Just Fine

Hannah and I watch Project Runway together.  It’s our “date” on Friday after I Tivo it on Thursday night.  We cuddle on the couch together and we watch the contestants create clothes from hardware, potato sacks, and old wedding dresses or outfits inspired by the Elements of Nature or kids her own age.  She has memorized all of the contestants names, their ages and all of their past creations.  She knows the judges names, talks daily about Tim Gunn and loves that her pediatrician looks Just Like Michael Kors.

And she cries at the end of each show.  Because someone loses and needs to go home.  She worries when she gets into bed after watching the show that the person is So Sad that they won’t ever have the chance to win.

At the same time, she also loves that Project Runway has a winner each week.  She cheers and wants to watch them be told they won over and over.  She talks endlessly about the hugs that they get from the other contestants after they’ve won.  How wonderful for them that they are the winner.  They must be so so so excited.  And their “mommies must be so proud of them”.

Winners and Losers.  Happy and Sad.  Black and White.  No gray.  No happy medium.

In these difficult days I’ve been having with Hannah I’ve been seeing that I really don’t notice the “medium” days.  I’m either thrilled with the days she’s wonderful – communicative, helpful, sweet, polite and reasonable or distraught over the days where she’s just the opposite.  And I’ve found that I either scold her for being awful or praise her for her perfection.  But the normal days?  The days where she has her moments but for the most part behaves herself… those pass us by without note.

And I think that’s a problem.  I think the days where she acts her age, acts in the manner that I’d expect a five year old to act should be praised or at least mentioned.  Maybe she’d then realize that those days are ok too and not put so much pressure on herself to be So Good.

Last week when I went through one of the worst days I can recall with her, a day that ended in both of us breaking down in tears, I lay next to her in bed and whispered to her that I didn’t expect her to be perfect.  That no one is perfect.  I’m not.  Daddy is not.  Luke is not.  And she is not.  And I told her I don’t WANT her to be perfect.  I thought she was near sleep but she bolted upright in bed and dramatically exhaled.  And then she said, “Mommy, you just took away so much of my sadness.  Because I always think you want me to be perfect.  I always think you’re upset with me if I’m not.” This comment struck me.  I wonder if she just said that because it seemed like the “right” thing to say, or if she really feels this way.  Because I really don’t think I seem to expect perfection.  I never scold her for small mistakes she makes and I definitely don’t portray a perfectionist attitude (because I’m far from being one).

But I don’t praise her for the little things either.  I expect so much from her because she’s shown me she has it in her to far exceed my expectations.  But exceeding expectations shouldn’t be the norm.  Spilling her milk, accidentally writing on the kitchen table, complaining when Luke grabs her toy, jumping on her bed even when I’ve asked her not to… is normal for a five year old.  And she should be told at the end of the days where all of these things occur, that it was a good day.

Hannah and I also watch American Idol together.  (Please don’t judge me that I’m raising a Reality Show junky).  She loves watching them sing.  Loves hearing what the judges have to say (after I’ve translated from Randy/Simon speak to words she actually understands) and most of all, is interested in seeing who has to go home.  But she does not understand why there is not a Winner each week.  Only a loser.  She insists that someone must have won and it’s “Not Fair” that they only share bad news, not good news.  I have tried to explain that the good news for the contestants is that they DON’T have to go home, that they can stay for another week.  And at the VERY end, there is a winner.  I’ve also tried to explain that each week there is not a LOSER, the person going home is just not the WINNER.

“Well mommy, if they didn’t win, then they lost.  That’s just how it works.” she said last week.

And as hard as it is to explain to her the lesson that you aren’t a loser if you don’t win, I am desperate to find the way to have it make sense to her.  I want her to feel pride and joy from trying.  From having fun in the process.  From cheering on those who may have done “better” than she did.

One of Hannah’s favorite board games is Candyland.  But only since she made up her new Hannah rule.  The rule that if she picks a card that sends her back to the beginning of the trail, the person she’s playing with has to go back too.  “So I’m not lonely at the beginning”, she explains.  If she isn’t going to win, neither is anyone else.  The good news, is that if her opponent gets sent back to the beginning, she’s happy to join them as well.  So in the end, it’s a neverending game of Candy Land where no one wins and no one loses.  It’s just a fun journey.

I wish more of life could just be about the journey.  Without winners and losers.  Without first place and last place. Without perfect vs horrible.  Without huge smiles vs hysterical sadness.  With more gray. More normal.  More middle of the road.  I think so many of us would feel better about ourselves if more cheer was given to the Okay.  I’ve always hated the word “Fine”.  It’s neither here nor there.  I always want someone to give a better description than Fine.  And because they use that nondescript word, I always assume it’s a negative description.  But really, fine is fine.  Fine is regular.

