Tag Archives: parenting

Chopper Mom

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You can hear the chopper blades over head.  The spot light in shining on the ground below.  It must be the police tracking a criminal.  There must be an accident and Flight For Life is en route.

Or maybe it’s me, checking up on my kid.

Let me introduce myself: I am a mom.  I had my daughter when I was 31.  I love her intensely, even when she runs over to me and farts on my lap.  My husband: a police officer, a veteran, an “man’s man” with a sensitive side.  As our child grew, we didn’t have a lot of money, so we worked opposite shifts in order to not pay for childcare.  We might appear to be overprotective right there, the fact that our daughter had a handful of babysitters in her life due to finances and family who weren’t capable or maybe didn’t want to help (or, horror of horrors, I didn’t know how to ask).  Are we overprotective because one of us was always with her?  I don’t think so.  We were practical.  And she was quite used to always having one parent around.

I never even heard the term “helicopter parent” until my daughter was in first grade.  “What is that?” I asked.  “A parent who can’t cut the ties.”  It was first identified as an acceptable term in the 1960s.  The 1960s.  That’s quite a while back. I wasn’t even born then.  My, things have changed, haven’t they?  In many families now, both parents work.  Dad is not necessarily the bread-winner.  We had an era following the 60s, my youthful time of the 80s that went much the opposite direction as we went home to a key hidden under a rock, had a healthy sugar based snack, pretended to get some homework done, but really spent time singing with our radios and our mirrors, perfecting that rock star sneer.  We were “latch-key kids.”  I even got myself up and to school alone in the morning.  It was a different time, and that wasn’t considered neglect or anything, it was typical.  Children can raise themselves.  Well, I did, and at times it’s a miracle I survived.  It did give me street smarts (after a few close encounters) and by the time I went to college I had mastered binge drinking, lying about my age to men, experimenting with any drug my friends would allow me (note: MY FRIENDS were dictating my choices) and flying across the world by myself (as my hometown was in the middle east, my high school and college were in the states).  Now here I am, in 2014, raising a daughter and attempting to find balance.  I don’t want her to be alone all of the time.  I don’t want her to be babysat all of the time.  I wanted to have her, and I tried really hard to get pregnant.  She was no accident.  If I wanted her so badly, why wouldn’t I want to spend time with her?  And is it her fault her parents have to work?  Is it her fault her dad sees the darkest versions of parenting every single day?  Is it her fault her mom feels guilty going to graduate school and having to call her on the phone to say goodnight?  It’s not her fault, so please don’t judge her, and don’t judge us.  We are who we are, and we are doing the best we can.

Behind every helicopter parent, there lies a story.  Instead of berating, be curious.  Stop judging and start wondering, because there are fascinating people out there, trying to do the best they can by their kids.

Life went along pretty merrily until the summer before my daughter entered first grade.  In three months we lost my husband’s best friend to cancer (a person she saw weekly and who interacted with her a ton), our cat, a neighbor’s baby died in our house, and my daughter’s aunt was hit by a car while biking and nearly died.  It was not an easy summer.  And yet she seemed pretty good.  I did everything I could to make fun happen, with the swimming pool, play dates, “normal” activities.

Death was at our door a lot, and it was hard not to think about how easy life can slip away.

I did begin to hover.

When she started second grade, I started graduate school and suddenly her mom who was always at her side, volunteering and taking her to and from school, was gone.  Daddy took over, and became soccer dad, volunteer dad, and chief chauffeur.  And each year started getting harder.  The start of third grade, my husband and I were the only parents lining up with our daughter before school started.  She was crying and clutching me like the kindergarteners around the other side of the building.  I had the nerve to be embarrassed by my child.  That makes me a pretty horrible parent, in my book.  In talking to a professional therapist who works with children and grief, I later discovered that around the time the parent’s grief begins to lessen (on average, about two years) the children’s grief will kick in.  So, really, she was totally text book normal.  But I didn’t know that, and I became fearful of having a “clingy” or a “needy” child.  These are very stupid words, by the way, now that I have spent so much time studying psychology.  So, do everyone a favor and eliminate them from your vocabulary, especially if describing yourself.  People are “in need of” secure attachments.

My daughter was seeing safety disappear all around her.

