Saturday, February 26, 2011

Personal Responsibility, Preschool-Style

I wonder how long it will take Kiddo to get dressed this morning. Five minutes ago, I pulled out his day clothes, put them on the bed in his room, and told him "don't come out of this room until you are dressed".

"But Mama, I want to watch the barn video." He snuggles his way onto my lap.

"Yes, you may" I tell him. "You can watch it just as soon as you are dressed. You can do it as fast or as slow as you like." I give him a squeeze. "Come on out when you're done."

And I walk out the door.

Three minutes later, he is calling for me. I ignore this ploy for attention. He knows how to dress himself and I'm not getting sucked in. Then he screams for me. I go near his room, and stand in the hall. I'm not going in.

"Maamaaa! Come in here!" he yells at me. I am not going to address the screaming, and why we don't scream at other people, because that's just giving him more attention. Instead, I ask for correction.

"Try that in a friendly way now, please."

"Mama. I want you to come in with me. I want to get my feet into this sock." He is cramming two feet into one sock, and this is so ridiculous I want to smile but don't. He knows this isn't doable. Perhaps he's thinking 'If I do something really boneheaded, Mama will think I'm incapable and dress me'. Who knows what he's thinking?
No dice today though.

"I think you know that isn't going to work. Come on out when you are dressed."

"But I want some company!" He says this as though he's otherwise unable to dress without an audience. As though as it's as elemental to the process as underwear.

"Yep. Get dressed and come on out for some company." I walk away.

He's quiet, then two minutes later, he comes out, struggling with three layers on his legs-- he wants to wear his pajama pants, and has even changed his underwear and put his pjs back on, with the jeans I asked him to wear over those. "I want you to fix this." he whines at me. I tell him that he knows he has too many pants on for right now, and that he needs to go to his room and fix it. Suddenly, as if by magic, his pants are pulled up and are fine. I send him to his room to finish dressing. He comes back with a shirt on and one sock on, one sock off. "Go back and finish getting dressed." I don't even look at him for more than a second.

And now he's done, happily watching a video about tractors and combines. It was a lot of work, in some ways, but it wasn't in others. We're keeping on our path of having him dress himself (parental involvement somehow turns it into a "look-at-me" circus), and I kept putting the responsibility on him. He was in charge of when he could watch the video--sooner or later-- and when he could have company. He could correct what he was doing to facilitate the process by deciding on two socks for two feet and to pull up his own pants instead of feeding into self-made problems. He corrected the tone of his voice because he wanted to communicate more than he wanted to scream. If I'd addressed each of these issues separately, he would have received a lot of negative attention, and I would be feeling a bit less relaxed than I am now.

It's never too young to teach a little personal responsibility!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow Day

There is no preschool today. Kiddo and I have the luxury of sitting at the table, he with his toast, I with my tea, a small lit candle between us. It is dim in the kitchen and we look outside to the luminating sky, the pale whispers of snowflakes on the gray morning air.

We play this morning, like Peter*, calling across the street to find a friend to walk and play with. They are two peas in a pod of silly and childishness. They scoop snow from every place and want to put it in their mouths, they dash balls of snow to the ground, and when it is nearly all melted too fast, they throw dirty snow at each other, and two mothers stand by,  shaking their heads and laughing at lost causes.

Kiddo's across the street, playing, and so the snow begins again. Put the kettle on for tea, put the stereo on for some Monk, "Straight, No Chaser", and "Locomotive" greets me like the kind of friend that you want to see at a train station, one you haven't seen in a while, but can slide right back into that rhythm and rapport with. I love that song, that traveling song. I see the snow climbing up on top of itself, climbing to become something on the boughs of the plum tree in the backyard, something present and real and now something part of the tree itself, if only for the moment. It highlights the shape of the branches, reaching out and up in it's little dwarf tree fashion.

The hemlocks in the side yard are looking postcard perfect and the choke cherries stand stark in the white snow, their straight rigid stick-fingers reaching up to the sky between two kitchens, mine and my neighbors.
Sandbox covered, the big turquoise blue ball wears a wig of white, like some discarded old-man Muppet head. Big fat flakes fall now, and it's better than television.

