Category Archives: Parenting

Drama of the neighborhood kind

I’ve really been neglecting this blog. I sometimes think about shutting it down, especially since most of my regular readers are now friends on Facebook. I do post status updates there, but mostly I read other people’s. And I can’t write a book on Facebook like I think I’m going to today.

We had an incident in the neighborhood about two weeks ago now. I’ve been wrestling with it internally, and am going to throw it out there. I’d love some feedback on how to handle this (or not) going forward.

Some background:

We have lived in our neighborhood almost 5 years. Right across the street there is a family with a girl, S_____, a few months older than Krystal (a grade ahead though) and a boy three years older than her (so 4 years older than Krystal). I have never really cared for S______, and the boy has gotten mouthy as he’s gotten older. Krystal goes out of her way to ingratiate herself to S____ but I’ve seen manipulation and cruelty, as well as rudeness to me, from her on many occasions. I was so happy when Krystal started hanging out with another girl down the street, but this particular kid lives so close that sometimes she is the “convenient” one to play with. I should also add that the parents have divorced since we’ve lived here. The dad moved to Florida and the mom works nights as a nurse. We have always had a friendly “hi, hello” type of relationship, but we are not friends by any means.

About two weeks ago on a Sunday Krystal was outside playing with the S_____. She came running inside crying and said in the most pathetic, humiliated voice, “S___ pantsed me!” She said that S____ had taken her scooter and when Krystal asked for it back, S_____ said no, and rode off laughing. She then changed her mind and gave it back and “pantsed” Krystal. (for anyone not in the know, it means she pulled her pants, or in this case shorts, down). Krystal said her underwear came off too. I looked outside for S____ but she had gone inside and frankly I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, even though I was furious. I just reminded Krystal that S_____ was not a good friend (a conversation we’ve had over and over) and to stay away from her.

A few days later I was waiting at the bus stop for the kids to come home from school. Krystal got off the bus absolutely sobbing, and her friend from down the street was comforting her. Through hiccups and tears I got that this incident had come up on the bus (Krystal admits she’s the one who brought it up), but that S____ claims she only pantsed Krystal because Krystal lifted her shirt up, which Krystal emphatically denied. Apparently there was much yelling and taking sides on the bus ride and my kid was miserable. S_____ had booked it home while we were still standing at the bus stop, and I asked Krystal if she wanted me to talk to S_____. She said yes, which is a first — she never wants me to get involved in friend drama.

So we walked towards S____’s house and I called her name twice. The second time she turned around and shouted “Leave me alone!” before storming into her house. Her mother was in the driveway, having just arrived home from somewhere. She said that she thought the kids should just stay away from each other for awhile, and I said I thought it was more than that. Keys in hand, she started poking at Krystal and getting all in her face. I called her on her demeanor and her accusing tone to Krystal (who was still sobbing the entire time). She defended S_____ by saying Krystal had pulled up her shirt, which Krystal still denied. The mom then accused me of treating Krystal like a princess (Is that a bad thing? I’m sure she’d never have said that if she could see us behind closed doors!).  She claimed she’s seen Krystal give it back to her kids and I said I’d seen S____’s poor behavior to Krystal since she was 5 years old. I really wish I’d handled it better once this started. She was getting personal towards ME, when she knows nothing about me, and which has absolutely nothing to do with what had happened between our kids, and I let it get to me and started fighting back. I can think of a hundred things I wish I’d said instead. The mom also said that it was exhausting having her kid be blamed for everything.

We ended it at an impasse, mostly because I had a sobbing kid standing next to me, and the mom wanted to go in and deal with her own kid.

We came home and I tried comforting Krystal a bit, and a few minutes later the doorbell rang. S____ and her mom were there, and we stepped outside to talk. Both girls gave their version of events. They both agreed on everything, except the shirt pulling up. S_____ said it happened, and Krystal said it didn’t. S_____ did admit to “pantsing” Krystal though. Krystal apologized for bringing the incident up on the bus, and we all agreed that any future incidents would be dealt with immediately – tell your mom so we can handle it right way. I thanked them both for coming, and we all went back to our daily lives. (Krystal noted after they left that S____ never actually apologized for pantsing her – true.)

