My Husband Gives His FedEx Package Its Freedom

Dear FedEx Package [number],

You are probably expecting another letter inquiring about your whereabouts and begging you to come back. You were so close to me, even making it to the next town over, but then I was too needy and you fled to Georgia. Your friends at FedEx no longer return my calls and I don’t think even they know where you are anymore. I’ve decided to let you go so you can pursue your own dreams.

But I’ve learned some things since I met you. At first you desired me for my popularity with other packages and rushed quickly to me. But when I showed you too much affection and loyalty, you became bored and chose what you felt was a more glamorous lifestyle — traveling from city to city, letting random men shove you in the back of their truck and bang you around.

Why should I desire a package that will only settle for me after it is done having fun? If you keep this up, no man will want you and you will find yourself discarded and alone, visited only by cats who will pee on you and paw at the remains of your tattered box. You were created for a purpose, and this was not it. You will find no lasting pleasure in it. I know what I’m telling you is making you angry, but it is the truth. Or did you really believe what those other men told you? They would have told you anything to get you banging in their truck! Then immediately they forgot about you and moved on to the next one. Did you not notice or care how roughly they treated you? Why is that the behavior that you long for? You think you are doing fine because you have been embraced by so many men. But when you are finally ready to settle down, none of those men will want you. They will have moved on to newer, less worn packages and you will despise the one who could do no better than you.

I’ve found another* who I am very happy with and doesn’t play any of your games. I guess you weren’t that special after all. So enjoy your steaks in Texas. Have fun at the amusement parks in Ohio. Why you went to West Virgina, I’ll never know. I don’t get updates on your whereabouts anymore, but I guess that I don’t need that though. Now you’re just some package that I used to know.

 

*Another package of fencing bought in-store.

Advertisements

No Need For Soccer or Candyland

It’s important for children to get plenty of exercise and screen-free time. Very young children cannot participate in organized sports or board games, but fortunately are very good at the following universally popular pastimes:

5. Identify This Thing

This game is played with both child and adult participants. “Look, Mommy! See what I found?” Will it be a long-lost toy? A rock? A brown squishy substance that you’re desperately hoping is chocolate?

4. Freak Out Mommy (or Daddy)

Beginners in this sport draw on the wall, climb onto precarious positions, break expensive items, or other obvious moves. More advanced players master the art of subtlety and induce massive amounts of panic by strategically remaining quiet at unexpected moments. Bonus points for hiding oneself in some corner of the house and then having a plausible explanation for one’s absence. “I was just sorting out my toys in this closet; I didn’t hear you!”

3. “But You Said…”

Children with any level of verbal competency hone their critical thinking and rhetorical skills with this word-play game. Remember when you mumbled “Mmhmm” to their request for a cookie? This means that you signed an ironclad contract to give them said cookie, right now, and if you don’t you’re going back on your promise. You don’t want to be the kind of person who breaks promises, do you?

Also, it will amaze you to find how poorly you’ve delivered apparently simple instructions. “Please come in the house now” is interpreted to mean “Pretty soon we’ll have to come in the house, once I’ve swung a few more times, used the slide, and played tag with the neighbors.”

Classic techniques include repetition, waiting until the parent is absorbed in something else, selective deafness, and saying “Thank you” preemptively after delivering a request that the child thinks you may not grant. Judicious use of “I love you, Mommy” can help, but is not to be overused. Using a wounded tone of voice can be very effective, but great care must be taken not to veer into whining, which results in an instant penalty.

2. Chase

One sibling chases another, then is chased by the other, and round and round they go. Points are awarded for how well the tread of a 20- or 30-lb child resembles the stampede of a buffalo herd; extra points for knocking something down. The finish line is reached when at least one child bangs into something and hurts himself.

1. Sibling Is Being Mean to Me!

The game of games, into which all other games devolve. Endless variations are possible–“Brother hit me!” “Sister said she hates me!” “Brother took my toy!” “Sister’s not letting me through!” Leave children harmoniously drawing with sidewalk chalk, and a few minutes later someone will insist that their siblings are candidates for the international war crimes tribunal.

What other favorite children’s games have I missed?

The Eighth Commandment is Not Complicated

A couple of days ago, I participated in a comment thread about a 4-year-old who had taken some toys meant for underprivileged kids. The child’s parent (sex unclear) had stored the toys but not locked them up; the child had repeatedly pilfered toys from the stash, in spite of being on the receiving end of long, earnest lectures about honesty, trust, and helping the less fortunate. The toys, incidentally, were windup plastic character toys, which were not the kind of toys the parent bought for his or her own kid.