I'm off now to sip my tea and stare out the window.

*From Ezra Jack Keat's "The Snowy Day" ..."Peter called to his friend from across the hall and together, they went out into the deep, deep snow."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cutting the Cord

Reading at bedtime tonight, Kiddo on my lap, his pajama shirt pulled up to show his little boy 'pregnant belly' look. I stick my finger on his bellybutton, and kiss the top of his head.

"Mama, where's my cord?" he asks.
"Your umbilical cord?"
"Yes. Where did it go?" We've been talking a little bit about bellybuttons and umbilical cords lately. How when Kiddo was a baby in Mama's tummy, he could not breathe fresh air or eat good food, so that Mama gave him these things through the cord, in the blood that went through the cord.

"Did another baby use it?" he asks.
"No, just you. Each baby gets their own cord. When you were born, you came out of Mama's belly and then you could eat and breathe all on your own, and so you didn't need the cord anymore."

"So where did it go?" Kiddo's not giving up.

"Well, the woman who helped you to come out, she saw that you didn't need the cord and she took it away with her." I'm trying to figure out how to explain the idea that some things don't just get put into the trash when Kiddo comes up with yet another option that cracks me up:

"Mama, did she put it in a "Free" box?"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"When I'm Ready For Some Company"

Early. Too. If you read yesterday morning's post, you'll know I'm running at a slight sleep deficit. While yesterday afternoon went surprisingly well, it was to be another early a.m., with Kiddo rising at early 5ish and begging for 'someone to hold him', then chatting Joe up, twisting around, etc. At 6 he made it clear that he "wanted to go downstairs" again. I'd told Joe he could sleep in, so I took Kiddo down.

But I was feeling pretty grumpy about the whole thing. I got him a dish of dry cereal and raisins, and then gated him into his room and the hallway. He was happy, and I explained to him that I needed to rest and was going back upstairs. But two minutes after laying down, I got up again, grabbed a magazine by my bedside, and headed downstairs. Too many bad thoughts about choking hazards and other mischief warded away any further sleep.

I've been stumped by this early-to-rise thing for quite a while. I love my sleep. Love it to pieces. I do so much better with it. Parents of children this age really need their sleep. It helps us deal with the ups and downs of the day so much better; we can think clearly and more proactively. It seemed, though, that my son, through no real bad fault of his own, was continually stymieing the best thing for our relationship: a well-rested Mama.

So I'm trying a new solution today. Taking my own version of a time out; I went into the kitchen, and closed the door. Kiddo wanted me to come in, so I explained it simply "My body still wants to be resting, and I am feeling pretty grumpy because you didn't let me sleep. I'm tired, so I'm going to go have my tea and I'll come get you when I'm ready for some company."

How's it working so far? Well, I've had to help him in the bathroom, and I let him take a few toys off the shelves from the preschool area to work in his room. I've explained to him, without anger, that I need to have some time alone right now, until I don't feel grumpy any more, and I keep using the phrase "I'll come get you when I'm ready for some company." If I have a point to prove, it's only that Mama doesn't have to come down and turn on the fun machine just because he's up before the birds. Mama is a person who feels he's old enough to understand leaving people alone when they need to rest.

I told him that I'd come get him in 5 minutes. Overall, it's actually been about 30 minutes so far since he's been up. I'm not upset any more, anyways, and that's the bigger piece of it: taking the break I need, so our morning doesn't get off to a rough by being cross with him, which I think is pretty understandable for a tired parent to feel. When I tell him I'm ready for some company now, I'll be able to do it with a smile.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where's My Damn Cape, Already?!

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. The mama-twist on this?

No good time goes unpunished.

Last night, I went out for the first time in three weeks. A dear friend and I settled ourselves in at the pub, had a couple pints, drank very responsibly over the course of four hours (we had fries, too) and chatted away on all manner of things. We left relaxed, but certainly without a buzz on, and I rolled into bed at 11, confident that Kiddo's recent tendency to sleep in until 6:30 would work in my favor.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

At 4:30, Kiddo called out "Mama, I need you to hold me." I told Joe to just put Kiddo on our big bed. Big mistake. At 5:30 I'd spent the last hour with Mr. Wiggles, who was not a cooperative co-sleeper, while Joe snored away, oblivious to my rather grumpy and envious thoughts about the snoring. At this point, I told Joe to take Kiddo onto the little bed, but neither of us got any sleep. Instead, Kiddo wanted to "get up and play", to "go downstairs and eat", anything but sleep. At six, I grudgingly begged to sleep  for another hour and promised Joe he could sleep in tomorrow. Ah... at least the chance for one more hour of sleep. I was lucky, right?

