Thursday, December 9, 2010

Play Nice!

Every parent I know has annual milestones. Some we look forward to, while others we dread. Most of us eagerly await the first day of school, but would rather poke our own eyes out than go to the pediatrician on immunization and booster shot day. School Christmas concerts we mostly love.  Parent-teacher interviews, not so much. Birthday parties can be overwhelming, but a night out without the kids for a Valentines or Anniversary dinner can be absolutely cherished.

Unfortunately, most of these moments in time aren't so straight-forward. It's not so simple to label them "good" or "bad". Some are so wrapped up in the mysteries of life that they can leave us befuddled and conflicted.

Every year I come face to face with one that I'm still trying to figure out: the day the white stuff starts flying.  For kids, it's simple: SNOW = FUN! There's something about those flakes that's like a beacon, drawing kids out into the cold for endless hours of face-numbing adventure. My son would stay outside all day every day if we let him.  In his mind, December equals the start of all things winter and he takes it quite seriously. In preparation for all the he fun he anticipates, he starts wearing longjohns and extra socks in October, and the extra shirts and sweaters start coming out in November. He was almost in tears on December 1st because there wasn't enough snow to go snowboarding.

I'll take those tears over the other kind, any day.

We had our first real snowfall this week and it's been a mostly wonderful. Thank you snow! That might sound like sarcasm but it isn't. The front hall is an on-going disaster of soggy boots, hats, mitts, snowpants and coats, and I couldn't care less. It takes three times as long to make the trek to the school, so we start getting ready earlier. I smile even though there seems to be a chunk of salt permanently affixed to my socks. It's harder to get the kids to settle down for homework, but the trade-off is that they are spending a ton of time outside getting their fill of fresh air and exercise. It's easy enough to shift gears and change our after-school routine. They can work just as easily later in the day, with rosy cheeks and hot chocolate-filled tummies.

To throw or not to throw?

The moment arrived yesterday, though, that fills me with dread every year. I always end up feeling like an ogre. The innocence of kids laughter while making snowmen and angels, was contrasted starkly with the harsh reality of the searing pain of the first snowball smashing violently into the tender pinky flesh of someone's frostnipped face. The screeching barely started, before I found myself yelling "Play nice!"

I thoroughly believe that we should live by the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." I don't believe in that biblical equalizer, "an eye for an eye". "Two wrongs don't make a right!" is hardwired into my psyche. I am forever telling my kids that they need to give people the benefit of the doubt, and try find solutions instead of making problems worse. They are emotional, self-centred and impulsive little creatures, though, so it's easier said than done.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want them to be doormats, and there's nothing wrong with a good snowball fight. Standing up for yourself, not taking yourself too seriously, and learning how to lighten up and have fun, are all important lessons. They are also some of the most subtle.

So what's a mom to do when the kids are screaming at each other because one has a painful face full of snow, the other thinks it's funny, and war is about to break-out?  I do what my Dad did, I grab a handful of snow and give the aggressor a taste of what it feels like. It's a risky move for a parent. Monkey see, monkey do and all that, but it's not so funny when it's your face and they get that pretty quickly. Even the bystanders. It's amazing how fast the laughter stops. All the tears stop quickly too as the lesson sinks in. Pretty soon, laughter fills the air again.

I'm not sure it's the right approach but it only happens once each winter so something must be working. ;)


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