Monday, June 27, 2011

MIA: My Sense of Humor

It must be coming off all the transitions and work that's made me wonder: where the hell did my sense of humor go to?

It's probably off on vacation right now, somewhere silly, thinking "Mmmm....oh yeah, I ain't goin' back to that bitch anytime soon."

It's not that I'm a bitch, really, it's just the recent transitions and being the Parent on Duty all day kinda dries me up. Today, in the sandbox, Kiddo and friend throwing sand at each other. They didn't mean to, they told me. Uhn-uh, not buying that.  I just didn't see any humor in the situation. Nor the fact that I will have to wash Kiddo's hair again to get the sand out.

Or later, when Kiddo hit Daddy and Daddy sent him to his room---cue Connie Francis please: "Whaaaaare the TOYS Are" ... oh, no. Then when Daddy lets him off to play, I intervene. Kiddo needs to check in with Daddy. "Are you okay, Daddy?" Then Daddy blows it, smiles at him "I'm fine!" Arrghhh! Cue pulling one's own hair out. Daddy needs to try it again, without the "I'm so happy you hit me, it's a delight!" look on his face. We do it over, correctly, and then make a list of things Kiddo can do when he wants to hit. Which will come in handy when Kiddo can read, in a year or two from now.

I'm really not getting much of a break these days. Haven't had a whole lot of LOL moments. I need something seriously funny to make me laugh until my face hurts. The problem is that most of my old standbys aren't so funny these days. A couple episodes of South Park out of a whole season...yep, funny. But so many comedies aren't funny, just lame. I used to love the dumb-guy Will Ferrell stuff, but he's off doing other things. Seth Rogen owes me money and time lost for the movie rentals of his past few movies. Exceptionally unfunny. Seth, I loved you, but now you make movies exclusively for for teenage boys and the ones that just can't seem to quite grow up. You've lost me.

So, friends, Romans (well, no one from Rome reads this) or any countrymen or women-- send me some funny, please. I get plenty of interesting and obscure in my email--my dad is very partial to these, sending YouTube clips on kinetic sculpture or Bruce Lee playing ping-pong with nun chucks (he does so know me), but I need a little funny. Maybe I'll watch "Zoolander" for the hundredth time tonight. The first time I saw that was at the theater with a group of people, on a date with Joe. Two of the women complained at how stupid the movie was. I think my sense of humor might be hanging out with theirs right now. I didn't like those women and I don't want to be like them. Sense of Humor--- please, come back! I'll feed you Marx Brothers movies and wacky old comedies like I used to. We'll watch Ernst Lubitsch's "To Be or Not to Be" again, with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. I'll finally rent George Cukor's "The Women" and enjoy some Jeeves and Wooster. These aren't empty promises... but without you, I'm really nothing. At least, nothing fun.

Switching Gears

It's been a week and a half since I've said goodbye to my last little preschooler. In that short window of time between then and today, I've been in a whirly sort of state, taking a deep breath and then turning around to pack us up for a much-anticipated weekend camping trip with my paternal family. It felt as if I'd just been pirouetting on one toe, round and round, for that window of time.

Now the spinning has stopped, and my feet have settled on the ground. Most of the camping unpacking is done, most of the laundry is caught up, and Kiddo is playing with Wonder Girl across the street for the morning.

Which leaves me here, now, contemplating the Big Downshift in life that's just occurred. This has been a time of many transitions: Kiddo's done with preschool for summer and needs a life which is still relatively routine and scheduled. Bigger than that, though, is that I have landed squarely in that box we call "Housewife".

First, let me say that I take umbrage with the title "Housewife". I am not married to a house, but to a wonderful person who I'd rather call "partner" most of the time. Cleaning the house, being the keeper of a house, does not appeal to my intellectual capacity. Sure, I suppose I could get really zen and be fully present when I am sweeping the hair off the bathroom floor, but I'm not sure that fantasizing instead about winning Megabucks or getting a few days to myself is bad, either. Mental vacation in any case, right?

I struggle with this change. How to meet the needs of myself, my child, my house, my garden, and in good proportion to each other. Part of this will soon be remedied with a schedule of tasks for the week, and I must figure out a new non-preschool-based cleaning schedule. I am not a fan of daily vacuuming. I do sweep some areas daily and have a tendency to want to keep things relatively picked up. It just needs a schedule, otherwise it doesn't get done until I just can't stand it and want to do it all at once. This conflicts with Kiddo's needs, too, because then he loses me to the cleaning frenzy and this is met with an appropriate amount of resistance.

