My husband and I recently hosted a cookout with some close friends of ours and their four children. Yes--I said, "four children!" We had a great time just chatting with one another, shooting the breeze, and cooking some really good food while our little ones played in the playroom. The playroom at our home is exactly what what it sounds like--a space for the boys to play, have a good time, and more importantly, to MAKE A MESS. But just know that when my boys are finished making their mess, they are responsible for cleaning it up. Our friends spent about four hours at our place, but when I went down to the basement to begin cleaning up later that night, I could not believe my eyes when I stepped into the room. IT WAS SPOTLESS! I thought the playroom would have looked like a tornado came through there, but every Lego, car, ball, Power Ranger, Transformer, and building block was neatly packed in its place. At that moment, the only thought I could gather was, "What the heck happened down here?"
Now I bet you're thinking maybe the parents went downstairs to straighten up a little before they left that evening, but you're wrong. The parents never stepped foot in the basement. That spotless playroom was the result of four well-behaved children, picking up and cleaning up after themselves. How often do our children clean up after themselves without being prompted? I'll help you out with this one.......how about.....NEVER!? Now it's one thing for a parent to try to straighten up after their kid(s) made a huge mess at someone's house, but it's another thing for the children to clean up on their own without being told to do so. I was floored. I absolutely could not believe the playroom had been straightened up almost as neatly as I would have done it!
Time and time again, we go and visit friends and family with our children, and leave the hosts with a huge mess to clean up. Our children take every single toy out of the bins, leave them on the floor, and by the end of the visit, there is barely space to walk through the playroom. Are you serious? Now, I will be the first to admit that my kids probably have too many toys. We probably have enough cars and action figures to open up a lucrative toy store, but that does not mean you should come to my house and leave my playroom in ruins. I let them play with all of their toys, because that's exactly what they are for. Not only that, but I teach my children to SHARE their toys. Not everyone is blessed and fortunate to have as many toys as they do. With that being said, I am getting pretty tired of the kids playing in the playroom with their buddies and just leaving my house in ruins. So why do we keep letting our little ones get off so easily?
A messy house says more about our parenting than we might think. Toys everywhere, crumbs on the floor, dirty clothes in piles, and not a bare spot on the ground to walk through the room can be a reflection of our families and how we raise our kids: A HOT MESS! The chaos of raising these little ones can be stressful, but how can we expect our kids to respect their objects and things, let alone people, when we don't make them clean up? Raising kids can sometimes be a huge mess [we all make mistakes], but don't live in the mess too. I know this is easier said than done, but sometimes I just need a little reminder to get me up and moving.
Let me share with you how we solve this problem. We have a whole list of Playroom Rules Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 must abide by, and the last rule on the list is, "CLEAN UP THE PLAYROOM!" That's right! When the Presidents are finished playing in their playroom, they MUST clean up their toys before they move onto anything else. No, I am not being the mean mommy; I am teaching my children good manners and good habits. Now I have to remind Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 to finish cleaning up at LEAST once a day, but the more they are reminded and practice cleaning up after themselves, the more it will become a habit. I not only want my boys to get into the routine of cleaning up after themselves at home, but I want them to do the same when they are visiting someone else's home. I hate to leave someone's home a mess after my kids have been there playing for hours, and I really hope you share the same sentiment.
Because my children have driven me to somewhat of a mild insanity, my husband and I are considering implementing a NEW Playroom Rule in this house, and it's called, "CLEAN-UP TIME WITH FRIENDS!" When Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 have company in their playroom, 5-10 minutes before their friends leave, one of us will come down for a "supervised" clean-up time. My boys already know the song, Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody, Everywhere, so they'll just gently teach it to their friends as they clean and pick-up after themselves during clean-up time. I think this is a fair way to politely ask your guests to clean with you, and then you and your little ones won't have the burden of doing all of the dirty work when they leave, right? I'm sure the playroom won't be spotless after clean-up time, but I can guarantee you won't be left with nearly as big a mess to clean up as you would have had before the kids began tidying up.
