C is for Cookie...that's good enough for me

I was so excited the first time I made cookies with my boys. I had visions of them calmly stirring the batter, sneaking a taste when they thought I wasn't looking. I imagined them happily watching me measure out the ingredients as I explained what each thing was as I added it to the bowl. I knew it was going to be fun, and I couldn't wait to enjoy the experience with them.

Things started out well. It was so cute watching them rush for the stools in the kitchen, pulling them as close to the mixing bowl as they could get--so close that I barely had elbow room. Equally adorable was when each of them then rushed to the utensils to pick out their very own spatulas to help stir with. And that's about where the calm and cuteness of the experience wore off.

Ever-curious Jacob opened the canister of salt and poured about half on to the counter before I got it out of his hands. Stubborn James refused to let his brother--or me--touch the mixing bowl without his permission. There was baking soda, salt, and flour in equal amounts on the floor and in the bowl.

Not only was my kitchen now a total wreck, my patience was starting to wear thin, and I just wanted the damn cookies DONE. I'd gone from excited and happy about the whole experience, to wanting to pull out all my hair in a matter of minutes. What was I THINKING, letting a one- and three-year-old help me bake?

In lieu of screaming like a banshee and banishing my children from the kitchen, I walked away from the situation and sat down in the office with my husband. "What's the matter?" He asked tentatively, pretending to not notice the flour splotches all over my face and in my hair. If there hadn't been steam rising from the top of my head, he might have laughed, but God bless him he held his tongue.

"The kids are making me crazy!! All I wanted to do was make some freaking cookies and now the kitchen's a mess and I don't know if we even measured anything right...." I let out a 2-minute tirade with some less-than-clean language, and by the time he stopped me I was close to tears.

"Babe...why did you want to make cookies with the kids?"

"I thought it would be fun. I wanted to show them how to do it."

"Take a look in the kitchen."

I huffed and crossed my arms, but still I stuck my head out the office door and looked in to my cookie-coated kitchen. There were my two boys, covered with even more flour than I was, pretending to measure and stir and laughing together. They were having fun.

The cookie-baking experience had not been anything like I hoped for, but I'd still accomplished my goal. I had shown my boys something new, and they loved it. The only thing standing in the way of ME having fun, too, was that I was stuck with a fantasy that didn't match my reality.

There are so many instances of parenting that end up turning out nothing like we've planned. It can be difficult to overcome the disappointment sometimes, but seeing the bigger picture can often help ease the anxiety. Having someone point it out can often help, too (thanks, Hubby). I often end up learning lessons from my children when I set out to teach them something new.

We've since baked cookies more times than I can count, and although I have to admit I sometimes still get a little tense, it really does warm my heart to see them race for the stools, spatulas in hand, ready to make cookies--and probably a really fun mess--with me.


Whoever has the best child gets a cookie.

I love my children. Like most doting parents, I think that my kids are the best kids in the world. They're always the cutest, always the best behaved, and man, are they ever smart! I, however, am not delusional. I know this is normal and that all parents (well, all decent parents) feel this way about their children.

I also have a confession to make: in addition to believing my kids are the best, I am also occasionally guilty of judging the behavior of other children. Usually, the judgment is aimed at their parents: "He's three and they seriously haven't taught him how to say please and thank you?" or "Wow, I can't believe her mom let her get away with that." In private, my husband and I have often proudly compared our little angels to our friends' children, pointing out all the things that make our kids great. I'd wager a guess that even though we all care about each other, our friends have made the same comparisons about our kids.

I honestly don't see that much of a problem with this; I think it's a pretty natural phenomenon. It makes total sense to me that parents would be absolutely in love with their kids--in love enough to not notice the flaws that other people see. There is a problem, however, when parents bring their not-so-nice comparisons out in the open, turning a playdate in to a competition to see whose kids are "better."

Last week, our family went out to dinner with the family of my brother-in-law's fiancee. It just so happens that her parents (her dad and stepmom) have a son who is only 2 months younger than our oldest son. I thought, well, that will be kind of cool, they can keep each other company. What I didn't expect was that this would be the OLYMPICS of child-comparison competitions.

The jabs started out subtle. My son pointed at a red balloon and said, "Mommy, I want that pink ballon!"
"Hot pink, huh," she snickered, "And he doesn't even have any sisters at home! Besides, that balloon isn't pink. What color is that balloon, Johnny?" she asked her son.
"It's red, Mommy!" Johnny cheerfully replied.
"Very good, Johnny. James, what color is that other balloon?" she asked my son, pointing at a blue balloon.
"Green!" My son replied, just as cheerfully.
"No, it's blue, Mommy!" interjected Johnny.

This same conversation continued until Johnny had correctly and without hesitation named the colors of all the balloons in the restaurant. My son, bless his heart, tried to name the colors with little success. It's something we've been working on; he knows them but he often confuses them (and I'm not concerned about it because he always confuses the same names of colors with each other, which makes me believe he understands the concept, he just hasn't memorized the color names yet).

