Parenting Lessons…in Driver’s Ed?

This weekend The Girl and I attended a safe driving class at a Toyota Dealership. I know, she’s young, but the opportunity presented itself and it seemed right so we went. I argued that she’s still young enough to listen to me, so I better strike while the iron is hot.

She resisted so much that I almost cancelled and other than her crashing the car during the simulated driving experience, I’m not sure she’d tell you she had fun, but I was so glad we went. It turned out to be a nice day together and I learned a few things about parenting that I thought I already had covered but saw instead that I needed a little work.

I need a little more pixie dust in my toolbox.

I need a little more pixie dust in my toolbox.

We did an exercise where we had to list qualities of a great coach and then rate ourselves.  The Girl, never one for conforming, wanted us to rate each other instead. I got high marks in things like patience and fairness (kinda surprising, actually) and low marks in consistency, predictability and encouraging. The first two surprised me and when I talked to her about it afterward it turns out we had different definitions for those traits. She agreed that as far as routines, rules and expectations I was both predictable and consistent (phew!) but she rated me low because she said I  sometimes I do goofy things or change plans to add in fun which was neither predictable or consistent. I’ll take low marks if it means she thinks I’m fun!

The score that was low that, sadly, didn’t surprise me, was for  encouraging. I know I ride my kids too much sometimes and I have high expectations for each of them. I try to tailor those expectations around their individual strengths, but it turns out high expectations aren’t enough.  I’m not doing enough cheerleading when they reach them and that can be discouraging.

I know this. I’m painfully aware of this but until now I thought I was compensating enough that I was the only one who noticed.

In a conversation that followed, my girl, close to tears, admitted it’s hard sometimes when people just expect the best from you and never congratulate you when you get it. Now, I’d argue the “never” part of that statement, but no matter what I think, her perspective hit me loud and clear-she doesn’t feel like we celebrate her enough and that plain stinks.

It’s not just at home. She’s feeling it at school as well, where she sees the kids who act out getting out of being in trouble while she’s feeling pressure from teachers to perform 100%, yet some of them can’t even get her name right. It seems her predictability and consistency has her feeling like she’s blending into the background. And The Girl hates nothing more than blending.

I can’t control the school environment and I told her that and coached her a bit in how sometimes you work with and for people who aren’t outward encouragers and  you just have to find validation elsewhere (I would know.). I can’t change school but I can change my own behavior. I have to, she’s flat out asked me to.

I am not a cheerleader. I hung up those white Tretorns in the 8th grade and buried any bit of rah rah I had left in me.

I am strong. I will fight for my children like a mama bear when I need and as witnessed by my girl, I can be goofy and fun. But encouraging? Clearly, I need to work on that. I know I say every night that I love them and am proud of them. I even try to point out one thing from the day I am particularly proud of. But she’s not hearing any of that at a time when she needs it most and I have to do something about that.

I am totally certain there is no way I can match her level of enthusiasm. The Girl has life-spirit in spades. But I can try to point out more that is great. I can try to celebrate her more. I can try to encourage and cheerlead. I can stretch totally out of my even-keeled, middle of the road, consistent and predictable comfort zone and pull some rah-rah out for my kids.

After all, they’re telling me they need it and I better listen while they still hear me.

The Other Side of the Table


Alex, Dan and Luis. Those three names and the boys that go with them are forever etched in my memory. They were second graders in my classroom when I was a first year teacher. Alex came from a chaotic household. Mom was trying her best, but there were many mountains for them to climb and school, with its rules and structure and challenging work, was not a place that Alex wanted to be and he let me know, daily, with fits of rage that got so physical I often came home with bruised shins from kicks landed just so.

Luis was also in my second grade class but the age, height and weight of a fourth grader. He had arrived at the home of his father and step mother from the streets of El Salvador mere weeks before the start of school. He had physical disabilities as a result of the of surviving either scarlet fever or polio, no one was ever quite clear with me which it was. Regardless, he limped and held his arm up and close to his body, making him a topic of conversation as he gleefully chased the other second graders around the playground hoping to join in their game while they ran away, unsure if they wanted him to. Luis also spoke only three words of English: please, yes and no. The no usually came in repeated succession when he was lying, prone and starfished, on the floor of the classroom and it was clear the “no” was a plea for all the madness in his little world to stop.

Then there was Dan. Blond-haired, blue-eyed Dan from the suburban family with two parents and a little sister. He was smart, funny and everyone in class loved him. He was my star student, the one I could count on to just keep working through the chaos of that second grade room. Dan was fantastic and for one solid year his anxiety levels were so high that he chewed through the collars of shirts at school and in the safety and calm of his home broke down for his mother enough times that she came seeking help too.

