Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Imperfect Parenting and the River of Goodness

One of my greatest parenting successes has been convincing my children that a trip to IKEA’s “Smaland” is barely a step down from COSI. We treat it like a museum or McDonald’s PlayPlace – an event designed around their fun. (Little do they know, mama is accumulating a cart full of garlic presses and organizational bins.)

So on the Random Friday With No School, I decided a trip would be the best use of our time. JJ was off to other productive work, so all 4 kiddos and I headed to Canton. The lady working Smaland was less than excited to see me (she tried to exclude both my youngest and my oldest, but we easily fell within the height requirements on all fronts), probably because we take up 2/3 of the available kid allotment. They had fun not jumping in the balls, and I found the necessary non-brass light fixture. The kids opted for lunch in the Ikea cafe, so we headed upstairs.

Prior to walking through the line, we had a team meeting to clarify expectations: once food was ordered and on a plate, there was no changing of the minds. Everyone executed.  The line was a tad tricky, and we made it through without tears until we sat down and the youngest discovered that french fries had not come with the meatballs he requested. Mama was going to share, but there was no convincing him of anything. Trading plates of meatballs didn’t work. I couldn’t just take the other kids’ food – I’ve learned this the hard way. You just end up with more tears. The other kids were looking at me, waiting as patiently as possible for ketchup while the baby of the family melted into a puddle on the chair. And in my arms.

It was clear there was nothing I could do to save the day. I was powerless until he actually put some food in his belly and overcame the Hangry. I couldn’t leave him to get the ketchup. I couldn’t get him to settle down.

And then, the oldest took a handful of his fries and laid them on his brother’s plate. The other two kids followed suit. They dished off food until the tears stopped. We were finally able to fetch the condiments without nasty looks.

While I had maintained most of my composure during The Episode, I know my Bigs felt the energy of my defeat and frustration. For the rest of the meal, my oldest was beyond helpful, refilling water and ketchup without being asked. He hugged me no less than 4 times.

In the midst of their mama’s powerlessness, my kids stepped up. They realized that to make the best of the situation, they would all have to come together and help one another. This is a lesson they could never learn if I were to continually make the problems go away.

I can preach to them that we belong to one another or tell them to serve and love using more than their words. These will be quotes on a printable until I give them opportunity to put on shoes and take the ideas for a run. Without the chance to do it, they may never know what it feels like to live their values, which we all know is a whole lot different than simply believing something.

I’ve never felt like a perfect parent, and I’m confident my kids are aware of my flaws, so “imperfect parenting” isn’t just about me and my shortcomings. I’ve heard other parents talk about how in our mistakes we can show our kids grace and the need for forgiveness. But I think accepting our imperfections has wider implications.

To parent imperfectly means to stop filling 100% of the holes for my kids and let them learn how to clean up a leak. I think we should give them a chance to let their heart whisper “hey, go get a towel!” and then allow them to feel the sense of goodness that comes from doing a good thing that has grown from their own place in the world.

What if kids learned to trust their ability to do what is right and good?  What if they learned they actually have the capacity to change a situation, even if it’s only in the enjoyment of a meal as a family? Isn’t that still something worth doing?

Goodness is like a stream running throughout the universe. Sometimes we’re swimming in it, and sometimes we’re not. But I’m not sure the Goodness River is something that you can toss your kids into; they have to learn to jump. As a parent, the best thing I can do is to dive in as often as I can, and assure them that they’ll float when I see them standing on the banks, contemplating a swim. And, as they come up from under the waters, greet them with a smile that shows them how proud you are that they’ve decided to take the plunge.

Locked into habits

I locked my keys in my van last week. For the second time. When I drove my trusty Odyssey, I cannot recall a single time that I had the keys on the wrong side of the locked door, but in just a few months I’ve managed to be dependent on AAA and a nearby friend to get back in the driver’s seat.

The function of my Toyota is no different than my Odyssey; both have “clickers.” (This is how all people refer to the keyless entry, right? “Clicker?” Related: my family never looked for the “remote control” but rather we had a “flipper” that, you know, flipped through the channels. I have a dialect unique to my upbringing.)

On both occasions of zealous locking, after I arrived at my destination, I put my keys in my purse. My keys have a home in a little side pocket. My habit is to put them into their pocket, put my purse on my shoulder and hit the lock on the door on the way out. I’m too impatient to wait on the sliding doors to shut before using the clicker to lock up.

On the days in question, after mindlessly putting my keys in my purse, I decided I didn’t need the huge bag and only grabbed my wallet. As my door shut, I literally said out loud (on the phone, which is another factor in the equation): I just locked my keys in my car. I knew it before I was 5 steps away.

I’m fascinated by the way our habits serve us. I’m a creature of habit: I love rhythm and order. I complete many of the same tasks, in the same way, each day. I can be in and out of the shower in 5 minutes because I have an order (wet hair, shampoo, soap up, rinse shampoo, condition, shave, rinse conditioner) and it requires zero thought. I can easily pull together a dinner from my top 5 meals (vegetable soup, kitchari, fried rice, chicken soak, sloppy joes)  without giving it focus because my habits serve me well.

