Parenting is a Competition

Parenting is a competitive sport: you have to play to win and you’re exhausted at the end of the day. The trouble is, there is no training regimen before you get thrown in to the game and no trophy when you win because the game never ends.

Let me be clear, I am not talking about competing with other parents for the title of Best Parent. I am playing against my kids and I am determined to win. Does that sound harsh or mean? Let me give you an example from recent weeks to demonstrate how I play aggressive defense and sneaky offense against each of my children.

Bridget had a rough day yesterday; she didn’t feel good and missed nap time on Saturday during our soccer-palooza so was understandably grumpy. While I understand the crankiness, I still can’t handle the whining and feel that she is old enough to get herself under control. After church, she had a major meltdown because I refused to open her water bottle until she asked without whining or crying. She just followed me around the house whining while I repeatedly told her that I couldn’t understand her whining voice and gave her the sentence she needed to get what she wanted.  That was my defensive strategy: I taught her a lesson that she won’t get what she wants through whining and crying (unless she is asking almost anyone other than her mom). The sneaky offense was trying to implant the correct way to ask for something in her brain through repetition. An additional benefit was that I needed to keep busy while avoiding her so I got a lot of clutter put away throughout the house!

Later that day, on our way to yet another soccer game, she was very angry that I had packed her lunch in a plain plastic container and not in her lunch box. She proceeded to let me know how angry she was by crying the entire 20 minute drive to the game. About 5 minutes from our destination, I told her that she had 3 choices: I could leave her on the side of the road and pick her up when the game was over, she could continue to cry and whine and I would throw away her loveies when we got home, or she could pull herself together and we could have fun. Through her sobs, she told me that she just couldn’t get herself together but would try. Within a minute, she was done crying, eating her lunch out of the boring container, and ready to snuggle at the game. Do I think the lesson from earlier in the day helped me win the battle? Not really, but I’m hopeful!

Drew is having some trouble finding age appropriate books that he is interested in reading. He is still sounding out some words so he stops to figure it out then loses the thread of the story, gets frustrated, and tells me how much he misses Grandpa. I have tried a number of well-drawn out offensive maneuvers to find him a book that challenges him but that is still engaging enough that he will stick with the storyline. We went to the public library with no time limit and chose 7 books, I asked the school librarian to help him choose some books, and I help him read, then re-read paragraphs, and ask him questions about what he just read. He’s getting better but I still haven’t found the perfect book. Grrr…

Then the silly PTO ladies let me work at the school book fair…alone…for an hour…in a room full of books. It was the best morning ever. I had Drew’s “wish list” with me and took a look at the books in the nook…sorry, at the books on his list. They were all Star Wars books and were either for very early readers with 3-4 words per page or books intended for middle school kids. I did not purchase those books because I play better defense than that.  I did, however, find a book that mixes cartoons with a funny story that I really think he will like; that’s how you execute a solid parenting offense.

Sam has started pulling a little bit of an attitude. He has discovered sarcasm and believes that there is never a bad time to use it. I’m trying to rein in my own sarcastic attitude and teach him about appropriate and polite manners, especially around adults. I am failing miserably but I am not giving up. The only game plan I can come up with is to consistently remind him when he is being rude, to the point that I gave up a snuggle because he kept purposefully farting on me.  And let me tell you, I had to play aggressive man defense to keep him off my lap because he is a wily and strong little dude.

Parenting is a competitive sport and it is my job to win every day. I have to be the voice of reason, the calm one, the winner of every battle of wills. I have never, nor will I ever, lose a battle over appropriate clothing choices, healthy snack options, or eating vegetables at dinner.  Don’t get me wrong, there are days in which I choose my battles concerning sweatshirts rather than jackets and we very often do the “pants over shorts” thing. There are days I decide that one cartoon isn’t really that awful after a long day at school but they have learned not to even ask to play Wii on a school day. But when it comes down to the important things, or what I deem important in my kid-induced delusional state, I will not waver and I will not lose.


Wake Me Up Before….Don’t Assume You Know the Rest

I don’t want my children to wake me up before they go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, nor do I need Blair to tell me he is heading to the farm. In fact, I really wish no one would wake me up all night long… but I don’t really believe that will ever happen.

The title of this piece is metaphorical, allegorical, and spiritual rather than literal. I received a couple of wake up calls today and I am silently urging myself to listen and remember. I apparently need some outside motivation to get myself on track and I got some serious material today.

