Ahhh, it's amazing what a little sleep can do. And a 70 degree day--that doesn't hurt either.
My original thought was to take you back to G's infancy and tell you how I became the mom that I am, but I think it makes more sense to start at the heart of the controversy, the spaghetti squash debacle. I DID NOT decide how to handle that in the moment that it was served (and subsequently, gagged upon). No, no--Mike and I had decided exactly how that scenario would play itself out years and years ago, and we have seen all of our children through it, at various times and stages. I am not kidding when I say that this had absolutely NOTHING to do with eating spaghetti squash; but handling episodes like this are like second nature, when you have four kids and 506 various activities that they don't want to do on any given day. That doesn't mean that we NEVER bend the rules, but it is rare--and this is mostly because the STANDARD that we choose to set is that the kids live by our rules, PERIOD. We believe our rules to be good for them and obedience is a big deal in our house for this reason--but Lord knows this is the THIRD most controversial topic of parenting (behind sleep schedules and food, apparently), and I will devote an entire post to it later this week. But for now, you need to know that we don't require obedience just because we are the boss, and that's what easiest (quite the contrary, it is freaking hard to be consistent)--but because we actually BELIEVE that what we are doing is good for our kids.
We are not new to this rodeo. In fact, we have played this exact spaghetti squash scenario out in relation to: touching electrical outlets, eating chicken, brushing teeth, hitting others, potty training, getting out of bed, switching schools, cleaning up rooms, getting dressed. Maybe there wasn't gagging, but it was CLOSE.
A couple of years ago, I signed Big J up for a soccer team; and on the day of our first practice, he cried. Sobbed relentlessly, actually. Bawled his eyes out and refused to join the team for at least 30 minutes. To many of you, it would look like torture--and for what? To get him to play SOCCER??? He would take 3 steps, turn around, and cry about how he didn't want to play soccer. It looked EXACTLY like the squash video, only he was younger--and you can make an argument that he lacked two years of maturity and understanding that would have helped to make it not so heart-breaking. He did not WANT to do it, in fact, he hated it as much as the spaghetti squash; the only difference is that we didn't actually feed him a soccer ball, and therefore, there was no gagging. If you're issue in all of this is the gagging, then you'll have to wait a day for me to give you my opinion there--but for now I am going to address the fact that some kids DON'T want to try anything new, and their fear of the unknown is so great, that playing kindergarten soccer will feel like medieval torture.
Big J is not, by appearances, an athletic kid. Because of his prematurity, he has always had some high muscle tone, and it hampers his coordination. You know how you work through that? You do some physical therapy, or as we now say--YOU PLAY SPORTS. Over my dead body would I have let him quit that soccer team, because he didn't want to play; instead, we tried to stop him from fixating on his fear, by telling him he could pick dinner for the night, and he (eventually) whimpered his way out there onto the soccer field. WE BROKE HIS WILL, and I am so proud of that--because the parts of us (even as adults) that cling to fear, or false security, or pride NEED to be broken, PERIOD. They are NOT good for us. He was so incredibly awkward on the soccer field, he ran on his toes, he had a really hard time getting his brain and his feet to work together. It was A LOT more work for him that most of the boys. But on Week #1, he realized that soccer wasn't going to kill him. And on Week #2, he was hesitant, but comfortable, as long as we were always in sight. By Week #3, it didn't matter if we were around the corner at the playground. And somewhere around Week #6, he had the ball in front of the goal during a game, and he scored. We called him the Forrest Gump of the soccer team, because dude, if you told this kid to do something, he DID IT. This was a fine line, because if you told him he was a defender, and he needed to defend the goal with Timmy--well, he was gonna stand RIGHT NEXT to Timmy. But if you reminded him a few hundred times WHICH goal was his, and you told him to chase the ball toward it, he was not going to let it out of his sight. At the end of the season, he got a trophy for playing--and to this day, years later, it is one of his most prized possessions. On our first night in our new house, he found it among our boxes and proceeded to roam the house looking for the PERFECT place to display it. If you ask him, he will tell you he is good at soccer--not because he is especially adept at handling the ball, but because he is fast, and that is the TRUTH. The kid follows directions, and he has speed, and now, he KNOWS THAT.
