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This is How We do It

7 Jul

For anyone who’s ever wondered what it’s like choreographing with a little kid, I submit:

Not sure who is having a harder time here.

NAMB: Is this a birthday party or a wedding?

1 May

Is it just me, or are birthdays for small children getting utterly out of control?

I don’t mean out of control like my 7th birthday, where I invited every girl in my class to sleepover and all twenty-two of us paraded around the house in our PJs playing toy instruments at 11 PM. My poor parents.

I mean out of control like you realize that March is too late to start planning for your kid’s 2nd birthday…in July. I mean out of control like, you’re starting to wish you had an event planner to manage the various elements of your soiree.

This is clearly just my opinion, but seriously: if you are using words like “element” and “soiree” in reference to a birthday party for anyone under 50–even in your head–you need to #checkyoself.

I mean, I think we all know on some level that children’s birthday parties have become some sort of toxic cocktail of perfectionism, one-upmanship, and Pinterest. And I’m hardly the first to make fun of the phenomenon of over-the-top birthday parties and borderline insane parents (see the now-infamous birthday list email, or how about the kid that didn’t show up for a party and got an invoice for his cost incurred). But if my social media feed is any indication, the trickle-down effect of these crazy, wedding-like extravaganzas is very, very real.*

*seriously–I just witnessed a 30+ comment thread on custom themed birthday cakes in my actual life. No, not whether they’re necessary, but the best place to get one.

Ask for pictures from a child’s birthday party, and instead of a bunch of smiling kids you’ll see forty angles of lavish table layouts. We’re talking blowouts for kids who are turning 1, 2, 3….ages where they still think playing in the bath tub is the height of good-time fun. Who is this shindig really for? Look in the index under parents, impressing other.

We need to stop the madness.

In that spirit, I have created a primer of good and bad words for children’s birthdays. To hammer the metaphor even further, we’ll play it like Red Light, Green Light. Next time you find yourself in conversation about a birthday, notice what key words pass your lips and follow the directions accordingly:

Green – go for it!

Cake – No party, indeed no birthday, is complete without cake. Go hog wild and let the birthday kid pick the flavor! Ice cream is always good too.

Mess – Accept it, embrace it, encourage it. Have you ever been to a fun party that didn’t get a little messy?

Invitations – I’m really old fashioned and like paper invitations sent via snail mail*. Even if they come from a pack at Target, it’s awesome. I mean, when you see an envelope in the mail with your name on it, you know you’re really and truly invited somewhere. I’m not against Evites per se, but I do get a little wistful when it seems like parents are putting more thought and effort on things like themed labels for the food (and taking pictures of said labels) than they are on requesting the pleasure of a guest’s company.

*tangent–I said the phrase “snail mail” to an intern the other day and he had no idea what I was talking about. Is that an old term or something??

Improvise – Story time. Last year P and I went to the Starlight drive-in and there was a birthday party parked next to us…probably a dozen 13 year old girls, split among two or three mini-vans. The party fare consisted of a few pizzas, a cookie cake, a couple of six packs for the parents. No decorations, no party favors. During the long wait to get into the gates, they got out of the cars and played with–you’ll never believe it– a ball. Like the kind you get out of the bin at the grocery store. The entire group, including the adults, was raucously laughing the whole time. The whole thing was on point, without reeking of planning. I bet you your deposit at Legoland they didn’t even have to make a reservation.

Red – Stop Right There

Fondant – I agree those cakes shaped like unicorns and cars look cool. Hell, I watched like 40 back to back episodes of Cake Boss at Northside while I was waiting to pop out T. But #truth, that stuff tastes like the bottom of a shoe. Whatever happened to buttercream?

Deposit – Does anyone else think it’s weird that in one generation, parents went from showing up with ten kids at whatever McDonalds had a decent playplace to laying two bennies down to reserve the party room at HippoHopp? (which is basically a glorified playplace, if you really think about it). Super-screaming red light if the words “non-refundable” are attached.

Dessert Table – Uh….you have a cake, right? Dessert. Bam.

If this is the 3rd birthday, what will the wedding look like?

Schedule – Think about it from a kid’s perspective. School, piano practice, the dentist…those delightful activities are examples of things that are scheduled. Leaving a few things up to chance makes it easier for you and fun for them (see improvise).