Bridget and I had a joint doctor appointment today to discuss our sore throats and runny noses. For the first time in a long time, I had to step on a scale. I honestly don’t remember the last time I weighed myself, I don’t check the numbers on principle. Ok, that’s not entirely true, I’ve also been terrified of what the numbers will be, and rightly so, it turns out.

I’ve never really gotten my body back on track since I was pregnant with Drew but I didn’t realize how far I had let myself go. I always told myself that I looked better in person than in pictures and that Blair still liked me so it must not be too bad. Apparently he really does love me for more than my looks because I was startled and a little stunned by the numbers on the scale. (No, I won’t be sharing). I almost let a very bad word go flying out of my mouth but the sight of my sad and tired little girl helped me rein it in.

I may tape the number on my bedroom mirror in an attempt to shame myself into better eating and harder workouts. I exercise but it is sporadic and, without a coach to make proud, I have trouble really pushing myself. I eat fairly well but I’m also married to a farmer who loves red meat and potatoes and I love cheese so….. Perhaps I need to do more than add a salad a day, I may actually need to cut back my portion sizes and give up some cheesy deliciousness. Boo.

The second portion of my wake up call involved the landscape committee at our church. Blair was rightfully guilted into helping so Bridget and I stopped up to visit this afternoon. I was struck by the willingness of the volunteers to give of their time and energy to help beautify the exterior of the church. The really amazing part was the age of these volunteers: all but 2 were over the age of 60 and a couple were in their late 70’s or early 80’s. Blair was obviously one of the young ones but the other younger woman was in a tractor accident 20-some years ago in which she broke her pelvis and many other bones. Her legs never fully recovered but she is one of our church’s most loyal volunteers. (I should mention that my sister-in-law was there helping this morning, just not this afternoon.)

Shovels and rakes in hand, these amazing men and women were visiting while scooping rocks without complaint and there I stood holding a bowl full of apple slices and cheese curds (Bridget’s lunch) and feeling sorry for myself. If anything should wake you out of your self-pity, this is it.  And if I want to be able to give of my time and energy when I am their age, I better get my ass into better shape!

God apparently wanted to make sure I got the message because 2 blocks away from our church, I noticed two 80-year-old men painting windows at another church. Ok, Ok, I get it.

The challenge now is to stay motivated, keep those numbers and those people in my mind and get out there. Not only to look better but to be better, to make my kids’ lives better and the lives of others in the community.

And yes, now all I hear is George Michael in my head and I hope you have it stuck in yours too…


Reasons Parents Drink

As promised yesterday, following are some reasons that parents drink. Now I am not condoning getting drunk in front of your children but there are days when you get your kids to bed and think I just need a drink. There are days when the only thing you can do is invite a friend over with the promise of a delicious hot toddy to complain and whine and commiserate and eventually laugh.

Parents drink because:

They heard these words coming from another room, “I’m sorry, it was an accident. Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up.” The drink gets an extra splash of liquor if the child uttering these words is younger than 4.

They have children who find the words butt and underwear endlessly entertaining. They have children who sit at the supper table making up songs, rhymes, and jokes containing those words and don’t necessarily want to discourage it because at least the kids are being creative with words and entertaining themselves without electronics. The real problem occurs when said parent finds herself humming the ridiculous and naughty songs to herself after the kids are in bed. Drinks, please.

Children find burping and farting even funnier than the aforementioned words. They do not care if it is a true, natural bodily function or a sound effect generated to elicit laughter. The mere thought of a fart or burp is enough to send most children into paroxysms of laughter, so when the real thing occurs the giggling is almost uncontrollable. Parents drink because you can’t stop the natural bodily functions altogether, nor can you stop it from being funny. The most you can hope for is to contain the extraneous sound effects, encourage “Excuse me”, and turn away when you find yourself chortling. Then pour a drink.

There are grownups who are impolite to children; adults who are either purposefully mean or insidiously thoughtless. Grownups who have a responsibility to encourage, love and model respectful behavior but fail with a capital F.  Parents drink because you can’t always protect your child from stupidity and disrespect but you can say all the things you wish you had said after a stiff drink.

It is hard to come up with meal ideas day after day. It is challenging to create nutritious meals that multiple children will eat without resorting to a 3-day rotation. When you add in planning around soccer practices, choir practices, and homework….just pour a drink.

Sometimes parents are asked to volunteer coach a child’s team and sometimes other people’s kids are not respectful of adults. Most parents are still a little bit afraid of the coaches they had growing up and address them with respect to this day. Many kids today, however, will stare at you like you are speaking in the Charlie Brown adult voice when you tell them to run, hustle, play that position, or be quiet and listen. Parents drink because you can’t hit other people’s kids or teach them respect in an hour a week.

