Now imagine if we introduced her to Excel...

When the Critter came downstairs a few months ago and told us she wanted a new iPhone, my response was "Let me know how that works out for you." 

Last week, she did. 


Several people have told us what good parents we are. That we helped her set goals and achieve them. That we created a sense of independence and pride. That we've fostered her sense of focus. 

Maybe. Mostly, we just said "no" a lot. 

No, we won't help you pay for that. 

No, you can't have an allowance. 

No, you can't skip the 1/3 that has to go to your savings account. 

No, Daddy has not had enough Diet Coke this morning. So go get me another one. 

(That last one may or may not have anything to do with this story. But seriously. I was still thirsty.) 

Last week, she took a wad of cash out of her desk and shoved it into a ziploc bag. Her mom took her to the Apple store, and she told the Genius she wanted to buy a new phone. 

He looked at my Bride, who just shook her head, and gestured him back to the Critter. She was standing there at the counter looking determined. 

"I want the 32gb 5s, please."

"That's a $299 upgrade. If you get the 16gb, that's twice as much storage as your current old phone." 

"I want the 32gb 5s." She said it very carefully, and very deliberately. 

The Critter pulled out her ziploc bag and started counting. 

My Bride just smiled. and shrugged at the Genius.  "She earned the money. She can get what she wants."

The Genius was delighted. He announced it to the store. "This little girl earned the money herself to pay for her new Thirty Two Gigabyte iPhone 5s!"

Then she picked out a case. (Not the blue one she had originally planned on, you'll notice). She texted me a few minutes later to announce she had gotten her phone. And that she had enough money left over to buy a Minecraft themed case for her old phone. Which she plans on giving to her little brother as an apps-only 'iTouch' for his birthday. 

Good job, Critter. We're proud of you. 

I think I'm going to tell her that "no, we won't pay for college" next, and see what kind of spreadsheet she comes up with. 

Things we tell our children

Recently, a friend (whom we love dearly) posted an article on child-raising called 'The Secret Cost of Shame' .  The authors of the article suggest that many parents are creating thick ridges of emotional scar tissue in their children by using words like 'naughty' or using 'moralizing' statements such as 'Good little children don't act that way'.  Or my favorite example: 

A three-year-old who defies her mother by refusing to pack up her toys - after being told to do so repeatedly - may be attempting to forge a separate and distinct self-identity.

OK. But the new self-identity is headed for a sore butt. 

Now, I remember from the parenting manual you get when you take the baby home from the hospital that there are lines you don't cross. It's inappropriate, for example, to scream 'OH MY GOD YOU GOT IT WRONG, YOU LITTLE SATAN MONKEY' in the grocery store when your child fetches the 1% milk instead of the 2% you had clearly  asked for. What? You didn't get a manual? You have to ask before you leave, you know. They don't hand them out, otherwise. 

But these authors would be horrified if they heard some of the age-based, moralizing, competency-expectations that are uttered in our house. No doubt they would want to lead me through a firm-but-non-shaming conversation.

Here are a few things we've told our kids: 

  • I didn't call you 'turtle.' I called you 'turd-le.' As in: 'a small turd.'  
  • You can pay the electric bill, or you can pick the dog crap up from the yard. Your choice.
  • No, I won't buy you a horse. 
  • It's slightly more awkward to make fun of  you when you're in the room. 
  • Moving cinderblocks builds character.  
  • One of you is our favorite. You have to guess.
  • No, I won't buy you a horse. 
  • Popcorn comes from chicken poop. You can ask your teacher
  • We can't miss you 'til you leave. 
  • We had them remove the monkey tail before we took you home from the hospital. The doctor said the scar should be 'hardly noticeable' 
  • It's lucky to eat the pig skin with a hair still in it.  
  • I didn't ask who started it. I'm telling you how it will end. 
  • No, I won't buy you a horse. 
  • That's a great story. You should save that story up. Never tell it again. Wait until you have children of your own. Then pass it on.  
  • Yes. I will buy you a horse. ... HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That was a good one. Did you see what I just did there? No, I will not buy you a horse. 
  • Stacking firewood is old-timey fun. It is now mandatory fun time.  

As parents, it's our responsibility to make sure that they have really good stories to tell when they get to therapy. 



Right now, we've got another two chords worth of stories waiting for in the back yard. 

Remind me of all of this when she turns 16 and returns my car two hours past curfew with an empty gas tank

Just before the new year, we took the kids up into New Hampshire to celebrate a little snowfall with some downhill skiing.