Halfway through third grade a school-mate died.  She was the music teacher’s daughter.  She was our neighbor.  She was a kid, and without obvious reason of any kind, she died in her sleep.  That’s when I started sleeping with my daughter more.  I felt that on those nights when I was in her room, I could protect her from somehow randomly dying.  I could keep her safe.

We ended third grade with an unfortunate experience: eye surgery to correct strabismus.  If I could have seen how perfectly fine she was, that for her to need her mom was not a flaw, that for her to be fearful and overwhelmed by the chaos of school was not bizarre, that for her, falling asleep could be dangerous.  If I could have seen that, I would have insisted on better pre-op nurses.  I would have insisted on an anesthesiologist who gave a shit about the before and after fears of surgery.  Instead, my daughter went into surgery terrified.  She felt her body go numb.  She tried to fight.  It tore my heart out to see her struggle like that.  And when she awoke, she was in the exact same state (which I have since read about, and it is quite common).  She woke up TERRIFIED and stayed that way for twelve hours.  I mean, terrified.  Every three minutes (while she refused to open her eyes) she would doze off and wake up screaming, “Mommy?  Am I awake?  I don’t know if I’m awake!”  I laid on the floor for the entire day, while she was on the couch next to me squeezing the hell out of my hand.  I promised her I would sleep in her bed for the next two weeks, because now she also equated falling asleep with not just death, but anesthesia – which in her head was worse than death.  And then her dad got sick.  I know, it doesn’t seem like anything else could go wrong.  But this is life, and ours is not the most or the least challenging.  It just is.

He became ill the summer before she entered fourth grade.  He was feverish in the beginning, and was tested for West Nile Virus, which had been found in Colorado.  The test came back negative, as did every other test they thought to run. He was sick for three months before his doctor finally scheduled an MRI.  It took two weeks to get the results.  They came in the morning I was planning on taking my daughter to Dinosaur Ridge.  It was a hot day in August.  I was starting my graduate school internship in a week.  My third year of grad school would begin in two weeks.  And the doctor called to tell us my husband had lesions on his brain.  When you see your big strong husband felled by health news like that, wow.  Let me tell you that was a hard day.

One note, in case you are going through this stuff, we did not share what was happening with my daughter.  I mean, she knew her dad was sick.  But she didn’t know how worried we were, because we tried to keep things so friggin’ normal!  I actually took her to Dinosaur Ridge anyway, and took my husband in for his emergency high contrast MRI that afternoon.  Oh crazy crazy people.  If I could do it over, with all I’ve learned about the brain and parenting and child psychology, I would have told my daughter a little bit more, because she knew things were bad.  But when the parents don’t give words for those feelings, the emotions get very confusing.

My husband lived, I’ll give you that right away because this is an article about helicopter parenting, not about his sickness.  It turned out to be encephalitis, which if you don’t know about – you should google because it happens and most doctors don’t recognize the symptoms.  It is a brain infection, possible after a virus like West Nile, but they couldn’t prove that’s what he’d had.  It took a good 6 months for his brain to get a bit more normal, although the lesions are dead brain matter, so, well, dead is dead.

So, now here we are at fifth grade.

My daughter can not handle sleep overs because she gets too anxious.  In fact, sleep is a daily challenge in our house.  The fifth grade has a three day field trip in the mountains every year.  And so, we drove her up each day, and we drove her down to her own bed each night.  And on the first day, while waiting for her to finish an activity, a fifth grade teacher said, “Some parents just can’t let their kids go.  They’re always fine up here.  They have so much fun.”  Yeah.  I can’t let her go.  OR, maybe there’s a story here.  Maybe you should wonder why this can be so hard for some parents and some kids.  Maybe this is not a choice.  It just is.

My point in writing this is we never know the story.  Start asking people what their story is.  If they are in the midst of some family illness or some traumatic event, they might totally blow you off, or they might seriously appreciate the opportunity for authentic connection.

They might need someone not to judge them.  

The Crotch Crutch, or How to Fail as a Super-Parent

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When kids are little they constantly mess up their words, attempting to say things like spaghetti.  These words come out all twisted and mixed up and parents LOVE it.  It’s the cutest thing ever, a shrinky-dink adult!  And we giggle.  And we “awww.” And if we are Super-Parents, we write it all down in their baby books.  If you are like me you don’t. The Super-Parent title is just too far out of reach.  Damn.  And if you’re really far away from the Super-Parent status, and you are sorta kinda human, your kid will start shouting profanities the week before she begins her Montessori preschool (while the other kids recite Maya Angelou poems).

