Thursday, December 8, 2011

On Horrible Hairwashes, Man-Eating Pigeons and Why Dogs Sometimes Seem to Be the Better Option

Some mornings take it out of even the most road-tested of mamas.

Last night, I had a great time out at the pub with another mama-friend. We laughed, gave each other "they said what?" looks from time to time, and enjoyed good beers in moderation. All was well with the world.

And by the time I'd dropped Kiddo off at preschool this morning, I was wishing I'd never left the pub.

Our family has a problem some of you can relate to: horrible, hellish hairwashing for the little one. Some of you will not be able to relate because your children have well-adjusted attitudes and relationships to having water in their faces. And good for you. In fact--freakin' awesome for you. Now please take your perfect children away from me, because their mirror-shine clean hair will only reflect my sad face back to me as I embark upon a bit of a pity party.

It's a well-deserved pity party, folks. And you can come party with me, even if you have perfect children, so long as you don't have any helpful suggestions on how I can make my kid enjoy getting his hair washed. I get this hangup he's got, on a really empathetic level. As a kid, I hated getting my face wet. Even now, I can swim like a dog, with my face up out of the water. Do not mistake my claim as an exclamation of wondrous talent: I know the person at the pool with their head sticking up like Lassie looks entirely Loserville.  I get it. As a mom, I have straddled the fence of relating to my kid and being completely and utterly exasperated with this screaming, clinging, crying aversion to water on the face.

Last weekend we'd tried our most reasonable last resort (aside from dry shampoo); we bought swimmers earplugs and goggles and still, the sad tears ensued. This morning, though, after Screamfest 2011 (I am so glad no one called CPS, because standing in the bathroom, holding him into the shower so Joe could finish rinsing Kiddo's hair, you would have thought we were strangling cats), I've decided to do what has been up-till-now unthinkable: we are getting Kiddo's hair cut, barber-shop style. Likely a buzz cut.

I can't tell you how heartbroken I am. This is all my own projected vanity, I realized, but damn! this is so hard! I've been his barber for the past years and everyone's loved that long-on-top fluffy mop thing he's got goin' on. So much so that people talk about his hair a lot. Which has filled me with a mixture of pride (my good handiwork and genes) and worry, because I wonder if his schoolmates and other little buddies hear their mom's gushing over Kiddo's hair and if it makes them perhaps like him a smidge less because he's getting their mom's adoration, instead of them.

But what gets deeper into the heart of the matter is the growing awareness that there are some things which I just cannot make better for Kiddo, no matter what I do. Kids are always going to have things that freak them out. All people do. I know that there are some things in this world that could potentially send me into a momentary, raving freak-out, but I'll keep that to myself and just say that I've mastered most of those triggers over the years. Kiddo hasn't had loads of time to get his head around his body's amped up sense of "I'm gonna drown" when he gets water on his face. This is just like trying to reconcile his intellectual understanding that pigeons do not actually eat people with his visceral, overwhelming fear that any pigeon who might stray by will gobble him up with an evil grin on its beak.

I think this might be one reason why my friend Linda says, from time to time, with a confused and chagrined look on her face: "Kids are weird, Hazel."

She once also told me that no one should have children 'unless they want it so bad their teeth hurt'. She's on to something there...

Sometimes I think Linda was genius to skip the whole human procreation thing and focus her time and energy on her dogs, Chickie, Danny and Jack. Her dogs are the opposite of Kiddo in so many ways. They like taking baths! They like getting all soaped up and clean! They come when called! They don't think pigeons will eat them! I don't want to trade Kiddo for the pups, (well, maybe Chickie) but when people get all uppity about other couples choosing not to have children but to open their hearts to a few pets, I don't join them in thinking child-free pet owners are selfish, self-absorbed people. Instead, I think they're pretty smart and that some aspects of the whole human parenting thing are incredibly overrated. Yes, the family name will be passed on (because there's a shortage of Wheelers in the world? Not according to the robocalls I keep getting for every J. Wheeler that's ever skipped out on their bills...). I adore my son, but some days, when it's all grumping and grumbling and dragging one's feet and Sudden Onset Dressing Dysfunction-- you know, when we "just cannot put my coat on Mama! It's too hard!" even though we did it in two seconds yesterday going out for treat-- all of this makes me think that the 'Populate the Earth' culture is blowing some serious smoke up our behinds. Rewarding? Oh yes, I'm waiting for my reward, especially after being told by my own Little Miracle that I am indeed a Bad Mommy.

I'm still waiting....

So, this weekend, it all gets clipped. I know I will have to pretend like I this is the bestest, most wonderful Big Boy thing ever, even though I am going to want to cry. The biggest reason for my tears, though, is not about Kiddo's cute hair. It's about the fact that here is a challenge in his life that I no longer know how to help or fix. My bag of tricks is upside-down, all shook out--there's nothing left in there. This is where I have to put up my hands and admit that this is something Kiddo's going to have to work out on his own. I can't do any more for him. I've tried for the last four years to make the going easy when it comes to hairwashing, but the time has come where the problem is placed squarely in his own lap. We'll see where this goes, and we'll keep trying to be positively encouraging. I love my little guy. There are so many things he is brilliant at. I don't know any other kid that has tried to make a banjo out of Tinkertoys and a hand drum. Do you?

And in case you are wondering, I can't even begin to wrap my head around the fact that we want to start swim lessons next year...and please, no helpful suggestions about that, either.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Parent-Teacher Conference: Sitting on Both Sides of the Table

T'is the season, the time of year when school closes down for a couple of days and parents are asked to come in and meet with their child's teacher. After we get done organizing our childcare around this, what's next? Hopefully, parents have some questions regarding their child's day. They might be rather benign inquiries such as "So, who has my kid been enjoying playing with?" or "Tell me about the Thanksgiving Play...Sally's so excited about this".  Sometimes, though, we have questions on our minds that carry a bit more gravity, especially if our kids are struggling socially, having a harder time with the classwork, or if the teacher's discipline/homework/classroom policies don't quite jibe with ours.

I'm lucky: I get to be a mom and have had the pleasure of being a preschool teacher. In other words, I've sat on both sides of the conference table, and so I want to share a few ideas and stories which might help you make the most of your conference. Some of these suggestions may not be applicable to your child's age, level of development, or schooling situation, but I believe there are some things which are also universally helpful no matter where your child is in their schooling.

1. The Parent/Teacher Conference is that: a meeting between parent and teacher. For families with younger kids, treating it as such will help. Unless a teacher specifically wants your child present for the conference, child care during the conference is the order of the day. (Some teachers conduct student-led conferences, which focus on presentation and self-assessment. This is usually reserved for children beyond preschool.) When a young child asks why you are going to talk to their teacher, a simple answer is sufficient. "We talk with your teachers because we want to learn what happens at school. They get to tell us about your day and who you play with." This message is emotionally contained and positive and tells our kid "I'm so interested in you, I want to find out more." This is all a young child really needs to know.

2. When it comes to very young children, keep the particulars of the conference between the adults. When we go to a conference and hear things we might be concerned or upset about, we sometimes want to double-check them with our kids. With older children, it may be more age-appropriate to follow up with them. With younger children, be wary of this urge to do so; you will spill the beans that the adults are concerned and possibly still not get good information. Remember, kids of all ages may leave out their part in conflict or exaggerate someone else's part instead. (I know this, I have a kid, remember? Mine does this too.) Sometimes our children struggle with getting along in the group, or with other aspects of their day, be it educational or in regard to personal development. In my opinion, with little kids, it's not their business to know that we might be deeply concerned. Instead, it is our business to go into that conference hoping to address concerns and to work as a team, which is often very possible, with the teacher. Often, though, sharing our worries and fear with our kids only exacerbates behaviors they are already challenged with, because they so trust and believe our opinions and expectations of them. In short, unless your child has been invited into the room by the teacher, it is sometimes best to keep what's discussed during the conference exclusively between the adults.

If your child asks, you can focus on the more positive, general topics: "Miss Wendy said you really liked handing out instruments at music time." This will likely be enough for your kid, and you've saved them a lot of emotional baggage they might not be ready to handle.

3. If possible, sign up for a conference earlier in the day. Take the time off work if need be. From my own experience, no matter how much preparation I do in advance for conferences, they are physically and emotionally exhausting. Although it seems a passive activity--we aren't moving around but sitting in a chair--conferences involve lots of active listening and usually some in-the-moment problem-solving. We are using our brains constantly. Conferences sometimes require teachers to do some emotional caregiving of parents, and even if most of the interaction with parents is relatively positive, it's still draining.  If your child's teacher doesn't offer daytime conferences, try to choose one of the earlier times in the evening. Teachers get a lot thrown at them during conferences and we often have limited breaks during conference times (because many parents will go over time), so scheduling an earlier time may result in a more informative conference.

4. Bring a list, but not a laundry list. Your child's teacher is usually only allotted a short amount of time per conference. Respect this, because there's another parent waiting for their turn too. You might have a lot of questions or concerns, so double check your list. Prioritize. What's most important? Make those the top of your list. Bringing the questions that mean the most to you will help you feel more satisfied with your conference than starting with the little stuff and trying to work your way around to more serious topics. In keeping with this piece of advice~

5. Don't wait until the conference to discuss immediate concerns. As a preschool teacher, if there was something important that needed to be addressed, I didn't wait for a conference to bring up the issue but would phone the parents at home and talk with them when they had some time. My son's teachers have never hesitated to call if there was something they needed to let me know about his school life. One unfortunate thing that can happen with holding onto questions or concerns is that any misunderstandings or negative emotions can build up and fester, with unpleasant results once the conference starts. Sometimes, as parents, our levels of anxiety or upset can blow a potentially-progressive conference off course because the teacher is immediately put on the defensive and a great opportunity for good communication is missed. Sadly, too, parents are sometimes similarly defensive and experiencing the same unwanted and upsetting emotions before they walk in the door. Dealing with serious concerns as they arise can help alleviate some of this tension on both sides. Teachers want an ongoing dialogue with parents, not just a relationship confined to two twenty minute conferences a year. Your child will benefit.