Not every kid is like Big J; I have two others, in fact, who don't fear uncertainty or struggle with confidence so much. But Big J is, and has ALWAYS been wired that way. I would have played the spaghetti squash debacle out like that with ALL of my kids--and on the night the video was taken, I did, because EVERY child aside from L (who loved it) threw a fit over it. But it is ESPECIALLY important for Big J--because there is a very BIG part of him that believes he can't do these things, that they will somehow break him. He hates anything that is hard for him, anything that takes him longer than his siblings, anything that he doesn't win. You had better believe that he needs to be broken over that--or the world will be a terrible place for him. My boy is CERTAINLY stronger than a spaghetti squash. He is capable of eating it, he is capable of playing soccer, he is absolutely strong enough to switch schools and make new friends. Some of you don't see your role as mothers in the same way, and I get it--you see yourselves as protectors, in a big scary world. There's nothing wrong with that, but my philosophy on parenting is almost completely different--yeah, the world sucks, but my kids CAN HANDLE IT. IF I teach them that they are strong enough.
Whoa, whoa, whoa--I can literally hear some of you FREAKING out over the Internet. I know you think you're teaching your kid that too! You're teaching your kids that they are capable and strong, right? I don't mean any offense here, but if you think making your kid eat spaghetti squash is considered "abuse" and that it is going to cause lasting and permanent damage, then you are most likely NOT teaching your kid these things. You are teaching them other important and valuable lessons about love and comfort, I'm sure (and I'm NOT saying this sarcastically...I do actually believe that all of us are TRYING to do right by our kids), but this is not your fight. There are ABSOLUTELY battles that I pick and areas that I would back down from with Big J, as they relate to the bigger picture in how I parent him--but make NO MISTAKE about it, spaghetti squash is NOT one of them. My kid is absolutely capable of eating it--he doesn't have to like it, he doesn't have to EVER choose to eat it again as an adult. I WILL serve it to him again, because I understand how Big J works, and giving up on it is NOT an option.
Most nights, reading homework for Big J is as big of an ordeal as eating spaghetti squash. Sometimes, it goes really well; but often, Big J will sail along until he hits a word that he misidentifies, and the shit hits the fan. He doesn't like to be corrected, he doesn't like to have to figure it out. It is HARD for him, I get that--but I am never going to be okay with letting him confuse "what" and "that". I really don't see the benefit in letting him believe he has it right, when he doesn't. There are nights when I have to sit and wait for 10 minutes, before he stops throwing himself a sobbing, pity party. I get that this is a struggle, but under NO CIRCUMSTANCES will we stop. He needs to learn to read, and he needs to practice it. But mostly, he needs to get over believing that he CAN'T do it. Because he always can. He always figures it out, when he isn't wallowing.
Now. Unlike the spaghetti squash, I DO CARE if Big J learns to read. But mostly, I care that he doesn't wallow his way through life, thinking that anything outside of his very tight comfort zones will kill him. My kid can be a nuclear engineer, or a doctor, or an artist or a janitor or a librarian or an air traffic controller--so long as he doesn't harbor an attitude of how hard and terrible and mean and unfair the world is. I am sorry, but he was NOT spared from the brink of death (literally), just to grow up believing he is less than capable of eating a spaghetti squash. There are things our kids will struggle with and agonize over--and then there is this stupid argument, and me teaching him to get through it and MOVE ON. There are, and will be plenty of times where he needs my help from something that is consuming him--spaghetti squash is NOT, and will never be one of them.
