Recovering from our biggest party of the year. This time I didn’t emerge feeling like an asshole. So that is an improvement.

Great friends, food, and drink set the mood, but the one story that will stick with me had little to do with the festivities.

At 10 or so pm I had a friend come in and say “you have to see your son.” I imagined blood. Maybe all of our furniture clustered in some sort of mega fort construction. Or egg whites. Maybe there were egg whites involved. None of that. He was doing the laundry.

Laundry is his contribution this week and he hadn’t done it yet so he was switching the washed load to the dryer and scaling the machines to get the dryer sheets. He hates static cling. What was amazing to me wasn’t that Leo did the laundry, but that no fewer than 5 of my friends exclaimed over it. What is it about our culture that makes a kid doing laundry remarkable? In almost any other part of the world kids pull their own weight and then some.

Although I like that I get time to drink tea in the morning instead of gathering my kids things it is not really the self care stuff that motivates me to follow the Parenting on Track philosophy. Vicki calls it “raising thinking kids” I think of it as raising flexible, resilient, problem solvers. Who trust themselves. Yes, I’m glad they contribute to our household, but I am even more glad when they challenge our norms, or change our roadmap entirely.

Many of you are taking the first round of parenting on track. This first week Vicki has asked you to do nothing and say nothing. Why? To learn about your kids. And yourselves. The more difficult you find it the more necessary it is for you to do it. Can your kid tell time? Select the appropriate outerwear, plan steps ahead? You may not know…even more importantly can you send the message that you trust them to take care of things, to help figure out the way things should work, and to be heard not just instructed.

My boys are loud and messy. I hope that they won’t always be this way. I like order. I like quiet. I like my house to look good. Trust me, I don’t want a sticky counter or cereal bowls with sour milk on the upstairs landing. I’m still betting that in the long long run I am teaching my kids more important things than how to respond to my instructions quickly and without back talk.

Here are some successes and failures from three years of parenting on track.

Two months ago Leo left his winter coat at soccer. I saw it there. I let him walk out without it. I really wanted him to notice the cold so I didn’t have to drive back there the next day. Or buy a new coat. I even kept the van locked for an extra minute or so to see if he would feel cold. No. Next week he asked the coaches. It had been GIVEN AWAY. That sucked. Money lost. Hopefully lesson learned and long term money saved but I really don’t know.

Yesterday long awaited toys arrived in the mail. We had 45 minutes until bath time. It took the boys 45 minutes to locate the screw driver, unscrew the beyblade launchers and find batteries. They reviewed lefty loosey to each other and Oliver offered to help Leo. Alas we had only 3 AAA batteries and each toy required 3. Together they decided to build one and take turns. When they got it ready to go they couldn’t figure out the buttons. Oliver read the instructions. They each got ONE turn before bath time. There was full on collaboration and no fighting. They got themselves to the bath. No parents intervened to speed it along. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have worked together or kept their calm if we had inserted ourselves into the process.

Week three of Parenting on Track. 2 year old Leo having a full on melt down because he wanted candy at the gas station. I stayed calm. Because I had the answer. Of course you can have candy babe…did you bring your money? Stood up, dried eyes. “no…I will bring it next time.” Gas station attendant running after me. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Year one…Eating outdoors at Four Seasons. My first do nothing say nothing week. The 3 an 2 year old running around the pond. I let them. All other diners judge me. Most harshly. I tell myself I am doing this for my kids, not for the nameless lunchees. One of them gasps. I roll my eyes. And turn to see Oliver, pants less, peeing into the pond. I’m stumped. really NOTHING? I can’t say nothing. Peeing in ponds can kill fish I tell him. He stops midstream. “I need a bathroom mama” Right.

Every night we do homework after dinner. We all enjoy it, so I often choose to participate. I say little, correct nothing, say Hmmm when I am asked for advice, but I am there at the table and we all like that. Every week Oliver talks about his homework plan, whether he will be able to do it each night, or if our schedule will require longer study sessions. He is great at time management. He is not great at writing his name. He is even worse at handing in his homework. So he works all week. His handwriting is so precise, his worksheets almost always perfect. And almost always at home. A few times I have asked his teacher to increase the consequences of not turning in homework but she doesn’t seem to care. So I figure I shouldn’t. This is hard for me. Grades mattered a lot in my family, and the idea that his grades are going down because he isn’t turning in his assignments makes my skin crawl. But I let it crawl.

Here’s one that most of you will disagree with. Leo watches his iPad at night. I’d rather he didn’t, and of course it is within our rights as parents to determine whether or not he watches it. It is a privilege after all. That was not the routine just a few weeks ago, but he asked for it, and I have been practicing holding of my NO for three years. So I tell him my concerns. I know for many kids this would be too much talking, but that isn’t so with Leo, he calms down when we talk things out. Here is my list:

1. I’m worried you will be tired all day the next day because you will stay up late watching.

2. I’m worried that you won’t read as much.

3. I’m worried that you won’t do other activities as much.

4. I’m worried that it is bad for your growing brain.

He asked if we could try it. He said he would continue to get everything ready in the morning and be out the door on time. He thought he would be able to demonstrate other activities and reading between school and dinner. He didn’t address concern number 4. I assume he has his research team on it now. For 9 days it went really well. Then yesterday he was clearly a mess. Which I attributed to being tired. Which I attributed to iPad use before bed. I reminded him of our agreement and told him no iPad last night. He threw a fit. Screaming, crying, accusing. I walked away because I wanted to ignore the fit, and also because I had nothing useful to contribute. After a while I went back in. He was still weeping. Saying I couldn’t know if he was tired, that our agreement was about being tired and I couldn’t tell what his body felt. He was MAD not tired. He was SAD not tired. So again I talked to him. This is not a useful approach with every kid, but it often works with Leo so I tried. “I can’t know what is going on in your body. All I can do is guess based on how you are acting. In my experience on days that everything makes you sad and mad you fall asleep early. That makes me think you are tired. I am not trying to make you feel more sad and mad. I am trying to help you listen to your body so that you learn how to take care of yourself and get the rest you need.” I know, most of you think a 6 year old has no capacity for this…but I do. After years and years of helping to chart his own path I think he is developing the skills to do it. I asked him what we should do when I feel like he isn’t meeting our agreement and he feels like he is. He has totally stopped crying by now and is holding my hand. “What if I watch the iPad until 8:30?” (his bedtime.) “Then tomorrow if I get my stuff together and am cheerful you will know I am not tired and we can go back to our agreement.” Sounds good. Not sure how it went. I was asleep before 8:30.

Oliver doesn’t like to bathe. Or change clothes. So we don’t force it. He decided to change outfits once a week and he sleeps in his clothes for 7 days. Is this what I prefer? No. I find it gross. Once he gets older and starts smelling I’m sure he will adjust. Why am I so sure? Because he changes his socks. He doesn’t want his feet to smell so he changes them daily. He also brushed his hair and teeth. So I am guessing there is some level of pride of appearance in there that will be tapped into when it matters. Until then we have a little less laundry.

I could go on. But I won’t for now, time for class.

Do nothing, say nothing. Learn about your kids. Learn about yourselves. Then do little and say little.

 

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Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

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