The worst part is not that your kid sounds like they are ready to join the Mafia.  The worst part is you can’t laugh.

It’s the cardinal rule of parenting.  

As soon as your kid knows you liked what they said, they will repeat it, in front of the other kid’s parents, in front of the grandparents, because they want to entertain those adults, too.  If you manage not to laugh, you will try to cover for yourself, saying creative things like, “I said, ‘Ducking Fur Bag’, honey.  That’s all.  It’s not very nice, but they almost hit us in the ridiculous traffic circle that Americans have never figured out how to maneuver.”

It all began before her second birthday.  My husband and I were laying in bed, pontificating over our gifted toddler who was sleeping soundly in her room.  Suddenly, over the baby monitor we hear, “Mama, get my friggin’ pillow!”  After shooting something out of my nose…nearly nailing my husband on the forehead, I became fearful that I had given birth to the reincarnation of Al Capone and when I opened her door she’d be holding a pistol, all sideways and gangster-like, just waiting for silly mommy to fall into her trap.  She’d glare at me, her pillow lying between us on the floor, and say, “Go ahead, Mom, MAKE MY DAY!”  But instead I composed myself and pretended she was just a wee toddler.  Sigh.  See, she’s not a gangster, she’s a beautiful little girl.  I picked her up and squeezed her (and not because I was secretly checking her for weapons), sniffed her little kid head (this is something moms do, I wasn’t checking for gun-powder residue, I swear). All was well in our world.  The world next door to the “Super-Parents.”  A more colorful place, with snorting laughter and an overabundance of pet hair (and an under abundance of manners).

Until.

She began singing the “Goddammit, dag-nabbit, goddammit, dag-nabbit” song in the tub, at the top of her lungs, while her grampa was sitting in the living room.  He poked his head around the corner and looked at me, “Is she singing what I think she’s singing?”  “Yes!  Whatever you do don’t laugh!”   Dag-nabbit was the result of my effort at telling her she had misunderstood the phrase, and adding some quality Scooby Doo vocabulary (circa 1970).  She’d sit in the grass, a picture of sweet childhood innocence, pulling up grass blades much as people do when pulling petals from a daisy. “She loves me, she loves me not” they lovingly say to the dismembered flower.  “Goddammit, dag-nabbit” my daughter lovingly said to the grass as she ripped it from its earthy home.  She was happy as a clam.  (a clam abducted by pirates and encouraged to drink copious amounts of rum before her third birthday.)

Now, my verbally gifted daughter is nearly eight and I have changed.  I tend to shout things like “Booger-Head!” in traffic, and call people “Dooooo Bags” when they are really deserving.  Doesn’t change the fact that last year she buckled herself into her carseat and said,

“Well, Cheesus Grist.”

Indeed.

What would Cheesus do?  Perhaps correct the vocabulary?  But where would I get my laughs?  I promise, before she starts middle school I’ll work on it.  Actually, I might not have to. She’s been much better lately.

Unless you count the crotch.

She has confused the word “crutch” with the word “crotch” and I can’t bring myself to correct it.  This is just setting her up for failure, I know, but when your kid says, “Mommy, remember when my friend’s dog ate my crotch?” or “Remember the crotches I built?  The crotches were so fun!” you must understand my weakness.

C’mon.

I don’t get out much.

It’s my ship.

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I love to sing, in my car, where no one can hear me.  I know it’s restrictive and repressive, but I have a strong feeling that I can’t carry a tune.  Perhaps it’s the expression on my dogs faces when I belt out Lady Gaga, or the embarrassment inspired by hearing my outgoing voice mail message.  You know that theory that the phone sex lady is really some swanky, rather overweight creature, chain smoking and eating pork rinds?  There’s a chance I just made that up.  And does anyone even do that phone sex thing anymore?  It’s probably been replaced by an app.  Well, I am the one with the phone lady’s actual voice, the one you would expect the woman to have if you were to see her and not hear her.  So therefore I am SUPER hot.  We’re just going to go with that.

So, I sing.

In places where I hope others don’t hear me.  Although, I have to admit, I have those overtired days in the grocery store where I sing a few bars with Bon Jovi, and unfortunately dance just a bit, in the coffee aisle, before I realize what I’ve done.