I know that Fine won’t get anyone to the Olympics, High Honors at an Ivy League school or even onto the stage of American Idol, but that’s ok isn’t it?  Can’t we be proud of those who just get through each day, being mostly happy and not making any drastic mistakes?  I want to be able to say my day was Fine and have that be a good thing.  It means no one got screamed at.  It means no one got punished.  It means I didn’t want to Walk Out.  And even though we may not have built the perfect snowman, made delicious cupcakes, laughed hysterically or covered the refrigerator in artwork, I still got through the day.  Just Fine.

I think I’m going to be the advocate for Normal and Fine.  I want to be proud of my kids for the regular days.  And I want to be be proud of myself for not getting the Boot off my “show”, sticking around for another week and not killing anyone along the way.

Is that Fine?

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Just Fine

  1. I’m the person who doesn’t keep score when I play games like Scrabble because the winner/loser mentality makes me so uncomfortable. Yet, like you, I have days where I expect my children to be “perfect,” to “win” at every chore, choice, situation. And I very much wish I didn’t do this. I think I’ll try to consciously embrace your Fine philosophy and see what happens …

  2. It’s true isn’t it? Society seems to focus on the absolutes, the ends of each spectrum that are clearly definable, the winners and the losers. We rarely hear about those that fall in between and yet that is the vast majority of us. Our days are probably average and fine. And that IS okay, a valuable lesson to teach our children I think.

  3. This post was so full of things I wanted to say “YES!” to as I was reading. I love that Hannah was able to tell you how she felt while you were lying next to her in bed. That sort of honesty is so easy to forgo as we get older. We stop telling our parents how we really feel if we fear how they will react. That Hannah did tell you speaks volumes (to me, at least) about how comfortable she is with you.

    • Yes, I so appreciate her way of communicating with me. She amazes me sometimes at how she can really verbalize how she’s feeling. It gets us into trouble sometimes too though because I EXPECT it all the time and when she acts like her normal 5 year old self, I don’t know how to handle it!

  4. Fabulous! I love that: being an advocate of fine. Takes off a lot of pressure. I’ve only really made peace with who I am when I grew up and realized that I didn’t have to be perfect. If you start that at a young age, your kids will be way ahead of the game!

    • I really do hope that by stressing that I’m FINE with FINE that the pressure will be lifted and Hannah will not seem so stressed out all the time. We’ll see… I’ve done pretty well the past few days with telling her she’s doing great with just ok!

  5. The point that really stuck with me is that we expect so much out of our children. We expect them to “exceed expectations” all the time that we forget to give them an extra smile, hug, kiss, atta girl/boy for having just a “fine” day.

  6. Oh Becca, so much of parenting is in the “gray” which I like to think of as all the colors of the rainbow, since that is what truly lies between black and white.

    You are right, we as parents spend too much time in the extremes, on the opposite ends of the spectrum. All you can do is the best that you can do.

  7. I think fine is a word on par with ordinary. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t appreciate or strive for fine/ordinary days. We’re supposed to strive and reach and be ambitious … but, on the whole, most of us are fine and ordinary people — and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s what makes us people.

    So I agree with you. Fine is really, really good.

  8. Ha! I really dislike the word “fine” too! I think, though, you have converted me to its usefulness. You are right. Fine is fine. It is ok to be fine.

    I think you can excel within your abilities. One does not need to attend an Ive League school to be smart. It is all about what you do with your situation. You are teaching your daughter this and because of that, she will learn to work hard no matter what. That is the kind of adults we need in the world.

    You should give yourself a big pat on the back.

  9. Nicki

    You are fine! You’re a fine mother, a fine wife, a fine woman!!! Fine is fantastic!!!

  10. This is a difficult one. It’s hard to lose. Because losing SUCKS. Which is why I let Miss M. win CandyLand almost every time, but not all the time. Once in a while she loses. And it’s ugly. Because losing SUCKS. But it happens.

    But I also think she’s learning a good lesson on Project Runway. Sometimes it takes a while to know who is going to win–and sometimes, nobody wins. At least not for a long, long time. And look at American Idol! Sometimes the person who WINS doesn’t really…not in the long run. Chris Daughtry, anyone?

    I don’t really know where I’m going with this comment, Becca. Sorry. Maybe I just want to tell you that you’re doing a good job. 🙂

  11. Oh, how I love this post! If there’s one thing I love about reading bloggers whose kids are older than mine it’s the sneak peak I get into what parenting joys and challenges await me. And it’s the unparalleled insight that accompanies these little previews. Thank you, Becca, for the frank and pragmatic wisdom you’ve conveyed here. IEP is almost 16 months old, and I have a feeling his “terrible twos” may show up early. It’s good to be reminded that “fine” is nothing to frown about.

    Also, I was so tickled by Hannah’s Candyland rules. Ever the big sister, as a kid I stacked the cards to ensure that I got the good ones. Worse still, I would put the good cards in the even positions (#2, 4, 8, etc) and then “let” my sister go first so that she’d think I was being nice and not suspect my foul play. Hannah’s rules are so much more friendly and humane. You should be proud.

