Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

I'm not sure where the "pants on fire" part came from. However, no child ever wants to be at the pointed end of that remark. Even as adults, we don't want our dishonesty exposed, do we?

Still, lying is part of growing up, isn't it? As much as we Mom Snobs would like to believe our children would never lie, it's actually a necessary evil. Dishonesty is one of those things that must be experienced firsthand in order to feel it's sting. Unfortunately, It's lesson is not something that can be taught in a well-worded lecture.

I remember my quiet, calculating daughter's first lie experiment. Let me set the scene.

The guest room was located in the back corner of the basement. We affectionately referred to it as the "Jayhawk Room." It wasn't just crimson and blue. Oh, no. In fact an uber-sized flock of Jayhawks flooded the wall paper-floor to ceiling. Pennants and posters were pinned up over that and every horizontal surface was littered with statues, knick-knacks, and memorabilia. We didn't use the room often, but a king-sized water bed took up most of the floor space, so the kids loved to roll around in there on occasion.

So I was surprised the day I went into the Jayhawk Room for some random purpose that now no longer matters. One step into the Rock Chalk Shrine and Crunch! I looked down to see the floor strewn with dry spaghetti noodles. Only one of my children was still in the dry spaghetti noodle fetish phase. I found her and brought her to the Jayhawk Room. I pointed to the mess on the floor. She got the look. That I-know-she-knows-but-I-don't-want-her-to-know-I-know look.

"Honey, do you know who made this mess?"

Dramatic Pause. "Yes."

Good Girl. She's going to tell the truth.

"Well, who made it?"

Second Dramatic Pause. Eyes searching her surroundings.

Oh, no. She's faltering.

Eyes meet mine, shining with her brilliant light bulb moment.

"The Jayhawks did it."

"The Jayhawks did it?"

"Yes, the Jayhawks."

"Um, which Jayhawks?"

She points to the wallpaper. "Those."


"So, those Jayhawks flew off the wall and upstairs to the kitchen, opened the spaghetti package, carried the noodles down here and dropped them all over the floor?"

Big Smile.


My daughter spent a good amount of that day picking noodles out of the carpet. Her feathered friends never pitched in to help. Guess they were mad that she ratted them out.

She's gotten a little better at lying now. They all do. Because even when we make them face the consequences for the lies we catch them in, there are probably dozens we never know about. And when they get away with it, it reinforces the idea that they can continue to get away with it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of grown up kids with issues out there who very obviously didn't get caught enough.

I said she's gotten a little better. But only a little. She has a nervous smile that gives it away. Thank goodness for that, otherwise with her quiet and calculating nature, she wouldn't get caught enough either. I think the smile give-away is God's way of keeping her honest because she has such a gullible mom. Not gullible enough to believe that Jayhawk nests are lined with pasta, however. Or maybe it's just a play between her naturally good heart and that pre-teen thing. She has to give it a try, but her heart's not really in it.

Which reminds me of another Proud Mom Moment. This one is not mine, but I can certainly appreciate it. A friend's teenage daughter was sitting shotgun when her boyfriend wrecked his car. It wasn't serious, but the boy freaked out. He immediately began weaving the tale to tell the parents so it wouldn't seem so much his fault. When she finally arrived home, the girl knew she had to come clean about the wreck. The boyfriend's parents would undoubtedly be calling in a few minutes. The conversation went something like this:

"Mom, while I was out with Tony, he wrecked his car. He made up some story I'm supposed to tell you but I can't remember how it goes, so I'm just going to tell you the truth."

Yes! Isn't the that the lesson we want them to learn in the first place. Honesty is so much easier. Even when you think it might be more painful initially, there are just too many things that can go wrong. And when the truth does come out--and it always does--the deceit has usually done more damage than the truth would have done in the first place.

Setting someone's pants on fire for lying is a little harsh. So maybe the sing-song phrase just means that sometimes lies are as obvious as flaming Wranglers. Or a nervous smile. Maybe it means that dishonesty just isn't worth the pain, no matter which end of the remark you're on.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Here's an Issue, Just For You

They are going to have them, no matter how hard we try to keep it from happening. Our children will grow into adults who have...issues.

Most of us try to find opportunities to teach life lessons to our children. Depending on our parenting styles and their learning styles, we teach these lessons through lectures, consequences, punishments, humor, whatever works, right?

My sister once gathered up all the stuff her children continued to leave in the entry way and placed it on the driveway by the trash bins on garbage day. It didn't take long for the little rascals to inquire. She explained that they could either get and put it away or the garbage would haul it away. Then she walked away. As I recall, the lesson worked, at least for a while.

