parenting

Parenting Teens: Summer Edition

My husband is at work right now, and I’m sitting in my pajamas feeling all shades of guilt. In theory, I’m home “parenting” the “children.”

But what I’m really doing is “whatever the heck I feel like,” because our kids are now 11 and 14 and they barely know I’m in the house. While Eric slaves away with airplane doodads and gewgaws, I’m drinking coffee in his reading chair.

Look: here’s photographic proof of parenting a 14 year old girl the first week of summer:

parenting teens during summer
That lump under the blanket is a woman-child who could literally survive in this house for days and days without me, provided the wi-fi keeps running and the cupboards have food she recognizes.

Her 11-year old brother just thumped in and out of the house about four times. Where is he going? I have no idea. What’s he doing? No clue. He keeps returning alive, though, so I’m not worried.

This is a remarkable contrast to ten years ago, when every summer day lasted precisely 120 hours. Audrey would wake me up at sunrise every morning, demanding a list of the day’s activities. “Mama, do now? Do now, Mama?” And then Caleb would poop his pants at exactly that moment, all before 6am.

By 10am we’d played every game, splashed in the kiddie pool, and crossed the street to the park. And we still had ten more hours to fill until bedtime. By noon I was praying for the rapture. By dinner time I’d lost the will to live.

Somehow we all muddled through, and ten years later the whole situation is completely unrecognizable. Now Audrey and I have long and loud discussions about whether her ten besties will be allowed to come on our family summer vacation (no they will NOT) and I threaten to throw Caleb’s devices under the back wheels of the van.

The ease of this whole situation has me unnerved. I feel like I should be doing something far more productive with them, but mostly I feel like it’s been a long school year and we all need some time to do nothing. (Except for Eric, who really needs to keep working so we can eat and stuff.) We’ve done algebra until our brains exploded, we’ve made lunches and done chores and completed vocab packets. We played tennis and practiced instruments and drove back and forth to the school a million times. We went to two youth groups and studied the book of Acts until we know the apostles like family.

The kids need a break. Eric and I need time to stare at the ceiling and contemplate our life choices.

And also, the future looms before me. This might be our last summer like this, bored out of our minds together. It won’t be long before both kids are working, driving, and living their own lives. I’ll probably need to get some sort of full-time job to pay for college tuition.

It’s all going to change soon. I don’t fear the changes; it’s time for the kids to experience all life has to offer. They’ll need our support in completely new ways, ways that don’t demand 6am diaper changes or transportation to a friend’s house.

I think we’re all ready for what’s coming, but for now, we have this summer. Negotiating over screen time and whether ten extra teenagers can join us in California in August (no they CANNOT), for three solid months.

I love this time of life. I cherish it. And I hope you cherish your summer, too.

(Unless you’re the mother of littles, then just hope for survival.)

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Dear Parents: It’s okay if you’re making it up as you go along

Eric and I are parenting two kids in middle school, so basically we’re making stuff up as we go along. Minute by minute, we literally have no idea of what we’re doing.

This is no different than any other stage of parenting we’ve experienced thus far, but what IS different is that the kids now know this. They no longer trust everything we say or blindly believe we’re geniuses who happen to share a house with them.

 

To be fair, I can no longer help with their math, band homework, or technology. Their lack of faith in me is sort of justified and it’s not like I’ll ever understand negative integers, so I’m going to have to live with it.

Technology and algebra aside, recently Eric and I have bumped into a few situations where our guesses and hopes aren’t enough to cut it. We’ve had to share our concerns with friends (who all have kids the same ages as ours) and ask what they’d do in our situation.

Now, we picked our advisors wisely. These friends have all known us for two decades and are parenting with the firm desire to raise children who love God, know the Bible, and one day go out into the world to make a difference for the Kingdom. Their insight was very, very helpful.

Turns out there is no easy answer

But this is what I’m learning– their insights are gleaned from their own situation. Every family has a particular dynamic that comes from a bunch of individual personalities jammed into one living situation. Every family has different goals, strengths and weaknesses, and hopes for their kids. We’ve chosen different educational options and houses of worship.