Registry –  Not to get too Emily Post, but I really do think this is gauche. Yes, it’s an unspoken rule that you bring a gift to a child’s party. But it’s the giver’s prerogative to choose the gift (and the price of the gift). I swear, half the time I see a birthday registry the stuff on it is high-priced–I’m talking in the $100-$200 range. If you want your kid to have a new kitchen set, that’s what grandparents are for (or here’s an idea– buy that ish yourself). If people are asking you what to get, by all means offer a suggestion–the $15-$30 range is reasonable, although even less is fine too (who doesn’t love some new playdoh?).  I’d even be OK with an Amazon wishlist, as long as you only send it if someone directly asks for it. And whatever you do, don’t provide links on your invitations to a registry. People don’t even do that on a wedding invitation! (Do they? Please tell me people have not started doing that).

Yellow – Proceed with caution:

Custom – Having the baker put your kid’s name on the cake? Yes. Hiring three different bakers to make customized cookies, cupcakes, and dirt pudding in individual ramekins? Overkill.

Game – It’s not a bad idea to have a few activities planned in case things start out slow. But this isn’t a baby shower. If it takes more than ten seconds to explain the rules, forget it. No rules works too–stuff like a bucket of water balloons or even a big roll of butcher paper and finger paint is plenty fun.

Favors – Something to say “thank you for coming” is a very nice touch. But most parents agree that a goody bag of tiny plastic crap toys is kind of annoying. People just do it because they feel like they have to.

Staaahp.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have personalized and/or homemade favors that seen to scream “I’m overcompensating for something.”

Apparently, this includes a personalized note and homemade hair bows. Good grief.

A lot of parents get overwhelmed between the two and don’t give favors at all. But there is a happy medium, if you get creative. On a related note, thank-you cards for gifts are great for character building.

DIY (see also: homemade) – I know some of you maams are crafty and genuinely enjoy (and have time for?) making doilies, and if that’s you, go for it. But if you find yourself up at 4 AM the night before the party, cursing because you can’t find the right pastry tip to ice the clam macaroons or you’re only halfway through the 100 DIY bathbombs for baby’s magical mermaid party, you’re only hurting yourself.

I don’t make this ish up.

I say for us non-Martha Stewart types, pick one thing to make yourself (the cake, the invitations) and get thee to a Party City for the rest.

Look.

I’m not saying parties need to be like they were “back in my day” (#getoffmylawn). A few things, like donations in lieu of gifts and the slow fade of the watch-the-birthday-kid-open-presents tradition, are standout achievements of modern birthday parenting. Things evolve and that’s fine. But when it gets to the point where moms are feeling like they might be depriving their child if they don’t arrange for a candy buffet and miniature fruit bouquets, that’s a problem. For your child, it is and it should be all about the experience–just ask the girls at the Starlight Drive-in.

NAMB: You’re Doing it Wrong

1 Apr

Somebody is doing it wrong.

 

If you’re a woman in the United States, you know by now that there are many choices available when it comes to structuring your family. But only some of them are right. My gentleman readers (or the younger ladies out there) may not know, however, so let’s talk about the many ways your lifestyle choice can be and probably is wrong.

Single, no children

This is acceptable until the age of 26 and three months. If at that age you don’t at least have a highly likely prospect of marriage you’d better start saving up the pennies you’re obviously working too hard to earn, because you’ll need to purchase a subscription to every dating site on the interwebs. And also plastic surgery because there’s clearly something wrong with you. You could spend your money on world travel, hobbies, or continuing education, but I wouldn’t advise it. Being well rounded isn’t half as valuable as being well off and well married. Which brings me to number two.

Married, no children

So when are you two going to have kids? Well, just don’t wait too long. You should probably have your responses to that tattooed to your forehead to save time. Henna tatooed, because future moms shouldn’t get inked–it might affect their unborn offspring. (Dad-to-be, you can skip the tatt, but do work on getting a promotion/raise at least every 18 months). If you aren’t preggers by your 2.5 year anniversary, clearly there are only two possibilities. First and most likely, fertility probs. If you would like kids one day but don’t have any right now, this is actually the only possibility. As the internet has taught us, fertility drops off at age 27 (hence the deadline in life situation #1). And since men can father children into their sixties, the problem must be with you, ma’am. Sure, you’re in grad school and your husband is job searching. We know postpartum depression and alcoholism runs in your family (don’t even play, I saw Uncle Tommy at y’all’s wedding). But since having a baby trumps all other considerations, we know that can’t be the reason you are still childless, so we’ll just say it: I am so, so sorry you have geriatric ovaries. Actually we won’t say it, we’ll just whisper it after you leave the party early (probably to try to get pregnant). On the upside, if you got married after 27, you can put the money you started saving for eHarmony towards IVF instead.

