Category Archives: parenting

Camping Success!!

In June, my family set out for our first camping experiment as a family of four.  We went to PJ Hoffmaster, or HR Pufnstuf as I liked to call it, a campground on the Lake Michigan shoreline of southwestern Michigan.  The campground looked significantly thinned out since our last visit just two years ago, due to the removal of trees that had been affected with oak wilt, emerald ash borer, Asian longhorn beetle, and beech bark disease.*  Though even with the removals, PJ Hoffmaster had retained its overall beauty and family friendly atmosphere.

It’s kind of an ideal campground.  Beauty, smiling faces, roomy sites, a beach within walking distance, and (let’s get down to brass tacks) clean hot showers and fully functioning flush toilets.  It was a great place to try out our massive virgin REI six person tent.

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The campsites are a short walk to the Lake Michigan shoreline on a path through a forest of beech, maple, and pine trees stretching skyward. The removal of those threatened trees on our site resulted in it being a bit more exposed than we would have liked.  That is, if you like shade on 90 degree days.  Here is a picture of the lone shade tree on our site.  (Just ignore the other tree you see in the background…that is the forest a ways off- and the shade did not reach our site.)

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At least once a day, we made our way to the beach by walking the ¼ mile path through the woods.  Pushing my kids in the double stroller is a cinch on most surfaces, but on sand things can get tricky.  Even with our moderately deluxe (the best that money can buy at Target) off-road stroller, when the gravel path started becoming less like gravel and more like beach, the wheels stopped moving.  Now pushing the stroller became more like pushing a 90 pound rock through sand.  I had to lean comically hard into it- my body at a 45 degree angle in order to get it to budge.  I used my brute strength.  My husband encouraged me. “Put your legs into it.”  Because the alternative was carrying at least one child, the beach shelter, and the three bags of beach paraphernalia up a hill, down the dunes and to the beach.

What we really needed was a sled with all our stuff on it and some dogs to pull it. My once a week tennis game was not enough training to carry me through the physical challenge of getting our children and our stuff to the beach.  We abandoned the stroller (after taking the children out, don’t worry) along with the other strollers and bikes on the side of the path.

Our three year old could walk the remaining 1/8 mile.  Though it would take an hour to walk it because once the forest gave way completely to sky-high sand dunes, he would want to run up and down them twenty times. Especially the one with the big dead log with all the pointy deadly sticks jutting out of it.   He also took off his shoes at the very top of the 50 foot dune and left them there (“You can get them, Mommy.”)

Our eight month old would have to be carried, though.  He is a big boy- 25 lbs at his six month check up.  While being carried, he doesn’t hold on or offer any assistance with his legs or arms.  They just dangle no matter how many times you try and encourage him to wrap them around you.  Justin says that carrying him is like carrying 25 pounds of water in a loose bag.  It’s just not a tight operation and makes carrying anything else, in addition to him, more than cumbersome.

Lake Michigan was gorgeous – just clean and sort of a bluish-green that day.  Looking across the water, we got to see one of my favorite sights: the absence of land on the horizon.  This was the camping beach, so it wasn’t too crowded.  Just mostly families scattered around near the shoreline and around a little inlet or pond of water that had formed just in front of the lake.

Our kids are easily identified on any beach because they are the ones wearing the most clothing.  My three year old has no fear of water and is therefore required to wear a life jacket at all times.  My eight month has a hat with a brim the size of a basketball hoop.

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Swimming was totally refreshing and quite perfect, actually.  When it was time to go back to the campsite, the sun was starting to set.  It took us what seemed like hours to get back to our stroller but once we made it there, we could strap both kids in and walk leisurely back to our site, have a little grub, and get ready for bed.

I’m not gonna lie, some chaos ensued in trying to get the kids dressed and ready for bed.  But, honestly, that’s not unusual even when we’re not camping.  We stayed two nights at PJ Hoffmaster.  First-time family of four camping……Success!!

*Recently, the emerald ash borer was found in Mirror Lake State Park which basically means it will be coming to Madison too.  We will be saying goodbye to all of our ash trees just like every other area that has been infected with these critters.

I yelled at my kid today.