This means every family gave us a different answer. This isn’t what I wanted– I wanted one clear, correct answer. A foggy, stressful situation became even foggier.

Until this morning, when I realized there isn’t any such thing as one clear, correct answer in parenting and the fog suddenly dissipated. I’m responsible for these two kids I have. I have to choose their schools, church, and neighborhood because that’s what parents do. What our friends do is great and helpful and often helps me keep my sanity, but in the end, Eric and I get to choose.

We all get to choose

And so do you. You know your kids. You know your family’s needs and hopes and strengths. So you get to choose what’s best for your kids at the end of the day. Pray over it, make the best decision you can, and rest in the fact there will always be a lot of ways to raise a great kid.

Your friends will do some things better than you. Your friends will do some things worse than you. Their kids might turn out great or really terrible. In the end, all our kids will make decisions we have no control over anyway, which means that we can parent them until the end of time and still get totally wonky results. We’re dealing with humans here, not robots.


We’re all making it up as we go (even our kids!), so let’s just do the best we can, support one another, and enjoy long talks over the table where we confess that we have no idea of what to do next.

All my teenager needs is a pound of butter

I thought parenting teenagers was going to be full of angst and fights and possibly weeping.

Turns out it’s mostly full of butter, with sudden outbursts where I yell about practicing instruments or taking out cat poop. Hardly what I expected at all, frankly.

“Mom, I think we used too much butter!” Audrey called down the stairs to me on Saturday morning.

I was in the middle of a project in the basement, taking out our unused craft desk and sorting through scraps of paper I’ve saved for (I’m not kidding) seventeen years, while Audrey and her friend Lydia were using up all the baking supplies in the whole house, lightly coating everything in powdered sugar and gluten free flour.

By the time we had this conversation it was too late– the cupcakes were already in the oven and there was no repairing the butter issue. “It’s fine, they’ll just be extra delicious!” I yelled up the stairs as I hefted a box full of old glitter glue and rubber stamps from 1999. I hoped I was right, but there was no guarantee.

The cupcakes, I’m glad to announce, are indeed delicious. The girls soon moved from the cake to the frosting, working together to make sure the color of the frosting was just the right shade of yellow. There was lots of giggling and joking. I think I have frosting on my kitchen ceiling. Whatever.

I poked my head upstairs and started a sink of dishwater for them, gently ordering them to clean up their glorious mess, then headed back downstairs with the vacuum to suck up ancient glass beads that had escaped their container. The laughing and giggling continued in the kitchen, with some occasional swishing of hot, soapy water.

After I’d taken four loads of junk to the dumpster and another four loads of donations to the van, the craft area was finally empty and ready for our new addition– a snack bar for the kids and their friends. Eric has this grand idea to make our basement welcoming to the kids, so we can be the place they want to hang out in in the years to come.

Our friends, Tall Caleb (not to be confused with our son, Short Caleb) and Megan, pointed out that the teen years were, oh, right now, which is a solid point. Aud and her friends will be in high school next year.

HIGH SCHOOL.

And with high school comes heroin and pregnancy, I’ve been led to believe. We’d like to avoid both of those at all costs, so if this means we need to make some changes in the basement and buy a metric ton of butter, then so be it.

cupcakeButter and powdered sugar are much cheaper than heroin and rehab, I believe.

We already have the old comfy couches and carpet that won’t mind teenagers. We have plans for a larger TV, a way to play music, and the aforementioned snack bar. What else to do we need? If you have suggestions for us, we’d love to hear them.

More butter, less heroin. Amen.

 

I want to do better for my own kids

It is possible to do better than our parents did.

It’s possible to erase generations of wounds, raising our own children in homes of love, support, and stability. If you fear your kids are destined for a life of the same pain you grew up with, let me be clear. You can do better. Your family can have a different story. 

I know because I’m living proof.

My own parents both had difficult childhoods, and together they made specific, conscious choices to raise us differently than they had been raised. While our own family life was far from perfect, we grew up with love, laughter, encouragement, and grace.

