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Parenting Advice from the Unqualified

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4 year old

How to Survive a Day at the Beach with Kids

Snack food inequity. Things are about to go south with a quickness.
Snack food inequity. Things are about to go south with a quickness.

My family recently planned and pulled off (ish) a massive outing to our local beach — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents all put on their sportiest swimwear and their SPF 50 and packed their coolers for a long, hot day by the sea. Based on the crowds at the beach, it looked as if everyone was trying to squeeze in a last trip or two to the beach before school starts. The beach is my happy place. In fact, sometimes when I’m trying hard to relax and I can’t quite get there, I visualize waves crashing on a sandy beach and I feel my tension ease. But you know what I don’t picture on that peaceful, sandy beach? Children. Because a day at the beach with kids is about as far from relaxing as you can get.

We live a few miles from several beaches and have made every kind of beach trip there is – day trips, night trips, short visits, all-day visits, bike treks, hikes, swims, you name it – and we’ve done them all with our kid in tow. Along the way we’ve learned a lot about what makes the difference between a crappy day at the beach with kids and a successful one. Often, we haven’t taken our own advice and the results have been hellish. To save you from that agony, I’ve come up with a list of tips for going to the beach with kids:

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My Kid is Having an 80s Kind of Summer

I waited for my daughter in the school’s courtyard on her last day of class, chatting with the other moms about summer plans. Our family’s plans included little more than long, lazy days at the beach and some ballet lessons.
“What else?” one mom asked expectantly.

“That’s it,” I responded, garnering a look of disapproval.

“But what will you do with her the rest of the time?” she inquired.

“Well, we’ll swim, hike, play with her cousins, cook, shop, hang out…” I trailed off when the other mom wandered over to talk to another group, too disappointed in my lack of scheduled summer activities to even feign enthusiasm. I shrugged and went to fetch my kid and take her to do nothing in particular.

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Let’s Look to the Kids When We Don’t Know the Answer

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Lately I’ve been intrigued by the people I meet who seem to be less emotionally cluttered than the rest of us–the straight-talkers among us, those who can rise above the fray, the men and women who never appear to be in a hurry because they know nothing is really that important. Somehow, they just get it. But how do they do it? I wonder. How do they buffer themselves from the swirling chaos and grind of modern life in 2016? As I play armchair psychoanalyst to these people, I’ve noticed some similarities between the way in which they approach their lives and the way children approach life. I suppose we all enter this world emotionally uncluttered, and while we do need a certain amount of emotional sophistication beyond that of childhood in order to function in this society, I think we also absorb so much noise along the way–stress, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, boredom, short attention spans, jealousy, fear, exhaustion and so much more. If we looked to our children for the answers to unburdening ourselves of much of this emotional baggage, could we achieve the joy that is so evident on our children’s faces and so lacking among adults?

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Conversations with My 4-Year-Old

Something strange was happening in our house this week. Nobody slept. Everyone was cranky. We cried for no particular reason. We yelled our conversations. Our bodies ached and creaked. We glared at each other from across the room. We were all tired, aggressive, sad and confused. At one point, the child collapsed into a heap of tears on our laundry room floor when I told her she couldn’t draw with a Sharpie pen. I asked her why she was crying. “I just don’t know!” she wailed. We just didn’t know. We had no idea what was going on this week. If I were one of those people who looked to astrology for the answers, I’d say that Jupiter was in retrograde. Yes, a planet had to be in retrograde to cause this inexplicable upset in our home. Or maybe it was El Niño’s fault. I’ll blame El Niño. Whatever the cause of this week’s chaos, it led to a few absolutely absurd conversations with my child. A few examples for your amusement:

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Sing Your Hearts Out, Kids

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This week the whole family filed into a pew of the Presbyterian church that runs the kiddo’s preschool for her final Christmas recital as a preschooler — oh, how the time flies. It was an emotional roller coaster for me; I vacillated between pride and a bitter-sweetness that brought tears to my eyes and uncontrollable giggles at the adorably animated performers. I began to wonder if the manner in which each child performed on stage predicted something about his or her personality or how he or she will approach the world in the future. There were some very specific types of singers on stage:

The Deer in the Headlights: These are usually the younger children on the stage who are nervous and/or shy and stare unblinkingly at a chosen spot in the audience rather than sing. If onstage behavior predicts future behavior, these children will grow up to be fantastic at staring contests and well qualified for any profession that requires them to keep their eyes open for a long period of time (graveyard shifts, perhaps), but you probably won’t want to call on them in emergency situations.

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playtime meme

Parent-Teacher Conferences: How Dare You Judge My Child!

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Parent teacher conferences always make me nervous. Something about sitting down at a tiny desk with another adult who essentially is going to judge my child feels extremely uncomfortable. It’s probably the tiny chairs; I mean, who could be comfortable getting information of any kind with their knees hiked up to their chests. Our daughter is a well behaved kid, so I know I’ll never go into a conference and hear that she’s a disrespectful twit to her teachers or that she runs with scissors or throws rocks at her classmates.  But I also know that I’m not going to hear the teacher rattle off all the unique and fabulous traits that make my daughter the amazing 4-year-old that she is. It’s just not going to happen because my daughter

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pockets meme

A Lesson on Friendship

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“Are you excited to see your friends today?” I asked my daughter on the way to school the other day.

“Well, some of the kids in my class are my friends and some of them aren’t my friends,” she replied. “Do you get it, mom?”

She wasn’t being a smart ass about it. She really wanted to know if I got it. Do you understand the finer nuances of preschool social hierarchies, mom? she seemed to be asking.

Continue reading “A Lesson on Friendship”

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