We’ve fully entered Childhood Fear territory.

Lately, Ryan’s biggest fear has been shadows. The fears are strongest at night and when he’s in an unfamiliar place, so naturally, the shadow fear first came to the surface during our vacation to Disney World earlier this month.

It’s a common and understandable fear for a kid his age, especially for one with an imagination as vibrant as his. He’s smart enough to know how a shadow is formed. After all, he’s seen the Daniel Tiger episode about shadows, and Daniel Tiger is the one who teaches him about all the important things in life. But he forgets all of Daniel’s lessons when things get dark, the shadows get big and he starts to imagine they’re all going to come to life and come after him.

I try not to minimize his feelings by telling him there’s nothing to be scared of. After all, I’m a grown woman and the teeniest of spiders makes me shriek. Once I gather up every last bit of courage I have to kill Itty Bitty Spider, I still find myself shuddering every few minutes for the next hour, assuming every speck of dirt I see out of the corner of my eye is one of the dead guy’s friends coming to avenge his death.

I logically KNOW those tiny things can’t really hurt me. I’m still scared though, and at 31 years old, I have to assume I always will be.

So I don’t talk Ryan out of being afraid with throwaway lines like “there’s nothing to be scared of” or “dude, they’re just shadows.” He’s afraid and if telling him not to be was all it took to cure it, he wouldn’t be scared in the first place.

I never know if I’m doing this stuff the right way, though. These things always seem to start at the end of a long day, when you’re exhausted yourself and all you want is a glass of wine and the ability to prop your feet up for 10 full minutes. Right at that moment is when the sweet, quiet voice confides a fear and you have to think fast.

You have to be creative, age appropriate and confident in your answer. At 8 p.m. (I don’t know about anyone else, but I peak at noon and go downhill from there.) You do the best you can, knowing you’ll later think of a million ways you could have handled it better. Of course you hope you help them conquer their fear, but you really hope you don’t somehow accidentally make it worse.

On the first night in our hotel room in Florida, the shadow fear came out in full force. After a full day of traveling and walking, I dug deep and pulled out this:

I only let nice shadows in your roomMommy is the boss, and I do NOT let mean shadows in. Only the nicest shadows, the ones I like best, to keep you company. (As a bonus, it’s another way to drive home the important point that Mommy is The Boss. He could use a few reminders of that here and there.)

Furthermore, I told him it was the shadows’ bedtime, too. We used our stern voices to the remind the shadows that it’s time to go to sleep. We waited for a minute, then listened … and we swore we could hear them start to snore.

Ryan relaxed and fell asleep as I closed the bedroom door behind me.

I wondered whether I had said the right things; I hoped his night wouldn’t be full of fear or, worse, nightmares.

The next morning, Ryan came out of his room, shut the door and walked over to me.

He gave me a big hug and said, “Thank you, Mommy. Thank you for helping me with the shadows when I was going to bed.”

It’s funny how you can feel like you’re struggling, how you can question your methods or wish you’d had more time to think so you could have chosen better words … and then your child tells you himself that you’re doing ok.

Playing among the shadows.

Playing among the shadows.

Naturally, one home run doesn’t necessarily make the fear go away. We talked about nice shadows and lectured them to go to bed every night for the whole week we were in Florida. But it took less convincing each night before he would calm down; he even seemed to look forward to telling the shadows to go to bed before drifting off himself.

Since we’ve been back home, the shadow fear has eased. We’re still talking about shadows, but he continues to be more easily consoled every day.

I know more fears are right around the corner. Whatever they are, I hope I’ll be able to think fast and handle them with confidence.

As long as it’s not spiders. I’ll let Mike handle that one.

Have you dealt with childhood fears? Share your experiences in the comments below!

From the beginning, Ryan has been a little late for a lot of the big milestones.

He missed his due date by 10 full days. He didn’t want to hold his own bottle for The Longest Time. He crawled late. His words came slowly. He took his tentative first steps around a year old, but dude didn’t legit walk across a room on his own until he was a solid 15 months old.

It has always been my instinct to not push him. I could tell very early on that he was the sort of kid that didn’t do something until he was confident he could do it just right. When he was ready for the next level, he made it clear.

