Category Archives: Transitional Couple

Tadpoles don’t drink Coke, and other lessons I have learned.

I have long enjoyed learning from children. They are spontaneous, authentic, and exuberant. They live fearlessly, have boundless curiosity, and are very candid. They always save room for dessert, and at the end of a full day, they will sleep virtually anywhere.

Children are amazing teachers, if we are open to their lessons. For example, after a very, very long day spent in creek water, 2 toddlers taught me that neither Coke nor milk are good thirst quenchers for freshly caught tadpoles. I now know that if you say “it won’t rain tomorrow” when promising a crying child a return trip to the park, you’d better have information more certain than the local news. I have become well versed in how to get Play-Doh off furniture, glue out of carpet, gum out of hair, and marker off of walls. I have learned that I shouldn’t ask a young child if my outfit looks nice unless I really want an honest opinion. Additionally, I have been thoroughly trained in: holding my screams when stepping on Legos in a darkened bedroom, the joy found in a mud puddle, the need for high locks with a sleepwalking child, that children survive swinging in the snow– even without gloves, blowing bubbles and watching butterflies never gets old, and that you can’t have too many sprinkles on ice cream when you’re 7, or really any age . 

Above all, though, children teach us about ourselves. I have learned much from my children, but sometimes objectivity is essential to the lesson. In parenting my own, I am often myopic, so focused on my role as teacher, I fail to see my child’s wisdom. That’s when a friend’s child (or children) serves as a qualified substitute teacher. One of my favorite substitutes is the 7-year-old son of my girlfriend. I’ll call him Mr. C.

Mr. C was 2 when we first met. He is the youngest of 6, and in many ways, the strongest of 6. Be there two or 12 in a family, the youngest in a family is often labeled as spoiled and demanding. Maybe there is something to the birth order myths. Perhaps, last born children are naturally more attention seeking than their older siblings. Perhaps, early experiences taught them that one must be bold to be heard/seen above their rivals. Or perhaps, they just know what they want and aren’t afraid to ask.

In 5 years, I have yet to see Mr. C  truly suppress a plea.  But then, what small child does? Young children rarely consider greed when submitting a birthday list the length of  Tolstoy’s War and Peace. They do not hear their impatience when repeating “Mom, mom, mom” during a mother’s conversation. They do not see the rudeness in grabbing a toy from another’s hands. As children, they do not differentiate between needs and wants; they want it all–now. As parents, we teach them about selfishness, self-restraint, delayed gratification, and the differences between needs and wants.

As Mother’s Day approached, my children and husband each asked me what I wanted on “my special day.” Vast amounts of nothingness raced through my mind, though the lack of clarity came as no surprise. I habitually defer my wants. Aside from my small phobia of appearing selfish, children and budgets are effective motivators. I was thoroughly unprepared for this pop quiz. And truthfully, there is nothing I really need. Sure, I could use another spatula or set of workout pants, but do I need them, no. “Oh, honey, I really don’t need anything,” came my reply. But, I hadn’t answered their question.

Just as I had when I was young, I failed to differentiate between needs and wants. I was not asked what I needed, I was asked what I wanted. It’s a simple question. Mr.C easily and simply stated, “Legos,” when asked for his birthday list. I know a charming, self-assured 4-year-old who answered, “Everything a girl could want,” when asked what she wanted for her birthday. Neither mentioned a new spatula or workout pants, let alone socks or underwear. Strange. 

Unlike mothers, children rarely think of practical needs when creating birthday lists. They cozy up with catalogs, pen and paper in hand, and itemize their desires with reckless abandon. Parents count on these lists to make gift giving  life easier; they keep us abreast of changing interests, (usually) guaranteeing at least one “bullseye” when the wrapping paper is torn away. And, because it really is more fun to give more than receive, we like to get it right.

It’s fun and heart-warming to give gifts. I especially enjoy watching my children’s/husband’s/friends’ faces when they open something I know they really want. Never once have I thought my child, husband, or friend selfish for pointing out something they want. They are simply stating “a want” and, truthfully, I welcome the insight and mentally note it for future gift giving.  It’s back to that whole “making life easier” thing. 

That said, are we being fair to our spouses, children,  friends, or ourselves if we respond “Nothing” when asked what we want for ____________ occasion? Are we not denying them the same ease and joy in gift giving we enjoy so much?  Are we secretly expecting them to be mind readers? One wise mom I know offers her children three options when asked what she wants for a birthday, etc., thus ensuring them delight in her surprise.

We all have something–something we have looked at, thought about, or said “one day” to. It does not make us selfish nor teach our children greed. Mr. C blurts out exactly what he wants, be it a certain birthday gift, his mama’s attention, or time alone to play with his Legos. Over time, he, like all of us, has learned that asking does not guarantee receipt, but giving can come from asking. As moms/wives/friends we give a gift when we simply ask for what we want, even if it is also a need, such as flowers for the garden, a hand-made picture, coming home to a clean house, new workout pants, a new spatula, new pillows for the couch, a new hairstyle… OK, so maybe there are a few things I want.