Oh, no. Not so much. My next hour of sleep featured a dream in which I was running around my house, half dressed and doing some remodeling work, only to have my son's entire preschool group of parents and teachers show up, angry at me for having dropped the ball on some project they were doing for a hospital. I won't go into all the details, but it was not a relaxing sleep. Waking from this, I rolled out of bed and headed downstairs to make a cup of tea. I had time for this luxury-- tea first, breakfast later-- because I wasn't teaching today. But looking across the table at Kiddo, my heart sank. His hair was dirty. How could it get so dirty overnight? I couldn't send him to school like this, so I grabbed up the towels, cleared the counters (because we still wash his hair in the kitchen sink, beauty shop style, to avoid hysterics) and shampooed Kiddo's head. Threw the wet towels down to the basement laundry pile, bolted my breakfast and jumped in the shower. It was 8:15 and we needed to be getting ourselves ready by 8:30 at the latest.

I'm very quick in the tub when need be, and was able to deflect Kiddo's questions about the toys he kept bringing into the bathroom. "How does this fit, Mama?" I assumed he was talking about the pegboard he was playing with. I refused to look at the toys, explaining that "Mama has to hustle so we can get to school on time" and kept on with the shower. And then, at around 8:20, it hit me-- no one had made Kiddo's lunch.

Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t.  (I didn't say it aloud, but believe me, it was a mantra floating through my head.)

I raced through getting dressed and dried, thanking whatever stars had aligned that Kiddo hadn't planted himself in the bathroom this morning as he sometimes does. I had enough to deal with besides more three-year-old observations on "Mama's Sliding-Down Boo Boos", which is what you get when you're forty and had nursed the precious bundle of joy who would later make such, um, unflattering observations. I began to direct Kiddo through his getting ready for school. "Go potty, please." Only my son can figure out a way to pee sloooowwwly, I am sure of this. "It's time to get on your fleece jacket, now." I am flying around the kitchen, grabbing leftover pasta and grating Parmesan onto it before packing it up in his lunchbox. The jacket is still not on, Kiddo just standing there.  AM I SPEAKING ESPERANTO, CHILD? "Get your jacket on now." I am now peeling a carrot, and he is still fiddling around. This is where I am starting to slide a bit. It's now 8:35 and we have five more minutes and at the rate he's going.... The voice raises, and I forget everything good in the world-- the robins that have returned to the neighborhood, the sweetness of the newly-budding plants beginning to bloom, the joy that comes with having a family --- "Put your damn coat on right now!!" I growl, giving my son the evil eye as I cram a napkin, fork and place mat into his lunch bag, toss the whole thing into his tote, and begin to get my own coat on.

"Mama, why is it a 'damn coat'?"

Really??? This is your question? Not "Mama, how many more minutes on the clock before you blast off like a rocket and begin orbiting the earth?"

Our walk to school seemed better, we'd both gotten out the door on time after all, and were able to take our time. Things were looking up. Or so I thought. Because when we got to school, he was playing too rough with the little friend he's supposed to have a play date with this afternoon.

And then, horror of horrors, he spit at her.

I just about died, but Mama can't die on the job, so instead, I used my stern voice and had him check in with his friend, who looked deeply offended-- and with good reason. Thank goodness the child's adult is a lovely, no-nonsense woman who trusts me enough to know that this isn't tolerated. I still have no idea where he saw this spitting thing and got the idea in the first place, but I knew there were no hard feelings, because the nice woman offered me a ride when she saw me walking toward Hawthorne so I could get some dinner shopping done.