The one thing I pushed – and have always slightly regretted – was swim lessons.

As a new mom in Arizona, where child drownings are a weekly news item during the hot months, I felt pressure to teach Ryan early on how to handle himself in water. I hoped he would be one of those babies who naturally loved the water, one of those kids who swam and splashed with an ease and confidence I never mastered myself.

Knowing he is a naturally cautious kid, I waited until he was nineteen months old (practically ancient to begin swim instruction in Arizona) before signing him up for weekly lessons.

It was a disaster.

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Every Saturday morninghe screamed his way through the 30-minute swim lesson.

Don’t worry,” the swim parent veterans told me. “Mine screamed for the first six weeks; then all of a sudden, he loved it!!”

I so wanted that moment where it all clicked. I didn’t want to end the lessons on a bad note. I wanted him to feel the pride that rushes through you when you conquer a fear, when you go from this-is-too-hard to holy-crap-I-can-do-this.

So I ignored the intuitive voice inside of me that was screaming ”HE’S NOT READY!” We powered through and kept taking him week after week.

For four LONG months.

Eventually, enough was enough. We had to throw in the (wet) towel and pray we hadn’t done permanent damage, that we hadn’t actually created a lifelong fear of water.

Since those lessons, I have been extra sensitive to his aversion to large water. I was not going to push him into it ever again. Over the next two years, Ryan went into a swimming pool exactly one time (it took 45 minutes and one very patient uncle to accomplish this), and he cautiously splashed his feet at the very edge of the ocean on one beach vacation (after spending the first five days of said vacation working up the courage to do so).

I sat back and waited. He would let me know when he was ready.

Last week, he became ready.

We went on a weeklong trip to Disney World (!!!!!) with my entire family (!!!!!), and stayed at a resort that happens to have a pretty sweet pool.

When we walked into the resort on the first day and passed by the pool, Ryan’s face lit up. He stopped in his tracks, grabbed my hand, looked deep into my eyes and pleaded, “Mommy, can I go in the pool?? PLEASE. I want to go in the pool!

I blinked at him for a second before I managed to mumble something about maybe tomorrow. Surely he wasn’t actually ready, and I wasn’t about to start such an awesome trip on a potentially disastrous note.

On Day 2 of our trip, after several hours at the Magic Kingdom and a whole lot of “Can we go back to the hotel and swim in the pool? PLEASE?!“, we shrugged our shoulders, pulled on his swim trunks and followed his lead.

Kid led us straight into the pool.

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After about five minutes, dude was jumping off the side.

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It’s a reminder to myself that my intuition is among the very best of my parenting tools. Ryan doesn’t need me to be the person who nudges him before he’s ready because I think he should be doing this or it’s time for him to do that.

He needs me to be the person who encourages him to try new things but backs off when I see that it’s too much for him. He needs me to know that he’ll always get there eventually, in his own way and in his own time.

One year ago today, our little family packed up and moved home.

This may be shocking, but I’m not going to get all sentimental about it. I’ve grabbed deep into my heart and thrown its words onto my computer screen a whole lot in the past year (here and here and here and here and here, for example).

Enough of that.

Instead, I want to spend the day helping the next generation of cross-country movers. Thus, with all my wisdom and experience, I present you with…

BigMove

How to Call Your New Town “Home” in Just 6 Easy Steps

Step 1. Locate the necessities. This means a grocery store and a Target. That’s really all you need to survive the first month or two. If you can get to the grocery store and Target, you can live the good life. When you start feeling a little more sassy, figure out two different routes to each store. It makes you feel like a local when you think to yourself, “Hmm, which way shall I travel to Target today?”

Step 2. Eat local. Good food is vital for the soul. It calms the stress. When Mike and I move to a new area, we are on an immediate mission to locate the following:

  • A solid Chinese takeout spot (must be close and fast)
  • A go-to pizza joint (can be delivery or takeout, as long as it’s roll-your-eyes-with-the-first-bite good)
  • A local brewery (great beer is a must; good food is a big-time bonus)
  • Authentic Mexican food (nearly – but not totally - impossible on the East Coast)
  • A legit old-fashioned diner (cuz yeah)

Step 3. Subscribe to the local newspaper. Yes, I know: The what? Who reads a newspaper anymore?! Uh, people who are cool, that’s who. Mike and I both grew up in newspaper homes, we started our careers as newspaper reporters, and I’m telling you. There is no better way to learn about a new community than to read that community’s newspaper. After a year in this state, I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the politics of the area, I’m totally pissed about certain funding issues, and I’m excited to explore a couple of up-and-coming areas. All thanks to the newspaper.