I don’t mean to demean my grandparents or air sixty year-old dirty laundry. My four biological grandparents have long since passed, so I can’t ask them what caused them to make the choices they did. I have a feeling they were doing the best they could for their time, financial ability, and education. Nevertheless, things were difficult and my parents were not about to make the same mistakes.

Don’t you love the retro-hipster dad? He cracks me up.
Some days I think it cost Mom and Dad nearly everything they had– money, time, and sanity. But they stuck it out, no matter how grim things became, and now my siblings and I can still call the same phone number we’ve been dialing all our lives. Our two parents still pick up the phone in the house where we were raised.

Not many people can say that anymore, and that speaks to their dedication. Also, their pure stubbornness. But that’s another story for another time.

Here are the choices that changed our family’s future, plus a few I’ve seen work miracles in other families:

Get your family in church, and get involved.

Please don’t just drag your people into a pew at 10:30 on Sunday, then drag them back to the car at 11:32. I mean really go to church. Get to know your congregation. Sign up for ministries and a small group. Be part of the solution, not just the crabby people who gripe in the back row. Make daily Bible reading and prayer a part of your life.

The Holy Spirit has been mending broken families and relationships for a long time now, and your family is offered that same healing and love. If you have no idea of how to find that, a good, Bible-teaching church is the first place to look.

Get yourself help if you need it.

Do you struggle with depression or anxiety? Get some help. Your mental health is key to parenting well, and you aren’t doing this for you– you’re doing it for them. Your community has counselors, pastors, and psychologists who are trained and able to help you sort things out. Wouldn’t it be great to get through a day without the clouds of gloom or the shredded nerves of anxiety?

When you do get the help you need, follow through. Take the meds; keep going to counseling. Mental health is just like our regular health– it falls apart really fast if we don’t pay close attention.

Make your marriage a priority.

Our spouses cannot (and will not) survive decades of neglect while we focus on the kids. At best you’ll grow apart and find yourself sharing the house with a shocking stranger when the kids go to college. At worst you’re looking at years of fights, affairs, deceptions, and divorce.

Look at your spouse. Really look at him or her. Do you know what matters to them? What makes them sad, happy, or furious? Now ask yourself– do you even care anymore?

You will be doing your children a huge favor if you care, and then actually do something about it. Love your husband or wife for the person they are, not who you are determined to force them to be. Finding things in common, reasons to laugh, and joy in the daily drudgery will be something your children will take with them into their own marriages.

And do not underestimate the importance of time away together. Your kids will survive with Grandma or a friend while you go out to dinner or away for the weekend–lo, even a whole week. Do it, please. Your kid may scream a little while you leave them at the door, but a crying fit never killed a kid. But many a marriage has died because the kids became the priority.

Relentlessly prune selfishness.

I am a firm believer that all pain we cause others begins in one place: “Me first.” It’s the relentless kudzu of our souls, causing us to idolize ourselves, our comfort, and our personal happiness.

And listen, I’m the last mom on earth to advocate becoming your kid’s slave. We’re the parents; they’re the kids. We’re not here to meet their every whim until they become self-centered monsters who demand the world to fall at their feet.

Everyone needs time to themselves, a moment to drink a cup of coffee in peace, and time alone in the restroom. I’m not denying my love of tinkling in private.

mom spending time with kids

But selfishness is a greedy, destructive beast. It’s really the reason marriages fail, parents speak words they never should have uttered, and Child Protective Services will never run out of clients.

Before you:

  • speak– consider the effect it will have. Are the words kind, gentle, and true?
  • react– consider the experience of the person in front of you. What could they be facing right now that needs grace, not fury?
  • choose– consider the consequences. Is the decision wise, mature, and the best for all members of your home?
  • buy– consider the family finances. Will this be a blessing to everyone now and in the future?

You get the idea. Every choice has a consequence, and we get to choose our family’s experience at our hands. We have the ability to bring blessing or curses, joy or pain.