The second possibility is that you don’t want kids. Don’t worry, you’ll change your mind. How do I know? Because having biological children is the only way to experience a meaningful life and real love, and you want real love, don’t you? Your cat/career/friends/partner/best-selling novel doesn’t count.

Unmarried with children

This one is pretty obvious.

LGBTQ or any letter other than 100% arrow straight, with any kind of family status

See above.

One Child

Congratulations, you’ve achieved motherhood! It looks good on you too. For six months. After that we’re sure you’ll bounce back. So–when do you plan to have the next one? Everyone knows that only children are lonely at best and socially maladjusted at worst, and no matter where they fall on that spectrum guaranteed to be a prime weirdo. I know you’re interested in staying on a career track and that’s good. We ladies can have it all nowadays. But you don’t want to wait too long. Sibling spacing is indeed a heavy consideration, but five years? Your kids won’t be in the same school together. Oh. Ohhhhh….you must be having trouble in your marriage. OK, we won’t ask about it.

P.S. I know this great book about secondary infertility.

Two or Three Children

Since this is the ideal number of kids (three is the new black, you know) we’ll move on to other concerns. By now you probably don’t have any friends that aren’t part of your carpool, so you’ll want to brush up on these important discussion topics:

  • Who is your contractor and are they LEED certified?
  • Charter or private kindergarten?
  • What is the hottest workout, and how to look like you’re actually doing it
  • Is three too young an age to really appreciate a Disney World/European vacation?
  • And of course, who is stepping out on whom (husband or wife, duh, we’re not sexist).

Don’t think too much about things like life purpose and meaning (outside of your kids, obvi). Save that for empty nesting, or even better, your deathbed.

Now that you’re family is complete*, this is the time to consider the rest of your life. The gentle applause for staying at home while your kids were babies subsides once they’re in third, first, and preK respectively. Couponing as a full time gig is so 2011. What’s a lady to do? If you can’t manage leaning back in to a high powered career, there’s always activism/volunteerism. Maybe you should try blogging, that’s easy.

*unless your children are all the same gender. In which case–are you going to try for a girl/boy?

Four or More Children

Wow! You have your hands full. How do you do it? I could never manage that many. At this point your only hope of respectability is to be on the board of a Fortune 100 company or somehow in politics–a Kennedy if you can manage it. Otherwise, how could you be a loving* mother, a master chef, a fun friend, a successful careerwoman, have a home that’s a charming mashup of Pottery Barn and West Elm housing a stellar shoe collection, and be able to double as a Victoria Secret Angel on Halloween and Valentine’s Day? (In other words, the definition of having it all). If you are missing one or more of these elements as a woman with four or more children, you will automatically be labeled a hot mess. #justsayin

*defined as doting, but not helicoptery. You’ll know you’re doing it right if each of your children is well-mannered, high-achieving, and popular. 

The good news is, you should be covered in your old age. With that many kids, the odds are definitely increased that at least one of them will take you in or be able to set you up with a sweet assisted living situation. Of course this also increases your likelihood of having one or more of your children living in your basement as adults. Bottom line: make sure your will is up to date.

So, to recap.

I guess if you are an accomplished 25 year old who is engaged to a charming and successful male with detailed plans to birth one girl and one boy in the [not too] distant future with a rockin’ well-dressed bod and a successful yet flexible career, you are all set. Anything other than that and you’re doing this whole woman thing wrong.

Welcome to the club.

Give a woman in your life a high five for doing it wrong today, and more importantly, give yourself a hug. It’s all good.

P.S. Happy April Fools! Check out links in this article for evidence that contradicts the statement.

It’s been a while man, life’s so rad

27 Jan

Hello friends. I’m hibernating and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I’ve been catching a lot of screen time, reading a lot of books, and doin’ a little dancing (I’m choreographing a local school’s production of Hairspray, for the three of you who don’t know me from Facebook and/or RL). I sort of despise winter and the only way I can beat SAD every year is to get a little indulgent. I buy beauty products and fleece leggings, read magazines, drink hot chocolate, and forget I’m 30-something for the length of a YA novel or movie (follow me on Goodreads and we’ll swap reviews!).

