Tag Archives: sons

He’s 9, and he’s fine. But what about me?

My 9-year-old son walked to school by himself for the first time today.

He goes to a school that’s a 10-minute drive away, not within walking distance, but he can catch the bus at the school in our neighborhood just a few blocks away from our house. His school has a late start, and he usually wants to have extra time at home in the morning and prefers I drive him to school. My flexible schedule allows me to do that.

Today, he wanted to walk to the bus. Alone. For the first time.

While he typically dawdles through the morning routine, he practically raced through it this morning, preparing himself for the day. I said I would walk him down to the corner. You can literally see the school three blocks away from that corner. He declined my offer.

“I am fine!” he insisted.

I watched him walk away, his heavy backpack not slowing his steps at all.

I know it’s the first of many times I will watch him leave. Soon he’ll be asking for the car keys, and after that, going to college. Realistically, I know there are many years before that, but it also feels like yesterday I was carrying him on my hip. It goes so fast, we all say. Because it simply does. I remember last week — or 10 years ago — when my stepdaughter decided she wanted to ride her scooter to school at about the same age. Now she’s expecting her own child.

As soon as he turned the corner, I got in the car, thinking about driving to meet him. I sat there for a minute. “I am not a helicopter parent,” I told myself. “Don’t I always say my goal is to raise independent, self-sufficient children? He’s a smart, strong kid. He is 9. He is fine.”

But I still started the ignition. I drove the opposite way, and reached the back of the school, where I saw him proudly walking toward the waiting area for the bus. See, I just wanted to congratulate him, to tell him I am proud of how he’s growing up. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the same reason I followed my stepdaughter that day on her scooter.

I gave him a high-five and a big hug, told him to have a great day, and walked back toward the car.

“Sometimes it’s hard to leave them,” another mom kindly said to me.

It sure is.

 

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How do you stick to your guns when it comes to video games?

I have been arguing with my 9-year-old son for weeks about why we won’t let him play Grand Theft Auto. I kind of blame myself.

He was at an older friend’s birthday party where they were playing games he knows we don’t allow. He texted me from his iPod: “I feel left out because everyone is playing video games I can’t play.”

I was proud of him for being honest and following the rules, so I told him it was OK to try them out with his friends. I didn’t expect him to like them so much. Up until now, our biggest challenge had been pulling him away from Minecraft, which is pretty universally praised as an educational game that encourages creativity and critical thinking.

He had tucked his Christmas cash into his homemade duct-tape wallet, and my son was determined to spend that money on GTA, a game that “EVERYONE plays.”

He kept telling me he doesn’t want to do all that bad crime stuff, he just likes to drive around and play tennis and stuff. Are there really scenic byways and recreational facilities in this violent virtual world that I heard mostly consists of bank robbers, guns, hookers, and drug dealers?

For weeks, he’s been alternating between sweet talking us and screaming at us about why he should get GTA.  He has negotiated and promised, and we have threatened and researched. I don’t like video games and detest guns, so these allure of these games is lost on me. But I read the online reviews from other parents. I watched YouTube videos. I talked to friends who do and don’t let their kids play GTA. And I came to my conclusion: No way.

“Mom, it is not as bad as you think,” my son insisted. “And I know right from wrong. It’s not like I’m going to go out and rob a bank or steal a car.”

He has written too many persuasive essays in third grade, this kid.

My son, like seemingly all boys, likes video games. But he also swims, plays basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis. He’s active. He’s a good student. He likes art and music and jumping on the trampoline. Like all moms, I wonder how much screen time is too much? How damaging are these games to his precious psyche?

Finally, he wore me down. My husband and I took him to Game Stop to ask about the game. The first salesclerk warned me about the mature themes. I asked him about this “just driving around” thing, and he said you really can’t do that for very long.

