Parenting lesson #34: You are an expert in everything, and when you’re not, you’ll make stuff up.


Photo credit Carl Donohue

When you become a parent, you don’t realize you know all that you know until your kids start to do really unintelligent things and you have to teach them how to stay alive. It starts really young, as is evidenced by all the child-proofing we do to keep our infants from sticking their tiny fingers or other conductors into electrical sockets.

And once they can talk, our kids ask questions constantly, so we feel obligated to answer them. Some days, we can pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, amazed at all we were able to explain to our curious little humans. Gold stars all around.

Some days, we make stuff up.

And some days, we simply make up stuff. We do it to end the conversation, we do it because we’re afraid to not have all the answers, we do it to be funny, or we do it to prove a point, like I did last week. It began with the basic knowledge that leaving the lights on when they’re not in use wastes precious energy, costs money and compounds our global CO2 emissions issues. Despite sharing this knowledge with our kids at least 89 times (and knowledge IS power, right?), the information doesn’t seem to motivate action. This is when we as parents start to get creative.

I went upstairs to shut off the lights that I knew were inevitably left on by some children. Sure enough, two kids’ rooms had lights that were on, as well as the playroom, bathroom, and hall light. As I muttered to myself under my breath, “How many times do I have to tell them to turn their stinking lights off,” I headed back downstairs and began stage one of the lecture: the empty threat.

I’m going to make you pay.

“Guys, I just went upstairs and found your lights on aga– OH. MY. GOSH. I turned off that light before I went upstairs and it’s on AGAIN. Go turn it off! I’m going to start deducting a dollar from your bank account every single time I know you left on a light.” There it is. The mostly empty threat, because there’s NO WAY with all the other parenting responsibilities tied to getting in and out of the house that I’ll remember to do this in the moment. (Also, I’d like to point out that Greg is so tech savvy, he has trained Alexa to turn off all the lights in the house. But she’s only about 79% accurate.)

The second part of the lecture escalated pretty quickly into make stuff up territory:

“You know that leaving the lights on is killing the polar bears, right? I just want you to think that every time you leave a light on, you just killed a polar bear. Because that’s essentially what you’re doing. Stop killing the polar bears!!”

You just killed a polar bear.

Admittedly, it’s not the first time I’ve conjured images of cute little bears to try to get them to do something. The thing is, we will often try almost anything to get our kids to take our lessons to heart. We cajole, bribe, reward, manipulate, discipline, do-over, punish, threaten … am I missing anything? And when one method fails, we try another, and another, then another. The morning after the polar bear incident, I don’t think anyone left on any lights. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take it. And a few days later, my two oldest were brushing their teeth at the same time and one said to the other, “Stop killing the polar bears! You don’t need to turn on BOTH bathroom lights just to brush your teeth!” It warmed my heart. But this morning, after getting home, I found a bedroom light on. So often, change and habits need way more time than we want to give to materialize.

It is important to realize when to let things go as a parent. I have a lot to learn in this area, I’ll admit. But turning off the lights is important to me for many reasons. So when it’s important, those are the times we keep trying until something sticks. I also sometimes ask the the kids to come up with the solution – and it’s amazing how creative they can be! I actually told them I thought we could make it a family affair, and if the kids catch Greg or me leaving on a light, they could all have 10 minutes of screen time during the week. I think that has great promise.

When it’s important, we keep trying.

Or maybe next I’ll try heeding my own advice and have the kids practice turning off the lights when leaving a room 21 times in a row. But while that experiment worked for a brief period, I have to confess that it wore off quickly and shoes don’t usually make their ways into their baskets anymore. So I’m back to lecturing about shoes. Lights, shoes, doing homework, turning in homework, wet towels on the floor … I’m starting to feel like a professor with all the lectures I give. But I’m definitely mom. Just a mom who knows a little about a lot and when I don’t, I should probably learn to keep my mouth shut — or the boogey man might get me.

Parenting lesson #20: Some lessons must be learned over and over. And over.


