Fake it ’till you make it

I am more than 5 1/2 years into this parenting gig, and I still don’t know how to tell whether my kids are getting sick.

Case in point: My kindergartner has been dragging in the mornings lately. At first I wondered if he was getting sick, but no symptoms appeared, so I figured he must be staying awake in his room after bedtime. Then this morning, he didn’t get up with his alarm. When I went to check on him, he said he was sick, with a cough and stomach ache. He seemed a little congested, so I made the call to keep him home, sighing quietly over missed errands and gym class.

One hour later, he was bright-eyed and and claiming to be completely healed. At 3:00, there is still no sign of any real illness. Is he coming down with a cold? Who knows. What I do know is that unless he’s running a fever, he’ll be going to school tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I had to wake Lina up a little after 7 a.m.: very unusual for my early riser, who is usually raring at 6:30. I found her sleeping on the floor. How long had she been there? Did she fall out of bed? Perhaps this toddler bed transition is not going as smoothly as we thought. On the up side, whatever she’s doing in there, she’s not waking us up.

As soon as I got her little Van Winkle self awake, she started sneezing, and she’s had a slightly runny nose and red, watery eyes the rest of the day. The report from school was good, but she has been clingier than usual. Is she getting a cold? My guess is yes, but who knows for sure?!

It’s still remarkable to me how often in parenting I’m just guessing. I’m a fan of following informed instincts, but sometimes, I really have no idea. I suppose I’m practicing “fake it ’till you make it” parenting: act like you know what you’re doing and hope you actually do. The problem is I may not know for sure for at least 10-15 more years, and by then, it’s too late for re-dos.

Which is why I pray, and sometimes have to ask my kids for forgiveness. It also helps to have a community of understanding moms to poll for ideas.

Speaking of which: Anyone have a surefire method for telling when your kid is actually getting sick?

Halcyon days

We’re in a doctor’s office waiting area, surrounded by other parents and children. It’s been an exhausting morning getting out the door and to the appointment on time, but we’re here, and it’s a moment of rest sitting in the chair together before we’re called back to an exam room. I give her a drink of water. I talk to her, about anything; I make faces, and she imitates, wrinkles her nose. We sing “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider,” and she makes the motions. Then she leans in, wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes. Everything has faded, and there is just us, the two of us, in a tiny moment of perfection.

Lunch is over, the littlest is down for her nap, and now we’re ready for stories before his quiet time. He chooses two books, or maybe we negotiate and we each choose one from the overflowing shelves. We settle onto the couch under a blanket, and I read: about a snowy day, or about a woman who makes her mark with lupines or a father who takes his daughter owling in the night. He soaks in every word and studies every picture, as he always does. The house is silent except for this story. I pull him close and he snuggles his head against my chest. Someday soon, he’ll want to read these stories himself, and he won’t need me. Someday, he might not want to snuggle under the blanket and rest his head on me. Someday, but not today.

The laundry is piling up, as it always is, and stacks of folded clothes have to be put away. I carry a full basket up the stairs. I hear the racket from half-way up, and I walk to the room. He’s bouncing a ball as she tries to catch it, and they’re both racing around on all fours. He’s laughing hysterically, and she stops and reaches out to pat his leg. The shared affection is obvious. The moment of harmony is likely to be brief, but the love is there, and growing all the time. He leans in and gives her a kiss, and she laughs again.

A friend recently remarked that the parents she knows are all very articulate about the things that make parenthood hard but have trouble expressing why it’s so great. She’s right. There’s a lot out there these days about the things that are stressful and crazy and downright miserable about parenting (and there are plenty). I like that we can talk about and laugh at those things and find some solace in knowing we’re not alone in them. Those things are usually pretty tangible. It’s a lot harder to explain to someone without kids why it’s still all worth it. You end up sounding trite or vague or ridiculously sappy. Maybe it sounds like you’re bragging about your kids. It’s nearly impossible to convey the strength of the feelings that go bone-deep.

All I can do is share moments like these, when time stops, the world fades, and I think, “This. This is why I keep going.” These are the times that remind me that right now, right here, I’m living the halcyon days.

Too Much Information

I’ve been thinking lately about the challenges of parenting in the Information Age. (You thought from the title you were getting a post on something juicy, didn’t you?!)

It seems to me we’re all on information overload. I realize this is a First World issue, a sign of privilege unknown in much of the world and even in many places here in the U.S. I am not ungrateful. I love the Internet; I clearly use it regularly. It’s my source for pretty much everything: recipes, tutorials, decorating ideas, world news, communication with long-distance friends, shopping, music… I did grow up in a time before the Internet and remember using library card files and researching school papers by digging through stacks of books, magazines and – gasp – even the occasional microfiche. Those are distant memories now, stories I will tell my children to reinforce their view that I grew up with Methuselah. Today, I often wonder, “How did people do this before the Internet?” I know that having a wealth of information at my fingertips, not to mention the entertainment options of Netflix streaming and online episodes of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is a gift that makes my life easier in so many ways.

As a parent, though, I am learning that living in a world of so much information has its down side. It begins before the baby arrives and never really lets up. There are endless decisions to make, and they all seem incredibly important. Some of them really are. Issues of pregnancy and child birth, information and support for breast feeding, questions of newborn schedules and sleep issues… Now with a toddler, it’s potty training methods, approaches to discipline, dietary advice and warnings, activities I should be doing with my kid but haven’t found the time for yet. As near as my computer screen is an endless supply of information and opinions on every possible parenting topic.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure on parents to be informed, to have a handle on the research and to parent according to the latest recommendations on Absolutely Everything. Given the sheer volume of decisions a parent makes in any given day, that would be no small task even if the information was always straight-forward and the experts always agreed. But it isn’t, and they don’t.

In a lot of ways, having access to so much information gives us a great deal of control. I am thankful for this, and I believe it is important to be an informed parent (and beyond that, an informed member of society). But the truth is, I’m not certain I know how to successfully navigate all of this.

Confession: I sometimes make parenting decisions without extensive research. Sometimes, I follow my gut. Sometimes, I trust Corin’s pediatrician without digging through the first 3,000 Google links. Have I picked the right issues to care about? Have I trusted the right sources? Have I reached the right conclusions? It’s pretty hard to know for sure.

My parenting philosophies don’t fall neatly into any category. I’ve gone with a “do what works” approach, which involves an awful lot of trial and error. One of the biggest surprises for me in parenting is how often the right answer is unclear. (He just threw his eating utensils on the floor. Again. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does this matter? Not really sure.) I try to cut other parents a lot of slack and hope I’m doing an okay job wading through all of this myself.

Ultimately, I’m glad I believe in a Higher Power to guide my decisions, in parenting as in life. This job is certainly bigger than me.  I have a sense parents have always felt that way, in the Dark Ages or in the Information Age. Surely the fundamentals haven’t changed much. The rest… I suppose I’ll just keep praying and wading (or not) through the research.