  12. jen

    I keep trying to write a useful comment here, but I keep disappointing myself. I guess what I want to say is that we all struggle with this big question. The question of how do we raise our children to understand the big realities (winning vs. losing) and at the same time assure them that they are not expected to be perfect or to always win (or lose, for that matter). This is the big stuff. And it’s hard. It’s wonderful that Hannah can articulate to you that you took away so much of the hurt. That is pure parenting gold. Enjoy it.

  13. There is this idea that somewhere along the lines became the norm in today’s parenting: tell your kid he/she is the best, they are a winner, and they are great, even if they lose. Well I think that is a bad idea. When I was growing up it was “you are too big for your britches”. There was never a lot of praise. It was all about working hard and perservering. Granted I came from an Italian blue collar family but the the fact is: we all grew up okay never hearing our praises. We got plenty of hugs and kisses but the reality of losing was just part of the average day. I think it is good Hannah sees the losers because the fact is there is only one winner but the trying and perfecting our skills to attain the win is the best part of living. If it were easy the win would not feel so damn good.

  14. Wonderful post, Becca! (And not just because it revealed a shared love of Project Runway – how did I not know about this before?)

    It’s such a fragile dance we do, isn’t it? Praising our children for the things they do and do well without, as Joely mentioned, going overboard to the extent that they think they they are perfect and that perfect is the expectation. I join you in paying homage to “fine,” all the while cognizant of the fact that sometimes we’ll also have to cope with less-than-fine and manage more-than-fine accomplishments from our kids.

  15. You are so ahead of the gang. Fine is great. Fine is better than great.

    I used to think that I should tell my kids, “Just do your best. Your best is good enough.”

    I stopped saying that because I realized that it really means nothing. We can’t expect our kids to do their best all the time. Nobody can do their best, at least I can’t.

    The huge lesson about winning and losing is learning to be resilient. As your kids grow, you will see how important this is. You want your beautiful children to pick themselves up and dust themselves up, when they fail. And we all fail.

    Fine is great. But failure can be even better!!!!!

  16. Wonderful, stirring post. When did we become such black and white, all-or-nothing, either-or creatures? When did we become so allergic to moderate grays and in-betweens? I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about.

    This post was more than fine. But fine? It’s fine too 🙂

  17. I’ve always insisted on lots of “kid time” for my kids, from the beginning. All the other mothers (and fathers and in some instances, nannies and other care givers) were hauling 3 and 4 year olds to multiple lessons and play dates and activities and I just said no.

    The other mothers (and fathers and caregivers) were hauling elementary and middle school kids to soccer and tennis and swim team and cello lessons and piano lessons and tai kwan do and acting class… and by that point in time, I said “choose one thing” to each of my boys. I was full time mom and full time corporate manager at the time (no nanny/caregiver/driving dad).

    Each kid chose one thing. There were requests for more, and logistically, the answer was no. The upside in all this – my kids really did get kid time. The down side – they don’t have the same “resumes” by the time they’re in high school, and those resumes start to count. A lot.

    By high school, there were more activities (and more fatigue for me to accommodate), and those activities are essential not only because they are genuine interests, but because we are all part of a competitive society.

    But one huge difference – they live in the “gray” land you speak of, but are pretty down-to-earth kids. They achieve – a lot – but not everything, not all the awards, and my younger, much less so than his brother for many reasons.

    Parents have to be “fine with fine” and let kids be kids if parents are willing to do so. Personally, I think it’s healthier. But that’s me, as a parent, and believe me, I’ve put plenty of performance pressure on my kids (academically especially) – but our reality is probably A- or B+ and I am the one who has had to learn to live with that, and actually recognize that my kids are probably the healthier for it.

  18. Yes yes yes!!! Fine is great. Fine doesn’t get arrested, fine doesn’t go to rehab, fine doesn’t get knocked up, and fine doesn’t peak in high school.

    They don’t have to score perfect SATs, they don’t have to skip grades, they don’t have to be Olympians, they just have to be healthy and happy and make it to adulthood just fine…

    All those idol kids end up on celebrity rehab anyway. 🙂

    Alex aka Ma, What’s For Dinner?
    http://www.MaWhats4Dinner.com

  19. Normal and fine, me too. I always praise my children when they do things well, or when they please me. And then when they let me down, and fight, and/or yell, make a mess, etc. I get upset. And that’s not fair, because like you say, they’re only acting their age. And no, we should never expect them to be perfect, no matter how much we think they are – they’re children, after all. And what your daughter said, how lovely. That must have melted you a little. I want my kids to be ‘fine’ too. Whatever they do, I’ll be proud. I cheer and clap and scream I LOVE YOU when they even draw a circle on a piece of a paper.

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