Step 4. Drive around. A lot. When we were house-hunting, we drove around a ton. If we saw a “for sale” sign in a cute neighborhood, we wrote down the address and looked it up. All the driving and online research eventually comes together and you end up with a solid understanding of the general neighborhoods and areas that appeal to you.

Step 5. Meet your neighbors. When you move into your new home, go out of your way to chat with the folks you see around you. Developing a good relationship with your neighbors quickly makes your house feel like a home.

Step 6. Embrace what makes your town special. In Phoenix, we embraced the natural landscape (hiking! amazing sunsets! year-round sun!). In Bethlehem, we embrace history. This town is the site of America’s first decorated Christmas tree. (How fun is that?!) It’s an old steel town, which this Cleveland girl loves, and it has reinvented itself into a city full of art and music and opportunity, all while never forgetting its roots.

I think that last one is the most important. You have to be curious. You have to seek out the positive and celebrate it, take pride in it. Every place is special; it’s up to you to figure out why.

Oh ALRIGHT, I have to get a little sentimental. Just for a second. Because here’s the thing. When we were in the middle of Moving Insanity, when we’d been here for a month and Mike still hadn’t landed a full-time job, I stressed and I worried and I stressed some more. Lots of folks told me to try not to dwell on all those ifs. That one day soon, everything would fall into place and I’d be able to look back and wish I hadn’t stressed so much.

Well, everything did fall into place. Beautifully, actually. But you know what? If given the chance, I wouldn’t go back and take all that stress away from myself. Because what I felt was honest and real and, frankly, it was warranted. It was a really freaking stressful time in our lives. Having felt that stress, having given up a place I truly loved with a hope and a prayer that I would love the new place at least half as much, having so much change and so much uncertainty surround us all at once … it has made me appreciate where we are today.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think to myself how much I love our home. Every single morning that I drive Ryan through our neighborhood to his preschool, I marvel at the loveliness of our town.

I feel lucky that things worked out so perfectly. Because it might not have. That’s a fact. The past year has been the ultimate crash course in How to Appreciate the Little Things.

We know we made the right decision. Knowing it was the right decision doesn’t erase any sadness or stress we felt in the process. It just makes us that much more thankful to be in the place we’re in now. One year later. Settled, content and confidently calling this place home.

The question drifted up from behind me.

Is he an only child?

It was a softly spoken question, probably not meant for me.

I kept watching my son as he danced around and around the padded mats of the tumbling center, the site of a weekly class that has taught him how to do somersaults, how to balance on a beam, and – best of all – how to follow a few simple class rules.

There was that question again; a little louder this time.

Your son – is he an only child?

I turned, expecting to see a couple of parents engaged in a conversation that didn’t involve me. Instead, I met eyes with a middle-aged man who was looking straight at me. He pointedly looked at Ryan and then back at me.

Oh. Yes, he is,” I said.

I mentally reviewed the previous 30 minutes at warp speed. Let’s see … Ryan had needed lots of prodding to get his shoes and socks off … ten minutes into class, he came running over to me, yelling about how he had to go on the potty, only to take a small sip from my water bottle and decide that he, in fact, did not have to go on the potty … he had a hard time taking turns on the trampoline (seriously, why was that new girl going so freaking slow?!) … as a result, he had a bit of a meltdown in which he yelled, “I need my mommy!” … after a few minutes of talking about his feelings (and a trip to the potty – hooray!), he rejoined his class … and since then, he’s been so good!

Well, yes, he’s been bouncing off the walls, the floor, the everything, as he tries to listen to the coach’s directions, but that’s cuz dude’s got spirit.

The man nodded at me. “Yeah,” he said softly.