I once removed the door from the my daughter's room because she couldn't figure out how to shut it without slamming it in anger. Of course this was after several instances where I made her practice shutting the door nicely. She didn't get it, so the door had to go. When she got the door back, the slamming stopped. Score one for mom!

My neighbor once admitted to washing her son's mouth out with soap. Now, I know her son as an extremely respectful young man with a very polite mouth. And this is probably why. She warned him to clean up his language and when he didn't, she kept her promise. But since there was no bar soap available, she opened his lips and squirted in a few pumps of hand soap. Can you imagine? It makes me gag just thinking about it. But her son has a clean mouth to this day. I can't exactly say the same thing for all of my children.

Still sometimes, instead of thinking about the lessons we are teaching, I wonder about the issues we are giving.

As a mother, it's easy to pass on body issues to our daughters. Every time we complain about our thunder thighs or joke about our "fat jeans" (or "fat genes"), we potentially hand them insecurity on a platter. And when dads refuse to display an emotion in fear of appearing weak, they can easily pass on "tough guy" syndrome to their sons. When I made my 9 year old son dispose of the dead squirrel in the backyard because I'm too squeamish to handle petrified rodents, was I giving my daughters permission to use the female chromosome as an excuse not to face their fears? When I repeatedly try to convince the quiet one to talk about her feelings, am I turning her natural introverted nature into an issue?

Is my constant obsession to turn everything into a life lesson sucking the fun out of life itself?

Okay, that one, I can answer. (See previous Blog Post entitled I'm Just Saying.)

So the bottom line is that they will have issues. We can't deny that. Maybe their issues will stem from their mother callously tossing their precious belongings to the curb. Maybe the three months of no privacy because a bedroom door was removed will give them personal space issues. Maybe they will develop a phobia of hand soap because not even the strongest Scope can make them forget the taste of sudsy lilacs!

But I doubt it.

I guess in addition to creating life lessons and issuing out issues, we also need to make sure we provide road maps and tool kits. And lectures, punishments, consequences, humor and whatever works, right? Throw in a little prayer and a lot of love and I think we can all hope for and expect the best.

After all, aren't we just grown up children still dealing with our own issues?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm Just Sayin'

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. --Dr. Seuss

Excellent advice from the man who wrote: Hop on Pop. Stop! You must not Hop on Pop. The man has a way with words.

Seriously though, it's great wisdom to teach children. And I try to model that idea in my own actions. I am very good at saying what I feel. And saying it. And saying it. And saying it. The problem is my children stopped listening half-way through the first time I was saying it.

I painfully recall a couple of summers ago when I was carting the kids to all of their activities I'd enrolled them in to ensure they would be well-rounded, educated, and not whining because they were bored to death only 2 days after school ended. I was telling them of all my wonderful plans for the summer to improve our organization, our attitudes, our minds, our bodies. As we drove and I talked...and talked...and talked, I suddenly realized that I was the only one listening to myself. I was really annoyed.

Just at the moment of realization, we drove by a sign advertising the new gorilla exhibit at the zoo. "Well, what do you think, Mr. Monkey? Maybe I'll just talk you since no one else seems to care what I have to say."

With all seriousness, the quiet yet calculating one offered, "Mom, you know he can't hear you. He's a billboard." And they all laughed hysterically.

It seems that the one thing I know I do for sure is that I offer my kids laughter on a daily basis. They find my nagging lectures particularly funny. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I have a knack for lecturing the wrong kid or nagging about something I'm sure I told them to do but I'm also sure they didn't do and so I really need to say what I feel and explain how disrespectful and/or irresponsible it was for them not to do what I had clearly asked them to only to find out mid-lecture that they had, in fact, completed the task. Inevitably one of them will point out, "Wow, Mom, you just wasted that nag." Dang it! I truly hate a wasted nag. Especially a well-worded, perfectly punctuated one. But at least they are good for a laugh!

I'd like to say that I've learned my lesson and started saying more, but talking less. I'd like to say that. But since my children, still to this day, ask me if I'm talking to my monkey again, I don't think I can really say that at all. Still, Dr. Seuss's words of wisdom ring true. My wonderful children matter and they certainly don't seem to mind that I'm being who I am and saying what I feel.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Parenting with Your Mouth Full

Ok, so if Humble Pie is inevitable, how do we parent around it?

A friend told me this week that her Humble Pie came as early as elementary school with her kids. I think she's right. We can all remember those Wal-mart moments when we swear our children were channelling alien monsters. And of course, that always happened when the place was packed. The days when you have the candy aisle all to yourself, they are dear little angels.