6. Listen to the hard stuff, even if it hurts, and then follow up. Years ago, during my first-ever round of conferences, I had to approach a mother about her toddler son's violent acting-out behaviors which were of serious consequence to our little group. As soon as I began to mention the hitting and biting, of which she was well-aware, she ripped into me with petty complaints: she was upset that the previous teacher, whom she liked, had left, and I had a different teaching style; I didn't play reggae in the classroom, and therefore was not supportive of her family, who were not, by the way, Rastafarian. As laughingly ridiculous as some of her points were, something tragic had happened: she'd refused the opportunity to work as a team and shut down the conversation.  Sadly, her child would continue throughout that preschool to have negative experiences due to his aggression which was, I believe, so painful to his mother that she simply couldn't acknowledge it.

Sometimes, we are going to hear some hard stuff during a conference. I know I have. All of our children have strengths and weaknesses, and as nice as it is to hear about their successes in school, some of their challenges may be very painful to hear about. Listening to what is being told to us, even when we are upset, is valuable, because the more we can focus, the better we are able to come back to the teacher with questions. If you can't believe your ears, it's wise to ask for specific examples. It is also okay to let the teacher know that the news has come as a surprise and you would like time to think about it. Ask to follow up after the conferences are done, in the following week or so. This will give you an opportunity to process what's been said and a chance to ask better questions when your mind is a little clearer. The worst possible thing to do in this situation, by the way, is to turn on the teacher. Even when your inner Mama Bear is growling ferociously, keeping your cool is going to keep communication open and be far more productive than getting angry. I can tell you from my own experience, having my person and my intentions attacked made further communication with the aforementioned mother very tentative and strained. While we are supposed to always stay professional and be like ducks, letting water roll off our backs, teachers are human beings too. We aren't made of Teflon, so if you are furious with us, it's okay to come back to us later on when we are more able to work together as a team.

All this to say...

Conferences can be emotionally-loaded occasions. On my list of recommended books is "The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn From Each Other" by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. If you can read this book before your child gets too far into their educational journey, it will be to your--and your child's--advantage. I think this is one book that can give parents and teachers both a significant boost in how they perceive and conduct conferences. So often in life, much unnecessary conflict is due to a lack of information, or there are assumptions at play. When we are able to create clear pictures for each other, perceptions can change. When parents and teachers come together in the spirit of working as a team, this is when we are most able to create paths of progress for our kids. No matter which side of the conference table I sit on, helping a child overcome challenges and succeed is one of the most valuable contributions I can make to the world.

And so can you, too.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Things I've Learned as a Parent

Parenting is so challenging, and as any aware mother knows, the physical changes of pregnancy are almost insignificant compared to the changes we discover in ourselves as we move through our journey of life with kids. Parenting is all about changing, be it in reference to diapers or our own minds. This morning as I lay in bed, slowly waking, I was struck with some of the changes I've noticed in my own life. Some are funny, some are more philosophical, but no matter what, one thing is clear: if you are a parent and you haven't changed--somehow or in some way--we need to check you for vital signs.

In no particular order, here are some ways my son has changed me, and some things I've learned over the last four years, for better or worse:

1. I am now the lightest sleeper ever.  My brain has developed some sort of sophisticated sound-cue system which wakes the body whenever certain sounds travel through the environment: the signature 'crack' creak of my son's bedroom door; the croup Strider cough; or the early morning calls of "I'm tired of sleeping, Mama".  This will, however, work in my favor once the Kiddo becomes Teenager and tries to sneak out at night. I am the alarm system in this house.

2. I never knew how much I could love sleep. This love is almost scandalous.  Pre-child, staying up late was a voluntary activity. Now, if I were to ever have an affair, it would be with Sleep, because nothing looks better than the insides of my eyelids. I'd easily pay good money to have an uninterrupted ten hours of sleep.

3. I've come to see that the idea of Parental Authority is--like unicorns and centaurs-- largely the stuff of myth.  Some will disagree with me here, but basically, we have about as much absolute, sovereign authority over our kids as a boss has with their employees--only we can't fire our disgruntled workers. Instead we are required to provide them room, board and health insurance and cute clothes. When we say "jump", we might not get a jump, or a "how high?", we might just get an annoyed stare with a "Why?" which will make us want to fire them for insubordination. My job is far more about persuasion than domination, although I have been known to whip out the weekly-used threat of "If you don't stay in bed, there will be no video time tomorrow" when I am tired, finished with the extended bedtime routine and ready to escape for a well-deserved Beer and a Sitcom. At that point, the Progressive Parenting part of my brain has clocked off, exhausted after a busy day, and is also ready to put up its metaphorical feet and veg out. 6:15 a.m.-7:30 p.m. is a fairly long workday for that part of my brain, and if I time out after 13 hours plus, can you blame me for grabbing the cheap threat and beating a hasty retreat?

3. The best parenting brains are like an Olympic gymnast: flexible and strong and able to change it up. Especially in regard to parenting philosophies. Who gets more advice thrown at them than a parent? How many gajillion parenting philosophies are out there, to both ends of the extreme? I remember adamantly following Attachment /Child-Led Parenting theories--until I was tired of waiting for my three year old to want to wean and sleep in his own bed. Despite all of the hypothetical "Make It Positive for Everyone" parenting philosophies and techniques, sometimes, we are going to have to make our kids do things that don't feel good for anyone. Sometimes you simply can't reason a child into cooperation. Sometimes, they are going to have to go to the doctor and get their shots or go to school when they don't want to simply because "That's the way it is". (Or, as I tell Kiddo sometimes, "We do because we do because we doobie-doobie-doo.") Sometimes empathy is all we have to offer, and their cooperation is pretty much a moot point: some things in life must be done and yeah, it kinda sucks. That said, I've learned that no parenting technique or theory is bulletproof; rather, there are no silver bullets out there that are going to solve any problem permanently. Besides, silver bullets should be reserved for werewolves, not kids. I am still learning, still having my own ideas challenged, and stretching, stretching, stretching every day as a parent.

4. I'm not the parent I thought I'd be. Remember that time in your life as a new parent of a baby, when  you'd see another parent struggling with their misbehaving kid and think to yourself "I'll never do that!" Let me tell it to you straight: Oh, yeah, you will. You will do that, and then some. You will have moments in which you think "I am just about the shittiest parent in the world right now, except the ones who are in jail" and the ones who are in jail will be your sad consolation for the angry stupid thing you said to your kid. I've had those moments myself. I never thought I would threaten my son with punishments, but I have, even if only because I'd run out of the time, patience or energy to pull yet another idea out of the parenting toolbox. We all do this occasionally, and as long as I am not threatening physical punishment or abandonment or something equally scarring, this is a part of myself that I'm going to have to accept. We all make mistakes from time to time (okay, daily), and when your kid is acting like an insane crazy person and you are tired or out of brainpower to effectively parent through the crazy, you will say something stupid. You will disappoint yourself as a parent. I know I have.

5. Make your peace about not being a perfect parent now; talk to your therapist if needed, so that your kid might not need one later on. What I mean here is simply this: if I white-knuckle the ideals and the details, I am going to end up being a pretty unpleasant parent/spouse to live with. I've come to the conclusion that there's no such thing as perfection as a parent, and if we don't mess up from time to time, our kids miss out on the chance to discover what it is to be wholly human-- to make mistakes, to make amends, and to keep loving each other as we all keep growing. Imposing our desire for perfection is pretty much like wrapping your kid in a straitjacket (while the crazy person is on the outside, no less) and can considerably alter how they perceive their childhood in later years.

6. Keep in mind the core of what's important, and let that guide your family's journey together through life.  My usual mantra fits here: balance is everything.  Frankly, some things aren't negotiable, but we should try to keep that list relatively short and cut down to essentials. What exactly are one's family values? If it can be a short, specific list, that helps. In our house, it boils down to respecting ourselves and others and the Earth, which can encompass a lot of areas: eating well, being careful and kind to others in our actions and words, good stewardship of the planet, and taking care of one's self-care responsibilities. (This is on par for my four year old. Parents of children of different ages will have a different list, I'm certain.) Non-violent media and eating healthy are going to be two struggles we'll have to face down the line because of all the other messages our culture sends, and we're going to have to grow with our son in understanding what he needs, socially and psychologically, as he matures. I know I will be challenged throughout my son's life as to how to impart values without them becoming something he resents, and so we try to weigh our preferences as parents against what the consequences of not-allowing might be: feeling left out; being considered too "other" by peers; and Kiddo's own genuine preferences, etc. The parents who reserve "NO" for the important, serious stuff may end up having kids who feel more confident  and make better decisions because the little choices have been allowed to them and there's less to rebel against. They've learned that when their parents say "no", it is more often a meaningful "no" instead of a rote one. Better for everyone.

7. Just when one area of parenting gets better, another becomes more challenging. Parenting will mess with your mind, no doubt about it. Children seem like shapeshifters some days, moving through phases with alarming speed and unpredictability. Kids do return to unresolved issues to work through them in their own way, and just when we think we've conquered a specific beast, it might come back days, weeks, months or even years later. My theory is this: kids have to learn "X" amount of stuff before we send them off on their way as young adults, and they can really only focus on a couple areas at a time. I'm not talking academic lessons either, but life's larger lessons in belonging, security, self-regulation, self-expression, assertion of one's personality while conforming to the needs of the larger group. These lessons go on forever, and we are still learning them as adults, however, we adults usually have the intellectual capacity and perspective to approach  life with more objectivity than our children, who have such a sense of being in the present that objectivity is impossible for them.