I glanced at Ryan for a moment before turning back to the man. It’s not the first time someone has asked me that same question. I opened my mouth to ask him how he knew, but the words didn’t come out.

Maybe I didn’t want to know.

Are you a parent?” I asked instead.

He nodded and pointed toward the back of the tumbling center.

Oh. The back of the center. The older kids. The school-aged kids. The ones who, more often than not, train most of the day and are home-schooled at night. The ones who take your breath away with their talent.

He singled out his daughter, a six-year-old girl in a bright orange leotard that sparkled like her smile when she caught her dad watching her.

The kids on her team, he told me, are so disciplined. No really, he told me, you have no idea. His daughter would pick grilled salmon over McDonald’s chicken nuggets for dinner any night of the week. If you offered her candy, she would look at you sternly and tell you she could have just one.

“Is she your only child,” I asked innocently. (He asked me, so maybe it’s just how he strikes up conversation at the tumbling center, yes?)

Oh, lord no,” he laughed. She’s the youngest of four. The hardest worker, the most focused, the most dedicated of all of them, he said.

Ryan’s class ended. I watched as he faced off with his coach over the issue of who should open the gate to release all the kids to their parents.

Nice talking to you,” I told the father.

Have a good one,” he said back.

As I stood watching Ryan struggle to pull his socks and shoes back on, as I offered to help him but was refused, I looked at him and tried to see what that father saw.

Does he look like an only child? Does he act like an only child?

I thought about the personality traits that are stereotypically associated with only children. They are often (unfairly) considered to be selfish, maladjusted, spoiled.

I thought back through Ryan’s behavior during class. I tried to analyze it from an outsider’s perspective. From the perspective of a father of four whose daughter was so disciplined that she had a pull-up bar hanging from the doorway of her childhood bedroom, barbells lined up next to her bed.

I had seen the way Ryan tried so hard to stay in line and take turns, how he’d struggle to control his passion and his energy but how they got the best of him from time to time.

I thought about how I wished he never had to control that energetic part of him. The most carefree, wonderful part of him. I thought about how I wished he could set it free, that he could always simply be himself.

Nope, I couldn’t see what that stranger saw, and I wasn’t going to waste another second looking for it. Because I see my son for who he truly is, and who he is has nothing to do with the lack of a baby sibling at home.

tumbling

I crouched down next to him, my little boy who was working so hard to pull that sock over all five toes. And I told him how proud I was of him. I told him I was proud of the way he’d used his words to describe his frustration during class, that I had been so impressed watching him on the balance beam, and that he was doing such a great job pulling those socks on all by himself.

Thanks, Mommy,” he said.

Then he finally let me help him fix the sock. He pulled his shoe on, took my hand and we walked out together.

As we pushed open the door and stepped into the fresh air, I realized something. The reason I hadn’t asked that father how he’d known Ryan was an only child wasn’t because I was afraid of his answer.

I didn’t ask because it simply didn’t matter to me what he saw.

I thought I had more time.

Looking back, I probably took it for granted.

It’s just that … I didn’t think it would be gone so soon.

Gulp.

Ryan has given up his nap.

It happened fairly gradually. First he was napping every day or almost every day … then he was napping most days … then every couple of days … and now he’s going two weeks or more without a nap.

I’ve been in a bit of denial about it. I really thought he was the sort of kid who would come home from a long morning at kindergarten and take a nap. Dude has been a solid sleeper virtually since the night of his birth. We have always cherished this about him. How many times have we said, “Thank GOD he’s a good sleeper…”? Too many to count.

A sweet thing of the past.

A sweet thing of the past.

But this week, when I sat down and really tried to remember the last time he napped (and had no idea), it was time to accept the truth: The nap is no longer a given. It is, at best, an occasional luxury.

In lieu of the nap, my sanity requires that he have at least one hour of quiet time alone in his room every day. Frankly, his sanity requires it, too. He and I far too much alike to spend every single waking hour together without getting on each other’s nerves.

Once in a while, if he’s feeling under the weather or is worn down for some reason, he’ll fall asleep during that quiet time. Usually, however, I hear him bouncing off the walls for the full hour, opening his door approximately every 7 minutes to call down to me and ask whether quiet time is over yet. (We’re still working on the definition of “quiet.”)