I know cleaning up after your little ones, and making them clean up, can seem like a really pointless task, but it's kind of like a mental thing for us. I'm sure it's probably easier to just leave the toys on the floor and keep the door shut, but when we actually put effort into cleaning up each time we use the playroom, not only do we generally have less to clean on a regular basis, but we feel better and more in control about life in general. I think tidying up relays the message to Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 that we respect our things, and we respect one another. It doesn't get any better than that. When I bought my first car, my dad used to tell me, "You take care of that car, it'll take care of you!" He was absolutely right! I truly believe teaching your children to respect their things will ultimately teach them to respect people.
Let our close friends and their four children be an inspiration to you also. The next time you go to a friends house and let your kids run ramped, please just make sure to have them clean up before you pack up and leave. I LOVE having company and inviting good friends over for a good time, but I HATE having to clean up an unnecessary mess, and I especially hate hearing Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 complain about having to clean up someone else's mess. Let's do ourselves a favor, and teach our little ones to clean up. We really should stop letting our children get off ao easily. And if I ever pay you a visit and my kids leave a huge mess that I am unaware of, feel free to ask them to clean up. You have my permission! It's all about respecting your space, but more importantly, respecting YOU!
"Bang! Bang! I'm gonna shoot you, mommy!" is the greeting I received when I walked in the house from a pharmacy run the other day. Mr. President #2 was standing directly in front of me, aiming his orange and blue NERF gun square at my chest, fully loaded, and ready to fire. I had to make a split-second decision--do I take the gun from him and tell my children there will be no more guns in this house, or do I play along and let Mr. President #2 think he is a good guy who just saved the day? Given the devastating news of the gun violence that recently occurred in Orlando, Florida, I was just feeling fed up, and wasn't quite sure what to do. When Mr. President #1 came running up the steps yelling, "Get Mommy! Get the bad guys," I decided to just play along. I kneeled over slightly and said to Mr. President #2, "Oh no! You got me!"
Mission accomplished! Mr. President #2 had just taken out the bad guy, so he ran off with Mr. President #1 to continue their pursuit of the other imaginary bad guys. But as I stood watching them in front of the door, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Did I do the right thing?" Here were my two, innocent little boys, having the time of their lives, shooting one another and continuously loading their guns with rounds of foam ammunition. What had I done to them? I couldn't help but think whether or not me allowing gun play would increase the chances of them becoming victims of gun violence one day, or maybe even being responsible for being on the wrong end of a gun in the future. My thoughts were not too pleasant, so I decided to do a little research later that evening to help put my mind at ease.
In doing my research, I learned quite a few statistics that were not so comforting. As it turns out, guns have been one of the leading causes of death in children in recent years. And to make things worse, these deaths occurred in the homes of these children as a result of failure to properly secure and store these guns. According to the statistics, parents obviously need to be a little more responsible when storing guns in their homes. After all, the purpose of having a gun in the first place is to protect, and not harm your children. With that being said, these alarming statistics were surprisingly accompanied by a bit of good news about gun play. Perfectly "normal" [for lack of a better word] kids engage in gun play, or aggressive play in general, as part of their growth and development. In fact, when children want to play with weapons, many of them will make guns or swords from sticks, pencils, or whatever they can get their hands on. Apparently it's all just part of play and using their imaginations. And as it turns out, aggressive play is also just part of growing up, and research shows it will help children better self-regulate in real life. Isn't that good news?
Although there is somewhat of an "up-side" to this aggressive play Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 seem to love so much, I still have my work cut out for me. The news has been filled with tragedy after tragedy, and I refuse to sit back and not do my part in teaching some positivity and responsibility for the next generation, so we're setting some ground rules in my house, and I think I'm ready to share them with you. I've decided to let my little guys continue their play with the NERF guns, but we will have some new regulations to accompany that play. Besides, I don't want to make too much of a big deal out of these guns because eventually, by drawing too much attention to them or taking them away all together, Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 will really be itching to get their hands on them then, and will probably even try to do so behind my back. We definitely don't want that! I'd rather have them thinking they're superheroes just trying to save the day, than trying to figure out why mommy and daddy won't let them play with NERF guns. Anyhow, here are the new ground rules:
1. Watch where you aim that thing:
First and foremost, there will be no aiming of any guns at any individual in this house. My boys are free to get the bad guys as much as their little hearts desire, but if I catch either one of them pointing that gun at anyone, (particularly the ones that fire foam projectiles) it will be confiscated. We have a new grid set up so Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 can aim to shoot at the bullseye, and that is fine by me.