8. My friends won't parent the same way I will, and that's fine. When my son was wee tiny, I so desired a cocoon of like-minded persons surrounding us, parenting in ways that supported each other. What I've learned is that I can enjoy other women and not make the same choices as they do and admire them and be fine with it all at once. This is about my own peace in my decisions and acceptance with who I am, and I think those two factors allow people to be comfortable and confident while spending time with people who do things very differently. I am lucky in that there is something in each of my friends which I admire in some way, be it because they homeschool or because they stay active in their communities or chosen professions and have figured out a way to do what makes them feel best as a parent and as a person. So often, we get busy judging ourselves and because we feel 'less than', we judge others. None of my friends parent the same way I do, 100% across the board, and that's why we all have our own kids. As long as we are all respectful about it and up front about what we want, things usually work out.

In thinking on these points, I want to say that the last one has been key to my happiness as a mom. So often much is made of friends whose relationships change drastically after a baby comes into the picture. In my life, I've met like-minded people who had similar parenting views as I did, but we might not have had much else in common. The core of the relationship has to be larger than what we do with our kids. I've discovered that some of my staunch "never gonna have kids" friends really enjoy my son in ways that most of my friends with kids don't. Perhaps it's novelty, who knows? Nonetheless, it's this broad, patchwork sense of community that lifts me up when I need it and helps me feel connected on days when I feel stuck in what is sometimes a very insular job. In earlier years, I was more comfortable keeping to myself; since Kiddo, I've expanded my friendships because of him. He is an ambassador in some ways, pushing me to get myself out there and fascinated to learn more about these new people in my life, the new friends we make as a family. That's keeping me flexible too~ stepping outside my comfort zone.

In fact, so much of changing as parents is precisely about doing what we are uncomfortable with, whether you are a brand new parent trying to get used to poopy diapers or someone like me, who had tamed that beast a long time ago but still struggles with a sometimes-paralyzing social anxiety around the large groups of people that parenting sometimes requires us to be a part of. Throughout our lives, we will be meeting new caregivers, teachers, the families of our child's friends, and new situations each and every day. We will learn that sometimes, our comfort zone is going to get squashed by someone else's comfort zone because they are perhaps older, or less flexible, or less tolerant of kids than we are. And then, we have to find a way to navigate through that, and resolve to ourselves to be more comfortable or assertive the next time that situation arises, to do what needs to be done or say what needs to be said without feeling bad about ourselves for it.

Balance and flexibility: parenting is gymnastics in so many ways. I'm going to keep working at it, though, keep trying to stay limber and learn new tricks. I might even go to bed early tonight so I can keep at it tomorrow, learning through every day, changing in so many ways.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Birthday Panties and a Three Dollar Latte-- Trying Not to Come in Last Around Here

Yesterday morning I was tickled pink to open a birthday card from my sister to myself. This sister writes the kind of cards that tell you some of the good things about yourself that you like to hear. This was a truly appreciated and much-needed ego-booster shot. Thanks, sis.

Enclosed was a check. "I'm sending you the gift of $ for new underwear...remember that chat? Every mama should have wonderful, whole panties!"

Amen, sister!

In case you're wondering, "that chat" took place via email back in August and looked like this:

Sis, on shopping for her kids: "Somehow we have 3002 pr of underwear for them.  Not me.  I have old, ugly underwear. Not that you were wondering."

Me: "Nothing to say but "ditto on the underwear". Not that you were wondering either. Amazing, though, how I feel that a $21 3-pack of quality training pants is fine, but then I cheap out and sneer at the $10 3pack of Hanes Her Way bikini panties.....Obviously, our brains are overcooked.:)"

Not that anyone out there was wondering, but I am trying to make a point, which is this: When one is down to three pairs of decent underpants and one feels more justified in buying panties because one's sister has sent a birthday check specifically for that purpose, it must be presumed that one's priorities might not entirely be in the right places.

Or, the short version is this: Often, as moms, we take better care of our families than we do our selves.

I think I just heard a chorus of "Amen, sister!" on that one.

I do remember a time in my life when I had cute, girly underpants. Loads of them. I was also in my twenties and had time to shop for cute, silky things hung on individual hangers. Now I'm more of a "find a pack in my size and go" sort of gal. I'm a mom, and I do not have the lifestyle that allows me to go shopping leisurely for frilly things. Nor do I run those sorts of loads of laundry. If it can't live being washed on "Regular, Cold/Cold" with zippered sweatshirts and jeans, it doesn't come into the house. So, Yeay! for sensible Birthday Panties. I might even buy something with a printed pattern on them, just to show my husband that I do know how to live a little.

Still, there's that other part of the equation: the wonky priorities regarding one's personal time and space. I have sent out the memo several times, but as Kiddo can't read and has the short-term memory of a rabbit, this is of no use and sometimes the content of those memos has to be yelled at him. Like, for example, this morning. I personally believe that one's time in the shower--all ten minutes of it-- should be free of conflict and need. As in, "unless the house is burning down or your bottom needs to be wiped, it can wait". Not today.

Sent to husband, earlier today: "This morning was AWFUL. No time for tea, so picked up a latte (also b/c we needed to leave the house a little early to pull Kiddo 'out of it'. ). Let's have a meeting tonight regarding morning routines, because ours needs to be tweaked. I was getting hit through the shower curtain this morning. You are lucky I just bought a latte instead of running away to join the Occupy group downtown. While there may be some contentious downers in that group, I'm pretty sure none of them would scream at me during my morning ablutions."

That Three Dollar Latte (short, soy, tepid) was what saved my bacon and helped me to keep my head on straight. In the traumatic forty minutes it took Kiddo to get dressed this morning, I didn't have the time or space to make a cup of tea and relax. Swinging by the Huge Corporate Ubiquitous Coffee Place and spending three dollars so that I could have my head screwed on straight before dropping Kiddo off to preschool was a good call, but I still felt a little guilty about it. Leaving ten minutes early, though, did the trick; Kiddo perked up and put on his happy face, collecting autumn leaves and fallen fuchsia blossoms to give to his teachers. We even had a conversation during our walk that was not related to either electric guitars or dinosaurs. Despite the coffee, I felt more relaxed than I had since I'd woken up. We were out, we were walking to school, life was good.

I'm learning that the things I need are not going to be anyone else's priority around here but my own. My husband is pretty good in this regard, but here, I'm not really talking about him. Sometimes, on some days, I'm going to have to shout to get what I need, because Kiddo's too busy listening to his own noise. There's a method to the mad-sounding advice of "put on your own oxygen mask first, and then assist your child". Let's face it, today, if Kiddo had had his way, he'd still be in his pajamas, playing his Tinkertoy guitar, and I would be right there, rapt with attention for him and nothing else. He's four, and that's what he wants. And when I think about it, like it or not, it kind of makes sense~ four year old sense, mind you, but it does make sense.

So, I'll set my bar at a reasonable height and just say this: I don't want to come in last, nor do I need to be first. I'll be satisfied with being tied for first with Kiddo and the good husband. If we can all take turns winning, and being the one who is second or third, that's probably the best I really hope for. And a quiet shower. Every mama deserves that. Along with wonderful, whole panties, that is.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Here We Go Gathering Nuts and May"

Recognize the quote? It's Eeyore, misquoting Alice Gomme's 19th century song, set to the tune of "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush". You can find it in Gomme's "Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland ", if you happen to have a copy handy.*

This morning, after our dishes were done, Kiddo and I headed out into a cold and misty morning to survey the dregs of the Apple Festival at Portland Nursery. I was determined to make some applesauce, and the looked-over Galas fit the bill. Of course, they are nothing fancy, you can find them at the grocery store year-round, but at  99cents a pound, that's a lot of cheap applesauce. Kiddo helped me pick some out, looking for bruises and spots. Then we headed over and grabbed up a bag of Cascade pears, one of my favorite varieties besides the D'Anjous. Inside, we stopped and picked out a handful or two of crocus corms in a variety of colors to plant along the borders of the front yard. Crocuses are one of those cheerful harbingers of spring that always make me glad to see on the cold, wet February mornings.

On our way home, we stopped beneath a chestnut tree and collected the shiny brown nuts, sometimes having to carefully extract them from their prickly hulls. This was a big, fun game for us, finding them in the street (watching for cars as we rescued them from being pulverized by traffic), seeking them under the spent lily greens in the garden below the tree, and finding a few out in the open, showy like brown marbles waiting on the sidewalk. They sit now in a bowl, waiting for me to find a "how to roast chestnuts" article online. Even after roasting and eating them, I'm sure the memory of collecting them will be the best part of it all.

This afternoon has been pretty terrific. Good sandwiches for lunch when we got home; I prepped all the apples while talking to my sister in Washington and Kiddo sprinkled them with cinnamon, then into the crock-pot they went. We worked in the front yard for nearly two hours today, digging out a now-illegal butterfly bush. They are considered an invasive plant and were placed on the Oregon Department of Agriculture's no-no list, so that they cannot be grown, sold or transported throughout the state. This has been in effect since early 2010, so we're a bit late in being law-abiding citizens, but Kiddo was so excited about the butterfly bush this spring I thought I'd give it a bit of a reprieve, if only for this season. "It's sad that you are digging it out" he told me today, and while I was sad too, this will only make sure that my relationship with the Native Plants Only gardener next door doesn't suffer.

Corn soup for dinner tonight with good crusty bread and smoked salmon. The light outside is changing, which tells me it's time to start thinking about setting the table and getting bowls out. Today was good. Really good. I'm going to savor it for a while, to think about the silly moments: spotting a squirrel digging through the composter like crazy; Kiddo still in his underwear because his pants were totally trashed after he sat in a hole full of fresh dirt; Kiddo finding leaves to bring home from our morning outing, even the ugly ones. (I suppose that's more sweet than silly.) All in all, a very satisfying day. Just as an autumn day gathering nuts and apples should be.

*I don't have a copy, just Wikipedia and a curiosity about these things.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oh Crap! The Croup


Kiddo's got the croup. A couple isolated barky coughs on Saturday night got my attention, so I wasn't completely surprised to hear him last night making seals-at-the-beach sounds as he slept. The tv schedule had promised a marathon of The Simpson's (yeay!) but delivered The X Factor (boo!) instead, so I settled in with my good book. Which was a good thing, as Kiddo coughed that terrible Strider cough and stirred enough to be upset. I was glad I could hear it, and snuggled up with him for a while.