All of the commenters agreed that the parent was dumb not to lock away the toys after the first incident (or before).

Many of the commenters agreed that for the kid’s next birthday or Christmas, maybe the parent should get him one or two of these plastic pieces of junk, instead of more of whatever high-quality wooden educational toys the child already had.

So far, so good. But then the commenters veered off into lunacy. To paraphrase: “At four years old, a child doesn’t have any conception of ‘mine’ and ‘not mine,’ especially for toys that have been brought into her house. It’s unfair to expect her to understand that she can’t play with them.” A few even suggested that the parent go out right then and buy the child a toy, or let her keep one of the charity’s toys and buy a new one for the charity, and they were not roundly lambasted by anyone (except me, because I’m a meanie who doesn’t want to reward children for bad behavior).

I was astonished at how many of the commenters agreed that the 4-year-old wasn’t really capable of stealing because of her age. It is one thing to say that impulse control in 4-year-olds is poor–that’s quite true, hence the inadvisability of leaving a bunch of toys in front of said 4-year-old. But four is plenty old enough to understand “This is not yours; do not touch it; do not play with it.” You do not need to deliver speeches about charity and helping the poor to get this very simple point across. A 4-year-old may certainly still disobey, and it doesn’t mean that she’s a sociopath, but where in the world do people get the idea that she just isn’t able to grasp the idea that she doesn’t get to handle everything?

Now, people have smaller families nowadays, and it is quite possible that children without siblings might have a harder time refraining from taking others’ toys. This doesn’t seem very plausible, though, because at the very least the parent will have told a 4-year-old “This is Mommy’s, don’t touch” throughout her childhood. Also, many children go to daycare, and I presume that a competent caregiver would help children learn to share toys and respect personal possessions.

Ultimately, I think we’re seeing another example of the worldview in which children are essentially amoral beings and can be presumed to have no responsibility for their actions and speech. Obviously, a very young child does NOT have the same degree of responsibility for something like stealing that, say, a twenty-something does, but it is a parent’s job to help children develop that agency. It is right for us to set our children up to succeed, and not wave a bag of enticing but forbidden toys at them; but it is disappointing to see so many adults apparently rejecting the idea of having any moral expectations at all for their young children. Four-year-olds are smarter than that, but if their parents don’t discipline them the resulting 24-year-olds might not be.

Another Step in My Abandonment of Vanity

I’m sitting with my 2-year-old. He says, “Mommy, can I touch your tummy?”

“Yes.” He starts poking my stomach.

“Your tummy is fat.”

“Oh, yeah?”

He continues saying in a soft, singsong voice, “Your tummy is fat. You have a fat tummy.”

“Okay, thanks for letting me know.”

He grins. “Your tummy is fat and squishy.” He pauses, looks into my eyes. “I want you, Mommy.” He gives me a hug.

I want you, too, little man.

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Moms

The Inquisitr has a fluff piece on “baby-nups,” written agreements on how to split babycare duties. Working out the division of labor before the baby arrives is supposed to provide clarity, communication, and presumably other good things beginning with c.

Let’s leave aside the awful, precious name “baby-nups.” Let’s even leave aside the fact that if two adults can’t work out a good division of responsibilities without creating a “contract,” they probably shouldn’t have procreated in the first place. Baby-nups (ugh, I hate typing that phrase) are still a terrible idea, because babies are not little machines. You have no idea what your baby’s health will be like, how good a sleeper he’ll be, what kind of feeding issues may arise, how fussy he may get. “You’ll take the early evening feedings and I’ll take feedings from midnight on” sounds fine, but what if the kid won’t take a bottle? What if you plan to breastfeed the kid, but you can’t? What if the child is in the NICU for a month? What if the father suddenly has to travel or work overtime? What if, what if, what if?

None of the “what ifs” should preclude parents from making a plan for after their child is born. Planning is a sensible thing to do. But any schemes involving a baby have to be loosely defined and flexible, because babies have a way of upending perfect, elaborate scenarios. Just as you can usually plan for how your birth will take place–hospital, birth center, home; epidural or not; cesarean or vaginal delivery–so you must recognize that your peaceful home birth might turn into an emergency cesarean, or that you won’t be getting your epidural because the kid decided that the freeway shoulder was an excellent place to make his debut into the outer world.

