By the Seat of our Pants

Recently, a social worker visited our house to evaluate how Penelope was handling her new environment. I tend to make Bernadette nervous before these visits because I threaten to say things like, “Well, I’d love to show you the basement but I’m afraid the other orphans are down there rolling tobacco leaves into cigars.”

During this visit, the social worker spotted our copy of the book “What To Expect From Your Toddler” sitting on the coffee table besides an assortment of toy musical instruments and asked me, “So, what have you learned?”

“I’ve learned I no longer have time to read,” I said.

OK, that’s not entirely true. Recently Bernadette returned from the library with an armful of books with titles like “Parenting With a Purpose” and “The Secret of Parenting.” Occasionally, I will flip open a book and leaf through it as if I expect some ephiphanic phrase to leap off the page causing me to leap off the couch and exclaim: “That’s it! That’s what I need to do to guarantee my kid will always behave in every situation no matter where we are or how much (or little) sleep she has had!”

Needless to say, that hasn’t happened, nor will it ever. I think experience is the great teacher in parenting. Well, perhaps not experience itself, but what we do with what we experience. (I guess you can say that about anything in life.) We’re lucky because overall Penelope behaves well. But, like any child, she has moments when she acts bratty, antagonizes the dogs, or decides her play stove is boring and wants to play with the real one. When Penelope crosses the bad-behavior line, she winds up in her room or sitting on the family-room steps thinking about what she did wrong.

Lately, we’ve been struggling with Penelope’s unwillingness to nap. One Sunday afternoon, Penelope absolutely refused to nap, even though she had Samsonite-sized bags drooping below her eyes. We eventually threatened her with canceling our planned pool outing (swimming, not billiards!) if she didn’t rest.  Nothing worked. The minute we left the room, Penelope would climb off the bed to read or play. This went on for much of the afternoon, leaving Penelope even more exhausted, Bern on the verge of tears and me pulling my hair out. Although the day was a scorcher, Bern and I agreed that we couldn’t give in and take her to the pool.  Then, we discussed whether we needed to wean Penelope off naps anyway — she starts afternoon pre-school this fall — and how best to go about doing so.

But I think in this and the hundreds of other instances that have popped up, we’ve learned that parenting by the seat of our pants is a perfectly natural approach. You can read all the books you want, call all the friends and family members whose parenting skills you respect, but it all comes down to relying on your experience and common sense to make an intelligent, quick decision. And I hope and suspect that as long as Bern and I support each others’ decisions and keep the lines of communication open, that it’ll all work out. Somehow.

Bern and I do our best to do the right thing. We’re vigilant about teaching her manners, and can honestly say that it’s less and less often now that we need to remind her to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you,’ or ‘excuse me’ if she needs to interrupt a conversation. Sometimes she gets the phrases mixed up.

The other day Penelope was drinking a glass of milk at the dinner table when she let out an adult-sized belched.

“What do you say?” I asked.

“Thank you!” she responded.

So, she’s learning . . . well, we’re all learning!

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