10 Steps to Great Parenting


Haha.  Not really.  I just called it that because it’s funny.  I have no idea how to be a great parent.  I’m still constantly surprised that someone let me bring two babies home from the hospital with no adult in charge.

At 19, my daughter is more the parent in the house.  She was most likely the parent at 9. That’s just her nature. My observation is that we do the best we can to teach kids to be good and kind, keep them from setting expensive stuff on fire and keep them safe.  They really come fully programmed from the factory to be who they are. It’s just our job to guide them.

I had someone tell me not too long ago that I was too much a friend, not enough parent.  I am good at listening politely and then laughing when I hang up and so I did.  This from a parent whose child would rather die than spend time at home.  A self righteous parent who has no idea what their child is up to, doesn’t want to know, and is parenting by the “do not” method.  If there is a surefire way to produce a rebellious kid, it’s by the “do not” method.

So I’m a friend, so what?  My kids, at 17 and 19, choose to spend time with me, their friends hang out here and in that way, I can be a real parent, keeping them safe and knowing what’s what.  They have both survived, so far, as good and lovely humans, even with a parent like me.  They are lucky The Goose came with an adult gene to keep us all in line.  So, to other happy hippie parents everywhere, these are my ten observations:

  1. Don’t keep Sharpies within reach until kids get a driver’s license and then only with limited access.  No amount of Kilz will make this go away. Once applied in indelible ink, a hallway will still say “poop” 16 years later no matter how many coats of “Creme No. 5644” have been applied.Image
  2. Cultivate a “nothing” face, so when your kids tell you who among their friends is getting into trouble and being generally stupid you can make them think you are non-plussed by this while you cultivate a plan.  I have heard volumes of information from both of my kids, who think I”m cool enough to handle it, and in this way, I have steered them from harm.  I should be used by the FBI as a secret weapon.
  3. Don’t brag about your kids to other parents.  They don’t care.  If your child cures cancer, another parent will still find her child more fascinating because she got the the spirit stick at cheer.  Everyone thinks their kid is the best.  That’s the beauty of being a parent.  No matter how fat, skinny, tall, short, smelly, freckled, wart covered, glittery or down right stupid a child might be, to Mom and Dad, they’re da bomb.  Just keep their vibrant glory to yourself, no one else is interested, especially at parties. Nothing harshes my party mellow than pictures of someone else’s kid. Especially when I know mine are the best.Image
  4. Any time a child is expected to be quiet or respectful, like at church or at their grandparent’s anniversary party, they will inevitably belt out something rude or toot loudly and fall down laughing.  Be prepared to explain that they have had a recent concussion and come armed with medical terms.Image
  5. A child will rat you out to grandparents every chance they get.  They will tell them you didn’t actually go to church but, instead, stayed in your jammies all day watching tv, with your door closed, while expecting the kids to eat reheated Bagel Bites.  They will pull up the hems of their skirts to show the clever way their mom uses duct tape. They will tell their teachers and Sunday school teachers every infraction you commit.  They will supply the answer “wine” when their Kindergarten teacher asks what their mother’s favorite thing to make for dinner is.  They will pull on your coat and say “nuh-uh, Mommy, you quit your job!” when you tell their teacher you can’t help with field day because you’re working.  This is their revenge.  Expect it.  Stay ahead of the curve and occupy them with something, anything, when trying to speak to another adult.Image
  6. Be the “fun” house.  Always let kids come over and have fun.  Be a little bit nicer than other moms and in this way you can covertly eavesdrop and know all.  Yes, it’s messy, yes, kids want to eat constantly, but, of all the things I did right, this was one of them. I know lots more than I really want to, but at least I’m not in denial. My kids’ friends have confided in me, my kids have told all and I think I’ve had a grasp on the real situation out there.  High school is a super scary place.  It’s good to be aware.


