Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Anger's Power to Scar

The other day, I followed one of my three-year-olds into the bathroom, only to discover that he had wet himself—again. This had been going on for several weeks, once or twice a day. He’d simply get so caught up in what he was doing that he wouldn’t reach the bathroom until he started to pee his pants. This time, I was furious. I started yelling at him, “What is wrong with you? Why are you acting like a baby? I can’t believe you wet another pair of pants! Look at this! When are you going to learn?” I said all those things to him that parents aren’t supposed to say to their child. I lost it. But my little boy was determined to be brave in the face of my anger. He looked up at me in defiance, his eyes meeting fire with fire. And then, seeing the rage on my face, his little lips began to quiver, and he broke down in tears. His tiny body slumped to the ground. I felt about two inches high. No, not even that tall. “I’m so sorry, honey,” I sobbed, as I gathered him in my arms. The look of utter disappointment on his face still haunts me. I had really let him down as a parent.

That took me back to another day, when I was a child myself, and I’d made my mother angry. I don’t remember what my offense was, but apparently she’d reached the limits of her tolerance because she spanked me. It didn’t hurt very much, so I laughed at her—which made her even angrier! When my dad came home from work that night, I got another spanking. And that one hurt a lot. It was a horrible day for my mother and me, one that I remember all these years later.

Ahhh, the power of anger to scar. And angry words can cut just as deep as angry actions. Surely, my horrible words to my son hurt just as much as, maybe more than, the spankings I received many years ago. I can only hope that my son won’t remember this day like the one I remember with my mom.

I think most parents will admit, though, to struggling with anger at certain times in their children’s lives. We’re overworked and overtired. Our kids seem to continually defy us. We say the same things over and over, with seemingly few results. It’s tough to maintain control of our tempers. Those sweet “Cosby” show moments certainly seem few and far between.

But I don’t want my kids to remember the looks of fury on my face as they reflect on their childhoods. I want them to picture me gazing at them with love and adoration. I want them to know that I still cherish them, even when they’ve wet their pants for the hundredth time. But it’s tough to show in the heat of the moment.

I think that’s the greatest gift we can give to our children—our unconditional love. Sure, they need to be told when they’ve done wrong and, at times, be appropriately punished, but they should never doubt that we still love them even if we don’t like what they do. It’s a legacy we should all seek to pass on to our children.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Growing Up in the Stone Age

I was born in 1964, but as far as my kids are concerned, it might as well have been the Stone Age. I love to shock them with the "hardships" I had to endure:

I managed to get all the way through college without having a computer. I would type up my term papers on an IBM Selectric typewriter, and my friends would pay me to type theirs.

We had a black-and-white TV, and only three channels—ABC, NBC, and CBS. Sometimes, we managed to get PBS if we got the antenna just right. And we actually had to get off the couch to change the channel using the knob on the TV set.

We had no air conditioning in our homes or cars. We opened the windows at night and ran through the sprinkler during the day!

My friends and I could make crank calls to our hearts’ content thanks to the absence of Caller ID.

Nobody carried cell phones. Yes, we survived without cell phones, or even cordless phones. We had to dial the number on a wheel—no buttons to push.

We had no answering machines. If nobody answered the phone, we called back later. If someone was on the phone, we got a busy tone. There was no call waiting or additional phone lines. Sometimes you could even hear someone else’s conversation on the "party line"!

To listen to music away from our home stereos, we had to use our battery-powered transistor radios or listen to the radio in the car. Our music was stored on plastic disks called record albums or on cassette tapes. There was no such thing as an iPod or an MP3.

We actually had to take film to the store to be developed. There were no digital or video cameras.

We had to entertain ourselves with board games. No video games.

The only way to see a movie was to go to the theater unless it happened to be on the aforementioned three channels. We didn’t have cable TV, pay-per-view, or DVDs.

There was no such thing as a thirty-second meal without microwave ovens.

We had no digital clocks—all of our wall clocks and watches had "hands."

Cashiers had to key in the price of every item at the store. There were no scanners.

We had to do multiplication and division by hand. We might have had access to an adding machine, but no calculators.

When we needed to get directions, we had to consult a paper map—no GPS or MapQuest.

We wrote letters on paper to our friends overseas. We didn’t have e-mail or instant messaging.

When we wanted to send a document to someone, we had to photocopy it and mail it. We couldn’t scan it and e-mail it.

We had to tie our tennis shoes. There was no such thing as Velcro.

If we needed information to write a book report, we had to go to the library (and manually consult the card catalog) or check out the set of encyclopedias that our parents bought. We didn’t have Google, Wikipedia or the Internet.

Well, I’m sure I missed a few of the "hardships" we endured growing up in the sixties and seventies, but hopefully I made my point. Our kids are certainly growing up in a very different world from the one we experienced! In many ways, I don’t think they’re necessarily luckier. Life might be a little bit easier for them, but somehow we managed to have just as much fun! Sometimes more, I think…

Monday, July 23, 2007

What Does Your Spouse Add to Your Life?

