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Friday, September 20th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
When I was around eight, I went with my mother and sister to a flea market. I was still young enough to be excited about buying other people’s garbage, but not quite old enough to understand the complicated dynamics of the sibling relationship. I only knew I wanted to walk away from this thing with at least as much as my sister did. After scouring the general area for about an hour and finding nothing of value, I spotted what I considered to be the real “get” of this otherwise lackluster sale — an orange skateboard. It was plain, it looked cheap and used, but it was a skateboard nonetheless. A few of my friends had them, and I wanted one pretty badly. So I made an iron-clad pitch to my mother, which consisted of jumping up and down and flailing my arms like E. Honda from Street Fighter. It didn’t work. I was told that I was simply too young to own a skateboard. But who wasn’t too young, you might ask? My sister of two years my senior. She was apparently the perfect age to begin her epic journey into the world of ollies and kickflips….or to dutifully toss the skateboard into her closet under her Strawberry Shortcake backpack, never to see the street once. I’ll let you guess which of the two happened.
Before I catch heat for pointing an accusatory finger at my sister or mother, I assure you that I’ve done the same thing with my own kids. Trying to maintain a balance between my sons is potentially the most challenging part of parenting. So whenever I’m tasked with being the reluctant referee between them, I do my best to consider both of their perspectives. After all, the thought patterns of the older child are markedly different from those of the younger. In general, here’s the difference:
Older sibling’s mentality: “I was here first. Everything used to be mine. Suddenly, I’m sharing? What’s that sh*t about? Oh, and I absolutely must have more than [younger sibling].”
Younger sibling’s mentality: “I’ve had to share since Day One. Can I get anything first? A bowl of ice cream, a stapler remover, anything?! Oh, and it would be kind of nice if I had at least half of what [older sibling] has.”
Right from the start, siblings are put into a position to hate each other’s guts. And I certainly see it with my kids. It never fails. My 4-year-old son, Antonio will be building a house with Legos when my 2-year-old son, Nate will nonchalantly stroll over and knock the house down, like a tiny Godzilla. Now, I can 100% understand Antonio’s furious anger in this case. He was minding his own business when someone else came along and ruined his good time. Anyone, child or adult, would at least be mildly annoyed by that. But then there are moments that aren’t so cut and dry…
In another instance, Antonio is eating a donut. Since Nate has a soy allergy and tons of foods are off the table (literally and figuratively), he can’t eat donuts. Antonio sees this as his opportunity to taunt Nate like he’s NFL defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and had just sacked Tom Brady. Nate sees this as his opportunity to squeeze Antonio’s ear like it’s a Hypercolor shirt. Chaos ensues.
Clearly, there’s fault on both sides. And it would be unfair of us to only punish Nate for landing the first blow just as it would be unfair to punish Antonio harder simply because he’s “older and should know better.” So we punish them both. That way, they loathe my wife and I more than they loathe each other. Ultimately, it’ll save us more aggravation later.
So with that in mind, here are some strategies I intend to implement with my sons to make an attempt at curbing the dreaded sibling rivalry.
1. Reward evenly. Punish evenly.
This likely won’t surprise my regular readers, but my wife is much more consistent with this than I am. If we come home from work with a toy for one of them, we (and by we, I mean my wife) make sure we balance out the exchange by bringing one for our other son as well. It’s not only fair, but it helps to ensure one of them doesn’t grow to be resentful of us or their brother. My only concern with this tactic, though, is it could lead to our kids still expecting precisely even treatment into their 30s and 40s. And sorry, I’m not calculating the time I spent at one of their houses for Thanksgiving down to the second. Also, it’ll make us poor.
