when Older finds something private to do Younger’s on his own for a while.) He set up a store for the day care kids. They had to take some magnet money off the white board and they could buy stickers, toys, or books. Miss S, my other after-schooler, was his assistant. The littles were thrilled.

After a little more play time and snack, I announced that it was circle time. Older told me, “I like being here to see what you’re doing all day.” (He needs to know everything that’s going on so he can be in charge.) I said, “Do you think it’s boring?” and he said, “No, I didn’t think you did circle time anymore.” I explained that I dropped it over the summer because it would never work with big kids around. He thought that was silly and asked for his mat.

Sure enough, I gave up on circle time after six interruptions by the big kids.

These are the moments I want to remind him of when he demands to know why I’m not home-schooling him.

So we went outside. I have one newer child, Miss M, who I’m still building trust with. So I take it easier on her than the other kids because 1. I’m not sure she trusts me yet and 2. she’s more sensitive to it than the others. You lay off these kids until you know they can handle it. Well today she had to handle it. She was hanging around the open gate letting the Tornado out, and because my hands were full of twins, I barked at her to “SHUT THE GATE and come HERE!” instead of using my calm and professional child care provider voice to ask her very nicely to please move.

I waited nervously to see how she would respond. It can go either way – take it and move on, or lose it and bawl. She didn’t just take it – she LOVED it. If I barked at her the same way I bark at the other kids, then she knows she’s in the club now. We had that little shift – she could tell I’m not treating her differently than the others somehow. And I know this was a very good thing – we’ve taken one more step in the subtle dance of trust.

Being present. It’s a beautiful thing.

Let me clarify for the person who is appalled that a provider is yelling at kids. I have many tones of voice that I use throughout the day, and sometimes, “barking” is one of them. It is necessary in situations where I may be up to my elbows in something and not able to reach a child, and my voice has to stop said child because my body can’t get there fast enough.

And it may be that I’m human and they’ve pushed me too far (one versus seven, remember?). As I work with kids I try to teach them that we all get angry, and there are lots of ways to deal with it, and when we’re done being angry we apologize and make it better. For more thoughts you can check out this post, but I’m sure I’ll be back on this topic again sometime.

Back in the house. It’s almost nap time and my boys are crazy-wrestling in the area where one of the twins has to calmly and quietly lay down to sleep. They won’t come out and I can feel my anger rising. Instead of losing it (that would be the opposite of my goal for the day), I used one of my teacher tricks. “I’m counting down from five and if you’re not out of there you get no more Halloween candy today!”

They were out by three.

They did calm down and were amusing themselves nicely for quiet time, but Miss S (who’s too old to nap) was needing some attention. She asked for an envelope for her artwork but didn’t like the first one I got. She asked for a folder, and I went and got that too.

Did she like that one? No.

But I didn’t lose it. I reminded myself that she takes her art very seriously and she was trying to be quiet. I took a breath and told her, “Use this one for now, and then I’ll get you another one later. I don’t want to wake up the baby.” She looked right in my eyes, nodded very seriously, and waited until later.

It doesn't just happen in "Ramona & Beezus"

How to while away a day off

The rest of the day flowed. I sat on the floor, I let kids crawl on me, we danced, we did puzzles and read books, we laughed at stupid kid jokes that make no sense. Younger and Miss S taped some poster boards together and drew a six-foot-long picture. And I was right there with them the whole way. You want poster boards? I’ll dig them out of the basement. You need tape? Right here on the shelf. Yes, I can help you pull off a piece of masking tape that’s long enough to fit without tangling it while singing “Five Little Ducks” as the twins jostle for space on my lap. I indulged them all day instead of trying to bend them to fit my plans. I remembered the words of my mentor Pam, who said, Just sit down. I did it, and it was awesome.

Being a Child Care Provider Rules

Seriously. I’m not trying to sugarcoat it – this job is challenging and frustrating. But today I’d like to sing the praises of running a home child care business. I met somebody who told me, “You must like the job if you’ve been doing it that long.” And I agreed. So here’s why I like it:

1. I work at home! What’s better than that? Pam warned me that if I wanted to do this, I’d have to be a homebody. I hadn’t considered myself one before, and in fact I’d been a commuter for years. So I admit I did get a little claustrophobic at first but now I don’t even notice it. In the winter when it’s cold and I don’t want to get a chill on my little bones, sometimes I don’t even leave the house for days.