Your kids are watching you closely, and they’re directly feeling the fruit of your choices. You can do better for them. Your good decisions can rewrite their future, giving them the tools they need to be happy, successful adults.

Step by step, day by day, your family can have a wonderful, grace-filled life. I have all faith that you can give your kids the life they deserve.

(And I’ll be praying for you.)

 

 

 

 

Hiding Places: all the spots the kids can’t find you

In the course of normal human parenting, there will come a day when we need to hide from the children.

Of course we love the children. We love them to bits.

It’s just that sometimes we love them best from a distance of ten feet to one acre. We need a little time to pluck our eyebrows, to finish a chapter in a book, or to take a nap.

(Please, dear Lord. A nap. I’m not asking for much.)

As an introverted parent I’ve become an expert on hiding from my own kids. Here are some of my best ideas.


Suggested Hiding Spots:

  1. Behind the washer and dryer. I know it’s a little dusty back there, but I think we can make this work. Use the extension on your vacuum and get out the lint balls, then install some sort of a shelf and sleeping bag combo. Be careful not to set the sleeping bag on fire from the hot dryer parts.
  2. In your kids’ own messy closets! Artfully rearrange their crap until you have a parent-sized hole. Cover yourself with a sheet.
  3. The neighbor’s back yard. Make sure you can see your own house in case of flames or sibling death-matches. Pull a lawn chair over to the adjoining property, cover your face with a hat, and snooze away. Your kids will assume you’re the neighbor if they don’t look too closely.
  4. Under your bed. I can’t do this right now because our mattress and box spring are sitting directly on the floor, due to some issues we’re having with Eric not being willing to spend over a thousand dollars on a bed frame I’ve picked out. (And we keep breaking our other bed frames. But that’s a discussion for another time.) You probably have some space under your bed. Crawl right under there and rest. You deserve it.
  5. The back of the van. Our van windows are so tinted you can’t see a dang thing from the outside. The kids can’t see me without actually opening the back door or peering over the back seat, and we all know kids give up looking long before this. Just don’t move and they won’t be able to see you, like in Jurassic Park.

So there you go– permission to hide and concrete ideas of where to do it. What did I forget? Where do you hide in your own house?

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Hugging (and other things that surprise me as I get old)

I hugged Marty this weekend. I also hugged his wife, Sheila, and their daughter Bri. I also hugged a tiny little African woman during the greeting time at church on Sunday, and on Friday I hugged Susannah tight because I hadn’t seen her in almost a month. Then I grabbed up her babies and nearly nibbled their necks off while they giggled.

I’ve become a hugger.

I haven’t always been a hugger, because our family isn’t known for displays of affection. It’s not that we don’t love each other, it’s just that we love each other best from a distance of anywhere from twelve inches to three hundred miles. That’s pretty much our comfort radius for physical contact. If I want to make my brother extremely uncomfortable all I have to do is sit three inches too close to him on the couch. He gets this pained look like maybe he needs to be somewhere else.

I would have used my own siblings for this photo montage, but reference the above mentioned "hundreds of miles." They were unavailable for a photo shoot today.
How my family is comfortable sitting together on a couch. Cushions make excellent buffers. (I would have used my own siblings for this photo montage, but reference the above mentioned “hundreds of miles.” They were unavailable for a photo shoot today.)

And then I get the couch to myself.

I noticed this shift to Touchy-Feely-Hugger about twelve years ago, which coincides directly with the time my first baby was born. Having a small child pretty much gets you over the whole personal space issue because babies are notoriously unfamiliar with the concept of personal space.

Is this how normal people sit on the same piece of furniture? I'm not sure.
Is this how normal people sit on the same piece of furniture? I’m not sure.

It’s all their space. All of a mother’s body is suddenly the baby’s free-range area. And then time marches on, but toddlers and preschoolers are still most comfortable clinging to portions of their parents’ persons, and by the time they’re old enough to let loose a parent is pretty much dead to the idea of personal space.

"How to Irritate Your Brother So Badly He Feels the Need to Be Elsewhere."
“How to Irritate Your Brother So Badly He Feels the Need to Be Elsewhere.”

