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snowfort.jpg

The snowforts you build in your mid-thirties are not as fun as the ones you build as a kid:

  • Parts of your body ache that used to only ache when you had growth spurts.
  • No one makes you hot chocolate. You have to make it yourself. So it's it's one more thing to add to the list.
  • It's about letting people pass through, not keeping people out.
  • It's all about obligation, not fun.

So why are the adults still outside long after the kids who have young bodies are supposed to be enjoying this crap?

A few months ago, I heard the term "teacup parenting" on the Jumping Monkeys podcast.  (This concept is the antithesis to the Free Range Kids blog that Chris follows and shares with me.)

I suppose it's only natural to want to make things perfect and safe for our children, to not want them to hurt, to cry, to protect them from trouble and give them everything we never had.  But the sum of our experiences, good and bad is what makes us who we are.

Life is not easy, and it's not always fair.  My childhood was not an easy one.  If she taught me anything at all, my mother, whose choice in language is probably a bit different in my own (at least around small children), taught me that, "Life sucks.  Learn this while you are young, so it's not disappointing when you get old."

My mom is probably proud that the lesson, if not all the language--it was still someone cleaned up for this blog--has stuck.  I have come to appreciate the adversity in life.

When I have gone without materials things, I have focused on relationships.  When I have suffered a loss, it's made me appreciate the people around me.  When I have experienced pain, everything else becomes less painful.

The truth is that the really important things you do in life are not easy. They do not come without risk.  They might be painful.  You might be uncomfortable.  You might have to step outside of what you are used to doing.

I can't protect myself from those experiences.  I can't protect my kids.  I can't protect my friends.  As much as I wish we could all avoid them, these are the "life sucks" experiences my mom was talking about. 

I'd like to tell them that things all work out in the end, but I can't make that guarantee.  I'd like to say these experiences will make us stronger, they make us who we are, and they bring us together, but I'm not sure how I can do that without trivializing all of the their "life sucks" moments which are real and powerful.  So how do I say it?

It's not the first time this happened, and maybe I can't blame everything, from Katamommy to "freakin' awesome" to leveraging Right Said Fred and a Star Wars action figure to get my kids to eat, but today I will blame on this month's B12 shot leaving me wide-awake last night, thus making me a bit nutty this morning.

At breakfast...

Jude (looking for Special K Chocolate Delight): I want the chocolate cereal.
Me: You ate all of that one. Pick one of these two.
Karenna (after I open the box Jude picks): I don't want that one. I like the Fruit and Yogurt kind.
Me: That's too bad. Where were you when Jude was picking.
[Karenna whines incessantly, so I begin imitating it. Karenna continues as I get frustrated.]
Me: Ni!
Karenna (whining): What are you saying!
Me: Ni!
Karenna (whining): Why are you doing that?
Me: We shall say, "Ni!" again to you if you do not appease us.
[Jude laughs.]
Karenna (whining): Stop it!
Me: Bring us a shrubbery.
Karenna (whining): Stop! Stop!
Me: Ni! Ni! Ni!
Jude (laughing): Ni!

It's not all fun and games at the Kauffman house.

Our kids see the toys and gadgets their cousins get: PS3s, cellphones, you name it.  Our family thinks it's great that we have the tuition discount working for a university and it is.  But tuition prices go up.  They just did.  And student loans don't keep pace.

Plus we'd be able to do much better things for our kids now if we weren't paying on our loans.  Toys are great, but every year around birthday season, I end up purging my house of bags and bags of them to give away.  They break or the kids tire of them.

I'd like to think that in addition to giving my children a few hours of play, I can give them something lasting, a leg up.  A chance to break the cycle of debt.  A chance to be better off than the generation that preceded them.

Chris and I take a portion of each month's pay and us place it into UGMA accounts for the kids. Better than gadgetry and toys that give a year's pleasure at best, we're giving them choices and opportunities while teaching them the value of saving.

They can use their tuition discounts at the university where we work and use their UGMA accounts to for the rest, they could use it attend another institution (even an out-of-state one, unlike some of the limitations on a 529 plan), they could use it for grad school, they could cash it in on a down payment on a home or business loan, or roll it in to a retirement plan.

It's a new year (a fiscal one, at the university where we work).  It is a time for increases and resolutions.  Tuition rates will increase for students.  That will affect my friends with parents of college-aged children.  Pay rates will increase for staff.  That will affect my husband, myself, and our friends.

Every new year people resolve to commit their pay increases to some thing or another.  Instead of IPhones or HDTVs, my husband and I resolve to pay off a debt or increase an UGMA, because sooner than we think, the other increase, our kids' college tuition, will catch up to us, and we hope that we can catch up financially to it...

Every summer before my kids' birthdays I perform what I call "the culling of the toys".  When the toy population becomes so unmanageable that the kids no longer have places to store all their toys and they no longer know what all they own, it is time to strategically depopulate the toy collection.

Now, call me cruel or call me crazy, but I would never, ever consider perform this maneuver in front of my children.  If you're a parent, you know the reason:

"Why are you getting rid of our toys?"
"I still play with that!"
"I don't want someone else to have this.  It was mine from when I was a baby!"

So this week, I performed the procedure while the children were at daycare and rounded up the toys in two big trash bag with all the efficiency of a hired hitman.  The deed was done, and the next question was, "what do I do with the body?"

I called my kids' daycare and asked if they were interested in the toys as a donation.  What luck!  They were.  The problem was I couldn't do the drop off while they were in daycare.  I'd wait for a Saturday.  In the mean time I'd have to keep the kids out of the basement.

You've probably seen enough of this movie cliche: A guilty party carries out a bag (duffle bag, garbage bag, etc.) and deposits it into the trunk of a car.  He or she then proceeds to drive, rather nervously to the dumping point.  The catch is the body won't stay hidden or quiet...

On my trip to the daycare, my car has a trash back of toys in the trunk and some in the driver's seat.  I am feeling guilty as sin: I have just murdered two childhoods and am about to dump the evidence.

The problem is the evidence won't shut the heck up: toys are singing, laughing, giggling.  I should have taken all the batteries out.  Is it the toys or my guilty conscious making all that racket?  Darn it, why can't these toys just stay dead!

I arrive at the daycare.  On Saturdays things are much quieter.  I bring each load into the front room.  Then as I am about to leave, I turn to on of my son's preschool teachers and say, "Just don't let one to my kids where these toys came from or I'll be in big trouble."  (Yeah, don't rat me out...)

I drive home in the quiet of my car, slightly less rattled, feeling as though I have gotten away with murder another year in a row...

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