I’m trying to look at the positives. Such as, when someone invites us to a party that starts at 1 p.m., we don’t have to cringe at the thought of Ryan missing his nap for it. There is a lot to be said for that.

Even so … it’s sad. It’s one of the very last things that reminds me of his babyhood. Lately, it has felt like he is growing up at warp speed. He’s very close to not needing any help getting dressed or undressed. He carries his dirty dishes to the sink. He can peel his own banana. He takes off his own shoes and puts them away right where they belong.

shoes

It seems like he needs us a little less each day. In so many ways, I love that. (Such as when I say, “You have to pee? Go ahead!“) But it’s bittersweet to see such tangible evidence of the fact that my baby really isn’t a baby anymore.

Dang, now need a nap.

Ryan,

When I was thinking about what I wanted to say to you on the cusp of your official Three and a Half Years Old status, I read back through all the other birthday and half-birthday letters I’ve written you.

There is a theme to the words I use to describe you: Smart, passionate and sweet.

Smart… In the past six months, the depth of your intelligence has continued to surprise me. It’s not just that you know the name of every dinosaur or that you remember minute details from events I’ve long since forgotten. It’s also the way you use language so precisely. Like the time last week when our cable inexplicably went out; I cheered when it came back on and discovered we hadn’t lost our recorded shows. You cheerfully yelled out, “Well, it sounds like it’s working again!”

You unexpectedly throw around knowledge we didn’t know you had. Like one recent morning when we were discussing what we’d dreamt about the night before. I told you I dreamt of flying pigs and you scoffed at me. “Pigs don’t fly, Mommy. Pelicans fly. They swoop down to the water and scoop up fish to eat. They like puffer fish.” Well, ok then. Consider me schooled. You also pretended to refuse to learn our address for a school project until one day when you randomly grinned and shouted it out. (You’re not just smart; you’re like your mama — a perfectionist. You don’t like to play your cards until you know you’ve got a winning hand.)

Passionate… I also like to call you tenacious. You know what you like, you know what you want, and you go after it — no matter who or what is in your way. At three-and-a-half years old, yeah, this can be a little frustrating for your parents. Obviously you can’t have everything your little preschool heart desires.

But kiddo, this is one of my favorite qualities about you because I just know this trait will lead you to success in your life, whatever “success” means for you. When you like something, you’re all in and you want to learn everything you can about it. When you want something, “no” is unacceptable. It may cause us to butt heads sometimes, but know that it is something I truly respect in you.

Sweet… Oh Ryan, you are the sweetest being I know. No matter what is happening or how frustrated you are with me, if I ask you for a hug or a kiss, you deliver. We end every disagreement with a hug. We heal every stubbed toe with a kiss. You told me the other day that I’m your best friend. When you apologize for something, you look me straight in the eye and say, “Mommy, I am SOOOOO sorry.” It melts me every time (see also: smart).

I call you The Little Emotional Barometer of our family. If you see that you’re getting on my nerves, you say to me, “Mommy, don’t get frustrated. I need to see a happy face!“ If we’re stressed or upset, you feel it and act out accordingly. If we’re content and happy, so too are you. You’re an old soul.

I need to add another characteristic to describe you now: Creative. Your imagination and creativity has flourished in the past six months. Watching you play and act out TV skits or create little random scenes with your toys has been one of the most unexpectedly wonderful parts of being your mom. It is so amazing to see how your mind works, to watch you take things you see in real life and apply them to play. As an admittedly uncreative person myself, I hope I can find ways to help you foster and grow this quality because I find it so very magnetic.

Newborn vs. 3-1/2 years old

Newborn vs. 3-1/2 years old

I’ve written a lot about you over the past three and a half years. Sorry about that. That’s the hazard of being born to parents who make their living with words. So if one day, you go back and read all those words; if you read about the times I was frustrated or worried or stressed out about some particular phase you were going through, remember this: the hard moments were expected and they were fleeting. It’s supposed to be challenging to raise a child. We knew that going in, and we still chose it. And we made that decision before we even knew you and fell in love with you.

What I’m saying is that you are so very worth it. Even on the days when your three-year-old antics make me nuts, I miss you while you’re upstairs napping or having quiet time. Now that I have you, I could never feel complete without you.