Then the clerk told us if you buy a used game, you can return it in seven days if you don’t like it or decide it’s a mistake. That sounded like a reasonable option. We went over the ground rules, and our son said he understood that if Dad or I objected to it in any way, we would take the game back with no backtalk. Against my better judgment, I told him he could try it out under close supervision.

Beaming, my son walked up to counter with the GTA case in his hand. A different clerk was there and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “You sure this is OK?” he asked.

The conversation began again with this employee. He told us it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the violence, sex, and profanity.  “It’s really the worst game out there for kids,” he said, confirming my fears.

This conscientious clerk directed us toward another game we’d never heard of that he said was just as fun, without the inappropriate language and crime sprees. He backed us up, without knowing how much we needed it.

These guys are the experts, I told our son. They are super gamers. It’s their job to sell games, and they are encouraging us NOT to buy this one.

I reneged on our agreement. I knew I was in trouble. We’re all about keeping our word in our family, and our kiddo was not happy that I broke mine. But I also knew I was right.

Thank you, Game Stop guys for making this mom stick to her guns.

Another year on the nice list for Mom

I watched the touching Spanish IKEA commercial that went viral about kids writing two letters – one to Santa, and one to their parents. It turns out the kids asked Santa for lots of toys, but their wishes from their parents were very different. They wanted more time with them, they wanted to be listened to.

I asked my son what he would ask me and Dad for that wasn’t a material thing. He didn’t take long to answer: “I want to know the truth about the Tooth Fairy and leprechauns and all that stuff.”

Not the response I was expecting, but I shouldn’t have been surprised giving his growing skepticism. A lot of my friends with kids this age are struggling with how to approach this. (You can read my previous post about this.)

We settled in for a talk. I told him flat out: the Tooth Fairy is not real. And leprechauns, I don’t know. I’ve never seen one. (These leprechaun traps kids make today weren’t a thing when I was growing up. I had never even heard of them until H wanted to make one a couple years ago.)

“So….Easter Bunny?” he asked.

I opened my mouth to reply, with a sigh, but before I could answer, he blurted out, “Do I REALLY want to hear this?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“Well, I don’t want to know about Santa!” he said, quite emphatically.

santa package.jpgSo we left it at the leprechauns. And I decided it was time for another Package from Santa. I ordered the package (this is a pretty cool thing if you’ve never done it  (www.packagefromsanta.com), this time editing the letter to reflect his questions. It arrived last night. He squealed when he tore open shiny envelope from the North Pole (Whew! Another year on the Nice List!) and sat down to read the personalized letter.

“I know you’re almost 9 now and you’ve been hearing from other kids that there is no Santa Claus and trying to decide for yourself what you believe. Your parents and I have been thinking a lot about what to tell you,” Santa wrote.

“You said you wanted the truth, so here it is: the magic of Santa is real.” (More squealing.)

“But you’re such a smart boy and ask so many questions that you have figured out a few of my secrets. You’re right, it is hard for me and the reindeer to fly all the way around the globe in one night…and your parents sometimes help me make sure your presents get delivered.”

It went on to congratulate him for this good works and successes during the year and to wish him a happy birthday, which falls on the day after Christmas.

He beamed. He jumped up and down. He was thrilled. He was relieved.

He was not completely fooled.

“So exactly how does Santa get the presents to you guys?” he asked.

To tell or not to tell? He wants the truth. He wants to believe.

So I told him what I believe to be true: It’s all part of the magic of Christmas.

I hope that gets me on the Nice List.

 

 

Holy *@$Z!* Where did my kid hear this?

swearingThe other night at dinner, our not-yet-9-year-old son asked me what a c***s***er was. He actually asked just like that, asterisks and all.

“I know the F word and the S word and the D word and the B word, but what word is that?” he asked.

What the bleep?

He told me he was checking the parental warnings of a movie he and a friend wanted to watch On Demand and that word appeared on the TV screen so they didn’t watch it. I had no idea they actually specify which words might be heard in a film. They do. (They also mention what nude body parts you might see, just an FYI.)