My 3 year old is brilliant, stubborn, strong-willed, highly active, and fiercely independent.  Every day when his “listening ears” aren’t on, he does something unsafe, or he blatantly disobeys me, I work hard internally to censor myself and calm my voice before it leaves my body.  I am usually quite good at monitoring what I say so that I appear levelheaded and peaceful.  I want a peaceful house.  But inside, after a long day of self-censorship, I am worn down.  Sometimes I wonder about the discrepancy between the impulsive frustration I feel and the calm but firm words that come out of my mouth.  Am I growing an ulcer or something with all the frustration that goes unexpressed?  The things I say out loud vs the things I say in my mind often go something like this:

Out loud: Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?  Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?  Would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to do it?
In my mind: Get over here and sit the fuck down and put on your fucking shoes!!

Out loud: If you throw the toy, then the toy goes away. If you throw the toy, then the toy goes away.
In my mind: I am so sick of telling you not to throw your fucking toys!

Out loud: Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie. Eat your food, sweetie.
In my mind: What the hell?!! Sit still and EAT!! Eat your fucking food!

Throughout the day, I make it a point to not raise my voice to him because it doesn’t do anything except frustrate me and make me feel guilty.  His behavior usually doesn’t change whether I raise my voice or not if he’s doing something naughty.  And, though it doesn’t make him cry or seem sad, I think it makes him a little more…sensitive.  And curious. He’s way tougher than I am.  If someone were yelling at me and ordering me around, I would be furious and definitely crying. When he’s having a day when his “listening ears” aren’t on, he seems unaffected by my frustration.

Today was the first day in 3 years that I lost my self control and not only raised my voice, but was really commanding him around.  He had been pushing me all day.  It’s starting to wear on me- this not wanting to do anything I suggest and not wanting to follow directions.

Me (holding 2 crayons): “Would you like the red crayon or the green?”
Him: “Black.”

Me: “I want you to pick up your toy before we leave.”
Him: “No, I don’t want to.”

Me; “Can you please help me out by handing me that napkin right next to you?”
Him: Silence.
Me: “Can you hand me that napkin, please?”
Him: Silence.
Me: “BRADEN! Can you hand me that napkin?”
Him: “No.”

It doesn’t sound so bad, except it is- when everything becomes an argument, a power struggle, or so repetitive that I want to bite something.

So today I had low patience going into the day and it wore off as the day went on.  By late afternoon I was mentally exhausted. I let him splash around in some puddles outside in the rain, even though it was 50 degrees- I was desperate.  I showed him the boundaries I wanted him to stay in so that he wasn’t running into the main area of the street.  When, after 5 minutes of splashing, he ran beyond the boundaries, I freaked.  (As I usually do when his safety is a concern.)

These were the words I said:

“Get over here NOW!”

“What are you DOING? I said get in the HOUSE!”

“I will count to 3 and if you are not in the house by 3…”  (then, what exactly?  I never actually finished this sentence)

Once I started using this awful commanding voice, I couldn’t seem to stop because it didn’t actually get him to do what I was asking him to do and it didn’t get him moving any faster.  I kept thinking, “surely he will respond to this much anger in my voice” and I got more and more serious and loud.  But it didn’t make him obey me.  He still dawdled. He still tested and pushed me.  When I put him in a time out he just got up and walked toward me. (Short of restraining him in a car seat, I’m out of ideas for time outs.) I felt horrible and weak.  Like not only could I not control my kid’s behavior, but I was too weak to control my own behavior.

We talked about it afterward and I apologized for raising my voice and being so stressed out.  We hugged.  I told him I loved him even when his listening ears aren’t on. And that I love him even when I am really stressed out.  He then continued to misbehave for the rest of the day.

Now, of course, I fell guilty.  I hope what he takes away from the day and remembers in his little spirit is that his mom fessed up when she acted less than stellar.  That people are human and they aren’t perfect.  And that when we don’t treat our loved ones in a way we feel really good about, it’s important to say sorry and forgive ourselves and each other.

Totally worth it.

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A few people have commented to me after reading my last few posts that our trip to Florida sounded more crazy than fun.  Truth be told, it was both crazy and fun.  Rewarding in the way that only travel can be. Especially travel from the Midwest during an ungodly long cold spell.  Snow.  In April.  Really.