Sounds like a decent enough resolution to sticky situation eh?

Not so fast.

A few days later S_____ was out in her front yard playing and Krystal went over and asked if they were still friends. S____ said she didn’t know.

The following day Krystal’s best friend from down the street reported that S____ had told her she was no longer taking the bus to or from school and that she wasn’t allowed to play with Krystal anymore. Over this past weekend S____ and her brother and a few of his friends were playing and S____’s brother told Krystal she wasn’t allowed in their yard.

On the one hand, I would be thrilled if Krystal and S_____ never played together again. I didn’t like her when she was 5 years old and I don’t like her even more now that she is 10. On the other hand, she lives right across the street, and it’s always nice to at least be friendly with your neighbors. You never know when you might need them. I mean, the mom and I are both juggling single parenting with full time jobs – you’d think we’d have some empathy for each other.

Any ideas? Suggestions? Anything I should do here? Or let it play itself out however it might?

I’m really flabbergasted at the cowardly behavior of S____ in not taking the bus, and the mom’s willingness to cater to this, and I’m honestly not sure where it comes from. It doesn’t affect me either way, but now that I know about it I can’t help thinking about it. S____ outweighs Krystal by about 40 pounds, so Krystal is no physical threat to her. After what happened on the bus I can guarantee Krystal is in no hurry to repeat it, and realizes she was wrong to bring it up publicly (and which she apologized for already), so the emotional threat has been mitigated too. The “not being allowed to play” thing seems a bit out of left field, and very hurtful, although as I said, it’s fine by me. But I know it hurts Krystal and so therefore it bothers me.

Are parents blind to the failings of their kids? Am I in denial that Krystal might have pulled up S____’s shirt that day? Is S____’s mom in denial thinking her kid is always a victim? Are we both right? Are we both wrong?


Advice Not Wanted

In the step part of my family, we have had some teen pregnancy. My older step-sister’s daughter had a son when she was in high school who will be 10 this summer. She finished high school with her class, and with lots of support from her family, has been raising her son. He is deaf, and had a cochlear implant when he was about 2. Her relationship with her son’s father is extremely tense and they do transfers at the police station. She got married last fall and is expecting her first child with her husband next month.

My younger step-sister’s daughter dropped out of high school at 16, got pregnant a few months later, and now has a son who is 18 months old. She and her boyfriend (who is sometimes her son’s father, and sometimes another boy) are relying on public assistance, and while she has promised to get her GED several times, has not yet taken any steps to do so. I should add that I am not close to her so my information comes largely second hand through my step-mother.

Why am I telling you all this?

My girls are very aware of their cousins’ teen pregnancies, even though one of them happened before they came into the family. They both comment whenever it comes up that 17 is too young to have a baby, and they don’t understand why you would have a baby with someone you break up with right away. I of course reinforce this thinking, telling them that having a baby is a big step, and you want to be old enough to make such an important decision, and to have a partner who supports you in that decision when the time comes. I am also not naive enough to think that what they say at age 9 and 6 will stick with them when they are 19 and 16, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

My mother and I have had a rough time of it these last few months. She and I don’t seem to speak the same language anymore and my fuse with her is extremely short. In my opinion she is turning into a bigoted old woman. She doesn’t act like she likes my children (is constantly mean to them, making them cry), although I know she loves them. She seems to love the idea of them though, and can’t really stand the reality of them. She also has a knack for offending me, and I don’t think I’m particularly easy to offend….although I will admit to having fairly sensitive buttons where she is concerned.

My point in all this is that yesterday on the phone I was telling my mother about the baby shower I’d been to for the step-nephew due next month, and how his mom-to-be’s life has transformed. She made a point of telling me to use that example for my children as a lesson to “keep their legs closed.” I found that wording to be extremely offensive concerning my young children, as well as condescending to me as a parent. I think most parents hope their children refrain from sexual activity until they are well into adulthood, but from everything I’ve read, a higher percentage of children, at younger and younger ages, are sexually active. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect all teens to be celibate (though of course I hope mine are for a long time to come). I do think we as parents have the responsibility to share our values around sexual activity, as well as ways to stay disease and pregnancy-free should they choose to become sexually active. In the end, our children must make those choices for themselves, sometimes quite literally in the heat of the moment.

