When your kid wants you to be more like the babysitter, it’s so awesome, you know?

Who else has a babysitter who is so fabulous that you never want to give her up – but secretly you wonder if your kid prefers her over you and it makes you an insecure wackjob?

Please tell me someone out there is raising her hand. Please?

Miss Amy is the best babysitter in the whole wide world, according to Grace. And I am in no position to disagree with her.

She’s a kind, sweet, wonderful mom who raised three fabulous kids of her own. A former kindergarten teacher. CPR-certified. Cheery and soft-spoken. Pretty much your dream babysitter.

Miss Amy comes over every week, equipped with interesting books and an unlimited imagination, ready to entertain and educate Grace for several hours while I work.

She’s perfect, really.

And that’s my problem with her.

Grace has gotten a taste of the sweet nectar that is an adult’s undivided attention, and now she is addicted.

She wants me to get on the floor and pretend to be a kitty with her. Play school and restaurant and pirates. Investigate the backyard, looking for bugs and butterflies. Constantly and consistently and forever and ever, amen.

Just like Miss Amy.

The thing is, I’m not Miss Amy. I’m Mom.

Sure, I can do some of those fun things, sometimes. But I can’t do them for hours on end. I don’t have the stamina for doing anything for hours on end anymore.

And facts are facts. I am Mom. And that means I have a whole lot of unentertaining mom things I need to do.

You know, the boring crap that makes the world go round: cook, clean, do laundry, run errands, reply to emails, go to Target, get teacher gifts, prepare for dance recitals.

And Grace doesn’t get it.

She stands by my side and pleads for me to play with her as I’m washing dishes. Her little brow furrows with disappointment when I say, “I’m sorry honey. Not right now. After we go to Target, we can play outside together.”

My unsatisfactory answer makes Grace scrunch up her sweet face at me. She thrusts our her lower lip as she drives her little guilt-dagger into my heart:

“But Miss Amy always plays with me.”

And the dagger twists:

“Why can’t you play like Miss Amy?”

And then she rips my heart out and goes and plays doctor with it. You know, since I’m ignoring her anyway.

I know logically that I should NOT feel guilty about this. While Miss Amy adores Grace, I pay her to play with Grace. It’s her job to be Grace’s playmate. I am not Miss Amy and I am not supposed to be Miss Amy.

But what Grace sees is another adult woman who plays with her and gives her undivided attention for half a day. And so she thinks, “Why can’t my dumb boring mom be more like the fabulous and perfect Miss Amy?”

Okay, maybe I’m projecting a little.

Yet more and more, I have been fighting off that obnoxious, nagging mom guilt.

Am I spending too much time trying to get things done, and not enough one-to-one time with Grace?

Is Grace deprived of her mom? Is she neglected? Is she sad and bored?

Is she spending too much time watching Octonauts while I make dinner and clean up?

Am I creating an intellectually and emotionally stunted child in the name of getting through my inbox?

AM I SERIOUSLY MESSING UP MY CHILD BY NOT PLAYING TEA PARTY WITH HER FOR HOURS?

Of course not.

Right?

I know Grace wants me to spend more time with her because she loves me and wants to be with me all the time. I know this.

I know I do at least one fun, undivided-attention activity with Grace each day we are home together. Usually more than one. I involve her in the errands and the chores and try to make them fun. I know this.

And I know as Grace curls up next to me after a day of running errands – peppered with some gardening fun and a good dose of Dora – and declares, “Mommy days are the BEST!” that I’m doing okay. I know this.

So what’s with the Miss Amy guilt?

That, I don’t know.

But if you know, how about you clue me in?

It's really not awesome. Trust me. Here's why I know.

How can I keep my babies safe in this world?

Every night I check on my sleeping daughters before I go to bed. My eyes carefully watch their chests so I am reassured that they’re breathing. I stare at their closed eyes for a few moments to be sure they’re in a deep sleep.

And then as I look at their peaceful bodies slumbering, each night I silently utter the same words over their little heads. I’m not sure if it’s a prayer, a hope, or a desperate plea. But whatever it is, I ask whoever is listening to please, please, please keep my babies safe and happy and healthy. To never let anything horrible or terrible happen to them. To help them live long lives filled with joy and peace.

I watch my sleeping girls and I swear to them that I’ll never let anything truly awful ever happen to them, even though I know in my heart that I can’t really promise this. I know that I can’t protect them every second of every day and keep them safe, always and forever.

But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to.

I feel like my nightly ritual has become more fervent as my girls grow older and the world seems to grow colder. Each news story of tragedy befalling children or young girls scars my heart. And every time I hear of something awful, my nightly words for my girls get a little more desperate.

