My Daughter Can Open Her Own Door

The problem with raising strong, independent girls is that they’re, well… Strong and Independent.

The other day, on the way into preschool, Bea got in an altercation with a little boy who wanted to hold the door. She wanted a turn and was grumpy that he wouldn’t move. The grandma looked at me and said, I’m just trying to raise gentlemen. She should say “thank you.” I half smiled and replied, And we’re trying to raise independent girls.

On our way out of preschool, we happened to leave at the same time as this same boy and his grandma. And again, he opened the door for us and refused to pass it off. This time Bea flipped out. I had to carry a screaming, independent girl to our car.

What I wanted to tell this grandma was that she’s not raising a gentleman, she’s raising a chauvinist. If he’s only holding the door because we’re women, that’s not ok. If he were a real gentleman, he’d recognize Bea’s feelings and share.

We got home and processed how to respond to situations like this. On the one hand, I told Bea that we have to take turns – that’s life. (And ultimately, for the kids, that was at the root of this interaction. They each wanted a turn.)

But because of the grandma’s comment, we also delved into how we respond to boys raised to treat girls as people who need to be helped. We talked about how, if a boy wants to do something for us that we don’t want or don’t feel comfortable with, we say no.

In hindsight, we should have pulled aside and let the boy and his grandma leave. It may have meant waiting a bit longer to leave school, but what do I ultimately want the lesson to be? I want Bea to retain her independence, to feel empowered to help her family, and to not feel pressured to thank a “gentleman” for something she didn’t actually want.

It may seem like a small thing and, again, the root of the issue was more the inability to take turns. But, I also recognize that if I don’t seize these opportunities to empower Bea, I’m losing to the chauvinists. If this little boy is hearing at each door that women need him to open it, then I need to counter that with allowing Bea to open it herself.

By making this choice, I’m probably inviting more screaming exits. But I’m also inviting more opportunities to discuss how to handle these situations. Hopefully I’m inviting my daughters to gracefully decline help they don’t need.

Moms of Boys, Do you teach them to hold doors for women? What’s your perspective on this?

Laughing from the Other Side

My mom used to tell me that the toddler years were when she really started to enjoy motherhood – we were a bit more independent, we could express our feelings using words. Life seemed more fun.

In the midst of a screaming rage from our own preschooler, I looked at my mom and asked, Really?!?! This was your favorite mothering season?!?!

My mom laughed (as only you can laugh from the other side…) and suggested that maybe she had forgotten some of these moments. She was sure they happened, but when she looked back, she didn’t really remember them.

That gave me some hope. We are in the trenches with All the Emotions and I worry that I’ll look back on this time with distaste. Or that Bea will look back on these months and wonder at my parenting skills.

IMG_9960.jpgThank God we forget. That there’s something in our brains that lump rough feelings and experiences into the I survived so it couldn’t have been that bad category. I wonder if the toddler/preschool years are dealt with in the same way as birth – that we somehow forget the pain and remember the result.

I’m clinging to the hope that the results of these power struggles and boundaries and everything result in an well-adjusted, thoughtful, empowered daughter. At this stage, I can only hope and pray and trust that it will. If I stopped now, it would be too discouraging, so I remember my mom’s from-the-other-side laughter and hope that one day, I’ll laugh in the same way, having forgotten these rough moments.

(Note: Bea is an amazing kid and 95% of the time we’re good and we have amazing adventures. It’s just that other 5% that is so intense…)

Are there life experiences that you’re thankful to have forgotten or, at least, looked back on with rosier perspective? As a parent, what’s your favorite stage?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is Forget.

When Life is Like Processed Cheese

The summer between college and grad school, I worked as the Snack Shack manager at a summer camp. In so many ways, it was not a good fit, but one of the biggest was that I had Very Strong Opinions about snack foods for kids. Even today, we lean more toward the carrots & hummus end of the spectrum rather than sweets. I had also just returned from working in Nepal for three months, where my students didn’t have access to or disposable income for lots of junk food.