Skiing in New England isn't like skiing in Tahoe or many other destinations. The mountains are smaller, and the snow (so say the experts) is different. I don't know. I'm from Georgia. Most of our snow comes in cones. I grew up skiing occasionally, and I can sort of remember how to get from the top of the hill to the bottom in more or less one piece, but that's about it. 

The Critter has been skiing every season since we moved here, however, and she's both confident and comfortable. 


She and I stuck my Bride and the Boy into their respective classes, and went up our first chair lift of the morning.  I asked her if we could take one of the "green" slopes to start out with - this was at Crotched Mountain, which has nice long, windy slopes with plenty of room to practice your skills. 

The Critter gave me a thumbs up and headed down the slope. I zig zagged and tacked back and forth across the hill, giving my body a chance to calm down after being strapped to two long, rigid sticks with the unreasonable purpose of making my downhill descent faster and less deliberate. I would zoom, swish. Zoom, swish to a somewhat controlled stop. And check back up the hill to watch the Critter steadily descend. She has remarkable control. She points her skiis downhill, and goes at a nice, even clip, apparently exactly as fast as she wants. No more, no less. 

The Critter has several friends that are on the local racing teams. They figure out tricks to go faster. They seek speed, and get frustrated when they don't win, and show up the next week to do it again.  I asked her if she wanted to race or join one of the teams. She said, "No thanks." And we got back in the chair lift and headed up the hill again. 

A few more runs and I was feeling comfortable enough to let her choose the next slope. She chose a blue slope, where some of the teams were practicing slaloms. It had a steep drop off, coming from a black diamond above it, where the racers would weave in and out around poles. The Critter just smiled, and headed off at her steady pace. About halfway down, I lost control, and tumbled to a wretched stop. I sat in the snow and contemplated how the hell I was going to get off the hill.

An older guy stopped me and asked me if I needed any help. 

"No. Just remind me that I don't have to try and keep up with my 10 year old next time." 

He laughed, and said he had been right where I was and helped me me up. I swallowed my pride, took my skiis off, and walked the rest of the way down the steep part of the slope, until it went around the bend and leveled out to something more rational. 

I found the Critter there waiting on me. 

She had stopped, and watched the racers zoom by, and was patiently watching the slope for me to finally make it around. We laughed a bit together at the foolishness of old men who think they can keep up, and I strapped my skiis on again. I told her to give my battered, snowy corpse a gentle shove down the hill if I didn't manage to make it all the way off of this slope. And which pocket I had put the car keys into. Zoom, swish, zoom, swish, stop, I went down the rest of the hill. Steady, easy, confident skiing she went along side me. 

We skied for another couple of hours and headed home, where I soothed my oldness with a hot bath, a cold beer, a half bottle of motrin, and something on my kindle. Simultaneously.




The Critter has never been in a rush. She strolls through the day, enjoying whatever she's doing at her pace. It shouldn't have surprised me that she took skiing with the same confidently content insouciance that she does everything else. She ran cross-country this past autumn for the first time, and was consistently the last to finish at every meet. But she was having a good time. She enjoyed her classmates. She liked the activity and running through the woods. She felt good about what she was doing.  And I gave her a high five when she crossed the finish line. She's in competition with nobody but herself. And she seemingly came into this world already & instinctually aware of that fundamental truth.

 This is the same kid who, when she was five and meeting a friend at the movies, chose to wear her Pirates of the Carribean costume. With the hat. Not because it was a movie about princesses, or because her friend was going to wear her costume. Just because she enjoyed it. These are the lessons you hope and pray your kids - maybe especially your daughter - picks up. Enjoy who you are. Be comfortable with your skin. Laugh when you fall down, and wait for those that need a little extra time. Especially when it's your daddy. 

This week, she got in trouble. Normal, 10 year old kind of trouble that cost her tv, computer and other electronics priveleges for a week or so. (I learned this trick from the Army: "Drop and start doing pushups until I get tired!" The irrationality of the punishment is the only way to restore a little fun into being a parent in those moments.) 

This morning, I made her lunch and slipped a note into her lunchbox:  I'll love you to the stars and back, little girl. Even when you get in trouble. 

I cannot teach this stuff. Hell, if anything, she's teaching me. I just get to sit back and watch this remarkable kid turn into a remarkable person. And wish it wasn't happening so damned fast.