  7. Your 11 year old travel baseball player?  Probably not going pro.  Your daughter who spends 6 days a week at dance class?  Yeah, most likely not going to be doing that at 25.  All these things are fantastic if the kids love it.  Many times, though, it’s the parents’ dream.  For crying out loud, let the kid have a day off to catch salamanders and get dirty.  Lock up the xbox and send that little precious outside to play.  A kid that has to be stripped in the garage and carried to the tub because he’s encrusted in mud is a happy kid.  It’s like a secret recipe.  Kid + water + sunshine = kid that doesn’t wear black and listen to death music.  Imagination is an awesome thing.Image
  8. Don’t try to make kids be who they’re not.  I saw a video once, called The Animal School and it changed me.  I highly recommend looking it up if you have kids in school. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN7QfjIcVvA or, look up “Raising Small Souls” and find it there. It is the most beautifully done video for understanding individual children I’ve ever seen.) If your kid is really NOT a math kid, quit shoving it down his throat.  Chances are, he’ll do something with his real talents that don’t involve solving for X. Let kids explore their talents and abilities.  If they spend all their time trying to be good at something they’re not, they never get to be really good at what they naturally tend towards.  Kids today are over scheduled, stressed and confused.  Teach them real skills like how to balance a checkbook, how to use the front loading washer with 42 settings and how to say “yes ma’am” and “I’m sorry”.   It’ll take them a long way.
  9. Be flexible.  Kids are going to try stuff.  Be ready to keep them safe through it all.  My 16 year old called me from a party and said “I drank some beers, come get me”.  I wasn’t happy about the drinking, less happy about driving 30 miles in my jammies, in hair curlers (not really, but my hair was almost as embarrassing) but I was so happy he’d called me.  When I got there, he seemed perfectly fine.  When I commented on this he said, “yeah, I had two beers four hours ago but I promised you I’d never drive after having a sip”.  How can I be mad at that?  Kids are going to experiment, better to be able to talk about it and hope they learn.Image
  10. Teach kindness.  I raised vegetarian kids. I told them that God loves all his creation, two footed, four footed, swimming or crawling.  The one thing I’ve stressed is goodness and kindness to animals and others.  I see this deep within them, no matter what phase we’ve been in, and there have been plenty.  Sometimes teenagers aren’t happy creatures with whom to share a home.  Still, there is a carefulness for the feelings of others, a swerving for squirrels, a moving of turtles, a scooting outside of spiders that lives in them that thrills me. Show me a person who has compassion for animals and I’ll show you a person who is good to the core and won’t grow up to keep human heads in their refrigerator.

Enjoy it.  I spent years worrying over the cleanliness of my floors and the dust on my tables instead of sitting down and coloring.  Now, when it’s late in the game and I’ve seen the loss of several of my kids’ friends, I sit when they want to, I go when they ask me along and I enjoy every minute until they move out and I have to call them several times a day.  It does go by fast, even though those preschool years seem to go by in long sleepless dog years.  Young mothers, it gets better.  It gets fun.

I’m no model parent.  I am silly, can’t stick to the rules, cannot help with math.  I have been described by my son as a pushover and, sadly, by my daughter as “shrinking” (surely not, I still say I am just slumping). I see all these parents with ten million rules, expectations and demands and think they might just be missing the point.  I’m not saying my kids will invent a new source of power, but they might.  They may not make billions, but they could.  They may not change the world, but they have changed my world, and I have changed theirs.  That’s pretty cool in itself.

To Quote Jim Morrison, Summers Almost Gone


Never should such a pretty man say such ugly words, but in the words of the beautiful Jim Morrison, Summers Almost Gone.  The bugs might still be here, but the fun is certainly over.

During the summer I am AWOL.  By this I mean, Always Winesoaked Outside Lineforming.  In terms everyone can understand, I move to our house at the lake, in a tiny little town, outside the technology sphere, drink alarming amounts of white wine and lie in the sun until I grow yet one more set of fine lines and wrinkles.

Here, in this tiny house, I fail miserably to achieve any of the sun drenched fantasies I concoct all winter.  While I do run for about the first week I am there, I find that my running schedule interferes with either my desire to sleep past sunrise or cocktail hour, which starts approximately after 11:00 am.  The green juices and raw foods I consume during the year fall by the wayside as I become intimate with the chips and cookies which the kids that surround me demand. I never ride into town to the farmer’s market, on an antique bike with a handmade basket on the front, to collect fresh vegetables still dewy with organic goodness. The wind has yet to whip through my long gauzy skirt, my hair doesn’t flow in the breeze.  I do manage to swing by Bojangles for butter soaked biscuits occasionally, though, and can now distinguish between generic and Nestle’s raw cookie dough with a 70% scientific accuracy while wearing a blindfold.

ImageI wear my swimsuit coverups as high fashion. I think drawstring pants are the bomb-diggity. By the end of the summer, I find I closely resemble Orson Wells, in the later years.