Kids are loud. They are really really loud and have a lot to say and it is all very important and you can’t listen to them all at once so all your hear is talking….lots of talking…lots of words….some yelling….and maybe a fart noise or two. Parents dread cold weather because all those loud voices will be trapped inside. Parents need to make spiked hot chocolate on snow days.

Parenting is hard. It is excruciatingly hard and there is no way to really measure how you are doing.  Sure, you can use report cards to determine how well your child is performing in school and listen to the teacher discuss your child’s social skills. You can watch your child interact with his or her friends to see if they are respectful and kind and you can monitor as many influences as possible to ensure they don’t grow up to fast. You can give your child responsibilities and give them consequences for their actions but you can’t predict if your child will grow up to be a responsible, caring adult. Some of the best parents in the world have grown children who are jerks.

This is why parents drink: you do everything you can to give your child the best education, example, life but you can’t make it perfect. You can’t superimpose the right choices onto their future and give them a fool-proof plan to follow. All you can do is the best you can do…then make a drink.


Puzzle Sous Chef

I have become a puzzle sous chef, assisting my 3-year-old in her assembling endeavors. It is a thankless but demanding job, especially with Bridget as the chief puzzle chef.

My job entails sitting on my cold, hard kitchen floor, close enough to see all of the leaf bits I missed in my sweeping efforts this morning and every dried spot of milk I need I mop up.  After Chef Bridget has selected the puzzle of the day, I am forced by years of training to separate the edge, or crust, pieces from the middles, or filling. I then ensure that each edge piece is properly flipped so that Chef Bridget can easily find the piece she is looking for, then sit and watch. Should my attention wander, it is quickly recalled to the situation at hand by Chef Bridget’s plea of, “Mommy, help me.” (I did not choose an exclamation point on purpose, she does not yell, just issues orders in a calm and expectant voice.)

If upon her request for help I take it upon myself to actually insert a piece into the puzzle, I am reprimanded in this way, “Mommy, I was going to put that one in!” (That one usually elicits an exclamatory statement.) I then sit back, adjust my sore butt on the hard floor, and continue to patiently watch the process with a constant stream of “Make a straight line. Does that make a straight line? Could that really go together? Are you making a straight line?” I honestly don’t know why she wants me there, I annoy myself.

Once the crust is completed, my sous chef duties are turned to the filling of the puzzle as my job is to carefully sort, flip and arrange each middle piece. The masterpiece gets tricky here as Bridget has some trouble looking at the entire puzzle piece rather than just one corner. Because I am such an accomplished and professional sous chef, I never get frustrated as she turns a piece every w hich way but the correct one or fails to notice that the piece in her hand also has grass on it and therefore cannot be placed in the middle of the barn. Nope, never frustrated.

Once the puzzle pie is complete, my job should be complete as well but, alas, it is not. I now have to genuinely compliment the chef and ensure her that she put the entire thing together on her own.  Then, with much moaning and groaning, I heave myself off the cold, hard, kitchen floor to start another project…only to be called back with these sweet words, “Mommy, I got another puzzle and I want you to help me!”

Please stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: Why Parents Drink.

Weddings, Apples, Giants and Farewells

It was a long and busy weekend for the kids and I, filled with fun and excitement and boredom. Yes, you read that right; ever heard the expression “Hurry up and wait”? We did that a lot this weekend. Here are the highlights:

The boys didn’t have school on Friday so we had sort of a lazy morning before some cousins arrived to spend the day with us. Bridget helped me make monkey bread while the boys enjoyed some rare Wii freedom, although she had to stop helping me dunk the bread pieces every once in a while to rock out to the soundtrack of Madden 11. She especially loves the Ozzy tracks…

The kids spent the majority of the day playing Bomber Boy outside, a made-up game that I think I have explained in a previous blog. It basically involves kicking or throwing a ball at someone and if they catch it, you switch sides. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Every kid in our neighborhood and every cousin now asks to play it….I don’t get it but I guess I don’t have to.

In the midst of the Bomber Boy war, I took my kids and 2 nieces to the soccer field to paint some lines before our game on Saturday.  I assumed it would be a simple task but I was mistaken. A lot of swearing, perhaps a stomp or two, and a pleading call to Blair to come help me later, the field was (mostly) lined and were back at home for more Bomber Boy. After gulping down 18 waffles between them, some more nieces and nephews arrived for even more Bomber Boy fun. The highlights of the afternoon session included: Morgan winding up for a big kick, missing the ball entirely, and landing on her butt; Brady trying to make himself invisible by lying down beside the deck when he saw my camera; and all of the inadvertently matching shirts.