One a.m. found me grabbing my pillow and heading down to his bed for good. The rest of the night was, more or less, pretty freakin' miserable. Despite the intermittent coughing, I'm pretty sure Kiddo got a better night of sleep than I did.

This morning, however, guess who was a pistol, running all over the place like a total crazy person? And guess who was propping her eyelids open so she could stay awake and call the doctor's office as soon as it opened? 

After having a minor skirmish regarding that horribly arduous task of washing one's hands and putting on day clothes, I got into the shower and the following inane conversation transpired in my dead-tired brain:

Me: So, Croup, I see you're back to slap me around again and call me Nancy.

Croup: Yep. So what, Nancy?

Me: Well, your timing is at least considerate. Now that my seasonal crazy-making job is over, you've come to ensure that I don't want for drama in my life.

Croup: Yep. You can thank me for keeping it interesting, Nancy.

Less than an hour later, I was pulling Kiddo up the hill to the bus stop by the arm. In order to minimize Joe's time away from the office (because the wonderful doctor is crosstown and then some), we took the bus downtown and then all got in the car. Somehow, when your kid has a cold, all the gross people sucking on cigarettes seem like The Worst People In The World. Not trying to be judgy, but really? I don't force Kiddo's Music Together cds on the public, so I kinda wish they could just not light up when we are sharing a bus stop.

Speaking of the walking clueless, another epiphany I had this morning: the weary-bleary-eyed mothers at Urgent Care with croupy kids are in danger of being accidentally mistaken for the Zombie Apocalypse. At least, when I looked into the mirror, I was pretty sure there was someone staring back at me thinking "Braaaains....."

The doctor tells us that the croup is going around. Like last winter season, I'm expecting that this won't be our last time going to the doctor to get that awesome oral steroid medication before springtime. What I'm most grateful for, however, is my developing familiarity with this cough. I don't get scared any more. I know we probably have a few bad nights ahead before it's over, and I'll likely truly look like a bona-fide 100% walking undead person when all of this is done, but I didn't panic, and I didn't wait until Kiddo had a full-on bad night. Like many unpleasant things in life, knowing what you're walking into is a consolation in some way. It's bad, but you've done this particular bad before. It's like that terrible person you know you're going to see at a friend's party; you know the deal already, you know what to say and what not to say and when to say "Oh, excuse me for a minute, I see the deviled eggs have arrived" and politely excuse yourself.  It's those devils we know that, in some way, I appreciate, because they aren't sudden natural disasters or industrial catastrophes. They're just little devils.

In short, I can wrap my head around Kiddo's croup. We'll get past it. Even if it does like to slap me around and call me Nancy...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Good Advice

A while back, I got a call from a friend. She was frustrated, wondering what to do with some new, unwelcome behaviors she had begun to see from her child. At her wits end, she had tried many of the ideas in her parenting toolbox to no avail and was considering packing up her child for boarding school in a land far, far away. I laughed at this suggestion and suggested that my kid could have the seat on that train next to her child's, because my parenting life, too, was far from perfect. We talked for a while; I suggested a few ideas that had worked for me with other children, and then commented that I had seen this in other kids the age of her child, that it wasn't uncommon.

Later, I would come to realize that this last piece of reassurance was what she needed most. To know that it wasn't so much her, or her kid, it was just another sticky part of growing up that had been experienced by many children and that this, too, would pass. What parent wouldn't be happy, in some way, to hear that those horrid moments with their kid were being universally experienced? It didn't excuse this mother from doing her best, nor her child from needing to change how they were responding to disappointments or frustrations. (Which, I believe, is the root of much we consider to be 'misbehavior' on the part of the child.) Instead, it just gave us as adults permission to feel exasperated--and rightly so--while also allowing hope and space for the child's growth.

I recently was on the other end of this experience. Over the last two weeks, the return to preschool has prompted some rather unlovely behaviors in our own house. I called my dear sister and asked her for advice, turned to my copy of "Taking Charge"* to see what I needed to be doing, and then tried my best to correct my responses to my son's outbursts and undesired actions. What helped me most, though, was to hear from a couple neighbors that their kids, too, had regressed to two-year-old behavior in the last few weeks. Even though these revelations only happened during passing conversations, I was relieved: if our children were acting like strange aliens, at least it was from a familiar planet that many other people's kids were also temporarily visiting.

Over my time as a mother, I've become convinced that both giving and receiving advice can be, at its best, an art form. During my pregnancy I was reading one of Sheila Kitzinger's** books, "The Year After Childbirth: Surviving and enjoying the first year of Motherhood", in which she suggests not asking everyone for advice, but to be careful and find a few experienced mothers whom you trust. This is probably one of the most valuable suggestions regarding parenting that I have ever come across. Consequently, I have four people (besides the pediatrician) that I will turn to for parenting advice: Two are older mothers, whose children I previously cared for and whose mothering practices I deeply admire; two are contemporaries of mine, a close sister and a dear friend who has lots of experience with children. This doesn't mean that I won't share my parenting joys and frustrations with other mothers, but I will rarely ask others for advice because you know that old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen....

Selecting Trusted Advisors
Who to turn to for advice? I regard my son's preschool teachers with a deep sense of trust; knowing that they know, love and care for my son with genuine affection and concern. Earlier this year, when parenting challenges were beginning to seep into our marriage, we turned to them for guidance and came away from the experience feeling lifted up, encouraged, and strengthened by their wisdom. We felt embraced in their care, and our problems regarding those challenges resolved relatively quickly  in part because we understood that they wanted what was best for us. If one has this sort of person in their life, this is the person to ask for help when challenges and struggles arise in our parenting; their solid background in working with children and the added objectivity regarding the situation gives us confidence as parents to follow through with making sometimes-difficult changes for the better.

Trust has much to do with how we choose our advisors. Mutual trust is invaluable in this regard, because sometimes when advice is given, in a truly respectful relationship, we may say or hear hard things which might hurt or are unpleasant, even when they are not meant to be. By this, I do not refer to one being tactless, but to the truthfulness itself. At a handful of times in my life, true friends have told me things I would rather not have heard, but were true and meant in loving concern for my betterment. Once the sting of their words wore off, I realized how much risk they took in speaking out to me and how much they must have loved me to risk my anger and to sit with their discomfort. These friends cared more about me than they did about keeping things easy for us, and in doing so, they have helped me become a better person, a better parent.

On the other side of the coin, there are persons you don't want to ask for advice, nor do you want to vent to them or share your struggles in parenting. Many grandparents (or other family members) are very supportive and have a wealth of knowledge to offer, but parents,  in-laws, relatives or co-workers who regularly make critical or demeaning remarks should not be regarded as a resource. Then, the parent seeking advice may only instead feel blamed or belittled for the child's challenges instead of met in love and compassion. If you don't feel that a person genuinely accepts you for who you are, even on a good day, there's no point in opening yourself up for more harassment or scrutiny. Some grandparents or relatives would prefer to hear only the good about your child; then, leave the relationship at that and find someone else to seek for knowledge. Likewise, if you are aware that a person has a tendency to gossip with others, or seems to be competitive as a parent, always comparing their own children or parenting to those of others, this person may not be emotionally safe enough to seek out as a confidante. Trustworthiness is of vital importance when selecting an advisor.

Commiseration or Wisdom? Which do you seek?
Before seeking advice, consider what you are really wanting in that moment. Are you trying to solve a problem, or just needing to vent? It is a frustrating mistake to ask for advice when that's not what's really wanted, just as it is to give advice one hasn't been directly asked for. So if you are wanting to vent and get some empathy, a little "Can I just tell you about how awful things have been with my Usually Great Kid?" will prepare your listener for your own expectation. Likewise, some empathetic listening may be just what your friend needs when they call to tell you how their own Usually Great Kid is blowing their mind with new undesired behaviors. Being sensitive to these cues can help us considerably.

Something else to ask ourselves: Are we truly looking for another method to try, or for validation that what we are doing is, in fact, right? These are two entirely different questions. While one can usually find advice that reflects our own interests and beliefs in books (I believe that there is a book which validates nearly every type of parenting philosophy known to man), this can be a narrow way of going about getting advice, especially if we do not understand ourselves what's behind our own beliefs.

When We Ourselves Are Asked...
When being asked for advice, it helps to be thoughtful in regard to what the asking parent needs. As I mentioned before, sometimes reassurance is really what is wanted. Creative solutions can help, certainly, but it is, I think, on some deep level that we all want to feel like we are doing okay as parents. Also consider the very real limitations the individual parent has to work within: telling a single mom who works full time that she should spend more time with her child will likely make her feel worse than she did before the conversation. Guilt is a terrible emotion to carry around and we do not want to burden our dearest ones with it any more than we ourselves want it. Parents must deal with the amount of resources they have at any given moment, whether it is the amount of time they have available to spend with their children or the very real impact of income on a family. Thus, it is important to be sensitive to financial or familial situations and offer solutions which are truly accessible/available to the person who is asking for help.

Keeping your ideas or advice open-ended can also help. More than one friend of mine likes to offer gentle, open-ended, take-it-or-leave-it advice along the lines of "I don't know if this will work for you, but here's what worked for us in this similar situation." Advice like this might be offered without being asked for directly, and comes across as more of a suggestion. Less is on the line for both the giver and the recipient. Likewise, suggesting books may also be helpful. "Some parts of this book really helped us, you can try what seems right for you" is a nice way to offer suggestions without directly instructing another parent to try things your way.