I remember very clearly the day I decided to be proactive with this problem. I was going to tell my children exactly what I expected before we entered the store. I practiced the speech in my head over and over and as I did, boy did I work myself up.So instead of sounding like a rational, in control grown-up, I sounded something like this:

"Every single time I take you into the store, you whine and beg for stuff you don't need. And when I tell you no, you whine and beg some more. I'm telling you right now that I will be buying you nothing, understand? And if you beg me for something anyway, I won't even buy you dinner. So, this time, don't act like little demon hellions, or you will be sorry. Got it?"

Then came the tears. Not the I-want-candy-and-I-want-it-now tears. No, it was the I'm-scared-and-I-want-my-Mommy tears. They stared silently with big eyes and finally one of them said, "You think we're from hell." Needless to say they each got all the candy and whatever else they wanted from the store that day.

But the Humble Pie changes flavor as they get older, and hopefully our reaction to it does, too. So when I got that call that my darling daughter was going to In School Suspension for cheating because the school has a no-tolerance policy,I paused, but thankfully not long enough to practice any speech over and over in my head. Instead I said that I have a no-tolerance policy, too. Then I asked to speak to Sophie and all I said to her way, "I love you."

I thought all day about an appropriate punishment. She had not only broken a school rule, but a Roaring Mom rule, as well. The school had dealt its punishment and I knew it would be keenly felt. I knew also that Sophie’s siblings would not let the opportunity to torture their sister pass without fully taking advantage of it. I would be put in the position of having to stand up for the daughter who had broken one of my cardinal rules against the others who had (like the good children I raised them to be) NEVER CHEATED—of at least never gotten caught as I later came to understand.

I decided Sophie needed repayment in kind. She needed her own dose of Humble Pie.
When Sophie trudged her way through the parking lot that day, she wore the look of someone who had learned her lesson. She climbed in the van and buckled up and waited. After a sufficient anxiety filled pause I said, “Okay, here it is. You cannot expect to do something like this and not end up getting ribbed at home by your siblings. So, you have a choice. I can either ground you for a week. Or, you can accept every joke and comment made at your expense for the next week with humility and good naturedness.” You know which one she chose. And it made life so much easier for me. And her siblings enjoyed it very much.

Sometimes I have to remember that the punishment or discipline needs to be more about the lesson than about my ego. Even so, my fragile ego can only take so much. So when I absolutely have no other choice than to take my teen and pre-teen children to the store with me, I take a deep breath, practice saying no, and avoid the candy aisle at all costs.

And just so you know, any parent who thinks the grocery trips get easier when the kids get older, open wide. You are in for your own helping of Humble Pie.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mom Snobbery

There are some things I just never thought I would have to deal with. I guess because I was a Mom Snob. The only cure for Mom Snobbery, I have discovered, is a great big dose of Humble Pie! And since I have four kids, I get four times the dosage.

Middle School provides a wonderful assortment of Humble Pie for Mom Snobs. Each Middle School smorgasbord has it's own brand of bitter, distasteful ingredients. I haven't met too many Mom Snobs who make it through Middle School without a least a little taste. And for those who coast on through, watch out. High School Humble Pie is even bigger!

I was blessed with very good kids. I realize that God granted me this blessing because He knew I would have no idea what to do with kids who aren't so well-behaved. I have a naive belief that when people are presented with right and wrong, everyone will naturally choose right. Sometimes, I forget that not everyone has the same understanding of what is right.

When Kate was an 8th grader and I attended the mandatory athletic parent meeting, I zoned out through the academic ineligibility discussion. With my A/B student, I would never have to worry about that. Not like some other poor parents, like that one over there with the stern look on her face. We all know what her son is like. I wonder if he'll make it through the season this year.

Guess what? He did. But guess who didn't? And all because she thought the assignments were stupid, so she shouldn't have to do them. And when her team had to play the champion game without their 15-points-per-game point guard, you'd have thought we would have learned our lessons. But then track season came along to prove us wrong. Two HUGE helpings, one after another. That was hard going down.

But by the time the next daughter made it to eighth grade, I apparently had forgotten the taste of Humble Pie. Bless my daughter's sweet heart for serving up her own unique recipe. You see, I'm an educator. My pet peeve is cheating. I've perfectly parented the point that cheating is for board games only. So, therefore, my children don't cheat. Imagine my shock when the principal called one morning to tell me that my daughter had been caught cheating. She had given the answers to a friend who forgot to do the assignment. The school has a no tolerance policy on cheating. She and her friend would have to serve one day in-school suspension starting that morning. At first I thought the principal had dialed the wrong number. My kids don’t cheat. I’m a teacher. My kids don’t cheat. I hate cheating. I never cheated a day in my life. My kids would never…

Okay, stop right there. One of the Top 10 Rules of Roaring Mom parenting—never say my kids would never!