My mother was fairly liberal with us when I was growing up. All topics were open for discussion, and many topics were discussed that a lot of kids don’t feel comfortable talking about with their parents. On the sex front, I don’t remember being told to wait until marriage (and I don’t think I ever had that expectation), but I did wait longer than most of my peers. My first was also someone “important”. We’d been in a relationship for quite awhile and talked about it for several months before taking that step. It was the kind of “first time” experience I’d like my kids to have – physically, emotionally, psychologically. You only get one first time, and it should come with no regrets – that’s my own value on it anyway.

So to my mother: Sometimes I might ask for advice, but most times I’m just sharing a story. Please don’t turn every detail I share with you into a life lesson for me or my children. I’m not a perfect parent, but I’m doing my best, and unsolicited advice serves to drive the wedge between us further and deeper. Please relax and enjoy your grandchildren.


Tonight at bedtime I relaxed on my bed while the girls brushed their teeth, put on their pajamas and basically procrastinated the actual going to bed part.

Krystal came in and lay next to me on my bed.

“We don’t cuddle anymore, Mommy,” she said.

“I miss cuddling with you,” I said. And I realized it was true. She used to come into my bed early in the morning and we’d cuddle before getting up.

Then Belle came along, and our routine changed. Belle has one speed and it is HIGH. She is awake before anyone else in the house, and has strict instructions on clock-reading so she doesn’t start everyone’s day before a decent hour. Each morning — weekday, weekend, holiday, it doesn’t matter  — she bursts into my room, often startling the dogs into a frightened bark, and always setting my own heart a-jack-hammering. I don’t need an alarm clock, I have Belle.

Belle is not a cuddler. She is a bouncer, a mover, a kicker – a tornado. There is no relaxing in bed once she has arrived. So she and I usually get up and take the dogs out, feeding them and doing any little morning things we need to do. Krystal is still asleep, or pretending to be, at this point. Any time for cuddling has passed.

I miss cuddling with Krystal, and at age nine her cuddling days with mom are in their twilight, I fear. I miss the cuddling Belle and I have rarely done because she’s wired differently. I have a friend who predicts Belle will be the one tweezing my chin hairs from my nursing home. Maybe our cuddling days are still ahead of us then, roles reversed.

Survival Parenting

I try to be a good parent. I think we all do. I want what’s best for my kids, and that means taking care of them physically – making sure they have clean clothes and healthy food, and emotionally – encouraging them to do their best and comforting them when things don’t quite go their way.

Then there are the times when it all goes out the window, and you go into survival parenting mode. When the only parenting goal you really have is to make sure your kids stay alive. That happens when Mom gets sick. This is when I wish there was someone else to lean on.

Since Saturday afternoon when I first started feeling symptoms, I’ve been really only able to take care of myself. I spent most of Sunday in bed. It was raining and there was nothing for the kids to do. They watched TV all day. They asked for popcorn while they watched a movie, and that was their lunch. For dinner I did manage to drag myself up to make some tortellini before crashing again. Anything they wanted for a snack I said yes to.

Krystal has assigned herself as my nurse. She has been urging me to call the doctor since Sunday (I finally did on Tuesday). She made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for Belle and herself for Monday night’s dinner as I just couldn’t do it. Tuesday morning she got up and went downstairs before coming to see me and brought me a glass of cold water and the thermometer. She said, “Which medicine do you take? I only saw the Tylenol PM, I didn’t see Tylenol AM.” And I laughed and she didn’t know why.

Krystal also made lunches for she and Belle to take to camp on Tuesday. She said she liked playing mom, but she could see how much work it was.  I whimpered during the whole 10 minute drive to camp. Everything hurt and it wasn’t getting any better.