To hear him rattle off the ABCs of curse words was unnerving to say the least. Where has he learned all this?

I remember when we were kids – I was the oldest of the group and probably 8 – we found the “F” word scratched into a fence behind our playhouse. We ran inside and asked our mom what it meant. She said, and I quote, “It’s an ugly word for a beautiful thing.”

We didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, but we were instructed not to say it. My mom used to say things like “Fiddlesticks,” when she was mad. If my Norwegian grandma was disgusted, you’d hear her say, “Uff da.”

Unfortunately today, kids hear a lot worse. Most wouldn’t have to ask the meaning if they saw a bad word scrawled on a wall.

I monitor what my son watches, but it seems like swearing is everywhere and it’s acceptable if there’s that beeeeeeeeeeeeeep in place of the word. Cursing is commonplace in the media, on pop radio, in PG movies, and on the playground. Older siblings also share lots of choice words with younger kids.

Swearing itself doesn’t bother me – my vocabulary includes some fine examples. Too often my son hears me exclaim, “Shit! I mean, shoot!” usually when I spill something, miss a freeway exit, or forget to pack a lunch. And he scolds me for such language.

Sometimes after he’s gone to bed and I’m watching the news (Oh what the h-e-double toothpicks it might have been the Real Housewives), he overhears and yells, “Mom, you know I can hear that? And it’s not appropriate!”

He knows he’s not supposed to say bad words and he doesn’t repeat them (at least in front of me.) But sadly, he’s heard a lot of them. Some moms don’t seem to care – YouTube is full of videos of babies and toddlers dropping the F bomb – but I don’t want my kid talking like that.

So we’re going to watch our tongues and enact a few more parental controls of our own. And he’s just going to have to wait a while to find out about any of those “C” words.

Gosh darn it.

 

 

Five reasons I won’t give up on Forced Family Fun

My husband and dad are watching football for the third straight day. My son and his friend don’t want to do anything except play the Xbox. I’m bored and unsatisfied with our family interaction.

What do I do? Bring out the board games! Plan an outing!

It’s a picture-perfect November day, with blue skies and sunshine to kick off the Christmas season. We’ll go to the Seattle Center, ride up the Space Needle to see the futuristic Santa, then visit the gingerbread houses. Family fun day!

The response from my son?

“I don’t want to go!”

Oh yes, we’re going. This isn’t just family fun. This is forced family fun at its finest.

forced fun biggerThe night before, I had suggested a rousing game of spoons with grandparents, parents, and kids. I heard more than a few complaints about what a dumb game it was. What’s the point? All you have to do is grab a stupid spoon? Lame.

“The point is THIS IS FUN!!!!” I screamed.

After finally getting everyone on board and explaining the very complicated rules of the game (pass a card, get four of a kind, reach for a spoon and don’t be the player to end up without one), we had a great time moving through the deck as fast as we could and diving dramatically toward the middle of the dining room table trying to grab our spoon.

As I was trying to inspire a little enthusiasm out of my son and his friend for my holiday sightseeing plans, I asked my dad if my siblings and I moaned and groaned when it was time for a family adventure our parents thought would be a blast. He just laughed. “Sometimes,” he admitted.

I don’t remember that, but I do remember the family fun – games of Facts in Five (does anyone else remember this old-fashioned, tougher prequel to Scattergories?) road trips filled with endless singing of “There’s a Hole in the Bucket,” and “The Other Day I Saw a Bear,” and visits my parents arranged to historical sites like Pearl Harbor and the Lincoln Memorial.

So no matter how much grumbling I hear, I won’t give up on forcing family fun. Here’s why:

Because it get us off our screens. Whether it’s Minecraft, Facebook, the NFL Network, You Tube, or WordPress, we all spend a lot of time looking at our devices and not really talking to each other. It’s important to step away and have actual conversations and play real games. They always evoke giggles, and laughing together is my favorite kind of family fun.