You make me so proud. Every single day.

I love you so-so-so-so much.

Happy half birthday.

Mom

 

******

Previous birthday letters to Ryan:

Six months.

One year.

1.5 years.

Two years.

2.5 years.

Three years.

It was time to pull down the St. Patrick’s Day window clings. However, knowing how much time Ryan had spent carefully arranging them and how attached he seemed to be to them, I knew I’d better be ready to replace them with something equally as awe-inspiring.

After scouring Pinterest and collecting some ideas, I was armed and ready for the following conversation:

Me: Hey, buddy, can you help me get all these leprechauns off the windows?

Ryan: NOOOOOOO! I WIKE THOSE!

Me: We’re going to make a colorful Easter egg to put up instead.

Ryan: An Easter egg? Oh, ok!

 

eastersensoryart

What you need:

I used wax paper, water-based kids paint and glitter glue. (Also, ribbon and a hole puncher for the last step at the end.)

Two pieces of wax paper, water-based kids’ paint and glitter glue. (Also, ribbon and a hole puncher – or some other hanging method – for the last step.)

I got the idea from Deborah at Teach Preschool who used a similar technique to make fall leaves. She mixed her paint with regular Elmer’s glue, which for some reason I do not have. Dollar Store glitter glue to the rescue!

Squeeze small amounts of paint and glitter glue onto the first piece of wax paper. (The glue will ultimately help seal the two pieces of paper.)

Squeeze small amounts of paint and glitter glue onto the first piece of wax paper. (The glue will ultimately help seal the two pieces of paper.)

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Place the second piece of wax paper on top and let the kid smoosh/spread the paint with his hand.

Ryan didn’t play with it for very long, but I left it on the table and every now and then, he’d walk past it and smoosh the paint out a little more.

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Let the paint dry. (We used quite a bit of paint, so ours had to dry over night.)

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Cut around the edges of the painted area to create an egg shape.

It looked sort of dull at this point; I was thinking maybe the project was a bust until I held it up to the window.

To hang, I punched a hole at the top and hung with a ribbon. If I'd had one of those suction cup/hook window hangers, I would have used that instead.

To hang, I punched a hole at the top and tied it around the latches with a ribbon. If I’d had one of those suction cup/hook window hangers, I would have used that instead.

I like that this activity that can be easily adapted to any season or holiday. Fireworks for the Fourth of July, pumpkins for Halloween, or hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Has anyone else started working on Easter crafts? I’m always looking for new ideas, so throw your suggestions my way; leave links to your blog posts or Pinterest boards in the comment section.

(P.S. For more info on the benefits of sensory play and sensory activity suggestions, read this post.)

I’ve been thinking lately about whether or not I’m a good mom; or more specifically, what makes any of us good parents.

I think most parents have doubts from time to time. You have a particularly bad day ( … week … month …? ) and you fall onto your couch at night wondering what on Earth you were yelling about all day. Or maybe more importantly, why you couldn’t get your child to follow a simple command. Any simple command.

You vent to your spouse or your mom or a friend and they tell you what you need to hear: You’re a good mom. You’re doing your best. This is a hard age. But you’re doing a good job.

Thanks, but … based on what?

Ok, take me for example. A former DINK who planned her pregnancy. I saved up for the maternity leave and for anything my child might need, I researched all the safest baby gear, I toured daycares — and turned my nose up at a few. When Ryan got sick, I skipped work to care for him. When he outgrew clothes, I bought him more. As he continues to grow, whatever he needs, he receives. (As a bonus for him, he gets a lot of “wants,” too.)

When we saw he struggled at a full-time daycare, I chose to freeze-frame my career so he could have a parent at home. I take him to and from preschool, I take him to tumbling classes, I take him on play dates. I fill up the kitchen sink every day so he can splash in it. I am forever vacuuming up rice or shredded paper from whatever random activity I’ve conjured up for him.

In other words, I planned for this child, I wanted this child. It was always my intent to be a good mother. I’m trying to be a good momwant to be a good mom. Furthermore, I have the means to be a good mom. Does that automatically mean I actually am one?