All of this has me a little lost, wanting to find my identity. Wanting to escape and go have a beer out of my house with other grown-ups and forget the mess, the obligations. I'm a writer whose work has been on hold and is constantly redirected into giving advice on a forum where I can write in tidbits and spurts. How to pull out of that and do the lonely work of writing a nonfiction reference book for parents? I've shelved the book work until autumn, but might get started early again. I've been relatively quiet on this blog, in this time of flux, just trying to suss things out for myself.

So, I'm going to try the tactic of acceptance. Accepting that Kiddo is going to want me in some very intense ways this summer. Accepting that my choices as a parent make my time with my son more demanding. We're sticking with 30 minutes of screen time a day, and his favorite video fits the bill, and then he wants me. My time, my attention, sometimes my endless patience. He wants excursions that have nothing to do with running errands. Finding balance in all of this is a little tricky. I am not going to use all of my time when he's with his friends running errands because of his complaints. He's four and while I know he has limited patience, he has to sometimes work with the whole family's needs, lest he believe the sun has been abandoned by the  planets and the world revolves around him, ha ha. So, we're going to have some of those struggles this summer. Each day older and he's less docile, more opinionated about what we should be doing. This is the time to firm up, to set him on the solid but not-lovely ground of  "you are the child and I am the parent and I am the person who makes the decisions". Reality does bite, sometimes. Especially when you are four. Or when you are forty, too.

Another phase for both of us. I keep plugging along, trying to do the right thing. Sometimes, it happens and we are all happy. Sometimes, I try but fail miserably. So, I go back to the mistakes later, when I've recovered, and try to pull out the lessons within. I'm learning a few things about myself in the process. Imagine- I don't like going clothes shopping with a complaining child, even if I can "handle it". I'd prefer not to!  These petty revelations help me to remember how I want to organize my time, and help me evaluate what I can do for myself and when it's better to wait until Joe's around to help.

It's not just about getting it all done, it's about getting it all done and staying sane.

In the meantime, I'm going to make friends with the white board and sketch out a picture of a typical week. I'm going to work toward my goal of a July 15th or so garage sale and getting the basement usable in some fashion. And I'm going to call up some girlfriends and make some dates. This summer, I'm going to get out as much as I can socially to avoid those Domesticated Blues, sung in "D for Dishwashing" Minor, with a chorus of "La la la la laundry", set to the swish-swish rhythm of sweeping the floor. It's all I can do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Children and Common Sense

One thing I can tell you about children and common sense: don't believe that they possess it until you see consistent evidence of this.

Being moms, many of us worry about this. "Does my child know, with every fiber of their being, that touching the lightsocket with a screwdriver--because they look made for each other,so it could happen-- is a dangerous thing to do?" An electrical outlet is a dangerous temptation to a growing and naturally curious child, so we put those horrible plastic safety plugs in them, even as we curse at how difficult they are to dig back out.
I was tempted by that strange set of little holes in the wall, when I was four. A cousin said "put the key in the hole in the wall". I did. Didn't take twice, that's for sure.

Our little Kiddo is four and curious too. I like that he's curious, glad that he wants to understand some of the existential stuff better than he does. He asks a lot of questions about everything: dinosaurs, trucks, pipes, bees, cell phones 'dying' (what does that mean when non-living objects 'die'?), whatever's on his mind. He's wandering all over the yard, picking up parts of plants to put in some creation made of  rainwater, mud, and crushed sidewalk chalk he and his friend call "ointment". He's starting to become an equal in both initiating and following the play with his friend, and I'm excited for him.

But with this comes other concerns. Now that he is more easily led by peers, what does that mean in regard to his personal safety and common sense?  Just as I was the kid with zero logic whatsoever when it came to electricity, so might he decide to do something equally dumb. This is why I'm still careful to keep the less-safe items invisible. Putting away my iron today, I noticed that I automatically hid it behind my sewing machine, under the blanket that covers the machine itself. Out of sight, out of mind. In sight, something to explore. His peers won't likely be up in my room, but the idea remains that while he is relatively safe, he's not always making his own bodily safety a consideration. Hence, the hidden items. The oven knobs that are removed and place in a bowl at the back of the counter each and every time. Or the matches, stored up high out of reach. It's all I can do to tippy-toe to reach them.

