Parenting Tips from the Childless

There’s nothing that hard-working, well-intentioned parents love more than listening to unsolicited parenting advice from the childless. Am I right, or am I right?

And yet, sometimes, certain things must be said.

While it’s true that I don’t have children, I was one for many years. Some might argue I still am, but that wrinkle aside, you learn a few things by walking around the block once or twice. I also had the great fortune (although I would’ve been reluctant to admit it at the time) of being raised by a pair of darn good parents. Come to find out, they were making it up as they went along much of the time – as most of us do throughout life – but they sure got it right far more often than they got it wrong.

Here are three quick tips. Do with them what you will.

  1. Exercise Boredom

    As a parent, you are neither court jester nor circus entertainer. Boredom isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your child. Not by a long shot. Boredom’s often the pathway to creativity, a pathway that gets cut off all too soon with the digital distractions and strange expectation that our entertainment and edification needs to be pushed to us these days, rather than growing organically from our own brains. Do you remember as a child staring at clouds and imagining what they were, or being stuck in a car with a sibling and making up silly games to play? I remember those moments and more quite fondly. They were energizing and fun. I’m pretty sure we can all use more of that.

  2. Exercise Responsibility

    Teaching a child responsibility seems like a no-brainer, and yet, we live in a time where the line between parent and friend is freakishly blurred. Sometimes we seem so focused on reducing any stress or hurt our child might feel, that we don’t give them a chance to grow. If we’re too quick to bail them out every time, we subtly send the message that they’re incapable of being resourceful or responsible – incapable of figuring things out on their own. Be the backup plan, not the first responder.

  3. Just Exercise!

    Please, please, please, show your child what it means to be outside, to play, to appreciate nature, appreciate movement and all the life-long benefits of being active. Your children don’t have to be athletes or adrenaline junkies to enjoy being outside. Put down all those electronic devices you think you can’t live without, and just get out there! And, no, you cannot take the selfie stick with you to document every move. Your memory will do just fine.

And, on that note, I’m going to take my own advice, finalize this post and get outside for a bit. Happy Parenting!

Friggatriskaidekaphobia – It’s That Time of Year Again

friday13bWith Friday the 13th upon us, it seemed like an appropriate time to chat about superstitions. I consider myself to be a largely reasonable person, but for some inexplicable reason, I’m wildly superstitious. So is my sister. Black cats, walking under ladders, cracks in sidewalks – we’ll have none of it.

And don’t even get me started on Friday the 13th. We avoid air travel, long-distance driving. We don’t start anything new or change routines on a Friday the 13th. According to us, the risk associated with Friday the 13th is on par with base jumping or heli-skiing. This year there are three occurrences of Friday the 13th – February, March, and November. Three is the most that there can be in any one year, and there’s always at least one. It’s been a rough few years since we also had three in 2012. For those of us keeping track, the good news is that there’s only one next year and not another set of three for almost a decade!

Apparently my sister and I suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia. Of all the things one can receive rehab for, this, sadly, doesn’t seem to be one of them. What’s a girl to do?

The origin of this affliction in my sister and me is unknown. Under normal circumstances, I take every available opportunity to blame my quirks and flaws on one parent or the other; but I’m afraid I can’t toss this one over to them. My parents are frustratingly rational people. The best I can tell, they bear no responsibility in this matter. Unless of course, it was this same rationality that drove us to seek something more magical and mystical in our lives.

When I started working in Italy a few years ago, I didn’t know that the significance of Friday the 13th wasn’t universal. In Italy, 13 is generally considered a lucky number. It’s Friday the 17th that causes them to go running from the room. It’s been difficult for me to determine if I need to adopt this new superstition as something of an homage to my second home, or if I can keep it just to the 13th. Given that there were two instances of Friday the 17th this year, I really didn’t see the sense in taking on two more days of angst. I thought this was an incredibly rational response for me, proving my parents’ influence was indeed present.

But the 13th is still a concern, so tomorrow I’ll be keeping things low-key. It’s no time to try blow fish or learn how to fence or enter an eating contest. That can all wait till the 14th. Until then, it’s safety first, people!

