(photo: Samantha Sophia/Unsplash)
My eleven-year-old daughter is the one who wanted me to write this article. I'm going to tell you precisely how it all went down but first some personal history.
When my father brought home Intellivision (you probably had Atari), we were so surprised. Well first, because who ever heard of Intellivision? And second, because we weren't allowed to watch television. I think you had to have a partner or more to play most of the games, and I can recall loving all of them. The solo card game with the Computer Dealer was how I learned to play Poker! I can also recall going to the arcade and loving "Centipede."
When my 14-year-old son asked for a video game system, I took my time to think about it. The last time he had asked for anything besides books was five years ago when we were at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and of course, requested a wand. This wasn't just about him getting a toy, but how having this gaming system would affect the family. And after careful deliberation...my husband and I unanimously voted no. And I am thrilled with that decision. Here's why:
After hours of high school homework, what does my son do besides read? He composes music, plays with his sister, dreams up new roller-coasters, talks with me, looks at abandoned projects and jumps in...why would I want to change all of that? The arguments for it are plenty: hand/eye coordination, social aspects, family activity, and the most compelling: because it's FUN! Yes, but board games are too. And he'll most likely play these video games more than he will play Monopoly when he eventually leaves the house. These last few years before College are sacred.
(photo: Lea Bohm/Unsplash)
Okay, so why would my eleven-year-old daughter tell me to write this as the topic for my article? Because she is so grateful I said no. She calls it the best decision we ever made. And she wants it out there as a choice. When they're discussing a book she's reading (as what happened over breakfast today), or impromptu dancing, she glances over to me and smiles. Actually, if I'm going to be honest...they are both smiling.
photo: Hannah Rodrigo
I remember coming home from school and telling my mom I was very confused. One day I thought that this girl and I were besties, but then the next she didn't act kindly to me all day or sit with me at lunch. My mother said it was very hard to find a true friend at any age, especially at seven. With her warmth and understanding, I was able to face an endless number of future days navigating this contemptuous friendly/unfriendly sea. We have a word for these types of people...enter the world of Frenemies.
As parents, we know that this continues into adulthood. I read a book where they called them a gang of "Mean Mommies." And yes it still stings. But what do we do when we recognize one with our children? Do we point them out and tell them to stay away from them? Do we allow them a period of growth and change? Do we immediately cast them away, or allow the tide of childhood to carry them along...with the belief that it's inevitable?
(@lexiahayden with @official.remidancer. photo by Clay Morgan)
The severity of the situation of course also dictates our reaction. Being left out of lunchtime giggles is painful, but it's not the same as being made fun of or cyberbullying. Though of course, it all hurts. Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to prevent the emotional cuts that accompany growing up. But what advice do we give them?
Frenemies are nuanced. An enemy is easy to spot, but someone who tears at your spirit slowly wearing a smile is even harder to recognize.
I have two children: an 11 and 1/2-year-old girl, and a 14 year old boy. I have to admit I've steered them away from children I felt were not in their best interest, and encouraged play dates with the ones I felt that were. I also speak to them about what traits are important in a friend and which ones aren't. I tell them that if they're hanging out with someone who continously makes them feel uncomfortable, even if they can't pinpoint exactly what it is, then it might be time to move on. Most importantly, I tell them that companions are like plants and need to be watered and that it's most important to be a good listener.
(photo: Joshua Clay)
Am I being too controlling...too involved...perhaps? Or am I teaching them how to cope with the complexities of friendships? Every age brings its own rewards and challenges. My daughter is in her first year of middle school and fingers crossed...so far so good.
The family waits in anticipation as the carefully wrapped tinfoil is dug into...nails first, and violently ripped apart. The suspense is not about the gift but about the recipient. All eyes are reading body language and facial expressions. Are they happy, ecstatic, bored, or gasp!...dissapointed? For those sixty seconds, all else ceases to exist. All that time shared baking cookies or doubling over with laughter that morning at breakfast doesn't matter anymore. The mood can and will be dictated by his or her slightest gesture.
This is the sensation called opening presents. A type of nerve-wracking activity we bring upon ourselves as parents. We watch for any inkling that they are not throw-their-head back ecstatic, and cling to it. We may even wear it as a necklace at night. "Why do you think he looked down, then up? Do you think he liked his sister's gift better?"
But who is really at fault here? Are we putting wild expectations on our children that can't realistically be met? Or do we just want them to be grateful? And what of the child that isn't? Should they be punished for not expressing high octaves of emotions?
Look how we brag about reactions: "My daughter was screaming when she opened my gift." "I caught the sheer happiness of childhood as he opened mine."
I'll be honest, not every elf gift was received well this year. A globe was quickly tossed aside, as was an impractical but fancy bathrobe that wasn't "terrycloth." Are our children spoiled? Or are expectations through the roof because of what we perceive as "Being thankful."
To be honest, I did feel disappointed. And then later in the day, I realized we were laughing and singing and experiencing pure joy from just hanging out together. Perhaps as the cliche goes, Christmas, Hanukkah, or holiday happiness...doesn't come wrapped up in a box. It comes in spurts and unexpectedly like a rain shower.
photo: Chris Gilbert
This Christmas break, we stayed at home and entertained our family and friends. Which meant wild eating patterns, large consumptions of cookies and very late bedtimes. I decided to end our party-fest with a family ritual I began a number of years ago: The writing of the New Year's Resolution.
Generally, I cringe at that word... it brings me personally back to making ridiculously impossible lists I then "fail" to achieve. But luckily my kids have no bad history. I can make this as positive as I want it to be.
The four of us sat around the table with paper and a pen. I first asked everyone to list their favorite moments of the year. After everyone shared their list, I told them to write their dreams down...both long and short term. Then I told them to write down the steps to achieve it. I was a little worried they would get stuck on this part but at 11 1/2 and 14, they had this.
We took turns reading them out loud. I called it our To Do Dream/Action plan and everyone hung it up in their rooms. It's January 2nd and both kids are pursuing their dreams today along with their homework. My son, in particular, was moved by this; he did personal research on a project he has big plans for.
So what are your thoughts? Is this all unnecessary and kids should just be kids? Or is this something that will stay and then aid them as adults? Please leave comments below if your family has your own version. And yes I did set mine too...typical health-related ones, as well as a few far-reach ones. I hope all your dreams come true. Happy 2019!
I grew up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, NY. Santa did visit us but instead of wrapped presents under the tree, there were various gifts left unadorned and sinking into the shag rug.
I started collecting ornaments as a young teen. I secretly stored them on top of the high bunk bed which was then vacant. I think the main objections to a tree were lack of room and fear of fire. Though as far as I know, only my friends whose last names ended in a vowel had one.
It wasn't until I had children that I started getting asked questions and at least half were from them. Most of them centered around the obvious-seeming contradiction of being a Jewish family with a tree. And not a Hanukkah bush, but an unapologetically well-decorated tree.
Oh, the fun and excitement of decorating and of course the morning of. Are we somehow not deserving of this because we haven't paid our dues and gone to church? Are we not being "Jewish" enough? For my religious friends, the holiday has a far deeper meaning than simply a tree and a jolly elf.
I explain it this way: I believe in magic of all kinds. And in this world that sometimes can be very harsh, I'll take it any way it comes. So that means lighting the candles for Hanukkah, decorating the tree...and celebrating Santa's arrival with family.
However you celebrate or choose not to, I wish you happiness, health, and a little bit of magic.