And now here I sit, too tired to do much else. No good time goes unpunished. I have taken very good care of Kiddo and Joe over the past three weeks of their both being sick. I have made home-cooked dinners nearly every night, so they could get better. Nothing out of a box. I have taken out the garbage and recycling to help the Big Guy out, and have made lots of time for transitions and fun so that the Little Guy could keep feeling better. I have proactively parented and partnered as well as doing my professional job. It all feels a bit taken for granted right now. If I'm supposed to be Supermama, where's my damn cape already?!

At least I'll get to sleep in Sunday.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get Your Kindergarten On!

Okay, some of us are starting to get our kindergarten on. And our kids aren't even four yet.

Today I received an email from a dear friend who typed "Neurotic" in the subject line. Inside the email was a link to a site which helps to best gather and assess information from the schools they visit, so that they can make a more informed decision. Here in Portland, I understand why parents need help. Some of this is fallout from the GWBush Era's No Child Left Unabused (oh, wait, I meant to say "Left Behind") policy, which opened up the entire PPS system to a world of now-overwhelmed parents. Instead of fixing failing schools, parents can just (hopefully, via lottery system) transfer away to something better*. What sounds like a solution only causes more problems as successful schools struggle to keep their classrooms of children adequately staffed and funded. Adding to the confusion are all the specialized magnet schools: the environmental school, the arts schools, the vocational schools, independent study schools, language-immersion programs... And then add in all the parents who are educated and feel entitled to their child also receiving a top-notch education.

And I haven't even touched on the charter schools.

No wonder my peer moms are sweating this one. Some of them don't care for their neighborhood schools, and understandably. Some are, or will be, working parents  and will need a school which provides before-and-after care programs. And some just think that there's a better match out there for their young one. Thus, we are left with a situation of So Many Choices~So Little Satisfaction. Not enough to go around, anyway.

I'm skipping out on all of this, for the time being. Kiddo might be predisposed to public engineering (or a career in sanitation) with all of his wonderment at fountains, storm drains, all things water, and recycling trucks galore, and while I think my son is absolutely grand, he is perfectly, averagely perfect for our local neighborhood school. He is not a budding Picasso, so we don't need to sweat the Buckman lottery. We keep a garden here at home and are environmentally aware, having thoughtful conversations about those sorts of topics no matter where we go, so I don't know that the extra time walking to and from Sunnyside Environmental School is going to feel entirely necessary. Being the person that I am, I'm not interested in spending my next 8 years in committees and fundraising, so while a second language would be nice, I think that can wait until middle or high school for a more intense course. We are fortunate (yes, I am aware that this is a question of "Fortunate") to live in a neighborhood that hosts a top-notch academic school, and one which rates above average in the state. So, even though people tell me that the kindergarten building looks like a bunker, I'm not just looking at his kinder-year, I'm looking at the following eight years as well. (It's a K-8 school.)

What do I see for my son's future at the neighborhood school? Strong academics, and I'm guessing I'm going to be spending a lot of afternoons at the kitchen table, helping Kiddo with his homework. But that's not just what school is about. It's also the connections we make when we're there. I'm hoping that Kiddo will have Neighborhood friends to play with. Other kids to walk to school with. I'm looking forward to having a neighborhood community of parents whose kids can come over and play and who don't live crosstown. When I was a kid, I attended 14 schools. I recognize how important a sense of community is, and this is something I want to give to my son. We'll likely pay out separately for specialized music lessons or whatever other thing he wants to learn or do, but so do many families. I don't expect the neighborhood school to accommodate the interests of each child and support their growth in areas outside of academia. I personally am more intent on Kiddo's school providing recess times, not band. There's only so much money to go around, and the schools cannot be all things to all people. If I were the type of parent to expect school to fit my child's interests, I'd be over there today, lobbying for a large, deep sandbox and access to water and hoses.

I think it's the parent's responsibility to encourage, nurture and provide opportunities for their kids outside the school setting. Just like I think it's a parent's job to teach children about morals, sexual health education, hygiene and so much more. Teachers can't do it all, nor should they.