I sat across the table at Child Study team meetings with the parents of Luis, Alex and Dan multiple times throughout second grade, looking for answers to the problems we all faced trying to safely and effectively educate them in a low-stress environment.  Each kid presented differently. And each kid, no matter their profile and what we thought could, should or might be the presenting issue, surprised us with evaluation results, encouraged us with progress, or left us feeling useless in our inability to make their life better. I loved those kids with a ferocity I had never known. I wanted the best for them and was willing to do whatever I needed to make their days better. Continue Reading

A Promise to Young Moms: It So Gets Better

blog2Last weekend was glorious. You’re expecting I’m going to tell you about some fabulous trip I took or how we partied all night because our kids were at a sitter, right? Wrong. We didn’t go anywhere. In fact, we purposely skipped things because we wanted to stay home. Weird right?
We spent Saturday evening in our yard playing basketball and football with all three kids.

Then, we ordered some pizza and laughed and laughed around the dinner table, with our three kids.

Then, we made s’mores, with our three kids.
After s’mores, we snuggled on the couch in pajamas and watched our new favorite show, because we have one now, we and the kids do.

The Husband and I spent all of Saturday night, not relaxing alone somewhere tropical and not out partying kid-free, but rather surrounded by our little people for all our waking hours.

And it was glorious.Fbday12

Earlier in the day, I was at a wedding shower relishing the stories of mommies of little ones. The three moms at my table all had kids under four and they swapped many a familiar tale about wacky adventures with toddlers and preschoolers. I found myself missing those days for a second. I mean, there is something dreamy about cuddling little two-footers with a lisp. But then I realized I never want to go back because all the hard work and sleepless nights of those years have totally paid off now that we’re in this cool stage where no one is old enough to hate us yet, but everyone is old enough to sleep past six and make us laugh with real legitimate sense of humour.

The truth is, our babies are grown and they’re people now. Sometimes, that means their problems are bigger, which is exhausting in its own way.  But it also means the fun has grown in kind.oriolefam

I love our real talks. I love their real jokes. I love the people they have grown into, so much so that I barely remember the years I didn’t sleep, or wear matching outfits or dream of getting out without my kids. Those days were good, in spite of the hard work. These days are great, because of it.

Moms of young ones, lap it up, but don’t worry about what you’re missing, because as great as it is, you still have so much to look forward to.



Teen Driving Safety- It’s Never too Soon

When we were car shopping this summer, The Husband mentioned more than once that we would have to consider The Girl driving whatever car we chose. The thought terrified me. She’s so young, clearly I don’t have to worry about her driving. But the reality is, with a 3 year lease of a 5 year loan, this car may very well be the one we hand our first-born the keys to sooner than I wish.

Immediately, as I often do, I thought back to my own teenage years to reflect on what my mom did with me. I consider myself a pretty good driver so how did she ensure that would be? The answer is, she didn’t. I don’t mean she didn’t pay any attention to my driving, but the reality was she had no choice. Just after I got my permit, my mother fell and broke her arm and was in need of a chauffeur for the next 8 weeks. So, I got a crash course in driving every day all day whether she liked it or not. She had not the luxury of caution or time, she had to let me drive and hope for the best.

The result, I think is that I was a confident driver early on. The key, I think, is that I was never overconfident. With my ailing mother as my first permanent passenger, I had to learn caution first.

toyotaThis is all I want my daughter, and my sons, to know. I fear though that there are so many more reasons for them not to on the roads today. The cars are bigger, including the one they will drive. The distractions are everywhere, both in the car and out. From in-dash GPS screens to dinging text messages on their cell phones, it seems today’s young drivers’ attentions are shifted everywhere but the road.

I know we’re coming to the years where what I say doesn’t hold as much weight around here. I know if my kids hear advice from other adults, they are likely to listen more than if it comes from their old nagging mom. So, I am jumping at the chance to attend Toyota’s FREE #TeenDrive365 event in a few weeks. Toyota is offering a whole series of these safe driver simulation events for parents and teens at dealerships throughout New York and New Jersey.

My girl will hear about and car care, techniques for road safety and she’ll even get to try some driving simulation. It looks to be a fun day full of priceless information.

She may be a few years away from getting behind the wheel of my new car, but it’s never too early for her to learn how to do it safely.


This post was written as part of my association with TeenDrive365 and theToyota Teen Driver Safety Clinic. For more information on the Toyota Teen Driver Safety Clinic, please visit