After the Hansen cousins went home, some Olive cousins arrived to continue the festivities. I never thought my house would seem quiet and calm with my 3 kids at home but the hour or so between cousins was downright peaceful!

Saturday is SoccerDay! I couldn’t attend Drew’s game but his report went something like this, “Mom, I hustled and scored 2 goals and didn’t fall down very much!” (We are working on the first and last items on that list.)

Sam’s first game went very well but his second game was highly entertaining. There was a boy on the other team who might have been taller than me. Keep in mind that this is a U10 league so he can’t be older than 10. Holy crap. And he wasn’t just tall, he was also coordinated and strong. Holy crap again. After his 3rd kick, a number of boys on our team literally told us that they would not be challenging him with the ball, just giving him free rein. As one boy put it, “It’s just not worth it!”

Sam, however, disagreed and was not at all afraid of this boy. He didn’t care that the top of his head came to this boy’s waist, he just elbowed his way in there, took the ball away from him, and scurried down the field as fast as he could, probably in fear of retaliation. I was very proud of his dedication but a little afraid for his body. Thankfully, he didn’t suffer any serious injuries and, along with the other boys who faced down their fears, took down the mighty soccer giant!

Super fast showers completed and wedding attire donned, the boys and I started our trek to Iowa City for my cousin’s wedding. It was beautiful and lovely and all the other sappy stuff but the best part for me were the treat bags and costumes they provided for the kids. Watching Avary hula hoop in a glow stick ring, seeing Sam’s pride in his glow stick belt, and
Drew’s delight in the snacks were priceless. The additional joy of the costumes and photographer were the icing on the cake (which was delicious as well!). The real fun, however, came in trying to arrange 7 children and 2 adults in one hotel room and then trying to get everyone to sleep. I won’t bore you with the details but let me just say there was crying, coughing and peeing. It was ugly.

Thank goodness Drew offered some comic relief in the morning by attempting to put on Bridget’s jeans. God love him, I had told him to get dressed, he thought there were his, and he just kept trying to pull them up. I didn’t get to see them on, but I hear it was worth the tears his aunt cried while viewing the spectacle.

Breakfast was a long and interesting affair, including 2 meals for Sam and a large bill for Grandpa, and then we were off to the Apple Orchard!! Unfortunately, there were no apples. Seriously, there were no apples on the trees. No apples on the trees. all. We wandered through some dead leaf trees, looked at some rotten pumpkins in the patches staggered throughout the orchard, and bought some apples and pumpkins in the on-site store. It was less than thrilling but I’m hopeful for a better return trip next September!

I’ve saved the best/worst part for last. We said our good-byes to Thomas as he left for Basic Training today. I was not as big of a mess as some people I could mention, probably because I don’t get to see Thomas that often anyway, but he did elicit a few tears when he hugged my kids. He picked Drew up, the kid who has been crying at night about missing Thomas, and said, “I love you, buddy.” Ugh, crying now. He gave Sam an extra hug, bought Gavin some cherry Coke (a la Grandpa) and had to settle for knucks from Bridget. I love that he was comforting us as he prepared to leave, he is such a sweetheart and will do amazing things now that he is a soldier. I am confident that he will grow into a man over the next year. I’m also confident that he will be doing a lot of pushups until he learns something his aunt and I have been trying to teach him since he was 2….to just shut up.



Chivalry Isn’t Dead

I don’t believe that chivalry is dead and in honor of my 11th wedding anniversary today, I will expound on the ways my husband is a true gentleman…or least shows me that he loves me.

We grabbed a few gourmet items from the self-serve bays at Casey’s for lunch the other day, mostly for Bridget but I did choose one extra container for Blair and I to munch on during the drive. I noticed that he wasn’t eating anything and I asked if he felt Ok. His response, “I want you to eat your lunch, I’ll just eat whatever is left over.”  Awwww…

Blair is a big fan of going to bed at the same time while I tend to sit on the couch like a lump until he is ready for bed before I rouse myself enough to go clean up the kitchen.  Very often, he will get to the kitchen first and put the dishes in the dishwasher, then hide the pans in the sink so I will think he has washed them and come to bed sooner.  I choose to believe his clever ruse, then curse him in the morning but it is sort of sweet.