To that end, last night I convinced P to watch The Fault in our Stars with me. I’d read the book but until this moment didn’t have any interest in the movie because–depressing. But watching it had the intended effect, namely, to make me feel grateful for everything, large and small, that is good in life (Sometimes the cold can make me whiny).

So I’m coming out of my cave for a minute or two to share what I’m obsessing over now. Surprise #notsurprised most of it has to do with food and makeup.

Roku is enabling my DA addiction

The only show that I’m driven to stay caught up on for whatever reason is Downton Abbey. We couldn’t get either of the hand-me-down antennas our friends gave us to work in our house (I don’t know, trees?…), so we ended up ordering a Roku with a bunch of reward points that were built up on my credit card. (The upside to sinking hundreds of dollars a year into keeping an old vehicle in working order). We can’t watch the episodes until the day after they air, but that’s better than waiting an eternity for that ish to roll out on Netflix. I can handle a day.

But seriously. Roku is awesome, and you should get one, and then poop on Comcast’s lawn.

These nails y’all

I’m sort of over crazy nail art. I’m really loving pure colors right now, especially neutrals. Currently I’m lacquered up in this warm winter white, a color of my own invention. None of these polishes were quite right on their own: too gray, bright, and peachy, respectively. But together they make the palest skin tone neutral that my skillful phone photography can’t do justice to.

(For the interested, the recipe is: 1 drop Revlon Bare Bones, 3 drops Avon French Tip White, and 6 drops OPI My Vampire is Buff).

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On the other hand, this mani is kind of a mess so maybe it’s better this way.

My toes are chrome rose gold. You guys! It’s like my toes are wearing jewelry! (That matches the be-YOO-tiful new pink gold watch that P got me for Christmas, beetee dubs). The best part about this nail makeup, other than that I got it on super clearance at Ulta, is that it actually works better without a base and top coat. Laziness condoned? I’m down. Sadly, it’s been discontinued (hence the clearance) but you can still score it on Amazon and Ebay. For the moment, anyway.

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It dries quickly enough that my feet didn’t turn into ice blocks while trying to avoid slipper-smears.

 

Snapware Makes Me into an Adult where Everything Else has Failed

My friend H and I determined, when we were both drooling in the Corningware Outlet, that it’s a true sign of getting older when you are excited about food storage. But the hilarious yet surprisingly awesome set I have right now has started to get too grimy to use, and now I’m hoping to replace it eventually with the full complement of these babies.

20150126_121722

 

Not Sure Where These Have Been All My Life

I had an amazingly delicious side of roasted chickpeas at our holiday office lunch, and was floored to learn that it’s really easy to DIY that fancy looking snacky-savory-side. And you can add any kind of flavor, really–for my first go around I used garlic, cumin, and parmesan. There are about 657000 recipes on Pinterest but all you really need to know is a drained can of garbanzos for 30 minutes at 400 doused in EVOO and spices. They were intended for a rehearsal snack, but it was all I could do not to eat the entire batch standing up in the kitchen.

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Embarrassing confession: I did not know that chickpeas and garbanzo beans were the same thing before now. This is what happens when your primary food group is pizza.

 

Online Bureaucracy Means One Less Fraught Interaction with Strangers

Maybe it’s because this has never actually worked for me before, but renewing my tag was stupid easy this year. Basically since I started driving I’ve had to schedule a birthday visit to either the tag office or the DMV, even though I live in a county with online renewal. This year I got my renewal notice, emissions test, paid online, got the sticker, WAM, BAM, all in about a two week time frame. You go, state of Georgia.

 

T minus Five Days Until This is Me

Ok so not really. But my main dudes and I are going to Colorado next week to visit my cool lil’ bro C and his cooler better half S, plus one of my very best buddies is meeting up with us from LA. And we’re all going skiing at Copper Mountain! It’s like vacation squared!

 

The Only Thing That could Make me Eat Salad when 45 Degrees Is Actually Starting to Sound Warm

If you don’t have a Kroger in your area, that is a real travesty because this Private Selection Poblano Ranch is everything you could ever want in a man dressing and more, and I don’t even like ranch.