If you really care about your parenting performance, if you think about it every day — yet, you fall short — are you still a good mom? Does wanting it badly enough count as success?

Let’s say you’re at a playground and you see a sweet little girl who takes turns, who politely says hello to her “new friends,” who seems the perfect mix of personable and kind and confident. Do you glance over at her beaming mother and think, “Yep, she’s a REALLY good mom…“?

Now let’s say you see a boy run wildly across the parking lot as his mom yells after him, “Hey, we hold hands in the parking lot!!” You see him run over to a slide and push that sweet little girl out of the way because he couldn’t possibly stand to wait his turn. What do you think about his mother?

If you try your hardest to do everything right, yet your kid is the one who is still getting timeouts every day at school; if you read book after book about only children and spirited children and children with this/that; if you ask for advice and take it and you still feel like you’re barely treading water … are you a good parent?

How much of it is intention? How much is actual results?

I am not writing this for reassurances that I am any good at this. If I look deep inside, I know that overall, yes, I am a good mom. Some days I’m exceptional; some days I totally suck. But in the grand scheme, over time, I believe I average out to good.

Bribed him with a TV show to take this selfie. Not my best parenting moment (but also not my worst).

Bribed him with a TV show to take this selfie. Not my best parenting moment (also not my worst).

But when we look at someone else’s parenting and the behavior of someone else’s child, what do we think? Maybe if we know the parent and know their particular struggles, we appreciate their effort more than the random parent of the random wild child at the playground that makes us cringe.

My kid has been both the sweet, kind kid and the wild, pushy kid. I have beamed in pride at my child’s model behavior and I have cringed while attempting to look semi in control as my child goes nuclear. For a while, we were mostly doing the latter. Lately, we’ve starting having more successes and it’s got me wondering about all this. About how we perceive parenthood and how much of a child’s behavior is normal development, how much is natural temperament and how much of it is mom-and-dad-screwed-up.

Personally, I think I would define a good parent as one who is involved. There are many things we have control over and many more that we do not. But we can’t pretend to have control over a single thing if we’re not paying attention.

By that definition, I’m certainly a good parent (passed my own test, boom!). But it’s such a subjective topic that I suspect everyone has their own definition. I’m interested in what other parents think, but I’m even more curious as to what non-parents think. So, tell me …

What do you think makes a good parent?

Ryan is solidly in the middle of a classic Mommy Phase.

It was like one day he didn’t care what the hell I was up to and the next day, he was my little shadow, incessantly asking me where I was going, what I was doing and whether or not I would leave without him.

Not only does he dread the idea that I might leave the house without him (which I do at least two nights per week for freelance work and which leaves him in tears each time), he also breaks down when I drop him off at preschool, screaming “But I want to go with youuuuuu!!!” as his teacher hauls him away from me.

Even more frustrating is his aversion to me being out of his sight for more than four seconds. Like, say, to use the bathroom. Or move the laundry from the washer to the dryer or put something away or start to prep dinner or, or, or.

If he is sitting in the living room and I’m sitting in the dining room – within his line of sight, mind you – he calls over to me to say hi and ask me what I’m doing. EVERY THREE MINUTES.

This has made me feel a variety of ways:

1. Flattered. I admit it. The fact that the dude likes me so much that he misses me even when I’m a mere five yards away from him makes me feel a teensy bit warm and fuzzy.

2. Guilty. I hate when he refuses to allow Mike to do something for him or with him, yelling “I don’t want you! I want Mommy!” Ryan has been through Daddy Phases and has said similar words to me; it stings no matter how much you tell yourself it has truly nothing to do with you and that he will outgrow it in a matter of days or weeks.

3. Annoyed. I need my personal space and the kid is all up in it. If I say I’m running upstairs for a minute to grab a load of laundry, you do not need to follow me to make sure I’m doing what I say I’m doing. I promise you, I’m not throwing a giant Dinosaur Party without you and I’m not sneaking out the window for a secret rendezvous with Daddy. I’m just grabbing the laundry. That is as exciting as Mommy gets these days.