I could sit on a stranger’s lap on the subway at this point in my life and barely notice.

Um, too far? Sort of weird? Yes?
Um, too far? Sort of weird? Yes? (If this was me and my brother, someone would have been getting punched in the head right about now.)

What the children didn’t change for me, time took care of. Now that I’m in my very, very, very late thirties I don’t care whom I hug and if they think it’s weird or not. Hugs are nice. Given the proper circumstances, if a person is willing to come close and make actual contact with appropriate body parts, I think that’s exactly right.

Twelve years into parenting, this feels normal. If parenting ever feels normal, I guess.
Twelve years into parenting, this feels normal. If parenting ever feels normal, I guess.

(Notice I added the words proper and appropriate. Don’t call me for bail money if you don’t understand these boundaries.)

Life is hard, and tiring, and stressful. Hugs erase all of that for just a second. For a minute we get to close out the worry and the budget and the to-do list and just enjoy our loved ones. We welcome them into our personal space and create a bond that bridges gaps and years and words.

I wish I had a great biblical example to share here. I wish Jesus had gone from town to town, hugging his way through the crowds. I have yet to remember an example or a parable where this was so, but I do know he spent his ministry welcoming everyone to his personal space. He healed their sick and wept with the grieving. He walked with his men, slept in their boats, and ate at their tables.

So no. I don’t have any great Jesus-Was-a-Hugger stories to insert here. But I do know Jesus was a companion, a friend, and a blessing. I’m sure he was a hugger occasionally and they just forgot to mention it.

Today, I challenge you! Have you hugged anyone? Go find a person and hug them (remembering our key words of proper and appropriate). If you’re not a hugger and just can’t force it, at least try a warm smile and a few extra minutes to listen. Reach out, if only emotionally.

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Matthew 5:12-13)

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Let’s Learn to Play Tennis (but we use the word “tennis” loosely)

The Clemences are not a sporty crowd.

And I mean the total sum of us are not a sporty crowd. Not the older generations, not the younger folk, not the way out extended cousins– nothing. We never have football blaring on the TV during holiday gatherings, we never gather at the park to play softball while the hot dogs roast on a grill, and we don’t sit in the rain to watch the kids play their umpteenth game of soccer.

But the summer is a long, boring space of time. We have to fill those hours with something, so we’ve recently invested in the world’s least expensive tennis rackets and a plastic container of balls. The kids were in funky mood on Wednesday, so after dinner I convinced them to get into the van to drive down to the closest tennis courts to practice.

Tennis in flip flops

They looked at me like I’d lost my ever-loving mind.

Me: “We need to get out of this house. Let’s at least try it.”

Caleb: “But what if someone’s there? It’ll be embarrassing.”

Me: “We’ll leave and go to the park if someone’s there.”

Caleb: “But what if someone comes while we’re playing? Can we leave then, too?”

Me: “Just get in the van.”

We drove down the hill to the school with tennis courts, only to be surprised at the condition of the courts. The nets were down and the weeds were up. I mean, waaaaay up. Some of them were waist-high, growing in the four-inch cracks in the surface. Our community isn’t rolling in cash and things often get a little neglected, but this felt more like a post-apocalyptic sort of tennis experience. In the end it added to the fun, because the kids used the rackets to whack down weeds in between serves.

weedy tennis court

I’d reviewed some basic tennis rules before we left, but it turned out it didn’t matter.

I have to say, and the children have given me permission to say this, that our offspring should not expect tennis scholarships to the college of their choice.

IMG_2508

Did we have fun?

Yes.

Did we actually manage to hit the ball a few times?

Yes.

Did we actually spend most of our time making fun of one another and then chasing the ball across a cracked and weedy expanse of what used to be tennis courts?

Yes.

Did we learn that we aren’t any good at tennis either and this doesn’t really bother us?

Yes, indeed.