The doctor said it’s H1N1, as I’ve already relayed, and that I should expect to be out of commission for 7-10 days. Today is Day 5, and I’m happy to say that I’m seeing light. As I told the girls this morning, I feel better, but not better. Right now my goal is to make sure the kids don’t get it. The doctor suggested wiping down all doorknobs in the house, encouraging frequent hand washing, and keeping food preparation to a minimum. When I told the girls all this Krystal groaned, “I’m tired of playing the mom! It’s too much work!” Of course, Krystal is in survival parenting mode too, since that’s pretty much all an 8 year old has up her sleeve in that department.

I think I’ll take us all out to dinner when this thing finally blows over. We’ll all be ready for it by then.

The Mom Quiz

What kind of mom are you? Take this quiz and find out:

This didn’t surprise me one bit!
This summer both girls will be attending the YMCA camp that Krystal has gone to the past two summers. Belle is finally old enough to attend, and I’m thrilled because 1) It’s a lot cheaper than the day care she attends now (even though she will be back there for Kindergarten in September), and 2) it means one place for me to drop off and pick up kids each day. That alone is going to add about an hour to my workday, which is a good thing!
But Belle going to camp means she needs certain things that Krystal already has. She needs a backpack big enough to carry her stuff around in all day (bathing suit, towel, sunscreen, lunch, water bottle, etc…), a lunch box, and a water bottle, just to name a few. Krystal has been getting her nose majorly bent out of shape at the new items Belle gets to pick out. So, in the store, I pulled Krystal aside to remind her of the times when she got these things and Belle got nothing, and that it is now Belle’s turn. Not surprisingly, this did not help her see the light. However, it did make me feel I’d done what I had to do, and the rest was up to her. Buying Krystal a new lunch box when her old one is perfectly good did not seem a reasonable solution to me.
So yeah, if that makes me strict, I’m OK with that.
If you would have handled it differently, I’d love to hear your ideas. And please share your quiz results if you take it!

Twisted Sisters

I had very much a “love-hate” relationship with my sister, who was 3 years younger. Mostly, I loved to hate her and could be pretty awful to her. I was smarter (book-wise anyway), stronger and older. I could be emotionally manipulative and cruel. I clearly remember one time saying (or possibly just thinking), that I hated her so much I wish I could kill her with a knife (I was around 8 or 9).

Of course as an adult, I can recognize that I was most likely just angry about something, or jealous of some attention she was getting. I didn’t really wish her dead, or wish to cause it myself. Really! It wasn’t till we hit our teens that we melded. I learned that we were more alike than different, and that she was actually a pretty cool kid. Which hurt all the more when she was taken, via cancer, at age 17. I miss my sister, both the person that she was, and would be, as well as the “idea” of a sister. A built-in friend who has known you forever.

In college, less than a year after my sister died, a good friend was baking her sister cookies to send to her for her birthday. A couple of us were hanging out while she baked and I’m sure we all helped a little. We were laughing and talking and enjoying each other’s company. Then she boxed up those freshly baked cookies and started writing her sister’s name and address on the box. I clearly remember watching her with that Sharpie and having the realization that I would never be able to bake cookies for my sister. I got up and left, without a word to my friends, in tears. The grief was overwhelming, and I tear up now, some 26 years later, thinking about it.

In deciding to become a parent to two children, a huge motivator for me was to provide my kids (who are both girls) with a sister. I know, first hand, how awful sisters can be to each other. I also know that not all sisters become friends as adults. But I wanted to give them that chance.

Krystal and Belle became sisters almost three years ago, when Krystal was 5 and Belle was 2. They had very different lives before that time, and we all went through a big transition that first year. My two daughters have very different personalities, and of course because of their ages, they are at different developmental stages. They are very different, but they are very much like my sister and me.

Krystal can be manipulative and cruel. She’s a lot like I was to my sister at that age. She thinks of herself as a second mother at times, and I’ve cringed hearing my words coming out of her mouth more than once.