UPDATE:  I was so wrong!! There IS treatment for friggatriskaidekaphobia. An entire treatment center, so it seems. You know where to find me…

The Arc of Memory

MemoryArcThis started out as a post about horseback riding and ended up being about the nature of memory. I was out of town with my sister at a ranch in the Arizonan desert. For four days, we rode horses once in the morning, once in the evening to avoid the midday heat. It made me think about the first time I rode a horse. This is how I tell that story…

I was about eight years old and I was at a friend’s birthday party where the activity was to go horseback riding at a local park. We were a small group, maybe five or six kids. I was in jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. I don’t recall receiving much instruction, or perhaps I just didn’t pay much attention to it, what with me being eight and all. My horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started just fine, everyone in single file walking orderly along the trail. At some point though, without warning or provocation (at least that I saw), Blue reared his head and charged forward away from the group. I’d never experienced such fear and lack of control. I managed to hold on to the reins, but not much else. This was Blue’s ride, not mine. I was a mere passenger. I’m sure there was screaming involved (horses always respond well to that!), and eventually the guide caught up to me, and along with me finally pulling back on the reins, he got the situation under control.

That’s the end of the memory for me – short, quick, scary as hell. Did we have cake and open presents afterwards? Were there tears? No clue.

I’ve carried this memory with me in one shape or another for about four decades.

Here’s how my sister remembers it…

She says we lived in Charleston at the time. She was eleven and I was eight. In fact, she was just turning eleven because the birthday party we were at was hers. We were there with Tina and Cheryl Watkins, two of our friends who were also sisters. There may have been one or two other girls with us. 

My sister says she wore jeans and a t-shirt, hair in ponytails, ready to go. Her horse’s name was Blue.

The ride started out fine, but at some point, without warning or provocation, Blue reared his head and charged away from the group. My sister had never experienced such fear. She recalls Blue racing off in to the woods. (My memory barely has a tree in it.)

This is her memory. She’s carried it with her for almost four decades.

I don’t recall ever having talked to her about this until recently. I was asking her more details about the day to round out my memory since I wanted to write about it. That’s how I fell upon the fact (I now use that term loosely) that we have this shared but skewed memory. I’m almost afraid to quiz her on other life events.

But the kicker was when we asked our mother, thinking she could break the tie. How did she remember it? Did she remember it at all?

This was all via text message.

ME: Do you remember when we went horseback riding in Charleston? And do you remember the horse that ran off?

MOTHER: Yes, I remember.

ME: Who do you think was riding the horse?

MOTHER: Cheryl Watkins

What???? So much for the tie breaker. I don’t quite know what to make of this. I was young at the time. I have no reason to trust my memory more than my sister’s or my mother’s, but even they don’t recall it the same way. It seems I’ve co-opted something that isn’t mine. How many of my other memories aren’t mine?

Perhaps, in the end, it’s all just fiction.

Oh, My Heck! It’s Pie and Beer Day

Photo: Talyn Sherer

Photo: Talyn Sherer

If you happen to be passing through Utah today, you may be surprised to find many businesses are closed, state liquor stores are shuttered, and there seems to be a celebratory spirit in the air. What’s happening, you might ask. Today is Pioneer Day, a day that commemorates the settling of the first Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Prior to their westward trek to Utah, the Mormons lived in Nauvoo, Illinois; however, after members of this new religion were persecuted for their faith, they packed up and headed out of town in search of a peaceful homeland. After what was reported to be a long, arduous journey punctuated by illness, death, and treacherous conditions, Brigham Young declared the Salt Lake Valley as the new homeland of the Mormon faith.

I moved to Utah almost twenty years ago, blithely unaware of the importance of July 24th. The mountain town I live in has less than 10,000 year round residents, three ski resorts, and most people came from somewhere else. Consequently, it’s a bit of an anomaly in the state and is somewhat sequestered from all things pioneer. I never took the day off work, so it was several years before I realized all the activity that was taking place a mere thirty miles west, not to mention elsewhere in the state.

Pioneer Day is marked by spectacular fireworks shows, parades, contests, traditional dress, and many a family reunion. But in recent years, a counter-culture has developed its own version of the state holiday. For non-Mormon Utahans, Pioneer Day has been re-imagined as Pie and Beer Day. While many are parading through city streets in prairie dresses and bonnets, the Pie and Beer folks are indulging in craft beers and pie, an intriguing collaboration between local breweries and bakeries.

