Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When It's Time to Move On and Move Some Things Out

There’s something about summertime that causes me to contemplate life’s transitions. Whether it is triggered by the last child moving up to middle school, the last child graduating, or the realization that they’re really not coming back (except for brief visits), summer is the time when our new life stage hits me. Over the years, it is during this season that I have evaluated why there are still baby toys still in my sixth-grader’s closet, or more recently, why a bathroom that my boys shared in their youth still harbored rubber duckies and water pistols while they were away at college. When there is insufficient storage space for current interests because the closets are stuffed with relics of the past, it’s time to do something about it.

Women’s magazines are full of articles about purging excess stuff, de-cluttering, organizing, and strategies for ‘the best garage sale ever.’ They admonish us to make three piles: things to keep, things to sell or give away, and things to be tossed in the trash. Children who are still in the household can make their own decisions about things that should be parted with, and mine hosted some lucrative garage sales along the way. But I’ve never seen a magazine article that acknowledges the real emotion – even the grieving – that comes with trying to dispose of things that were once ever-so-meaningful to our children, but will never be played with by them again.

The three-pile strategy works for me – for a while. Some stuff is just stuff. It’s not too hard for me to toss what is really trash, and I can generally sort out the few items I’d definitely like to keep for future grandchildren. But that strategy breaks down when I run into a patch of things I’ve imbued with precious mom memories. Some things, either singly or as a group, trigger powerful, sweet remembrances of life stages that will be no more. When I find myself sitting in a sea of childhood things and paralyzed by my task, here’s a strategy that has helped me honor my emotions, and yet move on.

Instead of lumping things that should be given away into one pile, I try to imagine who would really enjoy the things that I’ve imbued with such maternal value. Is it the child down the street, a favorite pre-school or elementary school teacher, or a charity that serves kids? By picturing a specific, happy new end-user of the items in question, I can free myself to let go and become a cheerful giver.

Of course, identifying just the right receiver for each item and delivering it to them is much more time consuming than putting everything out on the porch for the next charity pick-up in the neighborhood. Certainly it involves many more piles, some research to determine whether a particular charity you have in mind can actually accept what you have to offer, and “inefficient” trips hither and yon, sometimes for a single item. But it makes me smile when I can share something that has been precious to me with a young mom, infuse a classroom with books and games appropriate for indoor recess use, or introduce new resources to a child care setting.

Well, that’s a strategy that helps me move things out of the house, so I can move forward. What works for you? Tell us in the comments below.

Carol Kaemmerer

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Through a Child's Eyes

There are over one billion videos on YouTube and not a day goes by, it seems, when a friend doesn’t send me a link to some new, kooky video I “have to see!”

Well, I’m sorry to do this, but here's a video you have to see! It’s just five minutes long and it describes the lessons learned by a man named Ric Elias as he was experiencing his plane crashing.

The most important lesson he learned, he says, was to strive to be the best parent he could be.  But what does it mean to be the best parent you can be?  How does one go from a good parent to a great parent to the best parent?

Like most Edina parents, I provide for my children.  I push them to succeed at school, to give it their best in basketball and figure skating, to practice their musical instruments, to be nice every chance they can get.  I ask repeatedly:  “Have you done all your homework?”  “Brushed your teeth?”  “Said a prayer?”  I have a feeling, though, that doing those things makes me a good parent—even a great parent—but not the best parent. 

It’s when I try to see the world through their eyes—not as I want them to see it or experience it—that I begin to sense that I am being the best parent I can be. When I try to feel their fear, their aloneness, their wonder, their unbearable lightness of being a child.

For a minute, maybe two, out of the 1,440 in a day, I do feel the world as my children feel it.  I feel the fear they must so often feel living in the world with so much swirling all around them every day. The wonder of knowing so many things for the first time. The aloneness they must feel sometimes as they sense having so little control, so little say, being so completely dependent on two adults who, I admit, sometimes scare them with their anger and disappointment at the day’s frustrations.

And once in a while, in the still of the moment, when time seems to stop, I sense their knowing that, at their core, they realize that without my wife and me, they would feel they have no one in this world.  And that’s a knowing that’s terribly difficult to accept.  An honest truth that’s heavy to bear.

Being a great parent is ensuring the homework is done, the teeth are brushed, the clothes put away and the prayer said. 

Being the best parent is striving to see the world through their eyes.  Both the wonder and the fear.  The excitement and the sadness.  The simplicity and the complexity.

For only when we see through our child’s eyes can we ever really inspire our child’s imagination, touch our child’s heart, move our child’s soul.  And when we do those things, we are doing what Ric Elias encourages us to do: above all else in our lives, to be the best parents we can be.

Chris Deets

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Babysitting Lessons

The word "babysitter" is a misnomer. The first time a young person takes on any simple childcare duties, it is probably not with an infant, and rarely involves sitting. Typically, playing with a child--getting to know them, the family and routines--is a gradual process. With age and experience come more responsibilities. A reliable and enthusiastic babysitter is treasured forever by children and parents.

My 14-year-old daughter is starting to do some regular sitting, and is learning much about young children. Our neighbor’s young girls love costumes, dramatic play and doing crafts. An energetic little boy celebrates his potty training success while running around buck naked. Together, they run a successful lemonade stand on a hot afternoon. 

Edina High School offers a child psychology class that attempts to teach parental responsibility with the "pretend baby" exercise. To simulate infant care, each student takes home a baby doll for a night. It must be under 24/7 watch and handled with kid gloves. No tossing the doll in the back hall with the backpack, or ignoring it while you go to the movies with friends. There is an electronic device in the doll that goes off every three hours during the night as a wake-up feeding cry. The student must get up and give the "baby" attention.  As teenagers tend to be egocentric, the lesson is quick about the sacrifices and responsibilities of having a child. This experience might also drive the point home about avoiding teenage pregnancy.
I have run into a couple of college students this summer who are nannies. “I can’t believe how much work it is.” “I am exhausted after just twenty hours a week.” I smile empathetically and nod. 

On a recent walk with two friends, as we have college students now, we constructed lesson plans of our own. “Don’t give those teenagers a baby doll…give them a bratty 13-year-old who slams their door, tells you they hate you, and won’t pick up their room.”  I chime in: “How about a three-year-old who has a meltdown at the grocery store, kicking and screaming as others glare at you?” My other friend says: "Or the baby who doesn’t sleep through the night for six months.”  “Or the seven year old who throws up on the airplane.”  We laugh hard. But seriously, we think babysitting teaches great life lessons about the awesome task of raising children. We know we aren’t ready to be grandparents for a good long while. 

Barb Rothmeier