Pandemic life has brought young families together, perhaps closer than we would like.
After years of staying home to raise three kids now aged 12, 10 and 5, I picked up a few sly moves, proven and refined over time.
Below are a few of my secret ninja moves in case these help you survive parenting in 2021.
1. Carry gum
Gum is magical — a cure all. I found its potent powers when my second child, aged 3 at the time, would scream and wail that her socks didn’t fit quite right. Adjusting the socks to feel juuuuust right would take ten minutes; a painstaking ritual anytime we got out of the car.
One day on our preschool teacher’s advice, I offered her gum as the ritual began. Suddenly, the socks fit well and we were off on the first try. From that day on I never looked back and now always carry a pack of the sugar free kind. A magic elixir to distract my child, deliver a quick energy boost and keep us on task.
2. Stash Band-Aids in your phone case
My bag always carries water, snacks, art supplies, and a first aid bag. On occasion however the first aid bag is not around. Like that day we headed home from the farmers’ market on BART. One of my kids of course scraped a knee waiting for the tram. A sinking feeling overwhelmed as I realized my first aid kit sat on the kitchen table. And then I realized my phone carried the secret Band-Aids I had stashed. I mended my little one while other tram riders onboard nodded as if saying, “Nice!”
3. Pack art supplies
Kids love art. It entertains, communicates, foments motor skills, tunes out boring adult talk. Didn’t you enjoy coloring growing up?
Consequently, my bag carries a Ziploc bag stuffed with watercolors and brushes, tiny vials of tempera paints, carbon pencils, pastels, Sharpies, and a sketchpad. Also inside are condiment sauce disposable cups, which I fill with water to rinse dirty brushes or mix the color pink or light brown.
The supplies come out during meetings or meals at restaurants, after a picnic lunch, or as we settle by the water’s edge to enjoy the breeze. There’s no formal instruction; instead we disconnect, practice art and pass the time.
4. Prioritize play
Kids learn through repeated play. So I prioritize play regardless of what’s going on.
At home surrounded by piles of dirty clothes, we repeatedly play Barbies caring for a newborn. At the park, thinking about the emails I’ve yet to reply, I play tag. Waiting at the bus stop they dare cross in front of my robotic swinging leg before it impedes their path. In the car, I weave through traffic while guessing if their apple bite was deep or shallow.
As an adult, I struggle with play. On occasion I do break and say, “Can’t you just play on your own?” However, I found saying, “Yes, I’ll play,” not only helps my child learn, but also improves my health.
I’m back to my high school weight thanks to regular bouts of tag, monkey bars and the ‘floor is lava’. Joining them in soccer or rock climbing conditioning make hitting 10,000 steps a daily rite. The physical play also wipes me out and leads to a 10 pm bedtime.
5. Train for Olympic competition
As a child, Olympic competition mesmerized. Dreams of that buzzer beating shot, the play-by-play call of my record-shattering race, the roar of the crowd all ran through my head as I, say…took out the trash.
Years later I now fan the Olympic flame in my children’s minds. At the beach we’ll long jump for gold. In the pool we can’t get enough of a perfect 10 handstand. At the park, whoever catches their Frisbee respectively qualifies for their next round.
My children compete only against their own earlier try. To tire them out, games last several rounds of qualifiers and finals. Playing Olympics works particularly well when the children’s friends join us. Most important — of course — is the frenetic play-by-play call of their try followed by the glorious name chants as if they were the next Maradona.
6. Carve out time for Your naps
Our children all napped until age five. I insisted on naps not for their sake, but mine.
Whether my child embraced or resisted her nap that day, didn’t matter as I needed the break. So, I’d leave my child alone in her room for about an hour to rest, talk, sing, cry,…call out, and I would nap for a brief ten-minutes.
The consistency conditioned my child to look forward to rest. And on those days my child resisted, I found my nap allowed me to manage the long day. I also learned not to fret when an event inevitably jarred our nap regimen, and instead carried on the next day.
7. Know where you are in the tantrum ride
Tantrums follow a predictable curve: they start, build, explode, and then subside. Consequently, asking your upset child to calm down as they enter the tantrum is for naught. The tantrum is only building; it’s yet to run its course, so I just let it ride.
As the tantrum builds I move my child to a timeout spot. Lamp posts, palm trees, even a long hallway at the Musee d’Orsay have served as the safe spot. I then step away and allow the tantrum to climax.
When I hear the high point, marked by ear-piercing cry, I rejoin my child and we take three deep breaths to help calm. I then ask if they’d like a hug, which no matter how peeved, they always adore, after which we carry on until the next tantrum.
8. Let them use knives
I encouraged my children to join me in the kitchen around age 3 for each to learn to use the cook top or wield knives. The approach frightened visiting grandparents, but I carried on figuring that for centuries before young children cooked and owned knives.
Under close supervision I found each proceeded carefully and decided when to add new tools or try out bigger knives. Much like me, over the years, each also learned from accidental burns or cuts during meal prep time.
Sharing a kitchen with young cooks initially results in messier kitchens and longer cooking times. But the investment pays off. Today, our three kids aged 12, 10 and 5 confidently prep taco dinners on Thursday nights. The ritual yields me a night off the kitchen, homemade tacos, tortillas, and horchata.
As I close, you may ask, the answer to spending endless days with my kids is to chew gum, lug around art supplies and have them play with knives?
If none of these tips are as stealthy as you’d like, then I offer my most secretive ninja insight: trust the people in your village — your family, friends, neighbors, and teachers — they have your best interests at heart. Try asking them for help, even by Zoom, when most in a bind.
Have your own ninja tips, won’t you share them down below as a response?