Parenthood is learning to recognize the limits to your control. Make plans, by all means, but also know that your plans may be utterly undone by circumstance. And for goodness’ sake, don’t befoul your plans by naming them anything as revoltingly precious as a “baby-nup.”

 

The Difference Between “I Don’t Want a Child With” and “I Don’t Want My Child to Have”

I don’t want my children to have special needs.

I don’t want them to have physical, mental, or emotional difficulties. I don’t want them to suffer from a chronic health condition, be in danger from dying of cancer, sustain brain damage, or be injured in a car accident. I don’t want them to be on the spectrum, have any genetic anomalies, or develop depression, bipolar disorder, or a personality disorder. I do not want them to experience PTSD, trauma, or adverse childhood events. I don’t want them to show extraordinary genius, unless they are also somehow miraculously well-adjusted and balanced.

Actually, I don’t want any unhappiness ever at all to come upon my children, though I do want them to possess all the qualities that come with facing sorrow and adversity–resilience, gratitude, self-control, empathy, diligence, wisdom.

In other words: I want fried ice.

And parents who are reading this are quite likely to feel hurt, offended, or simply annoyed at my ignorance as to what it means to have a child with atypical development or mental health issues. For children who deal with these conditions are, before all, God’s image bearers and parents’ beloved children, although they may constantly be receiving the message that they’re worth less than others, less blessing and more burden. It has to be painful for these kids and their parents to know that others might look at “special needs” children as a feared outcome.

Everything changes when we welcome a child into our family and find that it is not a representative of a particular demographic group, but–himself, or herself. The child weighs so much, is x inches long, behaves in y manner, but cannot be pinned down by a mere description. Even those who believe that what we call “the soul” is merely the outworking of certain physical characteristics treat their kids as if they are something different than a particularly intelligent rat. Our children are who they are, and we wouldn’t want to erase their existence. Even giving them new abilities, or rewiring their brains to be more “functional” would be changing them, though of course we’re all engaged in changing our children by helping them develop their full potential. So it is that a parent who says “I don’t want a child with special needs” is a fool, because a “special needs child” isn’t “a special needs child” but “my child.” All else proceeds from that point.

My children will face sorrow. Terrible things will happen to them, because that is what occurs in this vale of tears. Their abilities or health may be severely curtailed; they may even predecease me (God forbid). I say so not to be morbid, but to recognize that my desire to save my kids from adversity is futile, both in accomplishment and in aim. One way or another, we all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and the only sensible thing to do is to look to the Lord as our shepherd to guide us through.

Being delivered from my fears, I can look at my children as people, and not as pieces to be curated, or as potential victims of Bad Scary Thing. No matter what my kids’ unique needs and experiences, this is the only proper way to consider them–with love and care and concern, but not with fear or a desire to control. And in turn, I can show my children that other children, with their own challenges, are more than those challenges, so that they may treat them as their neighbor and love them accordingly.

 

My Favorite Ages: The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good of Children’s Phases

Kids are  all different, and even so-called typical development varies wildly from child to child. Between my three, I’ve noticed some commonalities in the challenges and good things about various stages from babyhood to kindergarten. So, in order of personal preference, I present:

1) Eight to Twelve Months

The Bad and the Ugly: They’re starting to be mobile and they put every blessed thing into their mouth. Time to babyproof and begin the long process of teaching them to listen to you.

The Good: They’re perpetually cheerful and loving; they seem to pick up a new skill every three days; they’re starting to be mobile, but not so much that they’re not easy to catch and contain; they smile and coo and babble with you and are sweet and interesting. Truly, this age is Nature’s trap, to fool you into thinking about having another one.

2) Kindergarten

The Bad and the Ugly: The kid is still dependent on you for attention and engagement, and can’t be entirely trusted with hygiene matters; it’s also harder to physically remove the kid from a bad situation.

The Good: Young enough to love you dearly and not be sassy; old enough to be alone by herself a bit. Young enough to learn at an amazing rate; old enough to be able to do simple tasks with reasonable competency. Lovely age.

3) Late Toddlerhood/Preschool
The Bad and the Ugly: It is very exhausting trying to answer, for the 1,000 time, why planes go faster than helicopters, or does Jesus poop in His glorified body, or whether our minivan is faster than a fire engine, or how a bad guy can be nice to his kid. Potty training is generally messy and inconvenient. Although the kid has more control over his emotions, he can still melt down, and he can use more words to exasperate his parents.

The Good: The child is more competent and can actually do a little work. His pictures might start to have lines and shapes, rather than just being scribbles. You can hold pretty good conversations with him, and you can ease up on the suicide watch a little. JUST a little, since he’s still capable of doing awfully stupid and dangerous things.

