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Laurie Nigro
Sometimes even your most epic fails as a parent turn into memorable wins

I’ve been a parent for a while now. Along the way, I’ve had my ups and I’ve had my downs. Some are more memorable than others. In fact, there were many times when I raised the white flag, gave up the ghost, threw in the towel, and whatever other euphemism for surrender you’d like to insert here.

However, on a few occasions, these epic failures surprised me and somehow turn into parenting wins. I know. Weird. Here are five times that I thought I was going to have to turn my kids over to CPS but instead ended up feeling like maybe I’m not as horrible of a mother as I thought.


1. Signing my daughter up for dance lessons.

This was a tough one for me. I was a tomboy. Hell, I’m still a tomboy. When my husband bought tickets to take our princess to the ballet, I was shocked and horrified. He had purchased them for NFL Playoff Sunday. And the Giants were playing. It was like a national holiday only important. So when the day came, I dressed them up and shoved them out the door, then ran to the couch. There I spent the afternoon texting him a play by play of the game. (Don’t worry — he turned off his phone for the performance.)

So when my baby girl begged to learn how to dance, I was reluctant. I had just signed her up for soccer. And tennis. And I was eyeing the volleyball schedule. But then she put on some tap shoes she had been given and danced until her tiny little feet bled. In order to prevent permanent damage, I bought her a tutu and signed on the dotted line. Ten years later, she’s still dancing. And though I never disrespected the art of dance, I can’t really say I respected it until I watched my baby grow into a young woman with poise, grace, and scary strength (for real — it’s a little unnerving). Dance has taught her discipline and hard work. She’s felt the sting of disappointment and the exhilaration of success. And she’s made lifelong friends. Not many others understand getting up at 6 a.m. every Saturday, for many years, no matter the weather, to push your body beyond the bounds of normal human limits. These girls are a team just like any I encountered on the field or court. They encourage and support and love one another. And no matter where life takes them, they will have a lifetime of memories. Plus, who else can really understand your joy over a perfect back cabriole? Actually, who else can even define a perfect back cabriole?

2. Getting my 10-year-old child a subscription to “Guns and Ammo.”

Though I was raised in a family with many, many police officers, my father was the exception. We didn’t have guns in the house and I always feared them. As I grew up, I developed a distaste for all things firearm-related. And I am a pacifist. In my delusional world of perfect parenting, my child would play with Lego and other mindful and engaging toys that challenged his imagination and encouraged him to create.

And create he did. He created guns — paper guns (with multiple barrels, held together with pounds of scotch tape), Lego guns (that challenged the laws of physics with their size and dimension), and even stick guns, chosen from the array of twigs he discovered on our nature walks. When I realized that more than 75 percent of our conversations were related to guns, I broke. If the kid was going to be obsessed with firearms, then he was going to learn how they worked, what they were made of, and how to properly care for whatever weapon he thought was the coolest at the moment.

So with an overwhelming sense of guilt and failure — not just at mothering but at life in general — I went to my computer, researched the bejesus out of firearm periodicals to find the one that best suited a 10-year-old (the answer is none) and ordered a subscription to “Guns and Ammo.”

The first magazine was read with a good level of interest. But I noticed that as time went on, he lost his fervor for weaponry. By the time the one-year commitment expired, he had lost interest. Not all interest, but enough to not renew. And in the process, he had learned the proper care and handling of firearms, should he ever want to use/own one. I learned that choosing fear and ignorance about firearms is foolish. And we both learned that you can, in fact, know too much about Kalashnikov (at least I learned that when my child essentially became the man’s biographer).

3. Buying my daughter a face painting kit.

I still bear the emotional scars from that Christmas. It seemed such a cute and innocent gift. The thought was that she would spend time at her mirror, having fun with color and texture, using her imagination to make works of art.