But pretty much no matter how much hardship or stress is involved, I love to travel.  I particularly loved this last trip because it was our first road trip since having our 2nd boy.  It was sort of an experiment- to see if we could travel well with a toddler and an infant. I consider it to be a grand success because we had a fantastic time in Florida, even if parts of the getting there and back were dicey.  And even as I was changing the poopy diapers or listening to Old MacfuckingDonald for the 100th time, in the back of my mind and more importantly in my heart, were these words: Yes. Thank God I’m on the Road.  Totally Worth It.

This trip was a huge success.  My 3 year old got to play in the sand and the ocean.  He is so incredibly active that it is a relief to have such a wide, massive playground for him where we can just strap on his lifejacket, toss some buckets and shovels in the sand and listen to him giggle ecstatically for hours over the crashing waves.  My 6 month old touched the sea for the first time, which, in my world, is pretty much a rite of passage. And Justin and I got to paddleboard.  Stand up paddleboarding is incredibly fun and nothing compares to doing it on the crystal blue waters of the ocean. It was perfect bliss.

So was it crazy?  Yes.  And blissful.  Beautiful.  Fun.  Totally worth it.

Kids make you busy.

Two adults, a 3 year old and a 6 month old get into a mini-van to drive 20 hours to Florida and 20 hours back.  That right there is the setup and the punchline, folks.

Yesterday I wrote about lawn mower races and poop anomalies.  Today I am thinking about grander things.  Namely, my worth as a parent.  Taking this road trip validated me at my deepest level and here is why: it showed me why I should no longer feel bad about not being able to get shit done in my day to day life.

The only tasks we really needed to accomplish as a family, while driving in this mini-van were:

1. Eat

2. Drive

3. Take potty breaks

4. Sleep

That’s it. There was no laundry to fold, no dishes to do, no calendars to keep, checkbooks to balance, rooms to clean, toys to put away, showers to take…you get the idea.  The tasks required of us on this trip were the absolute purest, barest minimum.  And yet (here is where the validating part comes in) the overall mood inside that van was absolute chaos.  Leaky diapers, bunny crackers out of reach, poop blowouts, toys dropped, baby needs to nurse, sunglasses missing, cd not working, gps comes unplugged, water spilled, straw dropped, baby crying, baby wailing, 3 year old mumbling as quietly as possible and over and over again something neither of us can hear, ridiculously annoying toddler-song cd filling the van with modified kids’ voices.

With 2 adults, we were scrambling to maintain calm.  With both of us hustling we managed to create some extended times of quiet where one of us could drive and one of us could sleep or read.  But, this was short-lived.  It made the idea of doing this at home by myself and actually trying to get stuff done seem….heroic.  Here we were driving in a 10×5 foot box with literally nothing that needed to be done except eat, sleep, drive and take potty breaks.  With 2 of us working at it, we were just barely able to take care of these things and find time to rest.  No wonder I feel too tired to make dinner most nights.

No matter how mellow you are, kids make you busy.  They bring it.  So tonight, I’m raising my glass to those parents who raise their kids and find time to do stuff like make dinner, clean the kitchen floor, and fold pants.  I will be thinking of you while we eat take-out food while wearing our pajamas (the only clothes that were clean.)

And for his next trick….poop again.

My second born son is 6 months old and up until the time we went on our Epic Road Trip to Florida last week, he was pooping once every 2 days.  Since the moment we placed him in the car seat in the van on our way south, he has pooped every 3 hours AND with each poop, has blown shite out his diapers onto his pants/onesie/shirt.   What great mystery of life has caused these three simultaneous things to happen?

  1. His digestive system kicked from 1st gear into a 5th gear we were unaware existed.
  2. His car seat cradled his bottom at an angle just so- so that every single fracking poop found an exit route from the diaper.
  3. His timing of pooping always occurred 20 minutes after we had just stopped for either gas, 3 year old potty needs, or food.

We have spent over 40 hours in our van over the past week and he has gone through no less than 10 outfits due to blow outs.  I don’t believe in Murphy’s Law, but after the last week, I do believe there must be some great cosmic road trip poop law ruling his bottom on this trip.  There is no other explanation.