I should bookmark this post because I know one day, sooner than I expect, he’ll want very little to do with me. When he begs me to drop him off at the corner of his friend’s street – rather than right in front of the house – I’ll have to remind him how once upon a time, he was so proud to call me his Mommy, that all he wished for was to be near me.

So I try to soak up those few minutes early in the morning when he crawls into bed with me, snuggles up close and raises his sweet little face right up to mine to yell something like, “Wake up, Mommy! Come on, let’s go play!

mommy&ryan

Mama’s boy.

I know how fleeting each childhood stage is. I know how quickly they grow. Yet I would like to be able to pee without someone trying to body-slam the door down in an effort to get to me.

This morning, he was sitting in the living room; I was in the kitchen. After asking me where I was and what I was doing three times in the span of five minutes, I finally shouted back, “WHY do you keep asking me that?!

His response: “I just reawwy wuv you, Mommy.

Oh. Never mind then. Mommy Phase Insanity is worth it if it means hearing things like that.

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preschool homework

As the parent of a preschooler, I have started receiving homework assignments.

We’re not yet at the point where I’m sitting at the kitchen table, desperately trying to re-learn math I haven’t used in 20 years. That is – I hope – still a few years off. However, our most recent “assignments” have felt more like “chores.”

Assignment #1: Bring in a plain T-shirt for a school art project.

Ok, simple enough. Except the school newsletter said it MUST NOT be 100 percent cotton. And then on the next line, it said it MUST be 100 percent cotton. Naturally a little confused, I asked Ryan’s teacher for clarification. She also had no clue, so she asked another teacher who said it MUST be 100 percent cotton.

So like the good little involved parent that I am, I immediately ran off to Wal-Mart to purchase a $4 white cotton T-shirt, promptly ripped the tag off and wrote “RYAN” in giant block letters on the inside.

As I put the cap back on the permanent marker, my phone rang. It was Ryan’s teacher telling me she was mistaken – it MUST NOT be 100 percent cotton lest whatever they’re putting on the T-shirt fade or fall off or something.

To which I very nearly said, “Look, it doesn’t matter. Let’s be real – whatever he’s making? He’s gonna wear it once and then it’s going to the back of the closet forever.”

But like I said, I’m a good little involved parent, so I clenched my jaw shut and drove 15 minutes to the nearest Old Navy to purchase an $8 half-cotton, half-polyester blend shirt. (You pay extra for the luxurious polyester, you know. Ooh-la-la.)

Assignment #2: Teach Ryan his street address.

When Ryan’s teacher mentioned he would be learning his street address, I beamed. How cute, I thought. This is why preschool is awesome, I thought. Yay for learning!, I thought.

Then she corrected herself – needed to teach it to him at home. And he wouldn’t earn a sticker or the super special certificate at school until he could remember – and recite to the whole class – his house number and street name.

To which I very nearly said, “I’m sorry but all my spare time is being spent driving all over town looking for a shirt that is exactly 60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester. I couldn’t possibly fit this in.”

But hey, I’m INVOLVED, so I decided to give it a go.

It started out well. He loooooooved learning the name of his street. He memorized that the first time I mentioned it to him and grins when he shouts it out.

The house number, on the other hand, is NOT welcomed information. In fact, every time I open my mouth to say anything related to that number, he freaks.the.hell.out.

Me: Ryan, look at the big numbers on our door! This means—

Ryan: STOP TALKING TO ME ABOUT NUMBERS!

Me: It’s so cool, though, look! Oooonnnneeeee—

Ryan: STOP IT! RIGHT NOW!

I know some people take preschool very seriously. America is behind other first world countries in academics and we need to catch up and etc, etc, pressure, pressure. But we put Ryan into a three-year-old preschool program for one reason: to help him learn how to follow rules and behave in a classroom setting.

In my opinion, that is a big enough task for right now. If the stupid T-shirt falls apart in my washing machine or Ryan can’t recite his address until – gasp! – age four, we will survive.

In fact, some kids only go to preschool for one year. Most likely, Ryan will go for three years, thanks to a late September birthday and a desire on the part of his parents that he be the oldest child in his kindergarten class rather than the youngest.

That means I’ve got a two-year buffer to figure out the very best places to buy tiny T-shirts and master the very best methods for teaching my kid things he has no desire to learn.