Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a sentimental pack rat. Nothing approaching hoarder levels, nothing that seriously concerns me or others. I can get rid of stuff when I need to. I just don’t like throwing away birthday cards, or dumb little knickknacks from old times with friends.
The thing is, I now have an infant daughter. And one day she’s going to be coloring pictures. And bringing home school papers. And covering pieces of paper with stickers. And making flimsy arts and crafts projects.
What am I supposed to do with all of them? I know I can’t keep everything she makes forever. But my heart is already constricting at the thought of dumping it in the trash—not to mention how she’ll feel if she discovers anything’s been thrown away. How do parents do it? How do you decide what to toss, what to keep, and for how long?
—I Do Not Want Marie Kondo Invading My House in 20 Years
Dear Pack Rat,
I am so glad you asked me this, because I have a very firm policy and it minimizes angst. Here’s the deal: You praise it, it gets a week on the fridge, you toss it. If it’s something particularly special, and you feel the urge to hang onto it, ask yourself: “Would I pay to have this framed?”
If the answer is yes, frame it. No more than two things a year should get framed (unless you are exceptionally wealthy or capable of DIY, as framing is the most expensive thing in the world, no disrespect intended to the fine craftspeople who are framing things and charging for their time and expertise). If not, it gets its week on the fridge.
Then it gets tossed.
The issue with the sweet and beautiful drawings and projects our children make us is that the minute they hand it to you, a Nostalgia Clock begins running. Toss something the same day you get it, you feel nothing. A week later, a twinge. A year later, realizing that sweet wobbly hand is now so much bigger? STAB IN THE HEART. Five years? You’re digging through the expired Valium your cat needed when you moved from Phoenix.
What you must not do is lovingly pack everything into a big plastic bin and then go through it a month after your child goes to college, singing “Sunrise, Sunset.”
Instead, enjoy your limited stock of beautifully framed and preserved items. If your kid is ever like, “My friend’s parents saved all her drawings” you can say, “Go live with them, if they’re so perfect,” and once they have their own kids and realize the sheer amount of crap that comes home in the backpack each week, they’ll understand.
Dear Care and Feeding,
This is definitely one of those “problems” one should be so lucky to have, but I’m genuinely stuck. My 2-year-old daughter is very bright and extremely outgoing. People comment constantly on how smart she is, what a good vocabulary she has, etc. My question is, what am I supposed to say back to comments like these? “Thanks” feels wrong, and I used to make jokes about how she loves to talk, but it always feels awkward and makes me uncomfortable. What’s a good, standard line I can deploy in these situations?
—Not a Big Deal
Dear Not a Big Deal,
“Thank you” is perfectly sufficient, and the more you say it, the less “wrong” it will sound. Kids who are particularly verbose and outgoing at 2 years of age are no more likely to be evil/good geniuses than their more “AHHHHHHHHHH SLAMM ROCKET” peers; this is the nature of child development (actual clinical delays notwithstanding). Also, people don’t really care about other people’s children. I’ve met a lot of other children in my day, and unless they’re trying to actively slice my Achilles tendons with a stolen steak knife, I usually say, “Oh, what a beautiful, brilliant young lad!” and “She’s so bright!” Do I care? I do not. They’re probably lovely.
It’s no big deal. People compliment your kid, you say thank you, you ask after their neuralgia.
Congratulations on your lovely 2-year-old. She’s so bright!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter, Riley, is turning 6 in about a month. We are about to send out invitations and are intending on inviting her whole kindergarten class to her party, except for one. This girl, Isabella, is a bully to most of the class but especially Riley, and Riley hates her. I have seen enough interactions between them to know that Riley’s dislike is very valid, as this girl is just plain awful, and if she is invited she will ruin the party not just for Riley but also a lot of the other kids from her class and even some of the parents too. Unfortunately, I know that Isabella’s mom will somehow catch wind of the party and there will be drama, and she will probably get the kindergarten teacher involved.
Riley is dead set on inviting her whole class, but is also dead set on this girl not being invited. Is it OK to invite practically the whole class but leave Isabella’s name off the invite list? Or should I make Riley suck it up and invite Isabella anyway?
—And Then There Was One
Dear And Then There Was One,
Yeah, you do not have to invite Isabella. It sounds like it would ruin the party. There will be some consequences (Isabella’s mom may go off on you) but you’ll just have to deal with that when it comes. You cannot, however, invite everyone else, regardless of Riley’s preferences.
More importantly, the teacher should not be hearing about this situation for the first time when Isabella’s mother calls her. If Isabella is a bully to your daughter and others, you need to talk to the teacher about that now. It’s a much bigger issue than whether she gets an invite.
You can also ask if the school has a birthday party policy, which many of them do, in order to avoid unpleasant and humiliating situations. That policy may be as simple as “invite whomever you want, but if you don’t invite everyone, you cannot hand out invites at school.”
Riley is 6. She is probably dead set on 19 things a day. You should tell her she can invite six kids, or 10 kids, or any number above “zero” and below “the entire class minus Isabella.” I do think that even if Isabella were a no-holds-barred-fire-monster, it’s unkind to have only one child excluded. If Riley throws a fit, you can ignore it. You are the parent. You are being reasonable.
Dear Care and Feeding,
If I could do it again—and there’s always the unspoken “knowing what I know now”—I would not have kids. I have two whom I love very much, but I can’t say I have enjoyed parenting, or done a particularly good job of it. I’ve loved and cried and hugged and given time and attention, but I don’t think I’ve done a great job and it just wears me out emotionally, more and more as they and I get older.
Do I lie when they ask me about my experience when they talk about having their own kids? I don’t see a way to be honest that won’t be interpreted as “You don’t really love me” or “I’m a horrible person.” What do I tell them?
When I was in college, my father told me that if he had a do-over he wouldn’t have kids. And he’s wild about me and I am clearly his favorite. (My brother is my mother’s favorite, even though I call her every day and gave her three grandchildren and he barely even texts her, but we can discuss that another time.) He was a fabulous dad. He is just extremely introverted and hermit-y and children are noisy and sticky and constantly around. I have no idea how he managed as a stay-at home parent. The fact that he got through those years is a miracle to me.
You have all my sympathy, is what I’m saying. Also, you have probably been much better at parenting than you think. The bar for being a good-enough parent is remarkably low, and you have jumped tidily over it by loving and taking care of your children and, I assume, not abusing them. Congratulations. You are in the top 1 percent of parents over the course of human history. That’s depressing for human history, but great for you.
I also think you should get some therapy. There’s a lot of unwarranted self-hatred here. You are also very likely to find that you do enjoy your children as adults. You prefer adults, which is extremely reasonable. You may find that your favorite people in the world are these particular adults, whom you have created and whom you love. It may change how you feel about the whole endeavor.
That being said, I was in no way scarred to hear that my dad wouldn’t do it again. I knew he adored me. It was helpful to think about how much time I need every day to just experience solitude and silence, and to make an informed choice about having children as a result. We are a terminally candid (and neuroatypical) family, so you may choose to be a little more discreet with your own kids. You can talk about what aspects you found challenging, and what aspects you found rewarding.
Society has assisted you by making a bit of an overcorrection into “HAVING CHILDREN IS A NIGHTMARE” after a long, long period of “IT’S THE GREATEST JOY YOU’LL EVER KNOW.” Sometimes (usually?) both of these things can be true for the same person. Be honest but tactful. And, again, get some therapy. You’re too hard on yourself. Keep me posted, please.
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