Just give me a head of lettuce and we’re good to go.

 

So This is Neat

Truly though, after that downer of a movie I was walking around my house with new eyes. For instance, I’ve had these little bird hooks forever–seriously, it sat on a dresser unhung the entire time we lived in our old apartment, and it’s been hanging here for almost three. But suddenly I looked at it and just loved it.

Side note: I seem to own a shocking number of clothing with bows.

Side note: I seem to own a shocking number of garments featuring bows.

 

I Swear This Wasn’t Intentional

Not long ago we redid the horrible green floor and mauve trim in my bathroom with peaceful white and deep gray. And that was great. But what’s even greater is that the products on my bathroom shelf are color coordinated and I didn’t even plan it. From the eye makeup remover that I don’t use because it stings but I keep because MERMAID, to my go-to winter body cream. This is the kind of randomness I can really appreciate.

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This Face Though

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This is my sweet, sweet child. My child who not only is free from horrid diseases GAH WHY movie with FEELS?!?, but is basically a 17 year old in a 3 year old’s form (he can’t be any older than that because grown men don’t think fart jokes are funny).

Oh wait.

Anyway. He came with me on the aforementioned Ulta trip, and a stranger actually stopped me to say what a great conversationalist he is, like a little adult. (The fact that he was talking loudly enough to be heard by every random stranger in the store assures me he’s still a preschooler).

He is kind of a ham, which I guess was unavoidable and totally expected, but it still surprises me sometimes. This is a gag he came up with to underscore an enjoyable meal–in this case a lunch of blood oranges and the free soft serve from Jason’s Deli #dontjudge.

Freakin Delicious

Imagine, if you will, that the entire series above takes about ten seconds start to finish, and is punctuated with a jerk of the head and a tiny toddler voice saying the words “FREAKIN’ delicious.”

So what are you obsessed with grateful for this winter?

By now I’m sure you all know I was given neither free stuff nor dollars by any of the brands mentioned here. Kroger, if you want to send me a case of Poblano Ranch I will not say no. Have your people call my people.

NAMB: The final word on baby name trends

14 Nov

Hello, my name is Unique.

As the year winds down, it’s time to put out top 10 lists, and then argue at length on the internet about them. I bet you’ve deduced my very favoritest of these lists: baby names. This piece (Thanks for keeping it fresh, HuffPo) rates the “hotness” factor of baby names, and I don’t even have to look at the comments section to know it is ri-dic. (Spoiler alert: I’m right).

Breathing a sigh of relief that “your” name for your future baby isn’t on there?

Feeling miffed because Violet has, omg, been on your list for like, five years?

Congratulating yourself because you gave your child a “regular” name so it will never be ridiculed or mispronounced? (it will; unfortunately the world still has a surplus of idiots)

Belittling a certain trend *cough* location names *cough* that you didn’t happen to follow?

Wake up and smell the judgement, people.

The perennial debates over baby names are so silly. Name your baby whatever you want. Even if the name eventually dates him or her, well, her birthday also dates him or her. Who cares if there are other kids in the class with the same name? Sixty years ago everyone was named John or Mary and nobody wrote their local paper about it. Somebody stole your unique name? Sorry not sorry. Nobody owns a name. Some celeb just named her daughter Briar Rose and now people (usually people who named their child Mary) want to make fun of her. Whatever, at least everyone will know how to spell it. I’ve had Estella on my list for years, and if I have a little girl next, I’m gonna name her Estella if I damn well please, whether it’s on some list or not. Pick a name you like and don’t defend it to me or anyone else. Your baby is going to be adorable, and your baby is also going to grow up and hate his name and probably you at some point. Accept and move on. It’s no wonder that 96.8%* of expecting parents are afraid to share their name choice with others. UGH.

*scientific number

NAMB: My kid can be boring (and I bet yours can too)

20 Aug

“Sweetie, mommy has no flippin’ clue how to recreate the scary snowman from Frozen.”

A few days ago we met up with some of P’s coworkers at a ballgame and concert (#summer4eva). One of them asked me, “so, no kid tonight? I thought you might bring him.”

“Nah,” I said. “He’s fun, but he’s not that fun.”

Cue awkward pause.

Putting aside the general pall of awkwardness that colors my daily life, I probably should have anticipated the reaction and come up with some more parent-appropriate response, such as “this is going past his bedtime,” or, “he doesn’t like crowds.”