The Harder Truths
Here is where some of the stickiest and hardest advice can come into play: sometimes, counseling will be the most beneficial suggestion to the person seeking advice.  Sometimes, a friend may suggest seeking a counselor or parenting coach because they are at the limit of their own knowledge or of what they can give to the person needing help or advice. While it's easy to read this as a negative message or an accusation, or even a lack of interest from the friend, what we have to understand is simply this: sometimes our friends don't have all the answers. Sometimes, our troubles may be more than what they can absorb, for whatever reason, or it may be that giving us advice regarding a complex situation is more than what they feel able to do well as a friend. More often than not, we seek out our friends for validation; there are some situations where it is best to allow our friends to keep themselves in a supportive role rather than one which is directive or diagnostic. There is no shame in finding ourselves in need of a counselor; counselors do a valuable job in helping us explore our deeper feelings and beliefs about a given situation and it is both the scrutiny of these aspects of our thinking as well as understanding and accepting certain realities of the situation which help us to make the better, more satisfactory changes in our lives. In this way, we actually protect our friendships by letting our friends and loved ones be our cheerleaders and finding a good counselor or parenting coach to guide us through our more challenging work.

Advice, given when asked for, or well received, is a gift. That said, I believe that keeping ourselves aware of our own intentions when either giving or asking for advice is one of the best ways to make the most of this interaction.  We should also be aware that if we are asking for advice and not getting the answers we need (or like), then it is likely time to consult a pro. Sometimes, we may not like the information we receive because we aren't ready to hear it yet. If you are finding that those who love you best, and with the best intentions for you, are telling you things you don't want to hear, it's time to look deeper as to the cause of this. This is one downfall of giving "hard truth" advice: it can hurt and sting, so it's important to do this with compassion and whatever wisdom one has, and to understand that it may be argued with or not accepted at all. If you feel this might be the case, suggesting a counselor may be better for the friendship, for the many reasons stated above.

I go into the future as a parent and friend with all of this in mind. Likely, at times, I will forget aspects of this advice I give about giving advice. Overall, however, we as women have relied on each other, our mothers and grandmothers and peer mothers, for guidance to solving problems both simple (diaper rash) or complex (acting-out behaviors). We do well to wisely turn to those who would support us, those who have gone before us as parents. We can also hopefully offer support and wisdom to other mothers and parents. This is a never-ending circle of giving and receiving, one that should be considered blessed and even, a bit, sacred. One worth guarding carefully and being thoughtful about. For as much as good advice is a gift for the receiver, it is also a wonderful opportunity for the giver to practice love and care and consideration for a dear friend. As it is to the one, let it be for the other.

*Taking Charge: Caring Discipline That Works at Home and at School by JoAnne Nordling. This book is highly comprehensive and breaks down a child's undesired actions into four classes of misbehaviors; each misbehavior is detailed and corrections specific to the misbehavior are detailed. Emphasis is given on the value of positive attention during neutral times, loving our children just for being, empathy, and listening to our child's internal reality while being consistent with boundaries and guidance.  I love this book and have relied on it for more than ten years. JoAnne has been an elementary school teacher, an elementary school counselor and the co-founder of the Parent Support Center PDX.

**Sheila Kitzinger is a British natural childbirth activist and author on childbirth and pregnancy. She is a social anthropologist specialising in pregnancy, childbirth and the parenting of babies and young children. Her books are informative, enlightening and empowering for her readers. Although she lectures on midwifery she has never been a midwife. She campaigns for women to have the information they need to make choices about childbirth.  She is honorary professor at Thames Valley University and teaches the MA in midwifery in the Wolfson School of Health Sciences. She also teaches workshops on the social anthropology of birth and breastfeeding. (Most of this is from Wikipedia, with my own comment on her books which I find relevant and reliable.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Season of Abundance

Today is the first day of autumn and my thoughts are settled around appreciating the richness of this season.

On our way out to preschool, I clipped a bundle of dried brown Echinacea flowers, their once-pink petals now straggly brown and picked away, their bristly cones now the star of the show. I've brought a bunch of them indoors to rest on what's becoming a Nature/Offering table, all of those brittle stems embraced in a vintage glass container which has become a vase in its second life. For balance, a thick bundle of purple sage I'd cut yesterday sits on that table as well, the green stems plunged into a small cobalt blue creamer. (If you want a nice, full bushy-looking arrangement, gather your herbs up tight together and put a rubber band around the bottom. This will keep them from getting floppy and messy. Use an opaque vase so no one sees the rubber band or rangy-looking stems.)

I've also cut some larger bundles of native golden currant for our home and the preschool. In spring, this green-leafed plant's dainty yellow-gold flowers with red centers delighted us with their spicy scent. Now autumn, the leaves have turned a glorious red with just a hint of pink in it, some leaves still have a bit of green. The red captures my heart; this is the color I want to paint the nook where we eat our meals, separated by the archway from the main part of the kitchen. I love this red, and a Mason jar of the currant clippings sits on the woodstove which we've yet to use this season. The blaze of color is delightful. (Note to self, get that big Miller paint 'deck' of paint chips out and match it up!)

Today the garden offers up more tomatoes and fall gold raspberries to pick and more work to be done, so in a minute I'll be putting on my gardening pants and taking the tools out to the soil. But a few more thoughts of richness:

Joe and I celebrated an anniversary last night. Ten years together as a couple. We ate great Italian food (I had cioppino, in case you were wondering.) and stopped at our local for a beer and good conversation. The time to talk to each other without any interruptions was such a treat-- Thank you, Lissa, for that gift. Things have been going so well for Joe; he's started a new, challenging job last year and on Monday he received a title promotion and raise, which seems like perfect timing since preschool has started. Last night, he suggested that we up Kiddo's preschool week to four days instead of the three. I know he was thinking of me.

Kiddo, however, is reveling in having a couple of 'down' days during the week where he can just enjoy himself and play how he likes. His play is becoming ever-more complex, and this is part of my picture of abundance too. Yesterday, he'd used our two ramps and some blocks to build a marble chute (the blocks were a guardrail, to keep the marbles from falling off the ramp) which led into a bag where the marbles were collected. He asked about finding something to drop the marbles into the chute, so we got out our marble run and stacked up supports until we could build a run tall enough to deliver the marble into the chute. Then, the plastic marble run became a support for a drum set, his "electric guitar" (which is a toy acoustic guitar with the large round metal lid from his Tinkertoys over the sound hole, an old kid's watch and a plastic scoop somehow hanging from the strings as well) and several containers plus the keyboard became his 'music band'. This is why I want to keep him home as much as reasonably possible, because he is able to create and play in a way that meets some unspeakable need within himself. I love how his play flows along so organically, taking its own twists and turns, constantly creative, learning what both I and preschool cannot teach; what he can only teach himself.

Gratitude and abundance is what I feel today. Grateful for the good life our family is experiencing, the richness of our world and what's around us. I write of these moments because I want to remember them later on, when winter creeps upon us with the gray skies and rain rain rain and the earth rests as all living things must rest. That's the promise of the seasons, that we keep moving forward, that nothing is permanent, and so we do best to appreciate the present, as it is, in this moment. To be present with our eyes and hearts open to the beauty around us.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All Aboard the Job Train

Now that preschool has started, one of the nicest moments of my day is pick-up time. Over the last two weeks, Kiddo and I have settled into a sweet routine. I always bring a graham cracker with me, which is sort of a treat at our house, and we take our time walking home. Today, we noticed a toadstool growing in the shade and I was asked what a carbohydrate was. (It's "food that makes a sugar in your body", if you want the simple answer.) We generally hold off on playdates until our no-preschool days of the week, because it's been my longtime experience that many preschoolers are often tired from the work of playing with friends and need a little downtime.

We also have a helpful prop at home that I've created called a Job Train. I made this before, working as a nanny, when I had a child in care who went to preschool and was dropped off afterward. The Job Train is a paper engine and set of cars that live on the refrigerator via some adhesive magnets I stuck on the back. These cards help a child work through their after-school tasks with less adult instruction, because once a photo of the child is glued onto the engine, it is indeed the child who 'drives' the Job Train. Kiddo puts it together one or two cars at a time. Each car has a different task or two, both illustrated and printed in simple text on the car itself. "Boots" shows one card, which prompts him to 'make his shoes nice' (as he likes to say it); "Coat/Tote" indicate that these items need to be hung up; "Potty/Wash Hands", "Lunchbox/Snack (because kids big and small are often hungry after school),  and "Quiet Play Time" are the other cars on our train. When all of the train has been built--which means that these tasks are complete--then Kiddo's welcome to do with his time as he pleases. He may do most of these tasks in an open order which allows Kiddo some say-so in how he gets them done. Overall, though, this prop potentially eliminates the need for me to direct him through these responsibilities.

Sometimes, too, I get a moan or complaint. I simply remind him that he can go lie down if he's too tired to do the jobs, and then do them when he's ready.  If it's not tiredness but more obstinacy, I offer a pillow for him to sit on until he's ready to take care of his belongings and himself. These tasks are not beyond his abilities, and these are good habits for him to develop, because I do not relish living out the next 18 years doing every little thing for my son. It wouldn't be good for either of us. Neither am I expecting him to do all of this solo; today he was obviously tired and stated "I don't know what to do", wanting help. I gave gentle direction and the little cars were put together one by one.

I'm a big believer in downtime after preschool; by late afternoon, our kids are often maxed out. Because of this, I try to do most of the toy cleanup earlier, before I start dinner, when we're all better able to make this activity more pleasant. I try to have the shopping done before pick-up, or to schedule it after he's had a chunk of time to play independently. Again, it's my appreciation of the amount of work being in the intense social settings of preschool and primary grades that leads me to take this approach of "less is more".