As I mentioned, all three of his siblings successfully ate the spaghetti squash, and there were mild theatrics. Not to the extent of Big J, but that's pretty par for the parenting course here in our house. My kids are often required to do things that they don't want to do, or don't think they can do--things that feel downright uncomfortable to them--and they don't have a choice. Obedience is a big part of our household, it is the VERY first lesson we teach our kids, and it is a consistent and running theme in our home. This has evolved as our kids have gotten older, and they understand our boundaries, and they operate with freedom within them--but make no mistake, when we enter new phases and begin to test us in ways that are so incredibly unhealthy for them, we tighten up on our rules and their enforcement. Letting Big J out of eating the squash certainly wasn't fair to the other kids who choked it down (although, the concept of "fairness" is impossible)--but on a larger scale, doing so would tell him that he couldn't handle something the others could. That he was too fragile (he's not). Sure, one instance of pardoning him from vegetables isn't enough to have that kind of lasting, negative impact--but over time, it certainly will. It's vegetables today, it's less reading time tomorrow, it's the soccer team next year--and at some point, we have a REAL problem.
One of you commented that this was about CONTROL. I'm not really sure how to respond to that, because it absolutely is. Mike and I do control this household, and how we raise our kids, and we believe he have a lot of say in who they become and how they process and respond to the world. But I know this was said in a spirit of negativity, so I will try hard not to take that as a compliment. There are PLENTY of Sundays when I work myself into a tissy trying to find matching monogrammed outfits for the girls, and denying them their free will to wear a Sponge Bob t-shirt--now THAT is pointless, and I certainly make many parenting decisions that are just as stupid. I get that you see this as another ridiculous and meaningless lesson, but I've just written a dissertation telling you why I believe that isn't true; and even if you don't agree with me, at least you'll know it is something we have thought about as part of our ENTIRE philosophy, and not just a fight we picked because we could.
I will leave you with the flip side of the coin. I am an only child, I was a people pleaser, and a pretty easy kid. My parents worked full time, and I was shy--both factors combined means that there wasn't a lot of time for extracurricular activities, and I probably wouldn't have chosen them anyway. I am fearful; I covet comfort zones, I hoard things that make me happy. My confidence for trying new things is pretty low (apart from peer pressure, which can always convince me to do things like eat cigarettes). I am NOT COMPETITIVE, because I assume everyone can do it better. My husband, however, was the baby of his family; he's athletic, he's outgoing, he rarely struggles with fear. We could not be more different, and this is why we work well--He CHALLENGES ME, because he knows I can do it, and that if I will just get over my insecurities, I will LOVE most things. Aside from roller coasters, he's right. I love to ski, I can cook, I have run four half marathons, I am strong enough to survive losing a child (all things I would never have believed possible). The thing that's interesting, as it relates to parenting, is that my parents will sometimes comment about how different I am, and how they can't believe the things that I've done (and liked). Mike gets a lot of credit for that, and there is always a part of me that is frustrated that THEY don't think I was capable of it apart from him. That on my own, I am not strong, or adventurous or bold enough. Now, I KNOW they don't actually believe that--but inadvertently, this is what they taught me. You can carefully guard your kids, and keep them comfortable and happy, and they will STILL think you got it a *little* wrong, somehow. And you can harbor trust issues, or vow that you will be better, or that you will get it right--but you won't. There will always be other issues, other scars, other things we didn't know were a big deal, but in retrospect were. I know my parents loved me--and that, at the end of the day I need to GET OVER whatever injustice I can self-righteously cling to.
You don't HAVE to agree with me--that's not what this is about. We all focus on different things, we work our kids through different issues, we come at parenting with different experiences and styles. Just because I chose to make my kid eat his vegetables, doesn't mean I am abusive, or that I don't pick my battles wisely. It means I am DIFFERENT from you., and if there is one thing I am PASSIONATE about, it's that women stop interpreting differences as FLAWS.
But if you REALLY want me to piss you off, tune in tomorrow for my views on OBEDIENCE.