During orientation week, as I was familiarizing myself with the system of selling candy to unsupervised tweens, my boss came in with great news: He had just purchased a nacho machine for the snack shack!! Wasn’t that great?!

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Source

While I enjoy homemade nachos, I’ve never been a huge fan of stadium-style ones with the mounds of melted cheese. Since I never ordered them, I had never really thought about the difference between processed cheese sauce and homemade cheese sauce. Over the course of the next ten weeks, I became all too familiar with the ins and outs of the “cheese” mix used in processed nachos.

There are two key elements that made nacho cheese my nemesis that summer. The first is that it came in 6 pound bags that sat in the back room – no refrigeration necessary! The second is that the “cheese” is (somehow) water resistant.

My job quickly unraveled as the weeks went by. I just didn’t care enough about selling candy to kids and I’m sure sales were at a record low for the camp’s history. One particularly hot day, the line seemed unending and the orders for nachos seemed particularly demanding. I usually tried to keep the machine filled before the free time rush, but on this day, we ran out in the middle of the orders.

As kids impatiently waited, I hoisted the 6 pound bag up and aimed the nozzle toward the bottom of the cheese dispenser. As I did, the bag folded in the middle and cheese started pouring out everywhere – all over the machine, the floor, and me.

The tactile mess of plasticy, warm, faux-cheese still makes my skin crawl a little. As I got a bucket to wipe up the mess, I was reminded of the water resistant nature of this cheese. I tried to wipe down the machine but the water beaded away, unable to connect with the inorganic ingredients of this cheese.

I made the executive decision to shut down the Snack Shack for the rest of free time so that I could focus all of my energies on this mutant cheese. I wish I could say it was the only time the Snack Shack closed early that summer, but it wasn’t and I’m sure there was a sigh of relief when we parted ways in August.

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Busy Bea!

This experience came to mind last week. I don’t know if it was the excitement of her first Valentine’s Party or the subsequent sugar rush, but Bea was on an 18 on the energy scale. I wasn’t feeling well and our personalities collided. It felt as though water resistant nacho cheese was all over our house and no matter what I did to clean it up, things just got worse.

Frank was working late, and after a horrible bedtime, I went to bed with Elle at 8:45 feeling discouraged and messy.

Thankfully, we woke up refreshed and I was reminded the positive side of a preschooler’s short-term memory. Bea greeted me as though the day before had never happened. We had a fresh page and a day with no mistakes. That, even though our mess felt water-resistant the night before, forgiveness and grace are able to mop up our emotions and we started new.

We’re still in the early days of tax season and I know that we’ll have these moments again. (Probably a reason some friends have a “therapy fund” for their kids started already…) For now, I’m enjoying our good moments and remembering that our bad moments are never really as bad as they seem – that nothing is as bad as a nacho cheese spill at the height of free time.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? How do you recover from low parenting or relational moments?

 

Growing Independence

Our house is back to normal after the Christmas decorations and mess. I love the festive decorations – how the whole house transforms as we anticipate Christmas. And, while I know we should be celebrating Epiphany and the excitement of the kings, I am ready for quiet and rest as we ease into January. (Though, we do leave our outside lights up until after Epiphany. I guess we have to ease into rest…)

unnamedThis new year starts a bit of a new phase for us. Bea is in swim lessons two mornings a week and dance class once a week. And while that isn’t busy at all compared with some families, for us, this is a lot of structure. I view it as easing into the preschool routine. (Speaking of, we visit our top choice next week – where does the time go?!)

I was talking with a friend about this transition to more. She has a daughter who is a year older than Bea, so I get to use her experiences as a glimpse into our future. We were talking about how, as school takes over and the family schedule shifts from playdates to a more structured routine, it seems natural for the family to turn inward. Perhaps it’s a survival thing – the need to remember our core.

