The Howe To Blog

Parenting Advice from the Unqualified



Worry: The Parenting Common Denominator


I started this post intending to write “Five Things Parents of Only Children Know,” but got stuck about two paragraphs in. I looked at my title and looked at what I had written and realized everything on the page applied, more or less, to all parents. I could have crossed out the “Only” in the title and written the same post as “Five Things Parents of Children Know.” Whether we have one child or four children, our kids are the centers of our worlds, and as such, most of what we feel as parents is universal. The hardships and struggles, the joys, the fears, the guilt, the pride — these are the feelings that permeate the parenting experience. Perhaps parents of only children worry about the development of their child’s social skills more than a parent of three, and perhaps that parent of three worries about giving equal attention to all of his or her children, but at the heart of it, we all worry about our kids. Worry. Yes, worry is the proverbial sidekick to parenting. When I was discharged from the hospital after having my little one, I was given an infant CPR DVD, a rented breast pump and a book about newborn care. But nowhere in my newly acquired arsenal of parenting information and supplies was a manual on how to manage the worry that comes with raising a child. Now that would have been useful.

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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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You Clean This Up While I Distract Mom


Sometimes we teach our children coping skills and sometimes they teach us.

A few nights ago, we got home late after a long day out and headed upstairs to put the kiddo to bed. Our dogs had been home alone all day, never a good thing. One of our dogs, The Destroyer, has separation anxiety, and when we’re away for a long period of time, she goes a little nuts and takes it out on a piece of furniture or one of our possessions (the more irreplaceable, the better, according to her). Over the years we’ve locked down a seven-step dog proofing system that we go through every time we leave, but she’s a border collie and crazy smart and will find the flaws in our system when determined. She was determined on that night.

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


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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A Lesson on Friendship



“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.

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Howe To…Prevent Your Kids from Spilling the Beans

IMG952133Hailey’s grandparents and aunt took her and her cousins to the aquarium yesterday. When they picked Hailey up in the morning, my almost 3-year-old nephew’s first words to me were, “My daddy farts. And mommy poops. A LOT.” Oh boy, I thought. His mommy will be thrilled to know this is how he greets people now. Then Hailey felt compelled to chime in: “My mommy…” “My mommy…” she began a couple of times. Where’s she going to go with this? I wondered, a little nervously. “I used to live in my mommy’s tummy,” she finished. Phew. I really dodged a bullet there. She could have gone any number of embarrassing places. At 4, Hailey is not yet able to filter the information that stays at home and that which can be shared with the world. Below are the five stories I’m a little terrified she’ll share in public someday.

1. Naked wrestling. Josh is really into MMA and watches UFC fights, mostly out of the house with his friends, but every once in a while at home after Hailey has gone to bed. Hailey is moderately aware of Josh’s interest. She knows what UFC is and she’ll peer over daddy’s shoulder when he’s reading highlights of the fights on his phone or laptop. Since the men are shirtless when they fight, Hailey calls it “naked wrestling,” and she’ll say things like, “I want the guy in the black chonies (undies) to win!” Or, “Is Daddy watching naked wrestling with Raul tonight?” Sometimes she’ll even challenge daddy to a naked wrestling fight. I’m very worried that someday authorities will show up at my door because Hailey shared with her teachers or classmates that she naked wrestles at home.

2. Where’s the chingadera? Josh and I refer to the remote control, or pretty much anything we can never find, as “the chingadera’ — loosely translated: that fucking thing. When Hailey started talking and Josh and I put our potty mouths on lock down, we forgot this one. As a result, guess what Hailey calls the remote: the chingadera. Example: “Mom, can I watch Strawberry Shortcake? I think the chingadera is on the couch.” I really should put the kibosh on this, but the Spanish speaking side of me chuckles ever time she says this and the English speaking side is none the wiser. But now Hailey’s reached the age where she could have a play date with a bilingual friend and refer to a soccer ball or a sand bucket as “the chingadera,” and that child’s parents will judge me. They’ll judge me good.

3. Any information about our dogs. Our dogs Bella and Chewie are our fourth and fifth members of the family. And when your pets are so integrated into the family you have ample opportunity to witness nature in all its glory and all its grossness. In the last year I’ve had to have a frank but nonthreatening talk with Hailey about dog erections, which inspired a shadow puppet show. We’ve discussed why dogs don’t use toilet paper. I’ll let you arrive at your own conclusions about how that conversation went, but I will say, Hailey’s reaction was, “Are you serious, Mom?” We also had an impromptu conversation about why puppies come out of dogs’ butts vaginas. Still considering getting that puppy for your child?

4. Poop. We talk about poop a lot in our house. We say the word “poop” a lot in our house. Both Josh’s family and my family are afflicted with various distressing gastrointestinal conditions. Hailey did not hit the genetic jackpot in this respect. Someday she will talk about poop a lot with her own family. Already, she has picked up on our lack of discretion about poop talk. I had to censor her four or five times on our last play date.

5. How we feel about our neighbors and a couple of other folks. We have nice neighbors on one side of us and jerks on the other side of us. Sometimes when we’re talking about our nasty neighbors or anyone else we don’t happen to care for, we forget that Hailey sometimes overhears us talking and is taking it all in. Every once in a while she’ll distinguish our neighbors as, “the ones we like” and “the ones we don’t like.” I’m a little afraid that she might spill the beans on this one, not because she’ll offend the neighbors — I’m sure they know how we feel about them — but because at 4 she isn’t ready to feel the emotions associated with telling someone, “we don’t like you.” Also, it’s inappropriate for a 4-year-old to divide people into “like” and “dislike” columns. Let’s save that for middle school.

So how do you stop a 4-year-old from sharing the family stories with the world? Do you do as my mom did and put the fear in your children that you NEVER talk about family stuff outside of the house? No, I don’t think so. I will often gently remind Hailey that some things are okay to talk about at home but not at school or at the park. Just the other night we were saying prayers and she said “poop” (of course she did), and we took the opportunity to talk about the moments when it is important to be respectful. Does it sink in? A little, I’d say. Keeping the conversation short and sweet is key. You cannot harangue a preschooler. I think so much depends on us as parents too. Josh and I will have to encourage Hailey to rename naked wrestling and confine our complaints about the neighbors to the hours after her bedtime. I think, sadly, we might even have to rename the chingadera. I suppose you eventually have to let go of some of the things that make for cute stories in the home once your child ventures out of the home. Cute stories they may be, but kids grow up and parents have to grow up right along with them.

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