Places I refuse to sing include:

  • birthday parties.  Unless I love you more than the sun.
  • church services (mainly because I’ve only been a few times, and I don’t know any words.  Oh.  And my voice sounds like the phone sex lady’s voice SHOULD sound.  Oh.  And I find it entertaining to lip-synch.  You can hear other people’s terrible voices better that way.  Which will make you feel better about your own guttural noises that slip out at the grocery store.).

(where else do people sing in public?)

  • weddings (do people sing at weddings?  They should.  Like a version of the birthday song.  But they should reference the upcoming night of overtired, been on your feet all day, intoxicated, bloated, yet obligatory sex.)
  • Karaoke bars (there is not enough booze on the planet to make this happen.)
  • at the dentist (just seems like a bad idea.  Unless they have nitrous.  Then, who cares?)

But if I were to somehow forget my inhibitions, which would be an ecstatic vacation of sorts from which I would like to never return from, I would sing the wrong lyrics.  This is not intentional, but I think my lyrics are often much better than the original.

For example, there was a good 6 months that I sang that hip-teen-angsty song “All the other kids with the lawn dart kits, better run better run, faster than my brother.”  I pondered this illogical ranting.  I sang it with my kiddo in the car.  I pictured rich frat boy types, playing games of lawn darts (which in my head were like croquette, only with darts), running faster than the singer’s brother.  It made me happy.  And then?  I learned the real words.  Much darker than my words.  My lyrics are better.  “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run better run, outrun my bullet.”  Really?  Well, that just sends an entirely different message than the one I was getting.  And I felt a little bad for playing it over and over to my seven-year old.

My best mix up to date (at least that I have discovered) is over 25 years in the making.  How am I supposed to relearn lyrics after 25 years?  C’mon.  My brain does not have that kind of capacity!  Men at Work.  Awesome, awe-inspiring deep sexy weird voice (what does that say about my phone-sex-voice theory?) singing, “Do you come from a land down under?”  My entire life I have belted out the words, “I said, ‘do you speak-a my language?’  He just smiled and gave me a bit of my sandwich.”  Yes.  Why would someone give you a bit of your own sandwich?  I don’t know, but I thought it seemed like a nice gesture.  And the other day I learned something earth shattering and memory collapsing.  I leaned that the tall man did not give him a bit of his sandwich, he gave him a “VEGEMITE sandwich.”  What the fuck is wrong with Australians?  Vegemite?  I love your accents, and your tropical fish, but I can’t think of anything grosser sounding to put on a sandwich.  And what the hell is Vegemite?  And why was this such a big hit in the U.S. if we don’t eat Vegemite?  (I have to admit, I’m not even sure they’re an Aussie band.  I am just assuming…)

And by the way, what are pumped up kicks?  C’mon hip lyricists.  Give me some friggin’ words I am familiar with for Pete’s sake!  What if I had actually belted that out at a wedding?  Everyone would have laughed and discovered that in my infinite hotness, not only can I not sing in tune, but I am incapable of comprehending, let along correctly repeating, lyrics!  Ah.  The shame.  Guess I’ll just keep singing to my dogs and my daughter.  Which reminds me, her favorite song when she was four was Gwen Stefanie’s “Hollaback Girl.”  I knew these lyrics.  It’s not hard to misunderstand a California girl singing “It’s my shit” over and over.  So, because my daughter’s ears have not marinated long enough in childhood to make this mom comfortable hearing her shout “shit” to all her little elementary school friends, I would sing REALLY loud to that song, and cover the word SHIT with the word SHIP.

Yep.  It’s my ship.

And, might I add, completely fooled her.

Score?  Mom : one

Does that make up for teaching her the word crap?

Warning: The ME Santa may smell of hops.

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We look forward to winter break for so long, and yet winter break can do a person in. At least this person.   I know, poor me: time off of school, fewer work hours.  WAH!  But seriously, when you have a kid and one day you are consumed with running from important location number one to important location number two while drinking too much coffee and trying to remember to meditate (but not while you’re driving because you want to keep your child alive) because it is actually required in grad school (an obvious attempting to avert any “postal” grad-freak-outs) and trying to make it to a third even more important location before you run out of time to do any Christmas shopping.  It’s too fast.  And the sudden stop, followed by a whole lot of nothing to do can be more than a little disconcerting.  My daughter’s backpack was kicked into her closet not to be opened until January (too bad there was a snack left in it).  My school binders were tossed on the basement floor, only to be kicked into a corner to create space for the Christmas ornaments and other acceptable holiday clutter.  I stopped eating lentils for lunch and began to subsist on Christmas cookies (with the occasional beer to keep things regular).  My daughter followed my healthy example (other than the beer).  If you are curious about evidence of poor eating habits correlating with behavior issues, well let me just say, ask Santa.  The nice list is typically quite short. It fits on a post-it.  Parental types sit around, weaving tales of how a chubby old man can deliver millions of presents on one magical evening so that our children will believe that we are not the providers of the loot beneath the tree.  