2. Deflate their heads, when necessary.
We all have egos, and it’s likely our siblings are the ones who have to stomach them the most. A great way to enable the growth of that ego is to raise your children to believe that they can do no wrong. I want my boys to know they are capable of doing plenty wrong. This especially applies to how they compare with kid #2. If my younger son is the less athletic of the two but excels at online chess, I want my older son to know that this is an example of him not being superior to his younger brother. Keeps the ever-precious ego in check and ensures that both my kids know that their successes are equally important to us. Besides, chess players are injured far less frequently (saves on medical bills)
3. Remind them what brotherhood means.
You guys are brothers. That’s a special bond you share with each other and no one else. Are you really going to let a few broken bones, a girl known as “Butterscotch” and a night in jail come between you? That’s what I’m prepared to say if I’m ever at a police station at 4:00 a.m.
4. Lead by example (don’t be a jerk).
If I’m not respectful of my wife, how can I expect either of my children to be respectful of the other? Meaning, if I’m reaching over and simply swiping the remote control out of her hand, I shouldn’t be surprised if my sons are equally as grabby. It’s especially challenging to be consistent with this (because asking “May I please have the remote, dear?” makes me feel like Mr. Rogers) but it’s crucial for us to set the tone and not be jerks with each other. If we’re constantly bickering, they’ll grow up thinking it’s acceptable to act that way. So I plan to do all of our bickering behind closed doors instead, like responsible adults.
Ultimately, my kids will have more than their share of fights. I get that. But I believe if I raise them with a healthy respect for each other’s belongings and offer regular reminders that there’s more than one king (or prince) in this castle, they’ll be well-balanced enough to both stand on the proverbial orange skateboard without falling or pushing each other off.
Do you have any strategies to avoid sibling rivalry, or perhaps an old strategy that disastrously failed? I want to hear about it! Feel free to add a comment below to keep this conversation going! Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JoeDeProspero for more parenting stories, inane observations, and acutely specific social commentary.
* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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brothers, godzilla, hypercolor, legos, Ndamukong Suh, nfl, parenting, sibling rivalry, siblings, skateboarding, strawberry shortcake, street fighter, thanksgiving, Tom Brady | Categories:
Joe DeProspero, Must Read
Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
We all have moments in our day when we have peace and calm, right? Mine usually comes after I pop my Lexapro in the morning or sip my wine at night. Okay, I’m kidding. Those who read my post know I’m neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic, though I sometimes aspire to be–especially when Emmett pulls Fia’s hair, coming away with fistfuls. She in turn clubs him over the head with Big Bird. Cue the wails and tears. It’s not fun. A lot of parenting isn’t fun. And yet, yet, it feels like the greatest thing I’ve done with my life.
I was a world traveler before. I was a TV host. I was a reporter. I never wanted kids. I never wanted to be tied down to anything or anyone other than my husband who was equally anti-kid. Then we reversed course and had a baby. Then another. For me, I define my life as the person I was before I had kids and the person I became after. It is a line in the sand and even though my memories and experiences pre-kids made me who I am, the line post-kids is by far my favorite. This time is like no other. Sometimes I want to just bottle it so on a gloomy day I can open up my bottle and breathe these moments back.
My friend Delia Ephron recently wrote an article in which she talks about how you CAN have it all. In moments. No, you can’t have it all, all the time. Unless you are on drugs. Then you think you are having it all until you end up in the psych ward or on Skid Row.
For her, finding that perfect moment in the day is walking into a bakery. I believe she has walked into every bakery in New York City at least 17 times. The other night she emailed me about her stress level. The reason I knew she was stressed? She said she was on her 8th chocolate chip cookie. But I know that within her stress she had some perfect moments when she crunched down on the chocolate or sank into the doughy part.
Anyway, her article really touched a nerve in me since I constantly struggle with my mom guilt. Am I doing it right? Am I spending enough time with my kids? If I only get a sitter while they nap does that make me a better parent because then I’m with them during their waking hours? If I put Emmett in preschool for a few hours when he is 2, am I selfish? The spinning in my head can drive me mad. Just this week I posted something about my brain turning to mush, but still vowing to practice more gratitude.