So, our autumn has a rhythm of its own, at least on school days. On other days, I'm sensitive to Kiddo's need for routine and look for ways to support this. Heading out for an adventure around the same time as we leave for school can help; this time too, as I'd mentioned before, is perfect for playdates. We try to keep the same mealtimes as preschool, too, which really helps. While I do not feel a sense of total obligation to his preschool schedule, I understand that weekends can be harder when he's got less structure or feels 'thrown off' his routines, so these rhythms are optimally the backbone to our days together. So graham crackers, walks home through crunchy, turning leaves and our little Job Train all become little bits of the glue that holds our little guy's world together, one day at at time.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Packing up a Lunch

One of the great things about Kiddo's preschool is that we parents can pack a good, healthy lunch for our children to take to school. Stuff we know that they relatively like and will usually eat. Personally, I prefer this to having some kind of Lowest Common Denominator high-carb lunch that some daycares and preschools serve, and I also like knowing what it is he's eating (and needs to eat later) in order to ensure he's getting a balanced menu.

Kiddo's pretty sharp at making some good food choices, so I ask for his input. Sometimes, though, he has a lot of opinions about lunch. Like this morning.

Me: "Tell me one thing you would like for your lunch, within reason." ('Within reason' is mama-code for "not ice cream, not cookies, not yogurt"; I like this code phrase, as it eliminates bringing up those items.)

Kiddo: "Carrots!"

Me: "Awesome. We can do that."

Kiddo: "I want carrots and apples."

Isn't this great? We are in Dream Child mode right now. And then I go and fumble it. Pulling down the fruit bowl, I see a nectarine which is so wrinkled it should be collecting Social Security benefits.

Me: "Would you like a nectarine instead?"

Kiddo looks at Ol' Man Nectarine and makes a squinchy face. "NO." I, on the other hand, really feel like this nectarine should go away, so I offer it again. "You could take it cut up with a fork."


Okay, enough on the nectarine. I set it on the counter, thinking "Future Smoothie Ingredient", and get to work, peeling a perfectly-sized carrot (not too thick, not too spindly) and slicing up half an apple. I put cinnamon on the apple slices and place them into a container. Kiddo pushes his breakfast of scrambled eggs around on his plate, watching me, then inevitably announces~

"I want nectarine, not apple."

In my head, four words ring out: "Oh, no, you don't!"  My mouth, however, doesn't betray me or get into the fray, but changes the subject entirely. "No more talking, now. Be quiet and eat your food." I say this with a pleasant voice which hopefully conveys the underlying message of "I am not going there with you. This will not become a discussion. Your job is to eat your breakfast, so let's tend to that now."

I continue packing. Often, Kiddo complains that he doesn't want a sandwich, so today it's three Vinta crackers in a waxed paper bag with a handful of almonds tossed in, and a string cheese too for a good protein. The carrot is rolled up in Saran Wrap, the apples in their reusable container. I realize that I have used every possible method of wrapping food, aside from foil, in his lunch. Two napkins on top (one for a place mat, one for his lap, hopefully) and the Velcro flap is closed up.

Kiddo is looking out the window, both lunch and breakfast temporarily forgotten. What's going on, so interesting out there? Joe walks in, sees Kiddo, and breaks into a couple lines of Supertramp's "Dreamer". I laugh, then remind our little guy to eat the eggs before they grow cold. Joe kisses us goodbye; he's buying his lunch at the Food Carts today, as he's meeting a friend.

Me? I'm having a sandwich and some miso soup for lunch today. Cool and cloudy, it seems like that sort of a day. I'm grateful I only have to pack lunches three days a week, for one person only. I can't imagine doing this with multiple children: my hat is off to those mothers. I think I'd be looking for a different preschool program if that were the case. One that served those Lowest Common Denominator lunches.....

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Decadence!--An Hour of Bliss

Yesterday, Joe drove us downtown and gave me one of the best gifts I've been given in a while.  One that I've been hankering after for a long time. An hour of sweet bliss.

Lots of women have their own idea of an hour's worth of bliss. Some would love to have lavender-scented oil rubbed into their tired muscles. (So would I.) Some would prefer having their nails done with a girlfriend, or a glass of good wine and some sushi with that friend, or an hour with whoever the Hunk-O'-the-Month is over a candlelight dinner.

My bliss was simply a trip to my personal hallowed ground, the Central Library. One hour alone amongst those who would study on their day of rest, those who would sleep in the air-conditioning. Or in my case, those men who would geek out on the computers up in the Henry Failing music and arts library. In case you get the wrong idea, I wasn't up there to trawl for men-- already have my own sexy I.T. guy at home, thanks-- but to fondle and ogle the cds.

By myself. No sounds of "Mama, I want to go see the dinosaur books!" or "Honey, are you done?" Just lonesome me with a big tote bag.

One of the best (I was almost going to write "bestest", because there is not a "best" superlative enough to encompass the awesomeness of this) things about the library is that you don't have to spend a dime to have Whatever You Want. With the exception, of course, of reference materials and rare books, I could get just about any and all the cds I wanted within the limits, which are generous indeed. Check it out:

"You may borrow up to a total of 150 items at one time. However, you may check out 15 DVDs at one time. You may also check out 15 music CDs and 15 other CDs at one time."
--Multnomah County Library

Need I say more?

What richness there was to be had! I left with a stack of sweet discoveries to spin in the cd player, some rock, some jazz. Some ladies came home with me: Ella Fitzgerald, Ruth Brown, and the Andrews Sisters (with Glenn Miller). Some fellas came along as well: some contemporaries like Martin Sexton, Paul Weller, and David Byrne with Brian Eno; some older gentlemen too, like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis ("Birth of the Cool" --how can you go wrong?) and the Modern Jazz Ensemble. Treasures like Rufus Wainwright were collected up as well. Anyone who knows me well knows that I can be brought to my knees with really spot-on vocal harmonies. When I used to sing in a choir, those moments of group harmony were something beyond spiritual, it was like being in the midst of something so incredibly other, something pure and powerful and the pinnacle of what humanity could achieve together, all voices singing their parts as though they were creating a single being, a single moment of perfection. There are few moments in my life that have knocked my heart over in sheer joy, and seeing Rufus Wainwright in concert over ten years ago is still one of those 'glued-to-the-spot/I will explode with the enormity of this swirling vocal wonderfulness' moments I'll remember all my life, along with the groove and flow of seeing Medeski, Martin and Wood, when the whole house seemed to be all part of one incredible communion.

Music is something I don't get enough variety of, just because the more I listen and learn, the hungrier I am for it. Sunday, for me, was dining in style at an exquisite "all you can hear" banquet of bliss. I also found a three-disk rare gospel set, which I am very excited to listen to. I'm not a card-carrying member of any religion, but there is something so amazing about gospel to me. There are plenty of great songs celebrating the love of people for each other; there's something so indescribable to me about man's search and passion for God and the interplay of relationship between human and creator/deity. This, to me, rivals the power of any opera as the gospel singer seeks beyond the human realm and the self to reach out toward something beyond this world, the origin; the spark.

Of course, I picked up a few books, too. But it was the Henry Failing Music Library that really captured me yesterday. I've only just begun to explore these delights. Ruth Brown sung to me in the way of classic 50's rhythm and blues as I did the dishes today.  "Rockin' in Rhythm: The Best of Ruth Brown" (many of her hits were produced by Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun, by the way, and three cheers to you if you know who he is) features some great liner notes too, for those like me who want to learn a bit more about this amazing singer. Tomorrow I'll be kept company by Ella Fitzgerald, singing the songs of Harold Arlen, a famous songwriter from the 30s and 40s who brought us treats like "Stormy Weather", "That Old Black Magic", "Come Rain Come Shine" and "Over the Rainbow". And who better, really, than to sing it but Ella?

Next time, I'll be looking for some Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter, some Ron Sexsmith and a bit more from the underestimated musical genius of our time, Mr. Frank Zappa. (If you've only heard "Valley Girl", you are really missing out.) I don't know how long it will be until I get another hour up in the music library, but I'll be satisfied for now. Bliss, cranked up through the house and continuing to keep me happy. Thank you, Messrs Edison and Blumlein, inventors of the phonograph and stereo records respectively. Thank you for the rest of my life.

And thanks especially to Joe, for making yesterday happen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Sandman

"Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I've ever seen
Give him two lips like roses and clover
And tell him that his lonesome nights are over"

"Mr. Sandman" by the Chordettes*

Coming home from a preschool potluck picnic last night, Kiddo was covered in sand. Even taking off his shoes--without actually dumping out the shoes-- he was shedding sand everywhere. While I had gone with the thrifty (read: cheap-ass) choice of Home Depot sand for our sandbox, his preschool sandbox has Real Beach Sand, and it sticks to him like superfine baker's sugar, coating his arms. If it had been sugar, it might have been tempting to lick him clean. Being sand, however, a brush-off with a dry rag, a complete undressing at the front door, and then the bathtub were the only sane options.

We were already past bedtime, so we scooted through our night time routine. I was tired, Kiddo was wired and tired from all the fun, and so we got pajamas on (accidentally forgot to brush teeth-- oh well, thank goodness they get a second set later!) and lay down on his bed to read stories for nighttime. Books read, lights out, time to sing the bedtime song. I snuggled him into his bed.

And that's when I noticed the sand on his fitted sheet. Not just a few little grains, but half a desert's worth was in his bed. There was so much, you could actually see it. I hollered for Joe at this point for help. We always double up on bedding in case of accidents, so it was easy to pull of the first layer of fitted sheet and vinyl waterproof sheet, and Joe carried away the mini-Sahara to be shaken out while I finished up bedtime.

How on earth did so much sand get into his bed? I wondered for a few minutes, then remembered that I'd tossed Kiddo's shorts into the sink when I'd undressed him, because there was a whole inch of sand in each of his pockets. The Sand Man, that boy. He must have crawled under the covers during some point of his quiet time that day, and by doing so, dumped a bunch in bed. Another reason I never allow him to get into my bed when we watch a video upstairs in our room. I was concerned about a little dirt, but good grief!

After our lullaby rendition of "The Owl and the Pussycat", Kiddo held onto my arm. "Stay and hold me" he said. I did so for a few minutes, then told him I needed to take shower and that I'd leave the bathroom door open and the light on, so it wouldn't be so dark. Kissed him goodnight and then tended to my own freshening up. Because yesterday was gross-sweaty-hot, and stinky bed is just as bad as a sandy one. Kiddo was counting sheep when I got out of the shower. So, the Sandman did eventually visit last night. The right one, that is.