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Not to be left behind, Elle is rolling all over the place!

It can feel easy to want to keep up with everyone else: To put Bea in as many activities as possible to help her be well rounded. Or to swing to the other extreme and put her in nothing, as we cherish this finite period of life with few expectations. Once school starts, that’s it. You’re in it for the next 20 years.

While I certainly don’t want to rush anything, I’m excited about this next phase. Even in our two little classes, it’s neat to see Bea taking what we’ve instilled at home and transferring it to a setting on her own. She is able to make choices without me and it’s so cool watching her make good ones.

It makes me proud to watch her become more and more her own person and, as bittersweet as the start of preschool seems, I’m looking forward to this next phase and a time of giving her more independence.

What changes are happening in your life now? If you’re a parent, how do you feel about the release of responsibility to your kids? Is there a phase you loved best?

Listening to All the Questions

We were at the pool the other day and Bea started asking a random woman about a million questions – What are you wearing? Why? What are you doing? Why? Do you want to swim with me? Why? The woman, who was trying to relax, was incredibly patient and answered Bea’s questions with a laugh. Midway through, she asked me if Bea was about three years old.

Why yes – how did you know? The stream of questions fills our day and it can be both amazing to play a part in helping Bea discover her world and equally frustrating when I just want to pack up and get in the car.

Taking notes on her questions
Taking notes on her questions

Some questions I take the time to answer correctly and with reason, even if we’re in a rush. These are the bigger questions – the ones about how our world works, why we as a society do things a certain way, and why we as a family have chosen to do things. (Not that Bea asks in those terms, but I have learned to quickly categorize the nature of her questions.) Other questions, like why we have to wear shoes in the store, are quicker answers. I’ll admit, I’ve even resorted to the Because I said so answer – one I vowed I would never give to my children.

Being part of this process has been amazing. When we explained why a man was holding a sign on the side of the road, we were able to link it to the time we gave our leftover dinner to a hungry man and then link that to the reason daddy goes to work every day. And now, weeks later, Bea is still making those connections. It shows me how worth the time and effort it is to stop and really answer the big questions.

I realize that, even though I attribute constant questioning to preschoolers, I have never really stopped questioning. Perhaps I don’t do it aloud and I find most of my answers through books, articles, blogs, and trusted friends, but I still am always questioning my world.

I credit my parents with this trait. While I’m sure it was exhausting, they always made space for questions well beyond our preschool years. When I would come home from high school Bible study, filled with more questions than when I arrived, my parents would listen. Sometimes they’d offer an answer; sometimes they’d let me grapple with it myself; sometimes they’d process with me. When I would come home from the Sunday sermon, my prayer request form filled with questions and (what I felt to be) discrepancies in the sermon, my parents would listen. Every morning, I’d read the newspaper with my dad (the morning person of my parents) and we’d question the politics, letters to the editor, and local policies covered each day.

What I learned from my parents, now that I’m a parent myself, is the power of listening to questions. Most of my questions were not good questions. They were typical adolescent questions, helping me develop my own opinion apart from my family’s and my church’s. This process was awkward and filled with mediocre questions. But, by allowing me to ask all my questions, my parents helped me weed through the poor ones and hone in on the good ones.

I still ask too many questions. Most of them aren’t world-changing, big important questions. Most are just me processing through the most recent news story or book I’ve read. I’ve learned, though, that asking a lot of questions leads us to asking good questions. As I ask more and more, I pay attention to the good ones – the ones that have the possibility of changing the world, even if just a little bit.

And, as Bea questions more and more, I want to encourage her to keep asking. Many of her questions are unanswerable, but I will do my best to help her discover answers to the ones that can be found. I want her to begin learning to weed out the good questions – the ones that help her change her world.

Are you a questioner? If you’re around littles, how do you answer all the questions?

Linked with the High Calling’s community theme: The Power of Good Questions.