Olivia's photo at our front door with peonies, which fittingly represent healing and life.
Olivia’s photo at our front door with peonies, which fittingly represent healing and life.

I’ve never before re-posted a blog.  But I’m amazed at how easy it is for me to lose perspective.  Sometimes I revisit my old posts because I need to re-read the lessons I thought I had learned.

Originally, I called this post “I submit there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and poopage.”  Amazingly, the past 24 hours have not only involved poop (and the remembrance of a death), but also dog vomit and pee.  Of course, they have also included an out-of-town husband and a sick toddler, and with my third child, that means a menace who goes from extreme clinginess accompanied by inconsolability, to running around and destroying things like the Tasmanian Devil.  I think once you have more than one child, it’s all just chaos, and whether you’re cleaning poop off your flip-flop or vomit off the rug, it’s all just part of a day’s work.

The lesson I need to be reminded of is that these ARE the good days.  There are tough moments, but the days are good.  They are blessings.  I didn’t graciously respond to every inquiry or issue today — far from it — but I’ll take it.  I’ll take all the above, because the alternative is devastating.  Yesterday, our dear friends marked four years since their daughter Olivia died unexpectedly.  FOUR YEARS.  And I can assure you, the pain of the loss is so slowly ebbing.  I still keep her photo in our living room as a reminder to treasure all the moments.  And remember to hug and kiss your babies tonight one more time in their sleep because they are still here.

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When you spend all day with toddlers, chances are something either really gross or scary (or both) is going to happen at some point in the course of 12 hours.  It’s almost a given.  This morning, I took the kids out in the yard to play.  As I do most days as soon as I get out there, I started to clean up the dog poop to prevent the kids from either accidentally or purposely getting into it.  (Eliza still asks, “Mommy there’s dog poop.  Can I eat it?”)

Well, this morning somehow within about two minutes Zach not only managed to step in a fresh, wet pile (why it couldn’t have been a sun-dried one, I’ll never know), but he also managed to get some in his hair.

And moments like this are frustrating and annoying, but for the past few weeks, I’ve tried to thank God for them.  I don’t want to make anyone cry, but these two weeks have been tough.  Dear friends of ours lost their beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, in a tragic drowning accident on June 23rd.  And I’ve lived through tragic deaths before; but this one has hit me more than any other unexpected loss.  This family is just so amazing, so loving, so wonderful, that it seems so unfair for them to have to live through something like this.  At the viewing, I was hugging Steve, Olivia’s dad, and I said, “You give great hugs.”  And he said, “Hugs are all I’ve got right now.  Do me a favor and hug and kiss your babies for me when you get home.”

I’ve been so struck by how much EVERY moment is a gift.  Though not likely, and certainly not fun to think about, any moment could be my last moment with one of my precious little ones.  And I’ve really pondered that these past couple of weeks.  When Zach has been waking me up (almost nightly for a reason I still haven’t determined, but I think it’s nightmares), in my tiredness and frustration, I’m trying to feel blessed that I can hold him and touch him and comfort him.  When Eliza and I have one of our 72 daily conversations that exacerbates my patience,  I’m trying to be thankful for her inquisitiveness (or desire to be annoying – I am not sure which it is yet).

Just this morning, we had this conversation:

Me: “Eliza, we need to put the Play-Doh away because you’re dropping it on the floor and Zach doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t eat it, so we need to play with it when he’s not around,” and she says,

“Why mommy?” and I say,

“Because he’s still too young to understand that it’s not food,” and then she says,

“But why mommy?”

and I try patiently to come up with an answer (my favorite these days is that I don’t have to explain myself to her and she should trust my judgment).

But back to my point, I guarantee that if she weren’t here tomorrow to ask me these questions, I would give anything (an arm? a leg? all our assets?) for one more annoying moment with her.  And if something happened to Zach, I would give anything to clean the poop off of his shoes again if I could have one more of his amazing hugs.

So in my grief, I want to encourage you to enjoy the gross and scary moments before they’re gone.  And in the words of Steve, go give your babies a hug and a kiss, just because you can.