And, just in case I forget what I want for Mother’s Day next year, I’m going start my list now, just as Mr. C has taught me.

Sorry, Costco. You’ve been bumped.

This past weekend was full, not bad, just full. Like many with children, a week’s worth of neglected chores and activities clamor for attention during the brief 48 hour period of a weekend. Saturdays are filled with loads of laundry, errands, friends, and activities, all demanding attention after a week of neglect. Sundays bring the requisite “mapping out” of the week ahead to ensure our family stays on course, including calendar reviews, food prep, house cleaning and homework. Our weekends often demand a pace that exceeds that of the “work/school week” making me long for the predictable routine of a Monday.

For over 22 years, I have used the Franklin-Covey time management system. Through the years, I have been to their training courses.  Yearly, I become giddy over new “filler pages” and refresh my understanding of the core principles of the Franklin-Covey method. Daily, I plan my days, mapping out what needs to be done according to my core values and priorities. I try to follow my plan faithfully, keeping “the big picture” in mind.

Then, Saturday morning rolls in like the San Francisco fog, so subtle it escapes notice–until you’re in the thick of it. I get swept away in the busyness of a volatile weekend. I break all the rules of my time management training. I react to unscheduled demands for my time, plugging this “need” in here and that “want” in there. I add tasks to my list as the day goes on and shift priorities with the passing hours. A weekend’s value becomes defined by the check marks on a “to-do” list.  I focus on “putting out fires” rather than prevention. Often, I lose focus altogether.  And, I push to “do it all” before Monday.

For 22 years, I have followed the rules of Franklin-Covey with discipline. It is a system that works for me and I like its precepts. It empahsizes that time is our most precious resource and should be spent in accordance to our core values. It teaches that daily “to-do” tasks should be prioritized according to those core values. Though not for everyone, this system has served me well over the years and kept me focused on what I value most, my family.

Yesterday morning, as I prepared for the week ahead, I looked at the semi-blank pages of Saturday and Sunday. They contained the normal “weekend to-do’s”; laundry, a Costco list, notes requiring follow-ups, the usual.  Glaringly absent, though, was the scheduled date with my husband. Sure, I forget things–but I’m not there, yet. I knew we were going out Saturday night; it wasn’t that I needed a written reminder.  What caught my attention was that Costco and laundry had merited notation on Saturday’s task list–a list that should reflect my core values.  I flipped back through several weekends. I found the same.

Yes, keeping my family in clean clothes and well fed support my #1 core value–to love my family well. However, before we were a family, my husband and I were a couple. Becoming a family has brought us huge rewards and placed huge demands on our relationship. Tending the needs of children can often leave us with little energy for each other. Conversations become focused on the minutia of day-to-day life. Energies are spent on parenting, household projects, and the like. Relationship nurturing is regularly displaced  by daily trivia.

Next month, we will mark 25 years since our first date. This past Saturday, I held hands with my husband in the movie theater. My stomach fluttered with butterflies as we sat in the dark. I was glad for the time with him, just him, as my husband. I wanted to leave my role as “mother” and his as “father” at home. For just a few hours, we would focus on us. I didn’t want our time encroached upon by talk of children or jobs. We saw a movie that generated conversation. Subsequently, we talked about a king and a time in history long past. There were moments of awkward silence as we struggled to avoid the “default” topics. We searched for common ground outside of children. We muddled through.

Sunday morning, we talked again. We have both long recognized the importance of keeping “us” first in our family. We are the core of our family and, I believe, a solid core unit is critical to child’s sense of well-being. It is also critical to surviving the transition into the empty nest years. According to studies, the divorce rate rises 16 percent for married parents in the empty nest years. Often it is due to the fact that many marriages have become frail and fractured through neglect. Marriages require regular nurturing, especially during the demanding years of parenting.; the years when maintenance can be toughest.

My parents had a love affair that lasted almost 50 years. In my opinion, it was the greatest legacy they offered their children. They worked hard to keep their romance alive, and I watched as even they hit a relationship “speed bump” early on in their empty nest years. That lesson was not lost. Saturday’s date, albeit enjoyable, reminded me of the importance of regular relationship care, especially before we become empty nesters. Bridges must be built before they can be crossed. And, even the strongest of bridges requires regular maintenance.  A Costco list may yield food for my family’s  tummies, but a date with my husband will feed their spirits, as well as mine. Sorry, Costco. You’ve been bumped. I have higher priorities.

This weekend I was reminded that, while we still love each other greatly, transitioning our relationship will require new effort from both of us. In many ways, we are not the same people we were before children. Dating during these transition years will open doors to  re-discover the familiar while discovering “the new” in each other.  I am looking forward to the fun, to the flirtation, and to the relaxed play without need for babysitters or curfews.  I believe it is essential to building a solid foundation for the next chapter in our marriage so that we might offer our children a legacy of love.

Now, where did I leave my planner? We have dates to get scheduled.