Momfession #41 : All you need is love (I think)

child giving thumbs up
G and K give love a “thumbs-up!

This morning, I was sitting in the waiting room at the dance studio while my daughter was “doing ballet” (realistically, she was shaking her bum to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse soundtrack while wearing ballet shoes, but whatever). We are still new to the studio, and I don’t really know any of the other dance moms yet. So, I just sit and listen to their conversations. Today, like most days, they talk about what activities their kids are doing, how well they are doing in said activities, and what else they will be signing them up for in the future. They have their daughters doing ballet, then shuttling them off to swimming lessons right afterward, followed by Sunday morning skating lessons. Their sons are in hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. Their little ones all attend Montessori schools (where, apparently one child “aced” her entrance interview). Oh, and did I mention their girls are three- and four-years-old?!

I always feel like I am doing pretty well as a parent until I hear those conversations. Then, our “crazy” life of karate three times a week, dance once a week, and a special after school behaviour program for my son seems tame. Where do these parents find the time? More than that, where do they find the money?! My husband and I make a pretty decent income and aren’t extravagant spenders, yet even we feel the budget tightening with every daycare cheque, and monthly karate bill.

As a parent, I try to live by two simple thoughts: 1. try to enjoy every moment, and 2. all you need is love. The first one is obviously easier said than done, especially in those really, really tough moments. It is something I constantly work on, and admittedly, some days are more successful than others. The other rule is something I have always believed: that no matter how much money you have, or stuff you buy, or what school your kid attends, or how many baby sign language classes you sign up for, as long as your love your kid, and your kid feels your love, that is enough. That one is something that gets challenged every once in a while. And today was one of those days.

Does all that stuff really matter? The sports, organic food, and extra curricular programs, the Chinese lessons and the special swimming lessons (in salt-water only, of course). At the end of the day, are those kids going to be more well adjusted than mine? Smarter? More successful? I’m not really sure, but sometimes it makes me nervous.

I was re-reading Freakonomics the other day and got to a chapter called, “Do Parents Really Matter?”. The first time I read the book, I wasn’t a parent, so I don’t think I really paid attention to the content. But this time, I did. According to the data, it turns out that, other than genetics, not a lot matters when it comes to parenting. A kid can come from a broken family, live in a low-income neighborhood and go to a “bad” school and still have a similar chance of success as a child in a “good” school who has two parents at home. That’s not to say that I should set out to be a bad parent, but it surprised me that all of the things we do for our kids don’t matter as much as we think they do.

So, maybe my theory is OK after all. Maybe my kids will turn out the same as, or better than, those private school kids that speak fluent Chinese. Or maybe they won’t. There really aren’t any guarantees in this parenting job, are there? The best I can do is stick to my beliefs, and attempt to create a fun, balanced, low-stress environment for our entire family. And fill my heart with more love more than I ever thought possible. My daughter still doesn’t know her ABCs, and my son isn’t devouring chapter books like some of his peers, but they are loved, and they know it.

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Momfession #38: Karate Kid

karate_kid_picture

We haven’t had the greatest success with extra-curricular activities. When our son was  three, we started him in a preschool soccer class. It was a frustrating experience: while all of the other kids listened to to instructor and nicely ran back and forth in the gym, our kid ran in the opposite direction. Or hid in the net. And sometimes purposely kicked the ball at other children. I would sit in the observation area, glaring through the window, mouthing “pay attention!” to him through the glass. My husband decided he couldn’t be the one to take him to the class; it was that frustrating. What followed was years of the same; in gymnastics class, he refused to warm up with the other kids. In baseball, he would walk slowly to first base after a hit, and when he fielded the ball, he would just hold it instead of throwing it in. At swimming lessons, he would swim off while the instructors were teaching the other children. In karate, he was pulled to the side countless times for misbehaving and made to do push-ups. As his parents, it wasn’t just frustrating. It was downright embarrassing. No matter how many times it happened, it still bothered me to watch all of the other kids behaving nicely, learning, progressing in a craft…while my kid just ran around in circles. I longed to be that parent who could just relax and enjoy watching their kid in class, instead of the one who was a constant ball of stress.

So that’s why what happened last week was nothing short of a miracle. After three years of forcing him to go to karate every week, something has finally clicked- and he is catching on faster than anyone expected. He spent the last week at karate camp, and at the end we were told that he is learning so well he will be invited to the elite class. We were blown away…our kid, the one who can’t pay attention, in an elite class?!

Yesterday, my daughter and I went to his Saturday morning class. I sat in the viewing area, and a mom sat next to me with her three-year-old daughter in tow. Her son had just started karate a few weeks ago and she asked me which kid was mine. As I pointed him out, I noticed that he had been pulled from the class and was working with a small group of children who were all at a higher level. “Wow,” she said, “he’s really good.” I nodded in agreement, looked down, and noticed that my daughter had slid over in her seat and asked the woman’s daughter if she wanted to sit down with her. Right then, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. Here I was, watching my typically-behaviorally-challenged kid perfectly demonstrate the third kata to his peers, while my more-cranky-than-not toddler was offering her seat to a child she just met. Maybe we’re not so terrible at this parenting thing after all, I thought. It might take our kid a bit longer than most to shine, but when it does happen, it is sweeter than anything I could imagine, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.