Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pay Attention, Mensos - Here's the Manual

I've heard people say that parenting ought to come with a manual. I agree. And since no one else seems to have a good one and Spock is dead and was not aware of the phenomena that is in-class texting, I'm going to lay down some simple rules. If you're a bad parent, pay extra close attention:
Rule Number 1. PAY ATTENTION. Pay attention to your kids. Listen to what they say. If they're annoying you, turn, tell them to wait until you can pay attention - then follow-thru and pay attention. Go back to them after you're done doing the dishes and say, 'OK honey, show me the picture.' If you don't pay attention to your kids, they will certainly not pay attention to you. That's a hard one, but an easy one to understand.
Rule Number 2. YES. You do have to give up a good portion of your own life in order to participate in what's going on with theirs. Yes, you do have to review school work, even if they (or you) don't like it. You have to read the homework, calculate the math, at least flip through the books they're reading. Suck it up. You have to turn off the show you want to watch and talk to them. You have to have their friends over even if you'd like a peaceful evening to yourself. You have to say 'no' to the dinner out with friends so you can be with your kids. Yes. You do.
Rule Number 3. RESPECT IS EARNED. And that street travels in both directions. Your child deserves your respect if he/she is behaving the best they can. And you only deserve respect when you act like a respectable person. Work. Keep a watchful eye over your babies - at every age. Be valuable and value your children. Speak intelligently. Maintain healthy relationships. Read a dang book once in a while. You are the model they follow. Even when they stray at certain points in their development, they will always return to you if you deserve it.
Rule Number 4. LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH. Love is critical, no doubt. Without it, the whole thing collapses. But love does not compensate for inattention, laziness, abdication of responsibility. You can't only love from a distance. The school educates, babysitter picks up, the grandparents watch on weekends, the best friends' mom has the sleepovers. And you go to soccer games and show up for holiday pictures. Gee thanks. That doesn't cut it. You need to be present. Don't leave them behind when you go to the store. Take them with and talk. Don't make them play outside or downstairs all the time. Let them play right where you are, and you play too sometimes. Don't just hand them a prepared meal. Let them make a salad or toast some bread while you work on the main course. These things matter. They are, in essence, the expressions of love that make up the fabric of a life. Rule Number 1 followers take heed - your children's little hearts depend on it.
Rule Number 5. HARD WORK MATTERS. Of course its easier to do the laundry yourself - or better yet - have hired help. But what is your child learning to help themselves do laundry? Bust your butt a little. Drag them down to the laundry room and teach them how to do it. Then follow them on several trips to do the same thing until you feel they've got it right. And then, this is tricky, insist they do it on some regular basis. Get up off the couch. If you're following Rule Number 1 this gets easier. Just know that everything you teach your child makes him smarter, more capable, more confident. The more you fail to teach the more likely your child is to fail.
Rule Number 6. BEING WEAK IS OK. There are days when you're really going to flop. That's fine. It doesn't mean you don't have a leg to stand on. It means your children have to see you as human - gasp! So you didn't do the dishes yesterday? That doesn't mean you can't demand they be done today. You weren't on time for pickup Monday? Tell them you're sorry you were late. Then be on time Tuesday. When you're sick, let your kids see you be sick and teach them how to show kindness and care for you. Their expressions of compassion will enlighten you both.
Rule Number 7. PANIC OFTEN. I think the whole calm parenting thing is a crock of doodle. For crissakes - you've got a little life in your hands! That's a miracle - magic the likes of which we cannot completely understand. Is there anything in your entire life that you'll ever have that'll be more important? (My husband might quibble about the relative value of his iphone and his plasma screen t.v. but for those of us still rational to think clearly, the question stands.) Of course you should worry where they are after school! You should worry that they're sleeping o.k. - and make damn sure of it! You should freak out if they're not taking school seriously and find out why right away! You should have your heart in your throat if you think they've been hurt! That is your baby, you idiot! See Rule Number 1.
Rule Number 8. DON'T ACT LIKE YOU'RE PANICKING. Rule Number 7 does not give you carte blanche to act like a raving lunatic. It just means you can't take the whole thing with a glass of chardonnay and a long 'welllll' approach. You need to get heated and excited and thrilled and furious and protective. Love is an ACTION word. Your child needs to know that you are having genuine and meaningful reactions to the things that happen in their lives. This is their measurement of whether or not you are paying attention. See Rule Number 1.
Rule Number 9. BE GOOD. We tell children all the time to 'be good'. But are we? Are we kind to others, faithful, fair-minded, unbiased and compassionate? Don't just drop your kids off at school and assume that everybody in the building was brought forward to this moment in time to educate your child. Walk in the darn building and find out. Talk to teachers and volunteer when you can. Don't just use the swings at the park and then go home, leaving behind your trash and your spent energies. Show up on clean-up day. Talk to the kinds whose parents aren't there and show them a little smile or share a laugh. These are children in your community and they need you, along with all the other adults in their lives to notice them. (Pesky Rule Number 1.) If you care about your church or your politics or your environment, participate and take your kids with you to participate. They will do good, be good when they follow your example.
Rule Number 10. LOVE IS EVERYTHING. Despite the tone of Rule Number 4, it is to be understood that love is all we live for, as children, as parents, as humans. Love is expressed in a million different ways, as above, and more. For me, love spills out and covers everything. It touches and holds and smiles. Love is warm and sometimes fierce and fiery. Love is whispery and gentle and delicate. My love for my children is constant and permeates all of me, every move, every action. It is in my voice, even when I am angry, and it is in my food and my furnishings. My children may walk away from their childhoods knowing full well that as crazy as I am, I have loved them as completely and thorougly as a body could be loved. And that truly is everything.
The 10 items above are the rules that came naturally to me as I started out on this little adventure. I've other, less critical bits of advice in my head like:
- don't let them put captain crunch in their noses (don't judge me!)
- if you believe in Christmas, a real Christmas tree is environmentally irresponsible but entirely necessary to a successful childhood
- walking the kids to school is the right thing to do, but if you're too lazy, it's better to drive with them than let them walk alone
- after your first child has had three doctor visits about coughs you needn't ever call a doctor again about a cough; they always say the same thing
- dress your kids like you care how they look; appearances matter, whether we like it or not. also your kid looking like he just dropped his rumpled butt out of bed does not help him with the ladies, either
- candy, in moderation, is good for all of us; candy, in exaggeration, makes your kid a lunatic and prevents me from inviting her over after school. your call.
- if you reprimand my kid in front of me and you're right, we're all good; if you reprimand my kid in front of me and you're wrong, apologize or prepare to be decimated.
- children should be respectful of all adults, but obey only the ones they trust. this is an important one.
- children are a joy and should be treated as such, unless they are being annoying, in which case they should be called on it so they know how to identify annoyingness in the future - its a public service
- kisses, hugs and snuggling are always o.k. except when mommy has cramps. this is especially true when your son weighs over a hundred pounds but still likes to jump in your lap.
- potty training is the devil's work. hire a professional.
- gardening with children inevitably leads to lots of mud, mangled flowers and a frightening array of toys in your garden. it's great. you should try it.
- PB&J on a suede couch is a bad idea. just trust me on this one.
- cats prefer not to be petted when the petter has superglue on his or her tiny little hands.
-capes are dangerous when worn over the face. in case this wasn't obvious. as it wasn't in my household. (again with the judging?)
- if you have children in your life, you are blessed by God and should be thankful every day. maybe that should be rule number 1.

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