It’s so easy to focus on the things that our spouses do wrong. These are some of the things that annoy me about my husband:

He constantly throws his clothes on the floor.
He sleeps with 3 pillows, thus crowding me out.
He has every tool ever known to mankind cluttering up our garage, but berates me for buying one more makeup item that merely clutters a single drawer.
He never says, “I’m sorry.”
He drives too close to the car in front of him.

Of course, I could go on for pages…and, if he were inclined to write about the things I do to annoy him, he’d probably have an even bigger list (and I’d like to add “He’s too critical” to my list above). But just when I think I’d be much happier without him—my floor would be clothing-free, my bed would be pillow-free, my garage would be tool-free, etc.—I realize that there are quite a few things that he does right. For instance:

He does laundry.
He takes care of the cars.
He cooks—often.
He does our taxes.
He does his share of childcare.
He works outside the home at a job he dislikes so I can work at home.

And this list could go on and on, too. When I think about what I would miss without him, I know that the little annoyances are a small price to pay. In fact, I already know what it’s like to be without him as I was a single mother and head of the household for nine years before we met. I did it all, from dealing with the meals and laundry, to handling all the childcare, to working an 8–5 job to support my family. My closest relatives lived two hours away. I managed, and I learned a lot from the experience, but I also realize how fortunate I am now to have a partner to share the load. Sure, my husband sometimes adds to my workload, too, but he lightens it a lot more.

The next time your spouse does something to annoy you, think about what he or she does to please you. How does he make your life easier? What does she do that you don’t want to do yourself? What things are more palatable because you tackle them together? Focus on your mate’s contributions rather than his or her annoyances. Believe me, it puts things in perspective. You’ll never find the perfect mate, but you can find the perfect mindset that makes the marital trip worthwhile.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Kids Are Bad for the Physique

Have you ever had anyone ask you why you sound out of breath when you answer the phone? That’s happened to me! Apparently, the exertion required just to run to a ringing phone overtaxes my body. And I’m not even overweight! But I am out of shape.

When my husband and I first met, we both had gym memberships. We worked out several times a week, and were in the best shape of our lives. And then the twins arrived.

I was recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. We were both averaging about two hours of sleep a night . . . if we were lucky! The cost of diapers, formula and a new minivan was seriously overtaxing our budget. Needless to say, the gym memberships had to be dropped.

So, here I am three and a half years later struggling to answer the phone. And my husband’s size small gym shorts are definitely a lot tighter! We feel terrible about this, of course, but we take small comfort in knowing that we’re not unique. A study released in May 2007 by the University of Pittsburgh found that parenthood greatly reduced the amount of physical activity that adults engaged in. For women who exercised about four hours a week before having children, they lost an hour and a half of that after becoming mothers. Men took an even bigger hit. If they used to engage in approximately eight hours of physical activity a week, they lost four and a half hours of that after becoming fathers. So, how many of you are using your treadmill or exercise bike as a clothes hanger?

Experts tell us that too many of us have acquired an “all-or-nothing mentality.” We figure if we no longer have the time to put in our usual two-hour workout that we might as well just give up exercising entirely. But that’s just not true. Even if we only have a half-hour to work out now, we should still do it! Instead of going to the gym, head out to the sidewalk with the stroller and take a long walk. At the very least, park at the back of the parking lot when you go to the store and take the stairs at the doctor’s office. It will make a difference in how you look and feel.

Another argument that parents use for giving up exercise is that they don’t want to spend any more time away from their children, especially if they work away from home. But if your health begins to suffer due to lack of physical activity, the quality time you spend with your kids is going to suffer, too.

Now that our twins are three-and-a-half, my husband and I have been talking more and more about getting back into shape. Mike may head back to the gym once he recovers from knee surgery, and I’m thinking about starting out with a yoga class at the Y. My goals are modest to start, but I hope to be able at least to answer the phone without panting!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hand Sanitizers Can Be Dangerous—Even Deadly—to Children

I recently read a report in a newsletter written by a mother who was called to her daughter’s school after they found her to be extremely lethargic and incoherent. The four-year-old was unable to hold up her head or focus her eyes. After questioning the child’s classmates, they learned that she had been licking hand sanitizer from her hand! The hospital discovered that the girl had an extremely high blood alcohol level.

I remember the days when my teenagers were in elementary school, and one of the required items on their supply list was always a bottle of hand sanitizer. So, naturally I was suspicious of the story I had read because I had a hard time believing that children would be given something that was so dangerous. But after checking out the urban legend websites, I learned that the story is true!

Hand sanitizers can contain up to 60 percent alcohol, which is 120 proof—a higher alcohol content than vodka! The result, depending on the amount ingested, could be intoxication, alcohol poisoning, and even death. If your child has been around hand sanitizers and is showing symptoms such as slurred speech, extreme fatigue, vomiting, glassy eyes or anything else out of the ordinary, call 911 immediately. Treat hand sanitizers as poisons and keep them out of reach of children. As for me, that’s one item on the school supply list that this mother won’t be purchasing!