2. I am my own boss. Nuff said.

3. I don’t take work home with me. OK, that sounds silly because half my house is dedicated to my work. But at 5:15, I’m done worrying. Of course I have to do a lot of cleaning and upkeep on my personal time, but it’s busywork. No worrying about meetings, projects, deadlines, office politics, who stole my stapler…

4. When my “co-workers” are acting like jerks – it’s because they’re 3.

5. And the flip side is that when they’re not acting like jerks, I get unconditional love.

6. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about how having this job makes my boys suffer. Oh, they have to share their mommy and their time and their space and I can’t give them enough undivided attention and they have all these kids around touching their stuff… blahbiddy bloo. The beautiful (and definitely unexpected) thing that has happened is how much they’ve learned. I cannot tell you how nice it is to see my boys around little ones and see how GREAT they are with them. They are kind and patient and know how to get everybody involved in something. They know how to set boundaries and recognize if someone needs help. They know how to identify their feelings and diffuse tension with laughter. They know that part of being a good person is caring for others. I can’t imagine any other job I could have that would teach them this much about life?

7. I am providing a service. Every day I help other families function. I used to sit at a desk and type on a computer, which was great work, and a hell of a lot more relaxing, and damn, the paychecks were nicer. But it didn’t give me any sense of purpose or personal fulfillment. It just gave me eye strain. And, as a friend told me, I am raising kids, and that is a very important job.

8. I am a better mother. Bottom line. There is so much I’ve learned on this job that I definitely wouldn’t have anywhere else, and I’m so so grateful every day for it. I learned how to relax and stop making such a huge deal out of everything. I can see what’s normal behavior – all the annoying, ridiculous, puzzling, unexplainable things that kids do that are actually normal behavior. And now I know that all kids do them, so I don’t have to worry that mine have brain damage. I can tell when something’s a real problem and amazingly, sometimes, I know what to do to fix it.

I have a friend (and client!) who says, “The universe will provide.” So thanks Universe, for giving me exactly the job I needed, just when I needed it.

The Pain of Growing Boys

I was just full of heartache today. Carol came to sub and I took the boys to the zoo as a last hurrah for the summer. I told them it was a thank you gift from me, because really, even though there were days when they drove me crazy, and in general they made my day more complicated, they basically came to work with me all summer.

And we didn’t have any major disasters. And they were nice to the day care kids to boot.

But the entire day I couldn’t help asking myself, how many more zoo trips do we have in us? And instead of drinking in the moments, I found myself trying to grasp them harder, which only made it hurt more when they passed.

The zoo has changed since we started coming here eight years ago and so have my boys (I hate when that happens – on both counts). Their bodies keep growing long and skinny. Younger’s top front tooth has been going crooked for a month, ready to fall out, and it reminds me of my friend Karen’s comment that once those baby teeth come out they never look the same.

We visited the animals we know well: the crazy cockatoo who squawks at Older. The camel who likes to eat grass. We all laughed and squealed when she licked Older’s hand. A woman told her boyfriend to move on because camels spit and I thought, you don’t know what you’re missing!

The dwarf horses and zebras that Younger loves to feed, and he always becomes the most gentle little man when he does this: “Come here horsey, I got some food for you.” The little monkey who will take corn out of your hand, but went after a spider this time (what could be cooler to see, if you’re a 9- or 7-year old boy?) The giraffe they let you feed from a tall platform, which is always a highlight. Have you ever seen the tongue on one of those things?

There’s a teeny weeny trolley that goes around and around in a small circle. The boys used to freak out to ride on this. Today it looked small, old, and sad, but Younger still wanted to ride it. Older was being so kind. He could tell Younger still loved it so instead of saying, “There’s no way in hell you’re getting me on that thing,” he just said he wanted to look at the alligator and headed off for its pen. Sometimes he is really awesome.

So Younger rode, and rang the bell and high-fived me as he passed. He had a huge smile on his face, and I tried to enjoy the moment with him instead of thinking about how next year, he will ridicule this silly little kid train. His innocence is fleeting. Will he find this much joy in something else as he grows and gets jaded?

There’s a small playground that they also still enjoy even though they are Big Grownup Boys. Younger swung as high as he could, trying to kick the tree branch, so I helped him cheat by pulling it toward his foot.

