Dear Soon-to-Be Parents, Choose your Family Traditions Wisely

A few nights ago, my husband was relaying conversations he had with a couple of his co-workers who were either expecting their first child or had recently had one. To the woman who was pregnant and stock-piling Pampers, he suggested cloth diapering the baby, but when he told her, “you know, you can even buy used cloth diapers” she was appalled.

“I’m not putting second-hand diapers on my child’s hoo-ha!”

He laughed.

To the co-worker who was frustrated when his wife, a nurse with a good salary, took a half-time position because she couldn’t bear to put their baby in daycare, he chuckled.

It’s true. First time parents sanitize the binkie each time it falls; for the second child, the binkie gets sucked clean in the parent’s own mouth before being deposited back in the baby’s, and if you are crazy enough to have even more children, well, you’re satisfied with any old thing they shove in their pie-hole so long as they quit screaming.

I jest…a little, but I am quite serious when I warn new parents: Choose your family traditions wisely.

Just last week I was sitting in a meeting at work when a colleague started passing around a giant bag of fun-sized treats. It turns out that the “Switch Witch” had come and traded out all her children’s Halloween candy for some non-edible toys.

The Switch Witch? I’d never heard of it and I immediately wondered if my children needed one. It would be handy to get all the Halloween candy out of the house, not because my four-year-old just got her first cavity filled, but rather I found myself snacking on it and with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, I didn’t need a head start on all those extra calories.

Still, what was so wrong with kids eating their Halloween candy? Wasn’t that one of the great joys of childhood? Halloween candy could teach one to barter, to trade, and to ration. Yes, my children pestered me for candy before they even had breakfast, but they had worked hard for that loot. And let’s be honest, the idea of spending money to replace the candy they had gotten for free didn’t sit right with me. Besides, I had a profound aversion to buying my children toys starting in September and lasting right up to Christmas. If dear old Saint Nick was arriving within three turns of the calendar, they could wait.

It was bad enough that I had to cough up more and more money each time a tooth was lost. The inflation on teeth is downright alarming! Back when I was a kid, I got a quarter. Did you see what Farrah Abraham’s daughter got?!? Now I’m no Back-door Teen Mom, but still. If the tooth fairy is leaving fivers for all my daughter’s friends, I have to at least leave a couple bucks.

While I successfully talked myself out of the Switch Witch, it was only a day or two later that my aunt posted this meme on Facebook.

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While I have enjoyed some of the Elf on the Shelf benefits, it is A LOT of pressure. You pretty much have two choices once you adopt the elf tradition: you can either have a slacker elf or a kick-ass elf, and if you choose not to slack, you can never go back. Sure, sure, you can get away with saying the elf didn’t move once or twice because the kids were naughty, but other than that, you’ve got to play the game.

And the game lasts for years.

I have a friend who makes a special calendar for what their elf is going to do each night of the month. For our elf, I try to maintain a healthy balance of “Look what Dot did!” and “He’s in the Christmas tree….again.” And the older your kids get, the harder it becomes. My oldest daughter started critiquing the creativity of our elf’s hiding spots last Christmas when she was only seven. She’s even started remembering what our elf did in previous years. Maybe it would be easier if I hadn’t had to delete my Pinterest board dedicated to elf ideas, but since my daughter started using my account to pin arts and crafts inspiration, I’ve been coming up a little short.

My friend, whose own daughter is in middle school, assures me that it will become fun again once they are older. She and her daughter hide their elf on each other now. One day his legs will be hanging out from the front door when she comes home from work and the next, she’ll tuck the elf in her daughter’s underwear drawer, but when I consider that I potentially have a decade of this nonsense, it starts to feel like a self-imposed prison sentence.

Between the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus, there’s enough to worry about. As parents, you’re destined to fall asleep once or twice without slipping George Washington under your child’s pillow. You may be forced to secretly call your mother while hiding in the bathroom listening to your daughter cry and beg her to phone the house pretending to be the tooth fairy explaining how she was slammed the night before and simply couldn’t make it to all the houses. The next time you forget, (because there will be a next time too) you will explain, matter-of-factly, that the bedroom was too messy for the fairy to make a safe entry and use your deception to your advantage. But the minute you start adding in other traditions, you’re stuck with them, and the disappointment that will come with your mistakes.

Think you can decorate their bedroom door with crepe paper and balloons for just a couple birthdays? Ha! Think again! Witness the discontent on your children’s faces that one year a leprechaun didn’t dye the toilet water and the milk green and you’ll understand the severity of these decisions.

Before procreation, couples should discuss more than just how they will handle diapers, daycare, and discipline, for the traditions you choose now will be harder to get rid of than an STD. A good rule of thumb is that in the number of your offspring and the traditions you choose– less is always more.

 

Why I Write, and Why You Should Too

In December of 2010, I started a journal for my daughter who was two-and-a-half at the time. I’m not sure what prompted me to do it—probably the fact that I fell in love with so many things that she said and did, and I never trusted my memory to stand the test of time. I hardly remember a quarter of my comrades from high school or the teachers I had. Forced to rely on my best friend’s steel trap and dusty yearbooks—even then, I still can’t always recall.