I have a feeling that the good tennis courts are located across town at the new high school, but I don’t know that we’ll bother to go find them. After all, it wouldn’t be as much fun with a smooth, weed free court. And the chances that someone might show up to see our embarrassing efforts is much higher.

I think we’ll stay at the cruddy courts and continue to have a really good time.

 

Why My House Smells Suspicious

I feel like I went way overboard with the opinions and lecturing in my last blog post, which is why this blog post is going to center on one thing– why my house smells quite awful. I went back and read the post from Tuesday and I almost deleted it– but no. I stand by what I said. It’s just that I had my preacher pants firmly affixed as I stood on my soapbox and shouted my opinions, and I don’t like doing that very often. I just had to get it off my chest, but now let’s move on to something far less subjective like what I’m cooking for dinner and why it’s stinking up my house.

The smell is a cross between burning ham and watered down cabbage, which is interesting because I am not actually cooking cabbage. We had a ham at small group dinner the other night and my friend Susannah suggested using the bone to make a bean soup. I have a bag of black-eyed peas that have been in my cupboard for a few years so I thought this might be a nice opportunity to pretend the Depression still rages and bean soup is delicious.

Side note: I grew up in a home where both my parents loved bean soup, and loved split-pea soup even more. I also grew up in a home where I was forced to eat bean soup and split-pea soup because my parents claimed to love me and said these meals were good for me.

So maybe I’m being haunted by 1983 as I write this from my stinky kitchen, but I really have some doubts about this meal. I tasted it a few minutes ago, and the flavor of the beans good. The texture is pretty awful, though.

I tried to run this photo through a bunch of filters to make it look more appetizing, but it didn't work. I grow even more suspicious of our meal.
I tried to run this photo through a bunch of filters to make it look more appetizing, but it didn’t work. I grow even more suspicious of our meal.

The question is this: as a mother, how do I pass this meal off on my kids? I could smile brightly and force myself to eat it, pretending pizza couldn’t be as delicious as this mushy, stinky meal. Or I could go with the bald truth, which is that I would rather eat almost anything than this. Pancakes and eggs, a piece of toast, a sandwich.

Thoughts? What would you do?

Mothers of Middle Schoolers: New Game, New Rules

Our daughter is in middle school now, which means we’re playing at a whole new level in the parenting game. The new game comes with new rules, rules our beloved firstborn spelled out for me at dinner the other night.

Earlier in the day I’d received an email from a friend who volunteers extensively at the school, asking if I’d be interested in coming in for career day this spring. Apparently the students are interested in learning about what it means to be a writer, and while I’m far from an expert, Stephen King rarely makes appearances at small Midwestern schools. I shot back an email agreeing to be the token writer of the career day, and thought nothing of it.

Until dinner that night, when I suddenly remembered. “Hey, Audrey. I’m coming to your school this spring,” I said.

Her beautiful blue eyes did something very adult like– they widened in horror then narrowed in confusion while her marvelous brain calculated the damage this was about to inflict on her reputation. “Why?! What are you doing?”

“Career Day? Apparently you guys have Career Day?”

“Yes, but…oh poop. I shouldn’t have checked the writer box, should I?”

“Guess not, but you weren’t the only one. I think other kids want to learn about writing, too. That and a lot of other jobs.”

She thought this over for a moment while she chewed. “Okay, I’ll give you some rules. You can come, but you have to follow the rules.”

I was offended. “What?! I’ve been helping at your school since you were in kindergarten. I know all these kids!”

Career day rules

 

But my protests got me nowhere. She still dictated the rules:

  1. No telling people how cute they are.
  2. No telling people how cute she was in the bathtub. (Side note: she was really, really cute in the bathtub. She had these adorable little squishy buns.)
  3. No talking to people under twenty-seven years old.
  4. No doing little dances in front of anyone, including shaking the hiney. (Her dad piped up at this point, asking, “What about kicking?” Audrey said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You know how she does those kicks.” ((I tend to do little kicks when I am having fun.)) Audrey sighed. “No kicking, either.”)
  5. No mentioning these rules while speaking.
  6. Don’t be boring.