And I'm going to stick my neck out here to say this: I have noticed a trend over the past several years in how some parents perceive school. Even in solid neighborhoods, some parents are hell-bent to get their kids into the more 'hip' schools, some for no other reason than just because their friends' kids go there. I have heard grown adults talking about the 'cool schools', because they liked the 'kind of parents' whose children attend the school. I feel like sometimes sitting them down and telling them "Hey, listen, this really isn't about YOU." School should be where our children go to get their needs met, not the parent's. I'm not saying we shouldn't advocate for quality education for our kids, but this doesn't need to be an extension of our own ego trip. Portland is very into it's own stratified "hipness" in some insecure way, sometimes, and I consider these comments as a byproduct of that odd quest for being part of Portland's Coolest, not as a thoughtful conversation about education. Nonetheless, the thought of considering schools while using the same vocabulary as one would use while window-shopping on some trendy neighborhood makes me cringe.

I'm fortunate, too, that I only hear those inane conversations from people I see in passing, not the core group of parents that I know. They are all wanting the best for their kids, and trying to figure out which packages it might come in. I hope that one day, we will live in a Portland where all the neighborhood schools are academically strong, diverse, well-staffed and well-funded. That wasn't the Portland I lived in during high school, though, and it's not the one I've inherited as a parent. A lot of folks have a lot of thinking to do, and they're being responsible, taking their time. I'm just glad I'm so blessed. Maybe considering less choices will make me more happy... I won't really know until a couple years from now, though.

*Isn't this how ghost towns are created, better opportunities elsewhere?

Monday, February 7, 2011

In the Seven Minutes I Have On the Timer

...while Kiddo's upstairs with Joe, home early with an ear infection.

1. I am the only person in my house currently not invited to the amoxicillan party.
2. I am tired of filling up itty-bitty tubes of Elmer's glue. They are child-hand-sized, and good for portion control, otherwise some of our art projects would take eight weeks to dry. But I really hate filling them up!
3. I wish my son could just 'drop the poop'. By this, I mean that he talks about poop constantly. Today, he wanted to "walk by the dog-poop house" on the way to the QFC. And when we got close to it he yelled happily "THE DOG POOP HOUSE!!!"  Just in case we didn't know.
4. I love Valentines Day, and love sharing it with the kids. They are so excited. This is one holiday we can celebrate at school: non-denominational, no dead turkeys, nothing scary... and no drinking. I'm not sure we could do an 'authentic' Saint Paddy's at preschool. Give them green juice? Nope, Valentines is the best, because it's all about the love...
5.I have preschool dishes still to wash and laundry to move, a bean bin to stow. And my timer went ding, so off I go!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

“But Mama, I don’t Like It!!!”

Mealtime Rules for the Grown-Ups:
1. Always serve two things on the plate we know Kiddo regularly will eat.
2. Ignore “I Don’t Like It”s. They are less about the food and more about something else. No substitutions for this reason.
3. If he doesn’t try it, let it go. He’ll try it when he’s ready.

Mealtime Rule for the Kiddo:

1. If you can’t eat it without a great big fuss, go take a break and come back when you can. Nobody’s forcing you to eat anything.

Always seeking balance. If it’s not the first job of any mom, it’s surely one of primary importance. Kiddo’s had a stressful time lately. He’s been on amoxicillin for a week now, and fortunately for him, he’s got a mama who’s already relatively familiar with what to feed a kid who’s taking this antibiotic, which tends to be pretty rough on a little kid’s tummy. So, there were lots of soda crackers and applesauce at the beginning of the week. Noodles and capers are a favorite, and the trick with amoxicillin is to give the medication on a starchy stomach, which seems to help children better tolerate it. Meals were very Kiddo-focused for most of the week, which was fine with me as he usually eats earlier in the evening than Joe and I do. So when I made noodles and capers for him first, whilst cooking the broccoli and salmon, it was no big deal. He ate a bit of the other foods as well, and everything was fine.

By the time Friday rolled around, the cupboard was bare so I went shopping for some soup fixings and a few of his favorites: fresh blueberries and some of Milton’s Graham Crackers, which are small and heavenly, especially with almond butter on them. When I picked Kiddo up from preschool with a surprise snack of grahams, he was pretty darn happy. Afternoon snack time was some fresh blueberries and a couple tablespoons of soy yogurt. “After this” I told him “we should pick a veggie. You can have carrots or red pepper.” I offered, choosing two readily-eaten foods. It was snack time, and I don’t mind giving him a “you choose it and you can get it out of the fridge” opportunity, which he usually loves. He asked for red peppers and hummus; while I was making this up for him, he got down from the table to play, and so they went back into the fridge for future consumption.