Because I go places like the Family Fun Center and Chuck E. Cheese. Let’s be serious. These casinos for kids are not a place for family fun. Trying to keep track of the kids, limiting the dollars spent on tokens to stuff into machines that spew tickets, only to wait in line to count said tickets, then wait some more while they carefully redeem them for plastic swords and whoopee cushions is not my idea of quality time. But I do it for you, kiddos.

Because we’re creating traditions. Maybe we whined when it was time to play the classic Midwest card game Rook with my mom’s large extended family, but we always had fun at card tables filled with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins at family get-togethers. The night of my grandma’s memorial service, her children and grandchildren gathered together and played the game she taught us, and we now-adult grandchildren have shared it with our spouses and kids.

Because we’re making memories. My siblings and cousins often reminisce about camping trips and fishing outings with our parents. Waking up at 4 a.m. to climb onto my uncle’s small boat for a long, bumpy ride out to the halibut and crab grounds in Southeast Alaska drew some protests from the younger set, but we have fond memories of those times we spent together. Someday, my kids will teach their children the silly songs I sang in the car with them, and I will join the chorus.

Because most of the time, we have fun. The trip downtown wasn’t the best example of that. Suffice it to say I wasn’t the only one who had this great idea. Crazy long lines kept us from the two main things we set out to do, and the kids were hungry and cranky. After one of those Mom-of-the-Year moments when I told my son I was so done with his whining I might not ever take him anywhere he wants to go if I don’t want to go there too, I put myself in time out.

Succumbing to failure, we headed home. My son asked if his friend could spend the night, and my initial thought was no way, not after how you behaved today.

“I really want to play spoons again!” he said with genuine excitement. “I have to admit, Mom, that was pretty fun.”

Forced family fun wins again.

 

 

 

Count your blessings every day

It’s easy to talk about all we’re grateful for on Thanksgiving.

Our family has been trying to make a habit of counting our blessings all year long. The idea was born on a crazy-making day when everyone was complaining and whining. I suggested – ok maybe screamed – that we all take a minute to think about something good that happened that day.

The good thing that day was the beautiful box my son made asking us simple questions: What are you grateful for? What good happened to you today? Easy questions with often profound answers that undoubtedly change our perspective. A few months later, we went to a paint-your-own-pottery place and he decided to make a more durable Gratitude Jar.

We slip colorful pieces of paper in the box and jar and share them over the dinner table several times a week.

I’m often overcome during the reading.

I’m grateful for a sunny day.

I’m grateful for true friends.

I’m grateful there was no traffic.

I’m grateful for my thriving family, my funny son and my sweet husband.

I’m grateful for coffee. I’m grateful for wine.

I’m grateful for music, for books, for laughter, for tears.

I’m grateful for our home, our health, our sense of humor. Especially that sense of humor.

Sometimes we’re grateful for simple things we usually take for granted. I’m grateful for my coat, my umbrella, my dinner on the table, my bed. My son always wants a little more stuff. He’s almost 9 and thinks more stuff would make him happier.

Sometimes he’s grateful for Minecraft. Sometimes it’s the money he got in a card from his Grandma. Or doing well on a math test or having a friend over.

Then he writes something like this, that he’s grateful for happiness, and my heart swells, knowing my message is getting through to him.

h grateful

Granted, sometimes we’re better at it this gratitude thing than others. We have been through our trials this year, as have you all. Some days just suck, as my son says. Many of us are struggling with loss and pain and stress. Others are coping with hunger, joblessness, homelessness, loneliness, illness, addiction. No matter our circumstances, someone certainly is in a worse position. No matter our wealth, someone surely has more.

When I’m down, I look through the piles of paper I’ve saved and stuffed into gallon Ziploc bags, and I’m reminded how bountiful my blessings. So I try – as corny as some may find it – to find joy in every day: A giggle, a song I like on the radio, a message in marker on a pink slip of paper that reminds me someone loves me.

Happy Thanksgiving.