But my struggles aren’t unique or rare. As Delia says in her article it’s, “depressingly American.”
She has a new book coming out that I know all my readers will love. I may be biased, but it’s not just me. It got a glowing review by The New York Times. No easy feat. The book is a humorous and heartfelt memoir, but unlike traditional memoirs, it is broken up into short chapters that you can read in snippets at the end of your day or while waiting for a doctor appointment.
I told her it was the perfect “tired mom” book because I would get in bed and read one chapter each night. It touches on all sorts of aspects so there really is something for everyone: from losing her famous sister Nora, to her alcoholic mother (one of the reasons I think we are such kindred spirits), to her love of bakeries (the article above was adapted from the book), and much more.
Between her article and book, I began to look for my own moments of grace. I realized they are everywhere. When Emmett first wakes up and just burrows into me, his warm body tucked into mine; when Fia wraps her small arms tightly around me and says, “You’re my best Mama,” and at night, when they are sleeping–I tiptoe into their rooms. I touch Emmett’s soft curls. They frame his face like a cherub. I lay my hand on Fia’s heart and feel it beating. These are nightly rituals where I know I have it all. Then I crawl into my own bed and open up a book. Last week it was Delia’s. As I settled in, the house was safe and still.
She wrote: “Having it all are moments in life when you suspend judgment. It’s when I attain that elusive thing called peace of mind. Not particularly American, unquantifiable, unidentifiable, different for everyone, but you know it when you have it.”
I’m lucky I have so many moments. And that I have friends like her to remind me of them.
Her book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Independent Bookstores. I will also say it makes a great gift for your best mom friend!
From the New York Times Book Review:
“The book builds in gravity and heft to finish gorgeously…“Sister Mother Husband Dog” is a valentine, sometimes frilly but more memorably about love, loss and all that is irreplaceabe.”
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author, book release, Book Review, delia ephron, having it all, memoir, mom guilt, new book, New York Times, nora ephron, Sister Mother Husband Dog | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips, Must Read
Monday, September 16th, 2013
Sometimes I worry my brain is turning to mush. I also worry about early dementia. But then I ask other mom friends and all of them have the same tales as I do. i.e.:
- Leaving the house with keys in hand while frantically looking for keys.
- Looking for your baby only to realize you are holding him/her.
- Looking for your cell phone while talking on it.
You know, those everyday occurrences. Not long ago as Fia and I were walking out the door she said, “But mom, what about Emmett?” He was upstairs napping. Totally forgot.
My other issue is I like to have a glass of wine at night (these thoughts of brain mush and wine will come together. I promise). Usually out of boredom and the fact that it takes the edge off. At 5 pm my creativity is spent and my brain space is in rapid decline. Not only that, but I’m blah. Blah at my lack of accomplishing anything other than keeping my two children alive (no small feat as seen by my examples above), blah at my lack of an exciting dinner plan (or any dinner plan), blah at the 3+ hours that stretch before me that entail:
- Figuring out the unplanned dinner
- Bathing toddlers against their will
- The ongoing, never-ending bedtime protest
Wine just seems like the right thing to do. It gives me the energy to push forward. That’s why I started The Failure Hour. I am well overdue to have one at my house.
(And yes, I know this post will outrage the teetotalers who don’t always “get” my sense of humor.)
Which leads me to Sudoku. (I swear it’s all about to come together.) I decided that since I’m not going back for a degree or doing anything that is remotely intellectual right now, I would start doing Sudoku again. They say mind puzzles and crosswords keep your brain exercising. Lord knows my brain hasn’t broken a sweat in a long time. Crossword puzzles are out. I’m not that smart. So last week I bought a book of Sudoku and have been obsessed ever since. Guess what? I think it’s working. I do feel slightly sharper and a tad less scattered.