If nothing else, Utahans have a sense of humor. Whichever version of the holiday you’re celebrating, have a good one!



Are You Sure We’re Related?

SiblingsMy parents have this running joke that if they had me first, I would have been their only child. Like with any good joke, it includes quirky details like, “Her sister slept through the night from the moment we brought her home. Hell, she might not even have woken up during the delivery! But this one, ” my father would say, gesturing at me with his thumb like he’s trying to hitch a ride, “This one hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since the Carter administration.”

I’m only mildly bothered by these comments since, really, did anyone sleep well during the Carter administration?

And, he’s not all together wrong – not just about the sleeping situation, but more generally that my sister and I couldn’t be more different. If there wasn’t such a strong physical resemblance, one could reasonably assume switched-at-birth scenarios that, once uncovered, could result in a book deal, followed by a wildly successful Lifetime movie, leading to a heartwarming weekly series on ABC Family. But, alas, it would seem we do share the necessary DNA to be considered sisters.Why is it then that we experience the world so differently?

My sister grew up on a steady diet of pastels, lace, and paper dolls. I was earth tones and corduroy. The most fun I had with paper dolls was when I was seven and locked myself in the bathroom with my mother’s Bic lighter and an assortment of Holly Hobbie’s patchwork dresses and paper bonnets. Burn, baby, burn.

My sister happily believed whatever she was told; I questioned everything. Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus? My sister fell for every one of them. She probably thinks we really landed on the moon too.

I never believed in the Tooth Fairy, but I understood fee-for-service at an early age, so was happy to oblige. Not that I completely understood what she wanted the teeth for in the first place. Some strange craft project, I imagine, involving elbow macaroni and pipe cleaners. It’s one of those questions in life that could go unanswered.

That anyone believed in the Easter Bunny is as odd as how many people think Justin Bieber is well-adjusted. I know I’m not the first one to point this out, and I get that the Easter Chicken has zero sex appeal, but a bunny with eggs? Let’s just say I’m not a “Belieber”.

Santa Claus has to be my sister’s favorite though; so imagine the depths of her despair when I combined my early onset reading skills with our freshly delivered ‘S’ volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The historical myth of the big guy in red was revealed, unleashing a sea of tears and emotion. “Mommy and Daddy were right! You should have been an only child,” she said, charging at me as I sat smugly in the beanbag chair.

At least she got one thing right.

Maybe Baby

Featured imageWhen I was little, I never spent much time thinking about whether or not I would get married and have children. I assumed it was one of those things that happened in life, a fated event, a given. I was well in to my 20s before it really dawned on me that I had a choice. I thought I had choices in other areas of my life – what school to go to, what to study, what work to pursue. But a spouse and a couple kids would be part of the package regardless. Perhaps they would even be doled out at graduation – cap, gown, diploma – oh, and by the way, please pick up your husband and two infants on your way out of the auditorium.

Turns out I might have been a bit naive…

In fact, I did get married shortly after college graduation. Not to someone I picked up in the auditorium, mind you, but rather to my high school sweetheart. We had been together for years. I thought our marriage was a fait accompli, so if any doubts took up residence in my mind, I swiftly moved them aside and kept moving forward in what I believed to be the expected and necessary direction.

About two years in to the marriage, he started talking about children. Of course, we’d had the conversation many times before, but it had always been simple ideation. Wouldn’t it be great if…Imagine what it’ll be like when…These new conversations had intent and used a whole different language. We should start thinking about…when do you want to…

It was only then I realized that I didn’t want to. It didn’t come to me quite that clearly at first, but it was the first inkling I had that I definitely wasn’t ready right then to have children, and perhaps I never would be. I danced around the topic for a while, delaying the real discussion while I tried to sort through my feelings. My feelings. This was part of the problem. I’d been entwined with the same person for so long, it was difficult to discern which thoughts belonged to me versus those born out of ‘we’.

It took me a while to untangle the two, but I got there in the end. My husband was a good man, and part of me didn’t want to let that go, but we were moving in different directions.  Sometimes knowing what you want starts with knowing what you don’t want. It seemed I might finally be on my way.