Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blonde Ambition

    In some way or another, I’ve always wanted to be a blonde. When I was little, every doll I received as a gift had red hair. I’m sure the adults thought I’d like a doll that in one small way resembled me, but all I really wanted was a doll with long, cornsilk hair. And I had to stick it out until I was almost thirteen to get it.

    Now that I’ve had no choice but to reconcile with my red hair once and for all, it’s something else I’m after. I want to be the California girl of parenting. I want the easy laugh and carefree attitude, not the stubbornness and intensity I’m stuck with. I want the spontaneity, the flexibility, the openness—not the quick temper and overanalysis. What I want, in short, is to model myself after a true California girl: Janet Lansbury, the former model and actress turned parenting guru. That would be next to impossible to accomplish on my own, so I decided to give her a call.

    Janet and I spoke for one glorious hour, and I was able to get some of my burning parenting questions answered, which I am happy to pass on to you.

    First, I wanted to know how to handle it when my two daughters were in conflict, specifically, when they were fighting over a toy. I confessed to Janet that I was frequently getting involved, telling my older daughter, Violet, to share with her sister, Harper, or if she took the toy from Harper, I’d make her give it back. Janet told me the best thing to do was to sportscast, or just report what was going on, and trust the girls to form their own relationship. I needed to let go of the idea that Harper was in any kind of real distress and just try to say something casually, like, “Oh, Violet has the toy Harper was playing with. Harper is upset." Just enough commentary to acknowledge their feelings without casting them into the villain or victim role, which can be hard to break once it’s established. As she said, “When you remove the parent, you remove the rivalry.”

     Next, I wanted advice on how to handle dinner out when it’s gotten completely out of control. When we are with other couples who have children, it can turn into a bona fide free-for-all. I mean the kids are crawling underneath the table, throwing food, making faces, spilling, getting in and out of chairs, yelling—all in one mind-bending loop. Although we don’t have issues at home or at restaurants if it’s just us, my daughter has certain friends who really get her excited, and she kind of loses her mind when she gets a chance to play with them. Janet said exactly what I’d hoped she would: don’t go in the first place. Arrange private get-togethers either at someone’s home or at a park, where it doesn’t matter how they behave. Our agenda is not their agenda, and it doesn’t need to be. 

    My last question was about VPK (voluntary prekindergarten). Everyone under the sun where I live sends their kid to VPK, and when I would say that I didn’t think I’d be sending Violet to VPK, I’d either get a lecture or a look like you’d better hope you know what you’re doing, lady, because your kid is going to be screeewwwed up. I’m sorry, but I just fail to see why this program that tries to prepare its four-year-old students with structured academics so that they can succeed in kindergarten is necessary for all kids, for my kid. Did these parents go to VPK when they were kids? Why does she need math and reading before she can tie her shoes? Can’t she just enjoy playing right now? A four-year-old is still a baby in my book. Violet has a healthy love of all things that are new and interesting, including books and numbers, so why do I need to subject her to that kind of directed learning so early? Fortunately, Janet had my back. At that age, they learn plenty, such as language skills and problem solving, not only through how we converse and handle our challenges as adults but also through what they discover when we give them the autonomy to work through their own difficulties. She said we needed to trust them to develop their own interests without interruption, that when we give them space and quiet and time, they can think and focus and discover, which is about the best you could ask for in a student.
    In a nutshell: trust. And as I wade through more dolls and stuffed toys than I can handle, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. There are a lot of parenting styles out there, and I'm sure a lot of them work just fine, but there’s only one for me. Even if I am a mean little redhead, I have to put Janet’s advice to practice and trust that I will get to my blonde-ideal parenting style. And I know, for my kids at least, that’s worth waiting for.

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