My big plan was to work on them during the 5 pm “blah” hour. I thought if I had a distraction I wouldn’t be bored. Maybe I would forego the glass of wine. I forgot a key element though: if I have my nose in a puzzle book and not on my kids, they will die. Especially Emmett, my little terrorist. So that idea quickly went out the window. Yes, I continue to have my glass of wine if need be. But because of Sudoku, I don’t feel as worthless at the end of the day. I think my brain is enjoying the exercise.
However, for fear of going off on another tangent or becoming sappy, I had a little bit of an epiphany the other night. Instead of constantly spinning in my head about my head, maybe I should just shut the f-ck up. Accept. Embrace. Kids need you most the first 5 years. I can lack intellectual purpose, knowing this is a temporary time, right? As long as I keep my brain intact via puzzles who cares? I’m lucky that I can be as hands-on as I am.
So now I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m not saying I won’t feel blah or purposeless again. But I am going to stop hounding myself and practice gratitude. I mean, if I really think about it, in place of intellect I have found the deepest love humanly possible, the patience I never thought I had, and the gratitude and compassion that comes when you have two amazing souls to raise.
As this mom blogger put it: I Could Have Been Anything, But I Am A Mother First.
No doubt my kids have made me a better person even if my mind seems more mushy. I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. And I’m happy to toast to it, too.
Having said all that, if you have any other ideas on keeping your brain cells intact, please let me know. I’m thinking Sudoku can only take me so far…
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brain, brain turned to mush, first 5 years, gratitude, intellectual stimulation, mommy brain, Worlds Mom Blog | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Milestone Monday, Mom Situations, Moving to Los Angeles, Must Read
Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
The smell of fall invokes motivating emotions in me. On the east coast it is the smell of football season, leaves changing, school starting. It always makes me want to recharge my batteries, clean my house, get a new haircut, find new recipes, exercise more. In other words, that smell inspires me to reset all my buttons and start anew. Except, now I live in LA where leaves don’t change and fall doesn’t kick in until November. Emmett doesn’t go to school and Fia’s didn’t start until this week.
From afar, I’ve been watching all the fanfare of the first day of school. Friends posting on Facebook, their kids posing with lunchboxes and backpacks. I craved that fall feeling, but it just wasn’t happening. Instead, I’ve been battling 100-degree heat in a non air-conditioned house. I’ve been exhausting the options on entertaining my kids while trying to retain my sanity. I’ve been full of anticipation for days, weeks–even months–about Fia starting a new school and our family getting a new schedule down.
Hers is a 5-day a week Montessori program. The hours are 9-2:30 with no nap. You can pick your kid up at 1 if you want to nap them, but for me, that falls right when Emmett is napping. So I opted for the 2:30-3 pm pick up and plan to put her to bed early. I am crossing my fingers that she will still nap on the weekends. That’s our time when she, Phil and I all climb in bed together. It is heaven. (Em naps in his crib still. Soon, he’ll join us.) Trying to figure out the schedule has created a running puzzle in my mind. I just wanted to get it underway already.
So finally, finally today was our turn.
Last night I set my alarm for the first time since having kids. Just in case for some strange reason we overslept. Last night Fia and I picked out her clothes. We made her lunch. Phil put some stickers in her lunchbox as a surprise. I booked a sitter to watch Emmett so we could take her together. We woke to fog and a slight chill. It will burn off and heat up, but it was an auspicious beginning.
I’ve written before about how she sometimes resists change and transitions. But we’ve been talking about how great this school is for weeks. She kept saying how excited she was on the drive. Then we parked and she said, “Mama, hold me.” My heart dropped. Here it comes. The sobs, the wails, the heartache that penetrates to my core. Phil and I held our breath.
To my relief, as we walked into the courtyard, she jumped out of my arms and went running to her classroom. She shook hands with her new teachers. They showed her where to hang up her jacket, where to put her lunch box, where to keep her snacks. She followed them around with all the glee and giddiness of a preschooler.
I now know I’ve been more anxious than anyone. No surprise. Aren’t we always?