2. If you're not a good guy, put the gun away:
Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 often play games with both a good and bad guys, so I decided to intervene just a little. They've recently shared with me that bad guys do bad things, so we have agreed that whoever plays a bad guy does not get a gun. Besides, there is no good that can come of that anyway. But for the good guys....something about being a superhero feels heroic for these little guys, and although they don't necessarily need a weapon to do so, why not just let them feel empowered? Swords, shields, nunchucks, nerf guns! They're just trying to save the day! These two guys made my job on this one a little easier than expected.
3. Please don't use the word Kill:
I know some of you might argue that aggressive play or gun play comes with killing, but Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 know that we do not use the word kill in this house. The objective of their play is to stop the bad guys, and not to kill, so as long as they are abiding by this rule, I think we are okay.
The bottom line is, it's not okay to kill, and I want my children to understand that. I don't want to hide toy guns from them entirely because I don't want there to be this stigma about guns, or for them to have a lasting desire to get their hands on one (especially when they go play at a friends house), so I am going to try my absolute best to teach them as much responsibility as possible. Too many lives are being lost in this country as a result of gun violence and instability, so as parents, we ALL need to do our part to Break the Cycle. So yes...my house might be filled with toy guns, but it is also filled with love and compassion for everyone. And to the parents who own guns, please keep them locked away and unloaded. I'm tired of seeing children loosing their lives because you failed to do so. And if you're hosting a play date and you have a gun, the same rules apply. Parents are sending their children over to play, not to lose their lives. My heart goes out to the families of the victims of the Orlando shooting. God bless each and every one of you.
"Mommy, why is daddy's skin darker than mine? Can I erase it with my pencil?" I know what you're thinking right now, and just like you, the minute I heard those words come out of Mr. President #1's mouth, the first thing that came to mind was, "Where the heck did I go wrong?" Mr. President #1 is notorious for asking me the what, why, and how of just about everything he doesn't understand, and that is perfectly okay with me. In light of the tragedy that occured in Orlando, Florida today, I thought this would be a good time for me to share why I believe acceptance and tolerance in general is so important for our children and the next generation. I expose my children to just about every facet of life. America is like a melting pot of all things different, and by living here, we have the luxury of experiencing and participating in celebrations and events for different cultures, countries, traditions, and other ways of life. With that being said, being "different" is just part of life for us, and that is exactly what I teach my children. Yes, I teach them the difference between right and wrong, but I also teach them that the world is full of people who live their lives differently than us, and that we should just embrace and accept them the way we accept the people who are like us.
Whether it's our Indian neighbor next door, our Asian buddy down the street, our friend from school who has two moms, or our buddy from pre-k whose dad is a double-amputee, we love and embrace them all because that is what life is all about; loving and accepting everyone. Our differences are what make life so colorful and beautiful, and I truly believe children who are more open and tolerant will ultimately get more out of life. But I will admit that I went wrong somewhere along the way. Hindsight is 20/20, right? But when I look back on the conversations I've had with Mr. President #1, I think I waited a little too long to have the tolerance, acceptance, and race talk with my son. We have since had many conversations about loving YOURSELF just the way you are, and accepting other people for who they are, but I kind of wanted to avoid being asked those grueling questions like why his father's skin is darker than his. Maybe these demonstrations of intuition are inevitable, but whatever the case, I have learned a few things from my experiences with Mr. President #1, and have a few tips I think will be very useful and life-changing for you.
What is tolerance?
Webster's defines tolerance as the ability and willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own. Tolerance is having respect for and learning from others, valuing differences, bridging cultural gaps, rejecting unfair stereotypes, discovering common ground, and creating new bonds with others. Tolerance, in my opinion, is the complete opposite of prejudice. Tolerance is accepting all people for who they are, not judging them, and embracing them. Tolerance is treating others the way you want to be treated, regardless of what they look like, or where they come from. Let me also remind you that tolerance does not mean accepting things that are wrong. There is a clear distinction between accepting others for who they are, and accepting bad behavior. Just like I have taught Mr. President #1 (and am teaching Mr. President #2), tolerance is playing with your buddies on the playground who are a different color than you, or playing with your buddy at recess who speaks a different language than you. Being different is a beautiful thing, and tolerance is what brings all of us together.
How do we teach tolerance?