Yet there are ways – spaces in our lives – in which our habits don’t serve us. Such as the way in which I’m unable to pull dates from my memory bank because I’m completely dependent on my visual (paper!) calendar. I have taught myself to give zero brain space to times, days or dates because once it’s written down, it’s dismissed from my brain. If you ask, “hey what are you doing next Tuesday? Want to go to London with me to see Adele for free?” I would STILL have to look at my calendar to see if the youngest goes to preschool that day.

So much of the ways we live our lives come down to the smallest tendencies to which we give little thought. The order you run errands, the process of putting kids to bed, how we open a car door and slide into the seat (ask your chiropractor if that one has consequence!).

Sometimes, habits fail us. Our mindless dependency, while advantageous in the broad sweep, kicks us when we’re not paying attention.

How often do we call into question our habits? Not just the way in which we complete tasks, but our patterns of thinking and believing as well? Do we really believe a particular idea, or have we created a habit of thought and operate from that framework? Is that way of thinking still serving us and helping us grow?

What if our habitual thoughts are actually hindering relationships, opportunities for meaningful work, or new experiences? If my starting belief is that anything fun costs too much money (because, for a family of 6, it seems everything costs too much money), then I will continue to shut down on requests to try new activities – and in the meantime, completely miss out on the joy of discovering a new park or finding a trail. The knowledge that things are often expensive for large families will serve me, but depending on that habit to make our decisions will cut us off from experiences of delight.

So in my next moment of frustration, conflict or disappointment, I wonder how it would look to ask what habit am I depending upon right now? What is the underlying pattern of behavior or thought? And if I prefer a different outcome – say, perhaps, to stop locking my keys in the car – what new habit might be formed that could better serve my situation?

Hit ’em in the nose

Several years ago, my dad and his brothers went to a boxing match. It was a kinda-big-deal match and they ended up with seats close to the action (I’m guessing a casino was involved). Not being huge followers of the sport, they were immersed in the excitement, with fans shouting all around them their encouragement on what the fighters should do next. Words like “jab” and “hook” and fancy boxing terms, probably. To join the excitement, and coincidentally at a lull in the noise, my father – proud daughter moment ahead – shouted, “hit ’em in the nose!”

The guy in the ring straight up looked at him.

Since that time, this tale has been told and retold within the extended family and it never gets less funny. Hit ’em in the nose is our solution to dance offs, card games, and toddlers bickering.

Yesterday, a quorum of Wingfields descended upon the Chiller North hockey ring to support the eldest two of the second generation cousins. It was like a circus car watching families arrive and join the group – we just kept coming. Being B’s senior year and last season, we self-determined to make as much ruckus (a family talent) possible.

While our skills at yelling and making a scene are well-practiced, our knowledge of hockey is rather limited. We took our cues from the parents of the kids on the rink, knowing when to be upset about a call or not. Meaning, when cousin Wendy informed the ref of a missed call for icing (which, btw, has nothing to do with cookies or cake, I’m sad to inform you), I simply yelled, “Yeah! What she said!” You know, because I’m there to show support. The 40 or so of us chanted his number and stomped our feet on the noisy bleachers.

Cousin B had a breakaway moment right in front of our whole family, so we were loudly supportive . Get it! Go! Come on, B! 

You know where this is going.

From the middle of our group… HIT ‘EM IN THE NOSE! Followed by uproarious laughter.

I’d like to make a list of things you should apparently not encourage at a highly-physical sporting event of young men and protective mamas:

1. Acts which require you to drop the gloves.

We learned our lesson after there was an incident of shouting, standing, leaning, talk-to-the-hand motioning, and more words. A mom from the other team responded, “that’s my son out there!”

Whoops.

Now, let me assure you, we are not nasty fans. We are hilarious. We were obvious about our love for our cousin and our ignorance of all hockey rules. We really couldn’t name where the other team was from nor did we really pay attention to the fact that another team was even on the rink. It was the B Show, with some other actors. So we were a tad sorry-not-sorry because, really, can you take anyone seriously when they open with cheers and an Arsenio Hall style “woot woot woot”? The only thing we were bitter about was the numbness of our toes.

One of my kids asked, legitimately confused, why the other mom was so upset. My best explanation was that some people believe that cheering for someone means we’re trying to be mean to everyone else. They mistakenly took personally that our love for one kid meant less love for hers. She believed that love and support were in limited supply and when she operated in that mentality, it was clear that her kid was getting ripped off and our B was getting “too much.”

While I love some aspects of athletics, this, my friends is a dangerous side effect. Healthy competition for personal betterment aside, there’s a real tendency to begin to believe the world only works in Us/Them, Home/Visitors dualities.

Support your kid. Cheer for wins, console for losses. Help them get better, remind them of their worth beyond the game. These are good things.

And can I offer a recommendation? For every hour you spend in the bleachers supporting your team, spend at least 2 hours at a table, reminding yourself that we belong to one another. Put yourself next to others, sharing food and passing drinks and remembering there doesn’t always have to be a “them” for you to experience good things.

Perhaps then you’ll be able to arrive at the field/gym/rink in a place of worthiness, able to appreciate that one of the kids out on the rink is having a memorable day, he’s being loved and supported by family from near and far, and you can just be glad for him. Or, you can be inspired and call up your siblings and cousins and uncles and say, “hey, you know, my kid has a game next Sunday, and though it’s sub-arctic temperatures in the rink, the games are free and fun and he would love it if you came and cheered him on.” And you would get to have day that all your family left saying, “that was so much fun, I love my family, and we should do that more often.”

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