After about 30 minutes watching, Phil and I decided to leave. We hugged her goodbye, she hugged us back, and that was it. Except, I couldn’t just leave. I went back and peeked inside. She was happily playing at a table with her teacher.
Back in the car Phil said, “It’s crazy–growing up. And that it’s our job to make them independent of us.” I nodded. It is bittersweet, but more sweet.
Now I sit, alone, at one of my favorite cafes. I was ravenous and ordered a huge breakfast. My body exhaled. Fall has officially begun, and I feel it, even if the temperature and the air tell a different story. Even if summer shorts are worn in place of fall flannels. It feels good. Really good.
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anticipation of first day of school, fall, first day of school, football season, leaves changing, Los angeles preschool, Montessori, nap, napping, preschool | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips, Must Read
Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
If you are a regular reader of mine, you know the following:
a.) I am an obsessive clean freak.
b.) I had hypnotherapy 18 months ago to curb–not cure–the obsession.
c.) I want to be buried with my dust buster.
But because of hypnotherapy, I no longer meltdown when I see crumbs. I can walk past them and they no longer taunt me. Plus, now I have cleaning ladies once a week. If I didn’t I would never leave the house and my tots would not survive. I would be strapped to my vacuum all day while they played with knives.
However, since we sold our Brooklyn apartment and had all our stuff moved out here, the boxes, even though out of sight, have been driving me mad. Just knowing they are there and full of “stuff”–stuff we haven’t used in 18 months–is enough to send me back to hypnotherapy. Not only that, but we are in a rental house where in less than two years we have accumulated enough to warrant another moving van when our new house is ready.
The clutter is mentally draining. I get so cranky thinking about going through all the closets and the boxes and getting rid of stuff. It’s like the world’s worst term paper hanging over your head. And when I have little snippets of time (like when the kids nap) I think, “Well, what’s the point in starting, since they will wake up and then what?” It’s a procrastination tool I use frequently.
So a few weekends ago, I was in uber b-tch mood. I think it’s because the clutter was infiltrating my cells. Phil took the kids to the playground and told me to do something to snap out of my mood. I had 45 minutes. Not nearly enough time to clean out an entire house. But guess what? I started. And by the time he got home I had filled 3 garbage bags full of clothes to donate. What’s even better is the mood it put me in. I was downright giddy. Confirmation for Phil that he married a neurotic.
Since I’m a person of extremes I couldn’t stop. I got on a manic roll. Over the next week I cleaned out every closet. I even scrubbed all the shelves. I did it even when I had small snippets of time. I realized you can accomplish a lot more than you think when you just dive in and stop procrastinating. I went through at least 12 of the boxes, piling up more stuff for donations and garbage. It was better than any drug or drink I’ve ever had. Well, almost.
The high lasted well after I finished the projects. Like two weeks longer. I honestly think that getting rid of the clutter also got rid of clutter in my brain. I felt less scattered, and far less miserable and blah. It was a remarkable undertaking with extraordinary results.
Of course now I’m back down from the high. But in the back of my mind I know there are more boxes waiting. So as my clutter starts to build up in my head, I know if I just unpack a box or organize a shelf I will probably feel better than drinking that bottle of wine in its entirety.
It’s like the revelation I had when I wrote The Mom Mystique. I need that sense of accomplishment that goes beyond child-rearing. Cleaning isn’t intellectually stimulating but the results strangely felt the same.
Now when we move in and are perfectly unpacked and organized I may need another “project” to tackle. But that is months away. Plus, I found a new therapist so maybe she can help me get to a happy place without filling up 8 garbage bags.
One of my favorite expressions from the days when I hosted Simple Solutions reports still rings true:
“Get rid of the mess, get rid of the stress.” Amen.
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cleaning, cleaning obsession, clutter, counseling, crumbs, dust buster, hypnotherapy, junk, OCD, procrastination, scrubbing, sweeping, therapy, vacuum | Categories:
Fearless Feisty Mama, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips, Must Read