Our parents are our first teachers. Has anyone ever said to you, "You act just like your father?" If so, that's probably because your temperament and demeanor is an imitation of what you observed as a child. Of course we genetically inherit things from our parents, but children also examine their parents very carefully, and eventually begin to imitate them as they grow older. We all exhibit many learned behavior from our parents, [some of them a little better or more beneficial than others] and children, in great part, learn their attitudes and perspectives on things from their parents and guardians. In other words, tolerance is something that is taught, and as parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to be tolerant of others, and not prejudiced. This does not mean you neglect teaching your children your own cultural vaules and traditions, but it simply means that you learn to respect and accept the differences of others. Besides, who are we to judge? In my opinion, God is the final judge, and not one of us is at liberty to judge someone else because of their differences. No more lives need to be taken becauase of the lack of tolerance instilled in children. Enough is enough, and the change that needs to take place in the next generation depends on us.
Why do we need to teach tolerance?
The ability to love and accept others in spite of their differences is an attribute that will take your children very far in life. In today's society, the workplace is filled with people from many different backgrounds, cultures, races, and with many different values, traditions, and sexual orientations who all have something to contribute to society. Being able to accept, understand, and work with people from different walks of life opens up a world of endless possiblities. Tolerance is so important becuase your child's future success literally depends on it. You also want to teach tolerance to avoid the inevitable misconceptions and misunderstandings of differences. First of all...as you already know, I am a minitority female with two minority children, whose oldest son once asked me why Daddy's skin was darker than his and if he could erase it with his pencil, and why his buddy has two moms. It's never too early to sit your children down and teach them that people are all born differently--different colors, different types of hair, different voices, etc., and that we cannot change who we are, but we can accept each other and just love one another anyway. Children might begin to notice race or gravitate toward children who "look like them," and they might even begin to notice preference as they grow older, but this is where our lessons and modeled behavior about tolerance come into play.
Parents, please remember to mind your own attitudes, be mindful of the things you say and do, expose your children to cultural differences, and allow them to choose and read books that teach about all different kinds of people. Teach your children the importance of your own values and traditions, and teach them the importance of accepting differences and not accepting bad bahavior. Children learn by example, so BE THE EXAMPLE! Our little ones are depending on us.
In honor of the many lives take at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016, I stand with you in solidarity. Know that you did not die in vain, and all lives of all people from all different walks of life MATTER.
"Now you just go on right ahead and turn around, brush your teeth, wash your face, pull your hair back, and put your house shoes on." Those were the first words I would hear from my father's mouth every Saturday morning, when the overwhelmingly good smell of homemade pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and home fries would fill the house. The food would smell so good, I would just mosey right on into the kitchen, only to hear my father tell me to turn right back around and get myself together before breakfast. That's right. Daddy never believed in rolling out of the bed and shoving food into your mouth first thing in the morning: he believed we all should prepare and present ourselves well every single day, regardless of what plans we may or may not have had, and regardless of whom we planned or may not have planned to see. But this wasn't just a Saturday morning routine; this was a habit my father practiced in every part of his life, and it taught me so much about how to care for myself and others.
Since Father's Day is right around the corner, I figured this would be an appropriate time for me to share a few poignant life-lessons I learned from my father over the years. My father recently retired from the steel industry after over 50 years of service and hard work. I don't know about you, but I don't see this kind of work ethic anymore. Unfortunately, my father is part of a dying breed, but I am very fortunate to have had a front seat to his life, watching and listening to him every step of the way [even when he didn't think I was listening]. To this day, every single word that comes out of Daddy's mouth is at a maximum volume level because of the incredible noise of the grinders in the steel mill, but I just got used to it. He never much minds the heat either, as he once told me that the furnaces were so hot in the mill, he could only stay in there for 12-minute intervals and would lose about eight pounds a day working in the furnace. That explains his big appetite! With all of that being said...my father really is the King of making things up, but somehow, he is always right! Daddy has taught me so many life-lessons, I have literally lost count, but here are three I think you can apply to your own lives and even those of your children:
1. Always finish what you started:
I know I told you my father is the King of making things up, but he is also the King of Projects! Have you ever known someone who would start project after project, but those projects would never actually be completed? Well, my father is the exact opposite. When he starts a new project, it may take him quite a while to reveal his finished product, but he always finished what he started. As a kid, my father would just go around building things. He built chairs, cabinets, tables, book shelves, and even finished off the basement in his home! He repaired cars, built flower beds around the yard, and just always had something on the schedule to keep him busy.
