Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How To Be

'Good mommies' read to their kids.  Daily.  At least that's what all the 'experts' will tell you.  In ways, I guess I used to be am one of these so-called 'experts'.  Teachers promote the school-home connection as one of the strongest ways to foster a solid educational foundation for children.  I should know.  It was a large portion of the soapbox on which I stood at every meet-the-teacher night, parent-teacher conference, and random phone call/email throughout the year to address a specific issue.

And yet, as a mom, do I follow my own teacher-y/soapbox-y advice?  Well, in ways, yes.  I do, to the fullest extent of what I envisioned the parents of my students doing--sitting down side-by-side at the 'homework table' to provide assistance through prompting (not telling) and questioning (not answering), finding creative ways to connect the skills being learned in school to 'real life' (measuring, counting money, functional writing activities, etc), and promoting manners and appropriate social behavior skills in hopes that they translate fully to the classroom setting and beyond (And from what we've heard thus far, this is one area where we have kicked some serious 'awesome parenting a**'.  Unlucky for us {and the school}, we've set the bar pretty high with Gavin...just.wait.until.Raegan.is.a.kindergartener. {eesh}).  Overall, I'd say we're doing a pretty okay-ish job, and in my world, that is worthy of two thumbs up.  An 'A' for effort.  

Oh, but then there's that whole 'reading' thing.  Sitting down with a book between us, sharing the gift of time and the journey of an adventure to a far-off land with Flat Stanley; or giggling at the intricate and tongue-twisting rhymes of the original wordsmith himself, Dr. Seuss.  This is the area in which I not only fall short, but many, many days (like almost all of them), I fall flat on my 'hopeful mom' face and land somewhere in the middle of the Sea of Guilt.  Without a life vest.  And a school of teachers {pun intended} circling me, taunting me with stacks of children's books and looks of disapproval.  Trust me, I know the teacher 'look', and it ain't pretty.

So today, glorious today, I decided that rather than just chill out among scornful stares of those who are 'experts', I would plop down on the couch between my ballerinas daughters, turn off the background music Top 40 {kid-friendly lyric-ed} music I play all day long, and turn on my best 'read aloud, teacher-y' voice to read a few books.  I reached into the Land's End tote, the one we use specifically as a 'library bag', the one that I had personalized with our last name in large lettering so as to broadcast to everyone who sees, "Hey, look everyone!  Our family is studious, well-read, library-going folk!".  What's that?  More DVD's than books?  There must be some mistake!  We do not plop our children in front of movies to gain a little *free time*, who would do such things!, and grabbed a few books.  {Ironic sidebar: my current FB status reads as follows: 'Beauty and the Beast are babysitting...so I'll use the *free* time to ignore my laundry and blog ;) '}

The first book I read was Brynn's choice: Fancy Nancy: Spelndiferous Christmas  If you're a follower of this blog, then most likely, you know Brynn and this makes complete sense.  Brynn's world is made of pink, glitter, feather boas, and fluffy wonderfulness.  Think: cotton candy machine crossed with a Be-Dazzler, set to the tune of bubble-gum pop music.  And the Christmas theme?  Well that's obvious as well.  Her birthday has passed for this calendar year, as has Raegan's and most recently, Gavin's.  The next obvious holiday {read: PRESENTS!} is Christmas.  It seemed like her only logical choice.

After learning some fancy words courtesy of the curly-haired extravaganza that is 'Nancy', Raegan chose the next book, Elmer's Christmas, to keep with the apparent holiday theme that had quickly developed as a result of Brynn's desire for gifts.  An easy choice by a tiny tot who idolizes her older counterpart and chooses everything based upon the direct approval {or disapproval} of Brynn.  The book also features giraffes, so that made it a double word score, {for those mommas--unlike myself, of course--who forego reading to their children daily in order to play more Words With Friends}.

After I had expelled my very best 'ho ho ho!' from my lungs and closed the cover, I decided we needed to close this little reading session with a story that wouldn't get their hopes up for Christmas {read: PRESENTS} arriving any time in the near future.  I chose a cute {read: short} book, How To Be by Lisa Brown.  I remember picking the book up randomly while waiting {impatiently} for the ominous *darling* sound of the cowbell, signalling the start of story hour.  I flipped quickly through the pages, which have an average of about 5 words per page {score!} and tossed it into our super-y special, hoity-toity 'library bag'.  