 ImageMy brain atrophies.  I read smut and fluff.  While I began, in June, to read back through all books by Pearl S. Buck, by this time, the end of summer, I have just finished up the literary high of the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse.  I begin a blog in my head and then wander off in another direction because it is incomprehensible to me to remember how to power up my computer. (Hey, look!  A squirrel!)  My only accomplishment this entire summer has been to completely fold all the towels and swim suits on top of the dryer – one day.  Just one day I managed to complete that and it didn’t give me the mountain top high I expected.


My diminutive little cottage has a sweet master bedroom, with a giant, fluffy bed for The Goose and me, that stays somewhat out of the maelstrom.  The rest of the house is chaos.  Downstairs, there are enormous “kids” piled three to a bed, in the three beds, other mattresses dragged out from closets, four more kids on the sofa, one in a chair and some, in enos, strung from trees.  I say kids, though they range from 16 to 21. They each possess two feet that are constantly muddy, 25 outfits thrown haplessly on the floor, and all manufacture crumbs wherever they sit.  They each drink only 1/4 of each soft drink can they open and leave the rest to stick on wooden surfaces.  They roam like weasels in the night, sneaking beers and baking whatever they can get their hands on while I’m sleeping.  They cook everything on broil.


Friends and family come and go daily.  We never know who will be there from night to night.  Many mornings I awaken to find a whole new cast.  Family comes and we float until we’re prunes, going through Dora band-aids and margaritas like Imelda through shoes.  I issue the “be on good behavior” decree to all kids, they disregard it, and all goes on as usual and we find that we like it that way.  Sometimes there is dancing that causes my daughter to ask me the next morning to never dance again.  Some ladies, who are old enough to know better, participate in headstand contests after dinner and some Imageslink away in shame. Friends bring their pontoon over and we idle away hours sunning like seals. We draw endless sharpie tattoos on each other and everyone writes graffiti on the wooden outdoor shower walls.  We document the sayings that were funny at the time, like “I’m not above malt liquor” (courtesy of my new sister, the MILK), “twerk on Kirk”, which has something to do with my not dancing anymore and the lyrics to “Grey Goose”, the filthy worded theme song of the summer.  Elementary aged children should never be allowed to enter the outdoor shower.

ImageThere we have no internet.  No television.  To make or receive a call, one has to go out the front door, stand by the street and position one’s self just right.  Then, we yell and hope someone hears us.  If there were a convenient pole, like on Green Acres, we could possibly try climbing that.  For entertainment, we buy DVDs at the flea market, of current movies, complete with people coughing and walking in front of the camera.  Sometimes we get lucky and there are Japanese subtitles.  In this way, we feel we are expanding our linguistic education.  Cricket can write the dialogue from the first half of Hangover 3 in Japanese, from memory.


All in all, despite the mess, the chaos, all my hollering and complaining, it’s a simpler, happier way of life. The big news in our little town this summer is that the fire men have TWICE run the firetruck into the firehouse.  No murders, no political theatrics.  None of the bad feeling that comes along with being plugged into CNN.  I am delighted to have missed most of the Zimmerman business.  My heart resounds with joy to be in the dark about Weiner.  (Now, see?  I just snickered to myself over that because I’ve been with teenagers all summer.  I’m going to need some time with educated adults to be able to act my age again.) I’ve enjoyed being out of the loop. I live in constant hope of a worldwide EMP that will let us all live small again.  (Except for the hair color problem.  This does worry me.  Being gray in a post apocalyptic world seems somehow less glamorous.)

In the end, I yell and scream, everyone cleans up. There is vacuuming, dusting, endless loads of washing, we clear off the dock, put covers on things, pull out the carpet cleaner and turn off the lights.  The little house gives a big sigh and it looks as if we were never there.


Coming home, everything feels big.  I’m amazed that we need this much room in which to live. I can’t remember where things are.  My animals have shunned me, having fallen in love with their caretakers.  My old cat looks older and skinnier and glares at me from her place atop the microwave as if to say “Really?  Almost three months? Just pour me some milk, you naked, upright animal with thumbs.” I’m starting to feel that old pull inside me again to clean out some closets, find a calendar and organize us all.  I am going to put gas in my car for only the second time this summer.  It seems my hair has taken on a very “sun in” tinge and, jumpin’ jesophat, my dermatologist is going to need DMV tools to restore my face.  This morning, I caught myself yelling, for the first time all summer, to HURRY UP!  I watched the traffic report.  I regarded the giant pile of mail.  I got a text from the library that I was late.  And just like that, we are all forced back into the real world of school, schedules and shoes.

The real world sucks.