Two hours later, Kiddo had played happily outside, helped me to make the soup I was going to serve for dinner (he’s a great Cuisinart button-pusher!), and was now loudly complaining of being hungry. Since the snack veggie plate had gone untouched, I served this first, along with a piece of good crusty bread and butter. Our house rule is to serve two things I know he likes at each meal; I know he’s not exactly wild about soup, but I served some of this with the broth strained out, so he just had the potatoes, carrots and other veggies he’d helped to prepare.

So I was a bit surprised to hear--

“Mama! I don’t liiiiiike red peppers!”

Okay, well, not that surprised. I often hear “I don’t like” such and such food, which he readily eats otherwise. I routinely ignore this statement, and he usually eats up the food just fine. Tonight, though, the whining continued. “I don’t like this hummus!” “Um, you did yesterday!” I thought to myself, but said nothing. Tonight he was digging his heels in. Perhaps he was tired. Perhaps he was just in the mood to see how far Mama’s patience would stretch, to see if I would put on my SuperMama cape and fly to the rescue and make him some separate dinner. Unh-uh. I wouldn’t budge.

“Well, you have plenty of food in front of you. Just eat what you like.” I wasn’t going to engage in discussing this with him. As I’ve written before, we do have a No Bite Rule in our house, which is to say that if you find it repulsive, I’m not going to force you to eat it.

Still, he fretted loudly and often. He said he didn’t want red peppers, he wanted carrots. While my internal reply was “yeah, right”, I kept my mouth shut and kept chopping up pickles for the tuna salad until enough was enough.

“You know, you don’t have to tell me what you don’t like. Just eat what you do like.” I was trying to stay even-tempered but frankly, I was tired too. It had been a long day. There’s a reason I call that window between 4 and 6 pm ‘the witching hour’—this is the time of day when they will complain long and loud about imaginary offenses, mainly because we are all tired. But when he began to scream at me about how he “DIDN’T LIKE RED PEPPER, MAAAMAAA!”, I knew the time had come to take a break.

“I see you don’t want to eat right now, and I need to make some tuna salad for our sandwiches for dinner. So I need you to go take a break and play in your room until you are ready to eat what I have for you.” I picked him up and carried him, crying, to his room. “You come on out when you are ready to eat what I have for you” I repeated, reassuring him that this was not a punishment, but that I could see he needed a break.

Three minutes later, he returned. He looked exhausted, but really had tried to recompose himself. “Mama, could I have some tuna salad please?” Ah. What a blessing. “Of course you may. Go sit down. Do you want it on crusty bread, or soft bread?” (The crusty bread was my vice, a loaf of fresh sourdough; the soft bread was a multigrain spelt.) I made it the way he wanted, on spelt, and he was so happy to eat it. Tuna, mayo, and pickle, the favorite of son and husband alike. I was just grateful I hadn’t put celery and red onion in instead. He gobbled it up just as Joe walked in the door.

The rest of dinner went without incident, but all of this reminded me that sometimes, considerations need to be made. I’d somehow forgotten that Friday is the hardest day for Kiddo. He had been in preschool for four days and was just wiped out. Finding balance would mean finding a very Kiddo-friendly meal for Thursdays and Fridays. Save the more challenging meals for earlier in the week, when he had plenty of downtime, or even better, weekends. Kid-friendly doesn’t necessarily mean mac-n-cheese, either, but something friendlier to him.

So tonight, we are having gnocchi and fresh sole— both of which he loves, and broccoli. I’m not sure he’ll eat the broccoli--maybe he’ll eat the tops. And I’m aware that he’s still stressed and that I have to soften my hard line. To be honest, I’m glad I stuck with it last night. Kiddo was able to find what he needed on the menu, and I was able to see where I needed to flex a little more. It’s all a little touch and go, and sometimes menu-planning requires mutual respect—he needs to eat what’s on the table, and I need to make a more kid-oriented table a couple nights a week or so. Finding balance isn’t bad… It’s just a constant parental discipline.