It’s frightening. Sometimes I think that at 38, I suffer from early onset dementia. I’ll start a movie on Netflix only to discover a third of the way through that I have watched it before. Countless times I’ll begin to speak to my husband only to realize that the rest of the thought has already escaped me. Thankfully I’ve never forgotten my children in the back seat of my car, but I suspect that the warning stickers on the front doors to Walmart asking if I checked are intended for me.

When my daughter asks what her first word was, I can easily respond with “da-da” but when she asks about her second word, my mind goes blank. And when I needed to fill out some paperwork for her school asking about when she reached her developmental milestones, I truly felt that I deserved to be stripped of my mom-badge. How old was she when she first rolled over? Spoke her first word? Got her first tooth? I should know this…I thoughtbut I didn’t remember. I know that there is only so much room on the shelf, but the last thing I ever wanted were the precious moments of my children’s lives to be the items that went crashing to the floor.

The journal got off to a strong start, but by the time our daughter turned four, we had a second child; there was one more entry after the baby was born and then the journal sat, untouched, for four years.

Last month, I took it out and started reading some of it to the girls. They thought it was hysterical and kept begging me to read more. I was torn between whether or not I should oblige them. There aren’t nearly enough, I panicked. I don’t want to waste them all tonight. Because the truth is, that while I am happy to have begun the journal, I didn’t do a good enough job. Then I thought about my second child–who is now four–the age at which I stopped the journal for my eldest; I had nothing recorded for her.

Mommy Guilt set in. I thought about the stacks of Shutterfly albums I created for my first-born and the measly two or three that my youngest had. They were sympathy albums; all of them hastily made when my guilt got the better of me. It wasn’t until we recently repainted that our baby’s photos even made the walls in our home—but she’s long-since been a baby. I know it’s normal: Second Child Syndrome was coined for a reason, but as a second child, shame on me.

I know all too well what it is like to spend a childhood in hand-me downs. The big joke of my family is how I cried that I got fewer french fries in my Happy Meal than my sister. Growing up, I insisted on fairness and equity, even if it meant counting…every…single…fry. I probably should have been thankful that my older sibling was a girl so that at least I wasn’t forced into wearing boy’s Wrangler jeans, but I was anything but grateful. I showed my ingratitude by pouting each time she got a new coat and I did not, even though her old one fit me just fine, was my favorite color, and was in near-new condition. To my mother’s delight, I never missed an opportunity to protest the injustice of my birth order.

Yet here I am, a mother to two daughters the same age difference as me and my sister, and each season I pull down bin after bin from the attic and I sort through each item down to the socks and underwear. Yes, underwear.

Sometimes I come home from the store with something for my eldest, and sometimes I come home with something for my youngest, and that’s just the way it is. I make a point to remind them that life isn’t always even and life isn’t always fair. Yet in all honesty, my oldest daughter does get more, simply because she doesn’t have the luxury of a closet full of hand-me-downs. (That’s right, Mom, the luxury.)

However, after rediscovering the journal, nothing could erase my guilt over my youngest daughter’s lack of memorabilia. So that night, I sat down at the kitchen table and I wrote in the journal for her.

It may be too little, too late, but at least it is better late than never.

I recorded everything I could think of that she’d recently done, her most common kid-isms, what she currently loves, and what she wants to be when she grows up. I recorded stories that had made us laugh and I reflected on how much we love her, how she colors our lives. By the time my hand had cramped up, I felt some of the guilt subside.

I have good intentions to continue in the journal for both of my children, but I also know that many of my parenting intentions fail to thrive. In a world of have-to’s, the want-to’s don’t always survive. I have to do eight loads of laundry each week, but the zucchini I bought when I wanted to make muffins have long since grown slimy in the crisper drawer. Unfortunately we don’t always take the time for the want-to’s when the want-to’s are what replenish us.

I want to continue the journal for my children. I want to fill the pages as they grow and document the stages of their life through my interpretation and voice. I have to remember its importance.

Not too long ago, I found a bag of letters my sister had written to me from college. I’ve another bag of letters from a high school romance. Birthday cards from my cousin inscribed with memories we hadn’t thought about in decades leave us both laughing and bringing us back together.

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Like so many things today, letter writing is a lost art. My daughters will likely only use text messages to communicate with their boyfriends or one another. But when they are middle-aged, they won’t be able to go back and re-read texts that remind them of the intense, foolish, young love they once felt. They won’t have documentation of how close they were, the support they offered one another, or the secrets they kept from me; they’ll be forced to rely on their memories.

As parents, we may think we’re doing a good job documenting our children’s lives by taking all these pictures and sharing them on our Facebook or Instagram feed. We probably think the same of posting cute tidbits of what our children said as our status update. But none of these things have the permanence of the written word on paper.

Our memories are what remind us who we are, where we’ve come from, and what’s most important. This is why I write, and it’s why you should write too. I hope that I’ll never end up like Allie in The Notebook, but should that day ever come, I want that notebook to be filled. Not for me, not for my husband, but for my children so that they know they were remembered and they know that they were loved.