4) Early Toddlerhood

The Bad and the Ugly: My kids generally switched from being perpetually happy delights to temperamental screamypants around a year of age, with peak fussiness at 18 months that gradually declined as their second birthday approached. Your mileage may vary, but children are starting to develop enough that they want to do more than they can do; their inhibitions are nonexistent, they’re still being trained to obey, they may discover lying, and they can’t express themselves well enough to communicate what they are thinking, feeling, and wanting. And this is the age at which children are most adept at choking on items, strangling themselves with cords, running out into the street, ingesting poison, cutting or poking themselves with sharp items, or otherwise trying to kill themselves.

The Good: They’re still in an explosion of skill acquisition. They might start drawing, walking, talking, stacking, and doing other cool things. They have a fully-fledged personality, and they interact with you like another person would. They can be insanely funny and utterly adorable, and they have an intense desire to help and please you.

5) The First Few Weeks

The Bad and the Ugly: You get to recover from having your insides torn apart while caring for a helpless, demanding creature with very little personality; said creature could be sent to the hospital by a simple cold. The baby has no understanding of “night” or “day,” and whether you do or don’t breastfeed your breasts are going to cause you discomfort.

The Good: You have just met your child, which is pretty damned amazing. Also, newborns sleep A LOT, if at inconvenient hours, so if you can adjust to sleeping in small snatches you can survive pretty well. Finally, newborns are very, very simple (not easy): They don’t need you to stimulate them with Mozart or toys. Just cuddle, feed, change, and keep them warm. Don’t worry if you’re Doing It Right–if the child is alive and you’re more or less sane, you’re doing fine.

6) Between Three and Eight Weeks Old

The Bad and the Ugly: The casseroles are gone, nobody’s around to help anymore, and the baby’s as colicky as she’s ever going to get. She doesn’t sleep as much as she did as a newborn, although her sleep might start to follow more predictable patterns than as a newborn. If you’re lucky.

The Good: Baby’s first smile, somewhere around a month of age. As mentioned above, baby MIGHT start sleeping at night more than during the day, though it will still probably be in fairly short stretches. Finally, if you’re breastfeeding it’s probably starting to go a little more smoothly, or you’ve successfully incorporated formula into your feeding.

7) The Last Few Weeks of Pregnancy

The Bad and the Ugly: You have to get up every few hours to pee, rather than to feed a baby. You cannot stay in one position very long without your back screaming murder, so you flip yourself in bed like a piece of bacon on the griddle. (I, personally, get horrid thigh cramps that made me think I was experiencing a venous thromboembolism the first time I got them, as well as restless legs syndrome. Many apologies to my obstetrician for waking him up at 3:00 in the morning to reassure me that I wasn’t in imminent danger.) Meanwhile, people are cheerfully telling you to “sleep while you can!” Ha. ha. ha. During the day, your back pain, swollen feet and ankles, and constant desire to pee will make it difficult for you to do your job, take care of your other kid(s), or be a cheerful ray of sunshine to your family.

The Good: You’re getting close to meeting your child. Also, for me, personally, everything gets better from here.

 

ETA: Two months to 8 months is missing because I can’t decide where to put it. Some days are great, some suck. Also, some babies are easy, some not so much. I guess I’d put it right above the newborn phase–but you might disagree, and so might I, depending on the day or the baby.

Natural History of Activity-Differentiated Fatigue Syndrome

Background: Activity-differentiated fatigue syndrome (ADFS) is a condition widespread in many people, but especially in children,1 in which an otherwise-healthy person displays normal or elevated levels of energy unless asked to pick up, clean, or complete other chores. The subject undergoes a severe reduction in energy level which lasts for variable amounts of time, but is typically limited by the amount of time not spent in doing activities of the patient’s choosing. Although the fatigue episodes are self-limiting, they contribute to a large amount of productivity loss within families, and research has shown that repeated episodes can lead to long-term effects such as the inability to take care of oneself as an adult, negative effects on romantic relationships, and living conditions that resemble those of a landfill on a bad day.2

Purpose: In this study, we seek to generate hypotheses on the etiology of this poorly-understood syndrome.