If you don’t put that down, I will hold my breath until I’m blue

Illogical consequences are the enemy of modern parenting.  In order for kids to make sense of why they are receiving a consequence, it should be related somehow to their undesirable behavior.  Like this: “If you throw the blue truck, the blue truck is banished to the closet for the rest of the day.”  Consequences should not be randomly linked (“If you throw the blue truck, you will not get to watch Dora”) or fueled by frustration and anger  (“If you throw the blue truck, I will throw it in the fireplace and make you watch it burn.”)  My problem with this system is that often the most frustrating misbehaviors do not have rational consequences.  Here is a list I compiled of such behaviors that took place in our household in the last 24 hours:

Bouncing on the bed
Unrolling the toilet paper roll
Climbing into the the refrigerator to try and reach yogurt
Throwing noodles on the floor
Laying down on the floor, limp, when it was time to walk to our car
Laying down on the floor, limp,  when it was time to get dressed
Laying down on the floor, limp,  when it was time to eat
Running away from me in a public place
Laughing at me and continuing to run when I say “STOP NOW” in my sternest mommy voice
Banging a brush repeatedly against the cabinet door
Sitting at the forbidden computer and starting to type on the keyboard
Trying to unlock the car door with his foot while in his car seat
Unlatching his car seat buckle
Throwing his cheddar bunnies on the floor of the car
Torrential splashing in the bath

What is the logical consequence of throwing noodles on the floor?  Not letting him eat them and excusing him from dinner?  He didn’t want to eat anyway!  That’s not a consequence, that’s what he wants!  Or what about a logical consequence for unlatching his car seat buckle?  Stopping the car and being Stern Mommy seems logical but then, what if it’s a trip I wanted to make that he could care less about?  Like to Starbucks or something?  He would love it if I stopped the car and headed back home- that’s where all his trucks live.

What is so stressful about these behaviors is that I’m so Nice and I Follow the Rules of being a good parent.  I give clear expectations, set great boundaries, and offer clear consequences for undesirable behavior.  I usually do not get emotionally invested in his naughty-ness, but remain calm in guiding him toward appropriate behavior.  What frustrates me the most about times like this when he’s acting out is that:

1. I feel helpless to help him navigate his emotions.
2. I feel like a failure as any kind of guide in his life.
3. I feel angry that these time-tested parenting strategies don’t seem to work for him or me (Like time-outs, for instance, are a joke.  He literally laughs at them.)
4. I am disappointed that I am not being rewarded for my undying love, strict obedience of the Rules, and consistency.  I am used to Following the Rules and being rewarded for it.
5. I feel scared and inadequate as a parent when I can’t help him control inappropriate behaviors.

Is my kid smarter than me?  Is there a secret key to unlocking daily, consistent desirable behavior that I am missing?  I admit that I don’t like classifying children’s behavior into “good” and “bad” categories.  For me, the behavior I’m trying to correct usually falls into these two categories: “unsafe” and/or “pain in the ass.”

Is it really earth-shattering that our toilet paper sits in a pile on the floor?  In the grand scheme of the things, no.  Gross, perhaps, if we plan to actually use it.  Wasteful if we don’t.  My stress comes from knowing he has directly ignored a clear instruction.  It’s like I expect him to be a little soldier.  He’s not.  He’s not even 3 years old.  I can literally not believe how stressed out I feel at these little things that happen all day long.   But then I think, my stress isn’t real stress.  We have a roof over our head, food on the table, good people in our lives.  These parenting stresses are the stresses of a luxury American lifestyle.  Deep breathing, a glass of wine and some yoga poses usually cure them.  But sure enough, when they happen again, I feel like a failure again.

I want him to listen and do what I say without fighting me.  That’s basically what the mom in me wants.  And when dealing with a 2 or 3 year old it seems that yes, that is too much to ask.  And though as a mom I want his happy obedience, as a human being I want him to think creatively and disobey authority a little.  Frankly I think a little disobedience is an asset in our society.  Anarchy!  Not quite, but sort of.  Part of me wants to let him do whatever he wants as long as he is safe.  Bounce the crap out of your bed!  Let me get you another toilet paper roll!  Yeah, lay on the ground when it’s time to go to preschool- I didn’t want to drive you there anyways!  Is it the rebel in me that he is reflecting back to me?  Nope, probably more likely to be a developmental normalcy of an almost 3 year old.   I hope.