Older climbed like a monkey up the outside of the play structure, and got another big boy to follow. His little brother started trying to chase them but couldn’t come close, so the big boys chased him instead. Then the two pairs of boys, older and younger brothers, began an insanely fast and wild game of tag that went up and over everything in its path.

I laughed, thinking that when my guys were little I would’ve been appalled at their behavior. Boys need to run in packs, period. I thought about how different they are from the girls, who are already learning how to plot and plan, waiting for something they want and when the other child looks away they dash in to grab and claim it. Somehow we don’t notice that girls are being inappropriate when they do this, but the boys are always labeled when they let those big goofy boy bodies run wild.

I thought about how we view and treat men in our culture. When they’re boys they’re too crazy, as teens they’re too dangerous, and when they grow up they must magically transform into respectable men and good loving daddies. I saw two teenage boys petting the goats and thought, well somebody’s doing something right.

The other boys had to leave just as the game was getting good (or their parents recognized that at any moment it might spin out of control). Older Son was panting when he sat down and said, “It’s so fun to play with a new friend you know you’ll never see again.” That was actually a pretty profound statement, and made me feel less guilty for being artificially nice to people in public places. I asked him to explain a little more and he said, “It’s like they’re at their full friend power.” Boy logic, but yes, very true.

The zoo has a room full of those little rides you find outside of big box stores. They both insisted on riding this silly seat that goes up and around in a circle. We thought for sure that Older would be too big and crush it, but both boy and machine survived.

I had to get quarters for more rides so I headed to the entrance booth. There was a grandmotherly lady there who laughed when I yawned. I told her, “Every day they wear me out.” She replied, “That’s a good feeling.” I knew she got it. I think she misses that feeling.

I didn’t want to go but it was time. Pam texted to see what was up and I told her how sad I was feeling. I told her my zoo trips are numbered. In the way that she always comforts me, she replied, “The zoo gets bigger and different. They will always want to spend time with you. The zoo just changes. Zip lining….”

Where is The Love?

A good friend of ours has always been ambitious. For years he worked in high-tech, was very successful, made a lot of money, started his own business, etc. After a disagreement with his partners he decided to leave the company and took the summer off. His wife kept working so he became Mr. Mom. He was dedicated to it and took great care of his kids, and he adores his little girls. But he admitted to Dave that he really just didn’t feel fulfilled. He was happy to be with his kids but at some point he felt like saying, Just leave me alone!

Now when a father says this type of stuff, we agree with him. Naturally, he’s made for more and has ambitions that can’t be fulfilled staying home with the kids. Hmm. What happens when a mom feels this way?

I told Dave the fact is a great deal of child care is grunt work. No one wants to cook, clean, feed, pick up after, wash, and generally meet the constant needs of small tyrants. But still, that work is left to moms because, well, why? We bear them? Because dads’ roles in life are so much more important than ours? Because it is man’s work to be out providing for us? Because they need – and somehow deserve – something more in order to feel fulfilled?

Maybe it’s because a woman is better able to tolerate squashing her feelings and needs down somewhere in the pit of her stomach until her children are grown (or she forgets they’re there). Or we simply won’t accept a lower standard of care for our kids. When I told Pam I was afraid that if something happened to me that Dave wouldn’t be able to do it all, she calmly said, “They’d be fine. They’d be wild boys running around with dirty hair and ripped-up clothes, but they’d be fine.”

I remember when I first went back to work after having kids and was struggling with the balancing act. How I felt like I did most of the work most of the time, but what I heard from friends and relatives was, “What a great dad Dave is! He does SO much!” Really? So howcome I’m not a GREAT mom because I do SO much!?

As usual I called Pam for help. What she said was so true that I wrote it on a scrap of paper (and it was exactly where I’d left it the last time I went to look at it). She said, “There is an acceptance of dad for who he is – mom doesn’t get that.” Meaning, acceptance for who she is. What if she hates cooking and cleaning too?

So it’s OK for dad to say “Just leave me alone!” when he comes home from being out at work all day. Let me be clear, I’m not bashing my husband or dads in general. I adore my husband and he is a wonderful man, father, and partner.

What I’m getting at is this:  it’s assumed that mom will do most of the child care and if she doesn’t she’s negligent. While if dad occasionally folds the laundry on top of his quest for personal fulfillment outside the home, he’s seen as a Really Great SuperDad.

And I hope that the dads may understand why, when they come home looking for a little love and attention, that after a long day of being alone with the kids, their wife might say…

…wait for it…

“Just leave me alone!”