Turns out, she didn’t want to paint her own face. Turns out, she wanted to paint my face. Regularly. The first time was the hardest. The photo doesn’t even do it justice. Needless to say, I started drinking almost immediately. For the next several months, until the paints actually ran out, I had rainbow faces, hands, arms, and even a foot when I was busy doing dishes one day and couldn’t sit for a full facial application.

However, years later, she is fairly skilled with makeup. She has learned that less is more and that blue eyeshadow is rarely a good idea. She doesn’t wear much, but when she does, it is applied tactfully and with a focus on a natural look. Of course, I’m still her resident Barbie make-up head, but these are the things we do for our children.

4. Enrolling my son in sports.

Please refer to item one, above. Not only am I a tomboy, I’m also the daughter of a long-time coach. Though the preschool sporting opportunities with my child had been epic disasters, one must persevere. He was older and wiser when I tried again. He was even somewhat willing. The rest was a rollercoaster of unenthusiastic practices, games he rarely played in for more than two minutes — with good reason — and Saturdays spent in our driveway, running drills and wind sprints. I even had orange cones. And I even ran the sprints with him. Then he would go inside and I’d be weird-mom, alone in my driveway practicing baseline jumpers (they were always my biggest weakness).

Yet, after three years, there were some very valuable lessons learned (even if none of them were about boxing out). You just can’t teach a kid what a team and teamwork can teach him/her. They have to experience it themselves. For better or worse, there is a special dynamic that exists when you rely on four other people to help you get that W. And I’m certainly not saying that sports are the only way to experience it. But on that team, my kid cheered on people with whom he would have otherwise not met. He missed one game in three years and showed up to pretty much every practice. And his grandfather took him to all of them. Not many kids get to have that kind of time with their grandparents, one on one. As another bonus, my child got to experience an undefeated season, culminating in a Long Island championship. No one can ever take that away.

5. Sending my kids to school.

After years of homeschooling and being a cheerleader for homeschooling, it was with a crushing sense of defeat that I enrolled my children in public school. I had had dreams of sending them off to Harvard at 17, enlightened learners who voraciously ingested knowledge with a strong love and curiosity for life. Instead, I found myself saying things like, “Yes, you do have to learn to divide! Of course, you will use it in the future! What if you’re trying to make dinner and you want to cut your recipe in half?”

“I don’t want to learn to cook any more than I want to learn to divide.”

I tried bribery, threats, and even guilt. And then I had to wonder how, exactly, I was furthering their education with these methods, unless they were planning to join the Mafia. Also, I’m thinking that hating your teacher is ok when you only have to see them for 40 minutes a day, but not so much when it’s the woman who birthed you and washes your clothes. So school it was.

It hasn’t been all roses and sunshine, but I have no regrets. My kids have had the best of both worlds. Because I still firmly believe that homeschooling is a fabulous way to educate kids. Just not all kids. Or, just not all kids for all ages and stages. The public education system could use a little work (but who couldn’t?), however, both of my kids have had great experiences and they use the tools provided to them to make it work.

We’ve had some amazing — like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious — teachers and we’ve had some that should probably choose a career that doesn’t involve children. My kids have learned to overcome challenges, deal politely and respectfully with all people — whether or not they agree with them, and to ask lots of questions. Sometimes, they even like math (well, maybe just one of them but that’s half of my kids so I’m calling it a win).

There’s no way you’re getting through this parenting things without a few mistakes along the way. They’re built into the terms and conditions. But when you can turn that frown upside down, it feels pretty good. Just don’t let your six-year-old use face paint to give you that smile.

If you, too, struggle with your baseline jumper, you can check out Ganon Baker’s training video. He runs through some drills and makes some helpful suggestions for improving the accuracy of your shot. Or you can stand in your driveway in the rain, missing more than 50 percent of your attempts, and wonder where your youth went. Whatever works for you.

Laurie Nigro
Laurie is the mother of two biological children and one husband and the caretaker of a menagerie of animals. Laurie is passionate about frugal, natural living. She was recognized by the L.I. Press Club with a “best humor column” award in 2016. Email Laurie