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Jan 24 2012

What’s Easiest for Mama is Best for Kids

By at 9:35 am
new york city bus stop

My kids can handle the bus.

Occam’s Razor is a scientific heuristic that, simply put, states the easiest solution to a problem is, more often than not, the right one.

I am Occam’s Mother. I believe that the easiest thing for me to do, vis-à-vis my kids, is, more often than not, the right thing.

For instance: My husband and I are as different as can be when it comes to sleep and waking cycles. I am pretty much useless past 10 p.m., but have no problem waking up at 6, 5, even 4 in the morning, and leaping straight into my day. My husband rarely hits the sack before 2 a.m., and, if he had his way, would sleep in until noon seven days a week.

So when all three of our children were infants, we had a schedule. He’d bring me the baby into bed for midnight and 2 a.m. feedings while taking care of the diaper changes and anything else, and I’d get up with them at 4 and 6 (and the rest of the day). As they got a little older and could sleep for longer stretches of time, he’d stay up with our kids until midnight, giving them a pumped bottle of breast-milk before putting them to bed, and I’d wake up with them in the morning, no matter how early that happened to be. Some days, our kids might sleep as late as 8 a.m. (which was particularly helpful with the younger ones, as it gave me a chance to get their siblings up, fed, and dressed for school without interruption.)

Our friends who had children the same age would complain about how theirs woke up at 5 a.m. every morning.

“Well, what time do you put them to bed?” we’d ask.

“7 p.m.”

“Why 7 p.m.?”

“That’s when you’re supposed to do it.”

Maybe. (I’ll be honest, I never read a page of Dr. Spock, so I don’t know.) But, 7 pm.m didn’t work for us as a family. Midnight did.

It was simpler for the parents, so it was right for the kids. (For the record, they are now 12, 8, and 5, and have no problem going to bed and getting up on time. We did not alter their body clocks for all eternity.)

Food is another issue on which I follow the Simplest For Me Is Best route. I will cook one meal and one meal only. I will put this meal on your plate. You may eat as much or as little of it as you wish. You may not have seconds of one thing until you have eaten the first round of everything. You may not substitute another meal in its place, even if that one is “yummy” and this one is “yucky.” You may not ask for something else to eat later or even offer to finish the original dish after the table has been cleared, the plates washed and, as my mother puts it, “The kitchen is closed.” You will eat what is served, when it is served, or you will not eat until the next meal, whenever that may be.

Because it’s easier for me that way. (Disclaimer: My oldest son is allergic to peanuts, dairy, eggs, and chocolate i.e. the four kid food groups. Obviously, I do not make him eat foods he’s allergic to. But, I don’t cook him his own meal, either. Instead, everyone in the house eats as if they’re allergic to peanuts, dairy, eggs and chocolate. My husband has learned how to bake birthday cakes out of, I swear, sugar, flour and air. I realize this cheats the other two out of treats they might like. So be it, says Occam’s Mother.)

Up until my oldest son was 9-years-old, I’d pick him up from school at 3 p.m. every day. His younger brother was at preschool (a program I picked specifically because it went until 4, so it wouldn’t conflict with pick up), his little sister happy in her stroller.

But, then, his little sister went from two naps, in the early morning and late afternoon, to one nap, smack in the middle of the day, i.e. smack in the middle of pick up time.

I could have woken her, but a cranky baby is no fun, especially in the middle of winter, as you Greco-Roman wrestle a snowsuit. I could have tried to get her to fall asleep earlier, but that often resulted in her not sleeping at all, or only for an hour or so, instead of her traditional two-three hours. And I can get a lot more done in two-three hours, than I can in one.

So her naptime–and my work time–stayed as it was. And my 9-year-old began taking the city bus home by himself. The journey required him walking a block from school, getting on a bus, crossing town, getting off, and walking three blocks home, where I sat waiting for him. I was hardly asking him to swim the English Channel or circumvent the Alps. Based on some of the reaction I received, however, you would have thought that’s exactly what I was asking my fourth grader to do.

Some parents told me they felt it was “inappropriate.” I smiled politely, and kept doing it anyway.

A year later, when he was in fifth grade, my by now 10-year-old was going to school by himself, as well–and taking our kindergartner, too! It made it easier for my husband to get to work on time, and for me to take care of their toddler sister at home, instead of dragging her cross-town on a crowded, germ-filled bus.

We gave him a cell-phone so he could call and let us know they’d arrived at school safely. And to call us before he left school so we knew when to expect him. He has some money in case of an emergency, and the direct phone number of his older cousin, a New York City police officer.

We didn’t just leave him on a snowy, Spartan mountainside to survive among the elements. But, we did ask him to step up and take responsibility not just for himself, but for helping our household run smoothly.

Because it was easier.

Which made it all right.


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