Please don’t let something like Sandy Hook happen in their school. Please don’t let anything like Stubenville happen to them. Please don’t let them get in a car accident, or a swimming accident, or a lured away by a stranger. Please, please, please don’t let them experience horrors that I can’t even voice inside my head.

I harbor these fears, but at the same time I am a level-headed person. I know I can’t allow the evils of the world weigh my heart with so much fear that I can’t let my girls experience life. I know I have to teach my daughters to be careful, raise them well, and let them go forth into the big wide world.

I know these things. I am reasonable. But I’m also the mother of two little beings whom I love fiercely and unconditionally. And even if it doesn’t make logical sense, I’m always going to worry about bad things happening to my good little people.

My challenge – perhaps all parents’ challenge – is to find that space between emotion and reason. I need to have a healthy awareness of the things that could happen, but not be paralyzed by fear of the possibilities.

So I will keep praying in the face of terrible news headlines that nothing horrible happens to my girls.

And at the same time I will keep educating them so they are smart and prepared and armed with knowledge that will help them make good decisions and protect themselves as they grow.

I will make it clear to my girls that they can talk with me and their dad about anything and will keep those communication lines open, even when they are teenagers and obviously know everything about everything already.

Eventually I will need to let my daughters go and make their ways through the world as young adults. But all the while, I’ll be praying over their heads while they’re sleeping, no matter how old they grow or how far away from me they sleep. Because I’ll always be their mommy who yearns to keep them safe and happy and healthy. Forever.

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Enough with the homework. I want my kid to play and be a kid.

I’m going to get some flack for this, I’m sure. But I think our elementary-school kids have too much homework and not enough fun. And it makes me MAD.

Yesterday while Annie was at gymnastics, I was talking to another mom, Sarah, about our kids’ school. Sarah was freaking out because of her daughter, Ava, and her upcoming schedule. She couldn’t figure out how they were going to make it work.

Sarah told me that Ava, who is in second grade, gets a homework packet on Monday that’s due on Friday. It’s filled with math problems, spelling words and related worksheets, and a writing assignment. (Sarah showed me the packet. It wasn’t easy stuff.)

Ava also has to log 20 minutes of reading every night. And there’s a spelling test and math test each week to review for. Plus a couple of special projects a month.

Little Ava does two activities right now: gymnastics each Thursday and Brownies every weekend. That’s it.

I listened as Sarah told me how she and Ava figured out a schedule for getting her homework done. It just barely works out – if nothing unexpected happens and there are no special weeknight events like a birthday party.

But if an assignment is particularly difficult, or if Sarah is running late from work, or if Ava has a playdate – there are meltdowns. Big ones. From Ava and her mom.

And now soccer is starting in March, which is going to throw a monkey wrench in the whole situation. Because there is a practice on Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m.

Sarah can’t figure out how they’re going to make it work. Ava doesn’t have the stamina to do more than 40 minutes of homework plus the 20 minutes of reading each night. But how could she give up soccer when she loves it, the exercise is good for her, and learning teamwork is so important?

So in essence, Ava wants to do two activities a week and it may be too much because of her homework load.

The kid is in SECOND GRADE, people.

And she may not get to play soccer because of homework.

I think this is insane.

And it’s what Annie is in for next year.

I’m really struggling with this. So, being me, I did some research to see what the experts have to say.

There is something called the “10-minute rule,” formulated by the National PTA and the National Education Association. It suggests that kids should be doing about 10 minutes of homework per night per grade level. In other words, 10 minutes for first-graders, 20 for second-graders, and so on.

This means Ava should have 20 minutes of homework a night. She has at least 40. Plus her reading (but according to Sarah, Ava would do that anyway since she loves to read).

A Google search I did turned up several references to studies that have found no link between how much homework elementary school children did and how well they did in school – or how high their test scores were.*

So, do our little kids have too much homework?

Are we depriving our young kids of their childhood?

I think the answer to both questions is YES.

I believe that kids should be able to come home from school every day and play.

Whether that play is gymnastics or soccer or playing in the backyard, children need to play. It’s important for their development. And their happiness.

I’m all for reviewing spelling words or math skills for 10 minutes a night with my first grader. That sounds reasonable.

But not being able to play soccer and do gymnastics two days after school because of second-grade homework does NOT sound reasonable to me.

So if Gracie comes home with 40 minutes of homework each night in second grade? You’d better believe we’re stopping after 20 minutes. And I’m going to have a discussion with her teacher.

For the love of all that is holy, schools. Let my elementary-school kid be a kid and PLAY and don’t pile on the homework when she’s 7 years old, mmmkay?

Does your young child have too much homework? What do you think is appropriate?

* See here and here and here.

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