*If you think this lyric is a bit cutesy, consider what I had to choose from. The other "Sandman" song (from Metallica) features lyrics such as "Sleep with one eye open/Gripping your pillow tight." Sorry, but cutesy wins this round.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What a Woman Really Wants

This Monday found me going round and round Laurelhurst Park with a dear friend, both of us working up a sweat while trying to stay in the shade. Our conversation meandered over many pleasant topics as we walked, and then she asked me of my plans for autumn once Kiddo was in preschool. Here, I faltered. I've been wanting to write a book to help new parents, but lately have been stalled by a serious question that undermines my thoughts and confidence at times, namely: "Does the world really need another parenting book?" Would my take on the subject add a new facet to what was out there? How would the work of writing add to my life, both in meaning and--at the risk of sounding completely materialistic--in monetary terms?

At the beginning of summer, it seemed that my focus and direction were designated: I would stay home while Kiddo was in preschool and write. This would be my year to "do it", to work toward this longtime goal.

That said, over the summer I've had some sort of Pushmi-pullyu* living in my head. "You must organize yourself and your writing so that you can get published, get yourself on a schedule..." played tug of war with gnawing doubts and whispers in my head: "If you don't do this, all your friends are going to think you are being a serious flake." "You always talk about wanting to write a book but never seem to do it." Ugh. Not the kind of self-talk anyone wants in their head. Yet, I couldn't escape that feeling that I must be working at something. This is to be expected, really--up until I'd gotten pregnant, I'd been working more or less steadily for 20 years without more than a couple of weeks of vacation at any given time. Even when Kiddo was little, it seemed necessary to keep working while he was home: to continue doing after-preschool care with a former family I'd nannied with;  to start the preschool; and then to keep working, not only to pay for Kiddo's preschool, but also because I genuinely like that sort of work. Making the decision to close the school was a good one for our family, but lately I've felt uncertain of the structure of autumn. Where to start work on writing, when my feet didn't feel solid under me in this particular venture?   I shared these concerns with my friend.

As we headed through a patch of hot sunshine, I wished aloud for time to sew some linen pants and tops for next summer. I would do that this winter, I had promised myself.

"Now, that is what sounds right, Hazie" my friend spoke. "That's something solid, something that you believe in, something just gut-instinct and intuitive. That's what's worth spending time on."

"What?  The book?" I was confused.

No, she told me kindly. Not the book, but instead, taking care of myself. She was right; I have wanted these pants and tops for years, but haven't had the chance to sew them for years either. It suddenly put everything in proper context and contrast: how rewarding would writing a book feel if I was continually putting aside the long "honey-do" list I've had in my head for so long?

Still, I wasn't convinced. "But what about the book and the classes I've wanted to teach for parents?" I asked her. She smiled. "Those will wait until you are ready to do them. You said yourself you have doubts about the book. And even having thought about those things (the topics of the book) will make your work better. But what sounds right to me is for you to take care of yourself right now."

I'm not great at shifting gears, but walking home later, I felt like someone had handed me not just a "Get Out of Jail Free" card, but also a "And Go Have Marvelous Time Making Your Life Better--And Don't Feel Guilty About It" token to boot.

Explaining these new thoughts to Joe later, he was his usual wonderful, supportive self. The time Kiddo was at preschool wouldn't just afford me some sewing time, but also time to finish work on the kitchen walls and finally get them painted. The garden has been no small duty, and I have beds of bulbs to dig out and divide this autumn. The basement would produce an essay of worthwhile plans, so I shall spare you, but it was almost surprising to see that my twelve hours alone each week would be filled up with worthwhile work that would make our whole family's life better.

Just the fact that we could get the kitchen (mostly) done without Joe having to anticipate whole weekends of painting put a huge smile on his face.

So, the book still sits in bits and pieces in files on the computer. I've shared parts of it with friends, and hope to still set time aside to work at it in small chunks as ideas arise. The promise of having a house that feels usable and in order is a balm to my heart, because it has been a sore spot for so long. I love the idea that I won't hate how my kitchen looks forever, but can finish it perhaps before Kiddo's next summer break. There's lots of work to be done and Kiddo starts preschool tomorrow. I can't wait to get started.

Look out for the Lady in Linen next summer.

*In case you didn't know, the "pushmi-pullyu" is a two headed beast from Doctor Doolittle. It is a "gazelle-unicorn cross" and consequently, when it tries to move, the heads each go in opposite directions.  It makes a marvelous metaphor for those well-versed in children's books.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Down the Tubes

First, let me start by saying that this post has nothing to do with anything being flushed down a toilet. We did have a little incident recently which involved a small bottle of aloe, left by the sink, being poured out so that Kiddo could play with the bottle, but that's not the topic of this post, either. But what was behind the Pouring Out of the Aloe, I am dearly appreciating.

What I am celebrating today is Kiddo's sheer inventiveness. For the last day and a half, our zinc washtub has been filled with formerly-sudsy water and all manner of construction on a marble run we built for it. At the top of the three-based run sits an underwater rescue mini-sub, it's hatch door open for water to be poured into before it goes down the tubes, or rather, the marble-run sections. Water goes down a couple of pieces, and is then collected into a blue plastic bowl perched on another part. Below that is a yellow cup, ready to catch run-off. There have been several incarnations of how/where things go that I find intriguing. At one point, our wine-vacuum suction pump (you know, that plastic "t" shaped thing you use to suck the air out of wine bottles) was at the top, for "a pump" for him to pull up and push down on. As I type, pieces from his Tubation toy are being attached, since the cardboard tube he'd brought from his room did as predicted, sogging out in the water. A funnel is requisitioned from my preschool sensory prop bag. (Yes, I'm one of those my brain, living with a four year old, preschool is never out, summer or no, and the prop bag never gets put away.) He's figured out a way to wedge the tubes into the marble race and all manner of tubes are being combined, never mind that the holes in some tubes will send water flying out sideways! instead of straight down. I've suggested only using pieces which have two holes instead of three or four, which will eliminate my chant of "get a rag, please, to wipe up that wet floor".

When does it end? When does his brain stop? It's so subjective, what kids want to learn. Trace letters? Not so much. Build a working, nonsensical "fountain" which he calls a "Big Moon with Water in It" and he's busy with trial and error, adjusting and readjusting, having the time of his life and learning, I believe, what his brain was wanting to learn right now. With this downtime to play in, he's noticeably more cooperative and so much happier overall. He also seems more engaged when I ask him to do basic problem-solving. I don't believe this is coincidence.

We'll  have time for workbooks and such while we go out for meals. The last day or so remind me of how busy and adult-oriented we have been. My adult brain, logical and seeking order, would tell him right now to put away many of the items he's pulled out of the bag at present, but my heart, in conjunction with my teacher-brain, understands that this is just what he needs, as he tells a cup and some chopsticks "okay, now you can play water". He is loving his world right now, and I am loving to watch his love of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ten Minutes to Tell You

that Packing For The Beach is too much silliness. We head out tomorrow for Seal Rock, home of tide pools and we'll have to see what else. Kiddo and I spent a morning in the garden, preparing the new beets and blue star juniper for our absence. I'll have to build a towel-tent over the beets, so they don't bake before we get back.

In the meantime, I should be folding laundry. Showers done, snack eaten, 10:50 a.m., Joe has taken Kiddo to Trader Joe's for our in-town shopping and to gas up the car. I wonder about packing for a messy kid; he's already on his second pair of clothes, having played in the 'ick' this morning. Thank goodness those were what he wore as pajamas, or I'd have ever more laundry to deal with. How many pairs of pants to take to the beach? Could I pack eighteen-thousand? Because then I know I'd have enough. I suppose three a day will have to suffice, and we'll put the rain pants on over the other ones, just to keep things simpler. Thankfully, we have two pairs of those. Endless socks, jackets, tee shirts, etc.

One thing we must buy is a proper sand shovel. I have small metal headed/wooden-handled children's shovels and trowels for garden work, but nothing that's salt water safe. Cups and scoops to pack, and baggies for collecting rocks and shells, which is by far my favorite pastime. I can't get enough of them. They'll likely go into the rain garden--oops! I meant dinosaur garden-- in the backyard on our return.

There's so much to do, and I'm so excited. This is our one 'quasi-big' trip we are taking this summer. We've rented the upstairs studio of a house, so we'll be trying something new. No range to make my tea on, but hotel rooms don't have those either, so we aren't missing anything other than half the cost. Trips to the Rogue Brewery for dinner, per our usual, will send us up to Newport in the evenings. They have a great seafood linguine I might have on both nights. We aren't even scoping around for other restaurants--why bother when the beer is excellent and the food is better than average pub fare?

Looking forward to tooling down the highway on the coastline tomorrow, getting hide-and-peek glimpses of the ocean, stopping to see what we shall sea. Kiddo's into it too, more so than years before. We'll send a few postcards out, take some pictures and do what I've been longing to do for a while: spend time as a family without the distractions of home or chores, just being in nature! Bliss!

And special thanks to our friends for house-sitting! Gus will be so happy to have company.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Repeat After Me: a Lesson from Obi-Wan

Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars? One of the coolest scenes for me, as a kid, is when Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi are tooling around Mos Eisley with R2-D2 and C3PO in the back of Luke's landspeeder, and some Imperial Stormtroopers stop to question them. "These aren't the droids you're looking for" says Kenobi, waving his hand in a mystical way, prompting the guard to repeat after him, "These aren't the droids we're looking for", believing it himself.

Jedi Mind Tricks or useful parenting tool?

Now, I don't have the Force within me enough to do that sort of trick, but there's something to having your kid repeat what you say, especially when their little heads are off somewhere in a galaxy far, far away.