After this amazing display of Johnny's color-naming skills, his Mommy explained--her chest puffed up with pride--how Johnny would be moving in to the 4-year-old class at preschool even though he just turned three. See, he's in a very prestigious preschool...he had to apply to get in and everything!

"Can James even say his ABC's yet? Didn't you say he was older than Johhny? Oh, really? That's too bad. Johnny, say the ABC's for us! Oh, and he can write his name. Write your name, Johnny! Oh, and why don't you show them how you can dance, Johnny?"

This friendly banter continued for some time, as we waited for our food to be brought. There was no doubt that Johnny's Mommy was attempting to prove how AMAZING her son was, and she was not shy about pointing out where she felt my son was lacking. By the time our food came, I was fuming, although I was doing my best to stay civil for the sake of my brother-in-law and his fiancee.

I don't understand the need to prove that your child is the best. In my mind, it's enough that I know how great my children are, and although I might be proud enough to mention something awesome that they can do, I've never compared my sons' accomplishments directly to the inadequacies of my friends' children--well, at least not to their parents' face. In a perfect world, we wouldn't be comparing our children at all, but in the real world we can at LEAST keep our opinions to ourselves.

Just as I was getting ready to shove a hot buttered roll in Johnny's Mommy's mouth just to shut her up for a while, however, my son took care of the problem all by himself. Dinner was done and the boys had both just received a nice bowl of chocolate ice cream. Perfect, smart, ABC-singing Johnny dove right in--face first. No attempt at using a spoon, he just stuck his face in the bowl and started eating like an animal. My dull, non-color-knowing little James turned up his nose, and with all the patience he could muster, pronounced, "Oh, Johnny! Don't do that it's RUDE! We use a SPOON to eat ice cream!"

I didn't laugh, but I wanted to. It made me feel a lot better about the whole situation, and it also made me realize something. We all know there's only so many hours in a day, and thus there's only so many things you have time to teach to your children. We pick and choose the lessons we teach our kids, mainly based on our own preferences and values. For me, early childhood is a blessing for my children because no one is forcing them to learn anything--they're learning by playing and enjoying the world before life suddenly gets "structured" when they hit grade school...but I expect them to mind their p's and q's in the meantime. For Johnny's Mommy, having a smart, "advanced" child who can sing his ABC's while tapdancing is at the top of the list, with manners being somewhere around...nonexistent. These are the parenting choices we have made, and therefore the things we're proud about are different. No one's child is the "best," we've all got great kids, and they all excel in different areas in life--most likely the areas of life that we've shown them are important to us.

Johnny's Mommy could certainly use a chill pill when it comes to her expressions of pride, but at the end of the day, I think we all win as long as we're trying our hardest. Just try not to knock my kid down on your way to the winner's circle. There's enough cookies for all of us.


My Girl Loves to Party All the Time

The last few weeks, we have spent more time being social than we've probably been in the last year. Birthday parties, nights out on the town, random visits to family in the middle of the week...lately, it feels like I'm away from home more than I'm here.

Typically, even after one such event I would be stressed out and ready to lay in bed for a week to recover. Ok...maybe not *that* bad, but social situations have never really been my thing. I was the girl standing alone in a corner at parties and dances. Sure, I had friends, and I loved hanging out with them, but for some reason more than five people in a room at once tended to render me mute and socially useless.

On Sunday, we had gone to a birthday party for one of friends' sons. There were over 30 guests...and only about 14 were adults. I knew all of the adults, at least from meeting them at similar functions over the last few years. But (and this isn't an excuse, but really my train of thought) it was REALLY hot in the house, my boys were outside playing, and there was not really any place to sit without displacing a mother holding a baby. So, I said some hasty hello's and smiled as I booked straight through the house to the backyard. I came in a few times to try and "hang out," since all the ladies were in the house but, really, it was just so damned uncomfortable in there. I went outside and played with the kids. Somehow 20-some children all under the age of ten are way easier to handle than standing in a hot room with 5 adult females and their babies.

Yesterday, while having dinner with some friends that were also at that party, I got a not-so-subtle suggestion that I work on my social awkwardness. I guess it was a wake-up call because I never thought that my problem was so obvious. My friend just casually mentioned that "maybe" I should "try" to come out on ladies' night to get better acquainted with all of the women in my social circle. Then, perhaps, "you won't feel so awkward at birthdays and baby showers and stuff." It was an attempt at subtlety, but this friend doesn't really have a subtle bone in her body, so there it was, like a slap in the face. The unspoken part was, "everyone noticed you ran from us like a deer in headlights, and we're all a little concerned."

The really sad part about the whole situation is I had been looking forward to that party all week. I was actually excited to get out and hang out with friends. I was especially excited because all of those women are mothers, and it is sooo easy to find something to talk about when other people are parents, too. I felt mentally prepared to interact with other adults and maybe even have fun. But, oh, how terribly I failed.

I suppose it's just something I'll have to keep working on. Perhaps I really will go to ladies' night next week and practice my social skills a bit. Or maybe I'll just crawl back under my rock and pray that we don't get any more party invitations for a while.