I should have anticipated it, because I would have had the same reaction a few years ago. That is, before I had kids.

Let me disclaim. My love for my son is fierce. To paraphrase the words of somebody more intelligent than myself: he is my heart walking around outside my body. Not to mention, he’s a fascinating and entertaining individual in his own right. This morning he woke up pretending to be a dragon hatching out of an egg–literally no segue between deep sleep and surprisingly realistic dragon peeping. At a party last week, he cracked up the gang when he shot the bird with scary expertise and a deadpan look. He may or may not have known what that gesture meant (let’s hope not), but he certainly understood the value of making people laugh. Like I said, he’s interesting.

For a preschooler.

There’s this perception that once you become a parent, your children are the center of your world. They’re more than that, they’re your reason for being. I postulate that that’s part of the reason so many adults are putting off having children until later: they assume that their lives will belong to someone else. That’s the underlying reasoning behind the shock that many people have when *gasp!* somebody admits that hanging with their kid can get old.

As a matter of fact, my first instinct when I read that (that’s right: I’m not the originator of this particular revelation) was to recoil. But when I allowed myself to think about it, I realized that yes, you can think your offspring is speshul and amazazing and yet simultaneously find yourself coming up with excuses to get out of “playtime.”

The fact is, little kids are discovering for the first time things that to you, as an old fart grown person, are rather stale. You’ve literally been there, done that.

There certainly are things an adult can relish reliving. I’d call them parenting perks. You can go into the little kid playrooms at the Natural History Museum and McDonald’s. You have an excuse to go down water slides, ride a pony/camel/elephant, and of course the mother-lode: go trick or treating. And to be sure, some things are fun to “rediscover” through a child’s eyes (ever watch a baby catch bubbles?).

But those things will get old faster for you than for them, as anyone who has read the same story six times in a row can attest to. And the daily play? The arrange dinosaurs by the position of their little plastic legs type thing? I really can’t even understand it, much less get into it. If I present T with a toy and start playing with it my way, I guarantee that he’ll start playing with it in some other [extremely opaque] way.

And getting back the original set up here: my grown-up activities (read: ball games and concerts) are not always fun for him either. We actually do include T in many of our adult pursuits (like the time I took him not only craft shopping at Michael’s, but to the actual craft night itself, complete with gossiping ladies). I cherish many a memory of being dragged to football parties with my parents as young tot. Everybody would be drinking beer and having loud conversations I couldn’t really follow, I couldn’t hold my mom and dad’s attention for more than 45 seconds at once, and there weren’t any good toys there. I usually ended up falling asleep in the corner, more from boredom than sleepiness. I would have much rather stayed home with a babysitter who let me eat frozen waffles for dinner and watch Snick. Does that mean there was something inherently wrong with me, for not finding my parents’ parties interesting? Of course not. We were into different things. It didn’t affect how much they loved me or how much I loved them.

So why should the inverse be true? There is nothing wrong with a parent who is not utterly consumed by everything child.

Me and T? We’re into different things.

That doesn’t mean we never have fun together, far from it.  He helps me cook. I read him books complete with character voices. We made up a game called eau-de-toe (I’m not going to explain it to you). I’m not saying that quality time with your munchkin isn’t important or fun: it definitely is. But it’s also OK if you enjoy solitary kayaking, wine tasting with friends, or watching Dance Moms while eating peanut butter straight from the jar equally as much.

Mamas and Papas, let’s give ourselves a break. You can love being with your child and still think his idea of a good time is boring as crap. She probably feels the same. And I submit to you that that is not a bad thing. After all, play is a child’s work, and you can’t do his work for him, right? (Answer: no. Put down the magic markers, mom).

And to my un-childed peeps: there’s no need to be shocked if a parent admits this.

(Related: check out my review of All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood–and go read it yourself!)

The Best Parenting Tip in the World

27 Jan

photo credit: K. Wittkamp/Lifesize/Getty

It’s the eve of the annual big snow* here in Georgia, and I, like many other idiots I’m sure, plan to hit the grocery store this afternoon before all of Atlanta shuts down. And I, like many other idiots I’m sure, am trying to figure out how to successfully accomplish this with a child in tow.

* there’s always one

It puts me in mind of a little parenting trick passed down through the generations in my family. This one little trick has prevented many a public meltdown, and I’m prepared to share it with you today. Are you ready? Here it is. It’s called….