I will never forget the day I came home and told my father I needed to build a car for my physics project. At first I thought he would be a little annoyed, but I think he was even more excited about the project than I was! Daddy took me downstairs to what we called his "Work Shop" and started pulling things off of the shelves. He took apart his old pair of roller skates, handed me the four wheels, and said, "Here you go. Go ahead and build your car!" Yes. He really left me there, BY MY LONESOME, to build a car from parts of an old pair of roller skates. Really, Dad? I toyed around with a bunch of his STUFF and random things from his tool box, but I got fed up and moved on to something else. When Daddy found out I had left my incomplete physics project downstairs in the Work Shop to collect dust, he had a few words to share with me. Next thing I knew, there was a knock on my door, and of course, it was my father. The only thing from that conversation I remember was him saying, "Do you want an A on this project? Don't ever let me see you do that. You finish what you started." I think you get the picture, right? Daddy never had to tell me that again. And you better believe--I ALWAYS finish what I've started! Oh...and I got and A on that physics project!
2. Never mind what other people think about you:
I am sure you've heard it before, "what other people think about you doesn't matter." Well, this was a recurring lesson in my house growing up. My parents always made sure to remind us that the opinions of others had no bearings over our lives. My mother would always tell us to live to please God, not our friends. She was absolutely right! Anyway...it all started in kindergarten at Sharon Christian Academy. I used to LOVE school! I had the best friends, my teachers were awesome, I sang in the school play, and life was just dandy! One day, my mother had taken my sisters and I to school, and when it was time for recess that day, I ran over to my best friend to see if she wanted to play. Unbeknownst to me, she had had a conversation with her mother the night before about who it was "okay" for her to play with. My best friend looked over at me and said, "My mom said I can't play with you anymore because you're mixed."
Okay...so...that was like nearly 30 years ago, so I have no idea what immediately followed, but I remember going home and telling my father what my so-called best friend had said to me at recess that day. You better believe my father went up to the school to handle business, but this is my first memory of Daddy telling me, "Never mind what she thinks about you." This situation repeated itself a few more times as I grew older, but my father was always there to remind me that the opinions of others really didn't matter. I know one thing, though: I kept on loving school, I kept on singing in the school plays, I kept on admiring my teachers, and life remained good thanks to my father. Take a lesson from my father and remember to never let the negative opinions of others diminish your happiness and positive outlook on life!
3. You know better, so DO better:
Now, I've definitely seen my father bend the rules every now and then, but he is a big fan of acting like you have some sense. I have made mistake after mistake after mistake through the years. In fact, I have a pile of mistakes somewhere I've been meaning to get rid of! But you guessed it! From one mistake to the next, Daddy's response was always, "Now, you know better." We won't take a stroll down Bad Choices Memory Lane, but I'll just tell you that I have racked up my fair share over the years, and yes...I've been punished for them ALL!
The reason this particular life-lesson is so near and dear to me is because this is something we always stumble with. When it came time to making that difficult decision--do I stay out and party all night, or do I study for my finals in the morning--I always heard that voice in the back of my head telling me, "Now, you know better," but I would act out anyway! I know I'm not alone here! I have since learned my lesson, but why was this always the case? Why did we always choose to do wrong when we KNOW we knew better? Who knows. I learned my lesson one day when I had been caught skipping school!! Doesn't seem like a big deal, but it was for this girl who wanted to graduate with honors and had racked up a full schedule of Advanced Placement classes! My buddies tried to cover for my one day, but when the principal came looking for me for skipping detention for being late, I was in a heap of trouble, and of course the school didn't call my mother; oh no...they called MY FATHER! I'm still grounded to this day, by the way. And I actually think Daddy had to tell me, "Now, you know better," like last week, haha!
In short, my life would not be the same without an incredible father and mother to lead the way. Thank you, Daddy, for being an immaculate example of a father. I am doing my best to teach my boys what you have taught me, but heck...I might as well just send Mr. President #1 and Mr. President #2 up there with you for the summer! You and mommy can just teach them first-hand! Happy Early Father's Day to all of the great fathers and father figures!! A special shout-out goes to my wonderful husband and better-half. We appreciate you!