Belle is an instigator. She is a much stronger personality than my sister was. She knows how to push Krystal’s buttons, and pushes with alacrity. Krystal has not yet learned the art of ignoring. I tell her all the time that when she reacts, she gives Belle the satisfaction of knowing she got to her. Someday…

Last night during the bedtime routine I was in one bathroom doing my thing, telling the girls who kept shadowing me to: go brush your teeth, brush your hair, put on your PJ’s, pick out your book, leave the dog alone. It was a revolving door with one kid passing the other to and from where I was and having to give explicit directions to do the things we do every single night.

At one point they were both off doing what they were supposed to do, presumably, and I was alone. Ah, bliss. For a minute, until Belle came in.

Belle: Mom, Krystal is hogging the sink and I can’t brush my teeth!

Me:  Hmmmmm (trying not to engage)

Belle [running back to the bathroom]: Krystal, Mom says “Hmmmm!” That means you need to let me brush!

Or something else that happens quite frequently is that Krystal will find me to say that Belle has done something naughty. Perhaps she’s pulled the dog’s tail, scribbled on her homework, broken something, gotten into a forbidden item, or just been annoying to Krystal in some way. She will end her tattling session with “Mom, you need to talk to her.”

Managing the relationship between my girls is the second most stressful part of parenting them (the first is another post altogether – more news next week). It is also something I did not adequately prepare for. I thought parenting two children would be difficult logistically – getting two kids ready for school in the morning, finding activities that we all enjoy, etc). While there are challenges in that area, especially as the only adult in the home, I have found them to be mostly workable (no small thanks to a flexible work situation). It’s their relationship that requires constant management.

My kids are still young, and they are different. But I still think I did the right thing in giving them each other. Time will tell.

Big Sister, Little Sister

This is something I wrote on June 26, 2006, just three weeks after adopting Belle. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and given that Belle is now the same age Krystal was when I wrote it, I thought I’d revisit it. This was originally posted on the blog I kept for family members during the adoption trip itself, so this is it’s first “public” appearance. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up on how things have changed since then in a few days. Or maybe not. Either way, here you go!

Sometimes you get a glimmer of something extra in a person you thought you knew as well as you know yourself.

I always saw my daughter Krystal as a little girl. When I imagined a sibling in our family, I still saw her as the youngest sister. Our friends nearly all have kids her age or older, and she just seemed to fit as the youngest child. Of course, with adoption you can arrange so your youngest child stays that way, but I didn’t want to do this. I wanted to adopt a younger child, for many reasons, hardly any of which had anything to do with Krystal.

Adding Belle to our family has been, is, and will continue to be a transition for all of us, probably for awhile. Belle is a gift all on her own, but the added dimension she has brought out in her older sister is a gift for me too. By no means do I intend to say Krystal is having an easy time being the big sister. In fact, she is probably having the toughest time of the three of us adjusting to all the changes. But because of her new role in our family I am seeing things in Krystal I didn’t know were there. Within hours of meeting Belle she was making her laugh, and she continues to take on this job with relish. If Belle is cranky, Krystal will take it upon herself to do something to snap her out of it. She is generous, offering up the first turn on the swing. She has happily passed on toys, and enjoys playing Mama with her when I need a few minutes to get something done.

Of course, Krystal has also said she wishes it were just she and me again, that she’s not sure she likes having a sister after all. I’ve said I understand her feeling, and that she’s allowed to feel that way. But Belle is a part of our family now forever, just like she is. When I baby Belle, Krystal wants to be babied too. She has said she wishes she were little like Belle again. And then I remind her of all she can do that Belle can’t, and she turns content to be herself again.

Suddenly, my little five year old seems like a big five year old. Maybe I appreciate all she can do for herself now that I have someone younger and smaller who needs my help with so many things. Maybe she was a big kid all along, and it was me who needed a little kid to be able to see it. But maybe shedding some of the little kid stuff has allowed that new, green, raw big kid stuff to show through. Though my patience is being tested in new ways everyday right now, my heart is overflowing with love for my two girls – Krystal who I have known and loved for over four years and who I get to see new things in, and Belle who I have only just met but who peels away a new piece of herself everyday, showing me the beauty within. What a ride.