And speaking of bed time….he really loves to cuddle and spoon and if he notices that I have squirmed my way in to a wedgie, he will kindly help me out.  Is there anything more chivalrous?

He lets me drive almost everywhere we go together, not because he prefers to navigate but because he knows that I prefer to drive and sort of want to punch him while he is driving. He never complains when the kids call the passenger seat in the van “Dad’s seat” but he does have an irritating habit of keeping an eye on the speedometer.

He can always make me laugh but perhaps his most entertaining schtick involves automated phone services. He often answers the automated lady with his own robot voice and very rarely throws in his patented Irish accent. When answering the questions that will hopefully get you transferred to the proper department, he likes to throw in random answers that are guaranteed to get him connected to a person. It is genius. We have learned that a 4-letter word that starts with an sh-  is almost guaranteed to garner you a real person. I like to save calls to large corporations until he gets home at night just so that he can entertain me; he rarely lets me down.

The one and only time he went to Papa Murphy’s by himself, he seemed very proud of himself and kept asking me how my pizza tasted. It was fine and I told him so. Finally he asked if there was too much sauce on my half so I stopped to think about the question and replied that it was just about perfect. He flashed his giant sweet grin and said, “I asked them to only put a little sauce on your half!”  So thoughtful!

One more, although it is a little personal so consider yourself forewarned. If we are visiting in the bathroom while he is taking care of business (because sometimes that is the only time we can talk in private in our house) he always warns me that he is about to wipe so I can close my eyes or turn the other way. Isn’t that sweet?

Does he open doors for me? No, because I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. Would he place his coat over a mud puddle so I wouldn’t soil my shoes? No, but he might ask if I want a piggy back ride depending on the situation. Does he shower me with flowers? No, because I hate the smell of flowers and find the giving of them silly. Does he spoil me with gifts? No, and that is a little bit irritating….

On the other hand, I believe that the point of a man being a gentleman is to show a girl that he cares about her and he definitely does that. He makes me feel loved (and a whole bunch of other sappy things) every day and that’s really all that is important, isn’t it?

What I’m Not Meant to Be

I babysat 3 kids yesterday, each of whom was well behaved, entertaining, and nice to my daughter. I had two four-year-old girls who played with Bridget all day and kept us both busy and laughing. I also had a 1 year old with the “softest head” as Bridget likes to point out and the best thunder thighs ever. He was not entirely sure of me and the fact that his dad kept stopping in and then leaving him again but he snuggled with me and loved playing in the grass. We had a great day and I learned something very valuable: I’m not cut out to be a full-time daycare provider.

Please don’t think that I didn’t enjoy playing with these kids or that I don’t enjoy talking and playing with the kids I regularly keep after school, because I do. The thing is, I don’t like messing with lunch and diapers and things of that nature. I enjoy the homework time, craft time, and running like crazy kids outside time. I love planning scavenger hunts and obstacle courses, finding fun and educational crafts, and watching the kids play imaginative games on their own.

Maybe that means I should start a daycare but only take older kids…or find a job at a preschool….or maybe just keep playing with my own kids and their friends….and my 19 nieces and nephews.

A couple of entertaining moments from our 1 Day Daycare: Bridget has gotten really excited about the term “BFF” but isn’t exactly sure what it means. She spent most of the day, however, telling both Siri and Ava that they were BFFs and it was adorable. Isaac, who is 1, was just slightly unhappy most of the day but really hated Blair. I’m pretty sure this is the first child who has preferred me over Blair and I have to admit that I ate it up. Isaac was sitting in the booster seat, trying to eat breakfast while at the same time keeping his eyes on Blair. Even when Blair was far behind him, around the corner, Isaac kept whipping his head around to each side to make sure he wasn’t sneaking up on him. If he hadn’t made such pouty faces, it would have been hilarious.  The poor little guy was further traumatized when Blair’s brother stopped over and was picking on all the girls. Isaac just stared at him with tears in his eyes as he rolled Bridget up in a blanket and told her she was a hot dog. Ava wasn’t real sure about this idea either but she pretended to laugh off the danger. Siri sort of hid behind the corner and giggled, making sure she was out of reach of this crazy man that showed up in a “Hansen farm truck! Look, let’s see where it’s going!” (Apparently we get good press at Siri’s house…)

So, while it was an entertaining day that may have been Bridget’s best day ever, I know that I couldn’t do it every day.  It’s good to learn these things about yourself, right?