Some kids are a bit dreamy, and when we tell them something-Poof!- off it goes, into the ether. Some kids fall into a habit of having a hard time attending immediately to directions; once they know they've got our attention (we are looking at them, we just requested they do something), they distract us with what they want to show us. I'm not saying that these bids for attention are wrong, but there are times that "first things, first" is necessary. Show me how cute you are doing somersaults after you've gone potty. I'd love to hear your story about the dinosaurs, and right now, we need to get our shoes on, and I know you can't talk to me and do that at the same time, so shoes first.

What's a mom to do? Our kids love us, want to engage us, and have completely different agendas than we have, say more than 75% of the time or so. Let's face it-- I don't want to put my kid in time out for not listening the first time, and likely, neither do you. It's almost an impairment, trying to correct their 'not listening' retroactively. And sometimes, we just don't have the time.

All this in mind, I've started having Kiddo repeat me, and this is working like a charm. Dare I say, like a Jedi Mind Trick. It's easy. I make sure that I engage him first, get his attention by attending to what he's doing or thinking about, then precede my request with "You say:" and then give the request in their first-person wording. This is how it looks at our house:

Mama: "Kiddo, you have all of your marbles in the bowl. What's going on with them?"

Kiddo: "I'm giving my dinosaurs some food. The marbles are the food. They like it."

Mama: "Wow! They have a lot of food!" (interest having been shown, mutual attention toward each other) "It's time to go to the store. Would you like to pick out a dino buddy to go to the store?"
(transitioning technique here, acknowledging his play and allowing him to continue it in a different setting.)

Kiddo: "Yes. I'll bring parasauralophus."

Mama: "Great. Let's put him right here. Now you say to me: 'It's time to put on my shoes.'"

Kiddo: "It's time to put on my shoes."

Mama: "'I will put them on right now.'"

Kiddo: "I will put them on right now."

Mama: "Great. Let's get those shoes on!"

Now, while it seems cookie-cutter easy, please understand that the transition technique of extending his activity played an equal role in his willingness to cooperate. I'm being respectful of what he's intellectually engaged in. This is relatively easy to do with a little imagination, by the way, while kids are young and while they are involved in free play; children watching tv or playing games on the computer or board games with each other will require more parental help to transition away from because their attention is on something fixed, less portable. You will need to show the attention, help them finish, and only after that try the 'repeat after me' technique.

It helps to keep directions in the affirmative, and much like parenting our youngest, we want to use positive language whenever we can, so as not to reinforce the negative, because kids still mostly hear the end of what we say to them. "Repeat after me" can be helpful in refocusing a child whose actions need to change. Here are a few examples.

If the child is running around the room like a crazy person:
Not: "I will not run around the room like a crazy person."
Instead: "I will use my walking feet in the house."

If the child is taking a toy from a friend:
Not: "I will not take the toy away from him."
Instead, use: "I will find another toy now. I will have a turn when he's done."

If the child is yelling:
Not:  "I will not yell and make mommy's ears hurt."
Instead, try: "I can go in my room to yell. I can use a quiet voice with Mama."

This also works well for precorrecting too. At the library: "I will use my whisper voice." At the store: "I will hold your hand or I can ride in the cart/stroller." This may help the child internalize expectations in a positive way.

Just in case some of this sounds suspiciously familiar, remember that many counselors, therapists and self-help books suggest positive affirmations because, truly, they do work if practiced regularly. Repeating positive directions is exactly the same thing, only we aren't standing in the mirror like Stuart Smalley saying: "Because I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!" We're saying: "It's time to get my coat on now."

Overall, this is just one more tool in the parenting toolbox, nonetheless, it is a pretty friendly one and I like those best. Of course, if you have a kid heading for a tantrum, or if you've been experiencing a spate of power struggles, give it a few tries and then reevaluate if this is working. Some kids who are in a period of digging their heels in aren't going to be be so easily led, and may consciously work not to internalize your phrasing, but to contradict it. So, like many of the parenting tools, this won't be successful 100% of the time. However, I've found it's been working really well for us over the last few days and wanted to share while it was on my mind. We all can use a little reminding of what's in the 'toolbox', and please, feel free to share any of your favorite friendly techniques in the comments. I like to learn from you readers, too!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

To Form or Inform: Technology and the Family

This morning, I sit quietly with a cup of tea. The back door is open, the screen latched open too, so that Gus, our gray gentleman kitty, can go to and fro and he pleases. Out the front window I can see the purple spires of the butterfly bush and all the green of our little ginkgo tree and the neighbors yard, soft and melty through the old glass in the picture window.

All in all, I feel at peace. I have projects and at least part of a day ahead of me. My dear neighbors have taken Kiddo on a hike with them. I'm grateful for this in two ways: first, that he has some good time out in nature with people who genuinely love him and second, that I have some time to think quietly and share a few thoughts.

Lately, I've been giving some serious time and attention to thinking about technology and finding balance in this area with my family. This laptop is a tricky device in that it promises a sense of connectivity, immediately. Access to the Internet, for me, is something that I have to be thoughtful, even careful, about. This summer has been a time of reflection in this regard.

Over the last year or so, I became rather engrossed with a parenting forum. I've written posts about the forum, about needing breaks, about how to post or answer questions there. During my time teaching preschool last year, after I said goodbye to the children, I would be craving adult contact, and the forum was always available. While my friends were picking up their own kids from preschool, putting their little ones down for naps, or working and unavailable, the forum was right there, virtually at my fingertips. I believe I gave some good parenting advice.

But what I also noticed, over time, was that being on the forum was having a negative impact on my own ability to be a good parent. "Just another minute, and then we'll...". I'm not proud of this, and truthfully, I'm a bit ashamed of it. After all, I did know better, right? It's not like I'm not smart enough to understand that my son needed me more than these parents with questions did. A week or so after my son's preschool ended, it dawned on me that participating in this forum was actually making me a lesser parent.

And so, I quit. I haven't gone back since. Our summer is better for it.

My desire is always to find balance, and with the convenience of the laptop, it takes more effort to ensure that technology is put in its proper place. I'm not a complete Luddite here, however my ideal role of technology in family life is not to form, but solely to inform. Would I throw out the Internet? Never. However, my ideal role of the Internet is that it helps us as a family without shaping us. I'm hoping that nature and a life of learning, of hands-on experiences in real time, do that shaping. For example, the role of the technology in regard to our upcoming family vacation, to me, has already been played out: we've found our lodgings for the trip. We will not bring the laptop with us. We will bring my husband's cellphone, but we will not be texting anyone or making a lot of calls. I could go online again before the trip to print out tide tables, but then again, if I do that, I miss that experience of getting a guide at one of the small shops and seeing the actual people that live in the area I'm visiting. I'm sure there's an app for that (tide tables), but we are sticking with our simple pay-as-you-go phones, and I am not sure that missing the human aspect of being in a particular place is attractive to me, anyway.

This summer, I have wanted to delve into some critical thinking about how, in my family's future, we will balance the informing/forming potentials of the Internet and technology. Over the last few weeks, I read "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology Than We Do From Each Other" by Sherry Turkle.  This book takes the reader from through the author's concern that we, as a society, have gone from the idea that "technology is better than nothing" to the feeling that "technology is better than something". Confusing to consider? Turkle's book focuses on several aspects of the technological world: she explores the interactions of sociable robots and their ability for affect, which creates complicated relationships between both humans and these robots as well as these same humans and others. The human preference for the ease of 'relationship' with sociable robots, which demand nothing and yet perform the task of empathetic listening, is worthy of our concern. However, so is the downgrading of the human relationship, courtesy of the Internet, instant messaging and texting. I myself have found that my choice to opt out of Facebook has left me with a very impersonal email in-box most days. During a single day, I will receive perhaps four or five emails from actual human beings who know me, and up to twenty or so from various organizations.

Because I have chosen not to participate in Facebook, I think it is fair to consider myself out of the loop. While many of my friends expect that they are reading each others posts and being kept abreast of what's going on, I find myself longing for real-time phone conversations or nights out with these same people. I don't want to know the trivial, surfacey stuff fit for group consumption: I want to know the real person, the real you. And creating this boundary around technology in my life has had its consequences: I find out after others that people have their babies or that they got the job or that other things of interest have happened. No one just calls each other to talk anymore.

Perhaps we have forgotten how? Perhaps some of us have forgotten what it's like to have a good, meaty conversation with long pauses as we think of a reply, or wait until our own voice is clear enough to say "I'm sorry" to someone's telling of disappointment or to smile and giggle and cheer over the phone with them when the news is good. I have relatives who prefer texting these days, and it makes me sad, because I miss really finding out what's going on in their lives. I miss the richness of those "mundane" conversations, because before texting, I knew more about them than I do now. The end result, though, is that I don't text, and they've lost the desire to talk on the phone, which leaves us at somewhat of a social impasse, much in the way Facebook has.

What struck me, time and again, in Turkle's book, was the repeated assertion of interviewed teens and college students that they would someday have to "learn how to have a conversation". Historically, we humans first shared information through oral histories, storytelling, and conversation. There was a group history, a history within families, stories we referred to and understood collectively. I see that disappearing, the work to keep these traditions alive is considered to be novel. This should not be the case.

I'm still wondering about what my family stories will be to my son. What, when he gets older, I want him to remember about my own family. It's a complicated muddle, to be sure, but some of those stories are simple enough to tell him now. Both his mother and father were born on islands, far across the world from each other. My island was made from fire, from molten rock, and although I have been assimilated into the mainland white culture, the island is in my bones in a way that I cannot explain. The Pacific Ocean is part of me, part of my soul, in a way I cannot describe, the light on the water and in the sky so different than anything we can know here. My husband comes from a much tamer place, an island in the Atlantic, already part of the culture he would live in for the rest of his life. This is just the beginning of our stories...

I want to get outside, now, before my day disappears, but I will be coming back to this and linking this topic together in some way. Like the birds and the bees, there can't be just one conversation about the role of technology in our families, they must be ongoing, as needed, as we grow.