Methods: Families with children between the ages of 1 and 17, inclusive, were invited to join one of two Facebook groups, respectively titled “Why Don’t Those Damned Brats Do Anything Around the House?” (the “lazy group”) and “Good Parents Whose Good Parenting Leads to Helpful Children” (“the sanctimonious group”). Children with known chronic or serious medical, developmental, or behavioral issues were excluded. Data were collected on the family demographics, parenting style, and duration and frequency of ADF episodes. We attempted to invite our participants in for extensive brain scans and physiologic testing, but our Institutional Board Review (IRB) deemed this a “waste of time, money, and resources” and potentially unethical. This study was not approved by our IRB and does not follow STROBE guidelines, so it is essentially useless. Instead of using software such as SPSS or STATA to analyze our data, we got our friend Bob to make us an Excel spreadsheet, which he then accidentally deleted out of sheer incompetence.

Results: ADFS was even more widespread than we had suspected, occurring in 98% of the lazy group and 94% of the sanctimonious group; intergroup comparisons showed that there was no significant difference between the lazy and the sanctimonious group (P=.59). This syndrome occurred across all socioeconomic groups and levels of parental education, and seemed to be especially prevalent in children aged 1—12 years (teenagers having lost all energy entirely, in another well-known phenomenon3). Parents with the “authoritative” parenting style were expected to see a reduction in ADFS, but since most parents who thus characterized themselves were either negligent idiots or authoritarian monsters we were unable to collect sufficient data to substantiate our hypothesis. The only possible correlation we found indicates that ADFS might have a genetic component; adults who possessed sufficient energy to waste time playing videogames, checking social media, or writing elaborate joke studies on their personal blogs were more likely to have children with frequent, severe episodes of ADF (P<.001).

Conclusion: Children be lazy, y’all, and their parents aren’t much better. In spite of our woefully inadequate methods, we feel no further research is needed.

References

  1. Fass HAL, Faker IMA. Activity-differentiated fatigue syndrome: A menace to family peace and productivity. J Behav BS 2010;6:985—13.
  2. das Zeitverschwendung et al. What’s that smell? Quality of life and relationships among adults with activity-differentiated fatigue syndrome. Ann Crappy R 2012;2:432—41.
  3. Adam, Eve. Comparison of activity levels in adolescents and hibernating bears. J Prim R 350,000 BC;1:1—10.

How to Cite This Article: 

Don’t.

 

The Qualification of Happiness

The question of authority has come up in various blogs, anonymous and not; what authority has anyone for speaking on a particular topic? In some cases, such as on Science Based Medicine, the authors are all research doctors and well qualified to evaluate various medical and pseudomedical publications; blogs like these distill facts and derive opinions from these facts. Other blogs depend more upon the personal experiences of the blogger. Mommy blogs are almost invariably the latter, since very few blog authors are child development professionals. There are crossovers, such as the Modern Alternative Mama, that generally fail in both aspects.

My blog is backed by no authority. I possess no degrees in marriage or childrearing, I’ve been married a mere 7 years, and my oldest child is a mere kindergartner. Moreover, we have not (yet) undergone the severe stresses of ill health, children with special needs, or poverty, although we did suffer a miscarriage. This limits my experience, and any advice I give comes from the perspective of a happy person. I suppose it’s something that I haven’t (yet) appeared to spectacularly screw up my life and my family generally seems to like each other, but to butcher Solon call no marriage or childrearing successful until everyone concerned is dead.

I’ve tried to convey some of this with my blog name, which no one seems to like. They interpret it either as a) evidence of an unhealthily low self-esteem, or b) a confession that I’m a terrible mother and homemaker who ought to shut up. In fact, the name was simply meant to convey that I don’t take blogging terribly seriously; I make no income from it, and although I feel  responsible not to disseminate lies or harmful speech, I do not consider it anything more than an outlet for my idle thoughts. After all, although mommy blogging is more fun than vacuuming, vacuuming is the more useful task.

Now, I do not mean to imply that I’m indifferent as to whether this blog is read or not; after all, I could easily write a private diary were this so. I rejoice when my readership goes up; I am egotistical enough to see little point in writing if absolutely no one sees it, and after all communication is generally meant to be between two or more people (except among schizophrenics). However, I do not grieve because my followers are few; as Derek Ramsey has pointed out, fame is not a fulfilling pursuit, and attempting to garner large numbers of readers would probably be futile and frustrating.

I hope visitors to this blog enjoy it. Certainly I would like, from time to time, to write  something useful, or thought-provoking, or funny or heartwarming, and I don’t set out to bore anyone. But do bear in mind that I speak with no one’s authority but my own, and these entries are merely a few musings that occupy my headspace. Caveat lector.