Priming.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of bribery as it relates to children. And if you’re a parent, you’ve engaged in it at least once or twice (don’t even try to lie). It goes something like this:

Chic Mother and Cherubic Child enter the grocery store.

Chic Mother: Now little Charlie, we just need to pick up a few things and it won’t take very long.

Cherubic Child: I want to ride in the green car!

Mother:  Yes, it’s a very nice green car, but we only need a couple things so this handheld shopping basket with the thin bare metal handles is all we need.

Child: But I want the ride in the GREEN CAR!!

Mother (sensing trouble): Hey! Hey! I’ll tell you what Charlie! If you behave during the shopping, you can have a lollipop when we leave. OK? OK?

For kicks and giggles, let’s say little C.C. agrees to this bribe. A few minutes later Mother’s in the toothpaste aisle, trying to decide if Vivid White or Optic White will remove more of the wine stains.  

Child: Moooom, pick me up!

Mother: I can’t pick you up, I’m carrying the basket.

Child: eeeaaaHH….

Mother: (using warning voice) Charlie–if you don’t behave you will not get a lollypop.

Child: I WANT a lollipop! eeeaaaaHH–

Chicer Mother with more Adorable Child down the aisle looks at you with something like contempt. 

Mother: — OK OK! I’ve got you!

An hour later: Now carrying approximately 45 pounds in her arms and no longer looking chic, they approach the checkout counter.

Child: Lollipop!

Mother: I don’t know Charlie, you haven’t been very cooperative with mommy today.

Child: LOLLIPOP NOW!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! flops on floor and rolls around while everyone in the store casts the disapproving stank eye upon the pair like so many stones cast at a Biblical prostitute. 

Does C.C. get the lollypop? You decide.

The point is, it’s not uncommon for a quick errand turned into an extended nightmare when bribery is employed. Priming, on the other hand, is bribery backwards. Go ahead and give the kid what he wants from the get go, and then ask for good behavior.

We lived in Washington, D.C. one summer when I was little. We went to the National Zoo like, every week. My brother and I got it into our heads to collect those little animals they sell at the souvenir shop. We wanted them so bad–we didn’t give a crap about seeing the actual, living creature if we couldn’t obtain the miniature plastic version. So my mom took to buying us a new piece for our collection first thing when we walked in the park. All three of us got to see the animals in peace.

You might think this sounds like a terrible plan. Hope your kid will be good, having already given her what she wants? Insanity! I tell you my friends, it works every time.* A happy kid is a cooperative kid. And if you’re worried about spoiling, just think about what bribery does–at least 67% of the time in the above scenario, mom will give him the lollipop, amirite? What could be spoiling a child more than letting him have what he wants right in the middle of throwing a big fit to get it? Better to avoid the fit in the first place, even if he does end up with 42 useless animal figures at the end of the summer. Small price to pay, if you ask me.

*nothing works every time. Don’t kid yourself. 

As soon as I detected the faintest whiff of reasoning capability in T, I started with the priming. Headed to the store? Give him a lollipop first thing (and for God’s sake–let the child have the green car), he spends twenty minutes sucking contentedly and I get to spend an extra 3.2 minutes dithering over whitening toothpaste (huh what?). Side note: lollipops are better than chocolate bars because they last longer, red dye #40 be damned.

My grandparents knew about priming too. On my birthday, they used to take me to Toys R Us and tell me to fill the cart with everything my heart desired–anything in the whole store. When stuff started falling off of the top of the cart, they let me choose one single item to take home. Do you think I ever complained about this arrangement? No way. But how hard would it have been for a six-year-old to be given the run of the store and told she could only pick one thing out? Don’t even answer that question unless you’ve seen my My Little Pony collection.

I’m telling you. If you are ever in charge of a child, your own or someone else’s*, and you want a smooth public outing experience, give them what they want at the beginning of the trip. Priming. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to plan your outing to be after meal time and nap time too. Happy baby = good baby.

* Bonus bonus hint: this works on spouses too. Just replace lollypop with something they want. Don’t ask me what it is, it’s your spouse. 

So do I plan to follow my own formula this afternoon? Ah, young grasshopper. The best advice for running errands with a toddler is: don’t run errands with a toddler if you can help it. I’ll pick him up later.