As Brynn 'helped' me read, the girls and I learned, in limited description, 'how to be' various animals.  Carefully selected verbs and adjectives provide readers with an idea of what characteristics are necessary to fit into the mold of a specific creature.  For example, in order 'to be' a bear, one must growl.  Well, if that's the case, call me Yogi because I've been known to do so on occasion {especially after hearing the words, "Momma, pee...." coming from a child who is no where near a potty}.  I must be exceptionally talented, because I learned that I also am part turtle.  According to the book, 'to be' a turtle, one must hide.  That takes me back to just last night, when I returned home from the PTO meeting with a half-eaten bag of Sour Cream & Cheddar Ruffles.  I hid them on the counter behind my purse, but toddler eyes spotted them, so I snatched them and dashed into my bathroom where I promptly locked the door, sat down on the floor, and ate the rest of the bag while checking Facebook.  {It's worth mentioning that I've also enjoyed the occasional candy bar, cookie, and ice cream sandwich in this exact fashion.}  

I also learned that my all children are pretty talented when it comes to representing various members of the animal kingdom.  For instance, a characteristic of a monkey is to copy someone.  Well, Raegan sure as sh*t knows how to copy all the words she's not supposed to say {or hear}!  And spiders, well spiders are known to wait for a meal to come to you.  Aha!!!  I knew their helplessness is not learned, but rather innate.  Well played, Mother Nature, well played.  

The last section of the story turns the tables a bit, as it teaches readers 'how to be' a person.  Throughout the whole story, each animal has not only a list of cute characteristics that are easily stereotyped by its function in the world, but also mentions a slightly broader adjective that serves as an umbrella under which many animals {and people} may should fall.  The last section of the book simply revisits each of these adjectives to weave together a sketch of some of the key qualities a 'person' must should possess.  

{It appears that I've given away practically the whole story, and for those of you who relish in the surprise hidden behind the next page, I apologize.  I did, however, leave out enough of the words that I still think you'd find it to be a darling addition to your bookshelves--to be read, not just ignored for things such as Words With Friends or The Voice.}  And just to be polite to those who hate people like me who are giving away the ending, I'll say "spoiler alert", because I'm about to tell you the last line of the story.  Ready?

Don't say I didn't warn ya!

Be Yourself.  

That's it.  Simple, direct, obvious.  

Easy to do?  Eh...that's where I find the ironic struggle.  Here I spent the entire first part of my post outlining the innate fear I have of being judged for something as silly as not reading to/with my kids each day.  The first words of my post were 'good mommies'.  One of those subjective terms that I've been battling internally.  Who are these people who decide what 'good' means, anyway?  Is there a stately conference room somewhere in the middle of Minnesota {because, why not? let's fall onto the stereotyping bandwagon and note that people in the Midwest are generally known for being friendly, down-to-earth, and in general 'nice'--whatever that's supposed to mean!} where 'experts' congregate to discuss and craft this concept of 'good' to which we {society} upholds moms to?  Sadly, mommas, I think we've done this to ourselves.  

I have recently had deep discussions with fellow mommas, read blog posts and book passages that have struck a familiar chord, and been personally trying to wrap my brain around the source of the natural order of 'competitiveness' that can derive from a group of mommies left to their own devices.  Just today {today!}, I read an article about wealthy mommies from Manhattan who are hiring disabled people to pose as family members in order to jump the long lines.  Really?  The *need* to be 'first' and 'best' and 'most' has become so great that it has come to something as demeaning as this?  What ever happened to the old proverb "good things come to those who wait"?  Personally, I can't really find the 'good' that comes from hiring people to pose as family specifically for the personal gain of being 'first', or doing 'more'.  I think this teaches children that patience is not a virtue, but in fact something that is unnecessary.  Waiting can be avoided, if you have enough money.  I also think it's sad to know there are disabled people who are willing to devalue themselves in such a way.  True, they are turning their 'disability' into an 'ability', but at what cost?  Yes, they are reaping the financial gain, but at the cost of self-worth?  Exploiting their disability not to 'do good' {unless, of course, you're the rich kids who don't have to wait for Space Mountain}, but to answer to the almighty dollar.  *sigh*.  

It's a scary world out there to be raising kids in nowadays.  While I wholeheartedly believe that a strong educational background is essential for all children, I honestly think that teaching children 'how to be a person' is the fundamental puzzle piece that should be the core of what 'experts' focus their 'advice' on {for those moms who rely on books to figure out this whole 'parenting' thing}.  

Mommas.  Stop.competing.  Stop.'one-upping'.  Stop.comparing.  Just stop.  Look inside your heart, trust your instincts {and if you don't...find a trustworthy friend, not the advice of 'experts', who, by the way, conflict with each other on practically every parenting issue known to [wo]man}, and above all, BE YOURSELF.

shine bright, lone light...
posted on my Facebook last night...such a good {and simple} reminder.


  1. Well said, Erin :-) I neede this type of "reality check" as I have been feeling like I might be falling short of "good mommy" status lately. Thanks for the reassurance!

    1. Thank you, Tisha! Whenever you feel like you're 'falling short'...look at your girls...they're pretty amazed by you.

      And then, find a mommy friend...because she probably has a great story to share that will help re-calibrate your thinking ;)
      (remember...I'm just a 'facebook' away!)