Next up, the quiet, yet calculating one. The one who has never been in trouble in her life. She doesn't have any idea what the term "grounded" means. She just always makes good choices. So, I'm enjoying a Friday night high school football game when my daughter dashes up the crowded bleachers to inform me that she has just punched a kid in the stomach. Lovely!

She explains, "He was kicking my friends in the shins and he didn't stop when I told him to. So I punched him." Makes perfect sense. "And then a teacher made me come stand by her for the rest of the quarter and when I told her who my mom was, she said she knew you and she was going to have a talk with you later." Extra nice, she was caught by one of my colleagues.

And this daughter's not even in eighth grade yet. Open up, Mom, here comes a great big bite!

My son told me just yesterday that he would never act like his sisters. He would always do what he was told and what was expected of him. I hugged him and said, "You will have to figure out your own choices along the way, as well. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want you marching through life like a soldier, doing only what others tell you is right. You have to understand you have the right to make your own decisions and to accept the consequences of those decisions."

Then I smacked myself in the head. Did I really just tell my fourth child to spread his wings and try to fly. And while he's up there to just go ahead and drop a big dollop of Humble Pie right on my head because obviously I haven't had my fill yet.

And maybe I haven't. But I'm hoping I've had enough to cure my Mom Snobbery. Or maybe I've just changed into a different kind of Mom Snob. Because the second I hear some ill-informed mother claim, "my kid would never..." my pity for her starts all over again.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chick Break

My son has been surrounded by pink since the day he was born. With three sisters, one just 16 months older, he was born into a world of ballerinas and Barbies. I still remember the day my neighbor brought a gift for the new baby. It was a box full of blue blankets. "Now we don't ever want to see him wrapped in pink again," they smiled, insistently.

I've heard it said that kids are kids; gender doesn't matter. And yet, he was making boy noises with his hot wheels before he could communicate in complete sentences. Lord knows I didn't teach him those. I still can't make any kind of decent boy noise. My machine gun sounds like a baby blowing bubbles and my laser gun is more of a slow leak in beach ball. Even now, I question my ability to speak his language. Just yesterday I was being schooled on the difference between a speeder, a jet and a fighter. I listen. I smile. I nod. But I can't really join in the conversation the way I can with my girls.

My girls don't realize how lucky they are to have a brother. They are learning the lingo much better than I ever did. My son and his closest sister (the quiet, yet calculating one) truly speak the same language. Being so close in age, they have been best friends since the days when she would steal his bottle while he was strapped in a car seat and couldn't retaliate. I would stand back and watch as they figured out how to play together in a way that would combine baby dolls and guns.

"You be the mom and the bad guys come and steal your baby and I'll be the police and save the baby."

I would stand back mostly because I wasn't exactly sure how to raise a boy, outside of buying boy toys. But even before there were many of those, my son used Barbie bicycle handlebars as a space ship. He didn't care that it was pink, because it sounded very much like a real spaceship, thanks to his over-developed, in-born boy noise making mechanism. A Tupperware bowl was his Buzz Lightyear helmet. With that bowl on his head, he was Buzz Lightyear. To this day my son is extremely creative. So maybe I did something right with my "hands off" approach to boy raising.

Maybe, I've inadvertently discovered one of the secrets to successful parenting: Guide them in what you can and let them figure the rest out on their own. He seems to have done a pretty good job of it so far.

Still, sometimes I worry that he's living in his own world at home. While the sisters loudly discuss the latest teen girl crisis, throw fits over bad hair days, and threaten bodily harm if she wears her favorite shoes one more time without asking, my son happily builds a Lego Space station or celebrates passing the next level of Halo (if there is such a thing). I asked him the other day, as he scooted into his Legoland bedroom, why he was going to his room. He just smiled and said, "I need a chick break."

Last week, when I tucked the kids into bed, I noticed that the quiet, calculating daughter was covered with the Pirate Blanket while my son was wrapped in Ballerina Fleece.

"Hey, buddy. I'm sorry. The blankets got mixed up. You want me to trade them for you?"

He shook his head and answered in his resigned manner, "Don't worry about it, Mom. Some of us are secure in our manhood."

So all you Roaring Moms of boys...are all boys this easy or did I just get lucky?