I pointed out that I was writing the rules down specifically so I could blog about them, but this doesn’t bother her at all. She feels her peers might not read blogs from mothers, so I guess this is safe.

Then I asked how I could be not-boring if I had to follow all the rules. Her eyes narrowed to dangerous slits at this point, and I suddenly had an image of how I would have felt if my parents had been invited to speak at school when I was in middle school. My father has a tendency to…how can I put this delicately…say anything that will be funny or shocking. (Dad, if you’re reading this, I reference Thanksgiving Dinner of 2014 as evidence.)

At the thought of my father standing up in front of my friends and firing off whatever came to mind, a wave of compassion soaked my teasing. I sobered up. “Okay, okay. I’ll follow the rules and I won’t embarrass you.” She seemed relieved and that was the end of it.

For now, at least. I will do my best to not embarrass her in April, but heaven only knows how this will actually go. At least I have time to memorize the expectations.

 

 

No, Sweetie. I Really Don’t Know Where Your Robot Is. (But the Garbage Man Might Have a Good Idea.)

I’ve been throwing away my kids’ toys for many, many years. Not right at first, of course. The few toys my daughter had at birth were lovingly gathered by friends and family who found the adorable elephant, the pink bunny, or the shiny little rattle. Only a monster can throw that sort of thing away.

But fast forward two years to when her brother was born, and suddenly we had a 900 square foot house full of dolls, cars, stuffed animals, princess costumes, McDonald’s toys, books, blocks, and also– a toy that lives in the dark corners of my memory– Pooh House.

Someone (I’ll blame my own mother) thoughtfully purchased her a little Winnie the Pooh house that came with a few stuffed animals and that child made us play with it for hours at a time for many, many months. There are only so many ways you can put a three-inch bear in a plastic swing and make him move. Even if I stretched to the limits of my imagination I could come up with two minutes of inventive play with that bear and his wretched stuffed friends. I was doomed to an infinity of minutes, bouncing him up and down and making him climb the stairs.

Oh, the agonizing memory.

Audrey finally outgrew Pooh House and, no matter what little old ladies say, I’ve never missed a minute of playing it. Do you hear me, young mothers? You don’t have to cherish every minute. Sometimes the minutes suck. Let it go and hope tomorrow is better. 

As much as I’ve been scarred by the memory, Pooh House really was a good investment. We got my mother’s money out of that hunk of plastic. But really, there are painfully few toys my kids have owned over the years that make that grade. My son has a bucket of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, lovingly collected over nine years. That bucket still gets dumped out and played with on a daily basis. Both kids have iPods, and as much as I hate to admit it, they were good investments. The Legos have been wonderful and many are from my husband’s childhood. Arts and crafts supplies are always winners. The dress up clothes collected over the years are being played with right this minute as our little friend Emery is digging them out of the closet and and giving them a new twirl. how many toys

I will not bore you with the very long list of toys that got three minutes of play, then a year in a dark toy box, and then were silently moved out under the cover of darkness to the dumpster. We don’t have that many minutes left in our lives to list all the things.

Children do not automatically become happier because they have all the toys. As painful as that pout is in the store, when the lip comes out and the sad blue (insert your own child’s eye color here) eyes bat at you reproachfully, you can overcome, dear parents. It might feel like you’re hurting them and causing them sorrow, but making them eat their carrots causes the same sorrow. So do vaccinations. So do long, boring sermons at church where they have to sit quietly for consecutive minutes.

If we focus only on their comfort and temporary happiness, we’ll have spoiled, nasty children who think every whim needs to be met. Plus, our houses will bulge with toys they don’t really enjoy. Therefore and thus, I implore you to say no to stuff they don’t actually love. And if you already have too much stuff they don’t adore, smuggle that crap out in the middle of night and let Mr. Garbageman take it to Landfill Glory.

I mean, lovingly pack it up and donate it to a thrift store so another family can enjoy it. Whatever.

So, I have two questions for you today: What one toy have you played with and hated every minute of? And, what’s the next toy that’s going to magically disappear from your household?

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