Santa is real.

But he doesn’t bring our kids presents.

At least, not the families in my neighborhood.  Unfortunately, most children are on a month-long sugar binge when Christmas arrives, so Santa only needs only to maneuver his plus size booty and his reindeer driven sleigh to about 8 homes.  Those homes are all sugar-free.  Meanwhile, the rest of us heathens overcompensate while simultaneously fearing the mass devastation that might arrive if this day of potential lotto winnings were to miss our own children.  We go to Target.  We support China (who probably hosts the eight homes that are getting Santa’s cool hand-made toys). It’s a vicious cycle, and I must admit I totally and completely love it.  We are encouraged to lie to our children.  What fun!  Strange lesson, but what fun!

Once my own week of whiplash ended, of course, I got sick.  My daughter got sick.  This is one of our longest Christmas traditions.  So, now besides the outrageous amount of sugar and butter we were consuming (I mean outrageous!  I bought butter at Costco) we were adding countless hours of cartoon watching and internet surfing.  My daughter began speaking like that girl in the Exorcist. Well, she didn’t drop the F-bomb, but still, I was becoming ever more convinced that somehow she was possessed by a demon.  And yet, of course Santa still came. Not the real Santa.  He was still busy with his 8 homes in China.  The ME Santa.

The ME Santa is a serious sucker.

Christmas morning inevitably arrived.  My husband and I both heard the seven-year old demon child wake and go to the bathroom.  Partially out of fear for our lives and partially out of excitement that the ME Santa had arrived, we snuck into the living room to witness our daughter’s face when she saw the presents under the tree.  It was 5:15 a.m.  We heard her stumble back into her room.

An odd and mysterious silence overtook our home.

My husband and I looked at each other.  “Seriously?  She went back to sleep?  No.  No way.”

My husband opened her bedroom door and softly called her name.

Nothing.

Christmas morning, 5:15 a.m. and the parents are awake. And the child is asleep.  He looked at me and rolled his eyes, trying to quietly close her door.  As the latch clicked, she screamed.  Hello Christmas, welcome to our home.  It was not a scream of joy.  It was a scream of sheer terror. Linda Blair would have been proud.

Once we calmed her down and assured her that it was just her dumb ass parents waking her up, she got excited.   Presents, breakfast, coffee, more presents, more sugar, and the whole event was finished by 7:30 a.m.

ME Santa was in need of a nap, but instead went sledding.  I bet the real Santa was busy getting a pedicure by this point, instead of faking Christmas energy.  Like I said:  ME Santa = SUCKER.  

Even if it was exhausting, it was a day filled with magic.  I know my daughter learned about the true meaning of Christmas because when we tucked her in last night (mid argument) she said, “You guys think I’m crappy.  You tell me in the morning I’m crappy.  You told me on Christmas I was crappy.”  My husband and I looked at each other quizzically, wondering if the demons had finally departed, leaving our child’s soul in a confused state of crappiness.

“Um.  Honey.  You may have heard us use that word recently (after all, it had been Christmas break.  That was the least toxic of the bad words she probably learned), but it is not a word for seven-year olds.  You can’t say ‘crappy.'”

She looked at me like I had just shot her dog.  Her face wrinkled up like she’d consumed a large glass of rancid milk and she emitted a cry that I thought was only possible from two-year old children lit on fire by their siblings.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  I meant CRABBY.  I make mistakes sometimes, you know?  AAAAAAAWWWWAAAAAHHHH!

That was a look away and try not to laugh moment.  And a good representation of our Christmas break.

I could already predict the conversation on her first day back to school.  “Hey kiddo?  What’d you do over break?”

“I learned that crappy and crabby are sometimes interchangeable and when done so create surprising comic results.  Oh.  And that Santa will always bring you stuff.  Even if you’re crappy.