Included in this is the idea that my kid still doesn't always know what goes where or that certain everyday objects are indeed delicate. Thus, we have to guard "precious"  items. Our vintage kitchen table has a porous top, so we had a piece of glass made to cover it and use an oilcloth over that. Works great and Kiddo doesn't have to hear "use a coaster" a jillion times. He can play in his room but coloring and artwork belong wherever I'm working, because he will occasionally write on things he shouldn't. He wrote on his little wooden chair with colored pencil and we decided that he could have the chair back in his room after the scribbling has been sanded off. Yes, it's his chair, but we don't write on chairs and we must make it right. We'll do it with him, and we also learned a lesson in allowing him to have colored pencils in his room. Of course, before this, we hadn't had any recent artwork adventures in the house, so all that to say, they're pretty unpredictable, those kids.

It's for these same reasons I don't let children have at-will access to scissors when they aren't available for art.  I haven't forgotten my own four year old exploits, playing barber shop on myself and my little sister, then hiding the locks in a crayon box, convinced that because the hair had been hidden, no one would know. Crazy, that kid logic.

Looking back at my childhood, I think of all the times my common sense was taking a vacation in parts unknown. Ten years old, climbing a boulder in the Oregon Desert near Fort Rock while wearing flip-flops and slipping, gouging my foot open. Dumb dumb dumb dumb. Eight, pulling a twig in and out of the a campfire until someone else nearby doing the same thing burned my hand, leaving a raw wound which now is the tiniest of scars and has left me with a lifelong respect for fire.  Three, maybe, and thinking "I'll pour the tea kettle" and grabbing the kettle full of boiling water from off the burner just the way I'd seen my mother doing it, scalding myself. Drinking a cup of surfboard wax remover the babysitter's son left on the porch. A whole cup? Must have tasted good....

That's why we keep the antifreeze in the garage, and why we keep the garage door closed.

So, back to my first statement: don't believe they have common sense until you know in every fiber of your own being that they do. When they are, say 25.

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's like Living in Crazytown....

Sometimes, something on the Mamaworldforum makes me think that the world is not spinning correctly on its axis and all is not right.

Yesterday a woman asked a question about a friend. The friend had a child who was smearing poo on everything, and after the third time, she gave him an ice-cold shower to teach him a lesson. The question at hand: was this effective discipline or abuse?

Duh, this seemed like a no-brainer. At least to me. Ice cold baths and showers are used as means of torture, just in case you were wondering what my answer was. Even runners who do this voluntarily to relieve swelling call it torture. (And the runner in the blog I've linked into had a cup of tea and warm clothes on at the time.)

So, my mind was blown repeatedly as mother after mother chimed in saying that this was effective discipline, not abusive in any way. "Genius" and "brilliant" were used to describe this quick and immediate remedy. No, the child never did it again, so I guess that means it works, right?  Out of 52 responses, 5 people 'didn't know', 18 of us felt it abusive, and a whopping 27 felt is was justified. And then, the qualifiers came out. "It wasn't abusive if she only did it for the time it took to get him clean" or "it's not like she rubbed it in his face or made him eat it" (whaaaat?!) or "there's no way your friend's water was too cold, stop judging". Other moms copped up to the fact that they had done it too. It couldn't be abuse, because it worked right?

The saddest post of all came from a woman who had been treated horribly by her parent. At the age of one and a half or two, she had been given an ice water shower by her parent, and while she 'wasn't sure' if it was abuse, she wasn't able to take a shower until she was 20.

Do I need to go on? Probably not.

Two seconds later, on a different thread, another poster wondered about her neighbors, who fought loudly, constantly, when their very young kids were home. Should she get a hold of the apartment manager or the police? So many posters suggested she not 'waste the time of the police'. Ah, yes, best to let young children deal with mommy and daddy screaming at each other all on their own. It's mindboggling, the lack of personal responsibility some people seem to have.

So, yes, it's a bit like living in Crazytown, seeing these grown human beings turn their faces away from ugliness, excusing it, qualifying it, not wanting to get involved. Which makes me wonder: what is the purpose of being the adult if not to protect the child? Why are we given the sense to understand what's right and wrong and knowingly choose to look away from the wrong, or dress it up as virtue and strength and 'old fashioned no-nonsense parenting'? In our years on the planet, haven't we learned anything about how to treat other human beings? Aren't we supposed to know better? Aren't we supposed to be the parent, the person who our child loves and trusts best?

Forgive me my rant. It's too personal for me, I know. I think about how many kids who fall through the cracks because of this attitude-- "the kid drove the parent to it". I've heard this excuse more times than it is healthy to remember, even from my own parents. Looking away, not reporting abuse when we see it, is cowardly. There's no other word for it. Just cowardly. It's hard to call the police on a neighbor. I know, because I've had to do it. But it has to be done. And we, who have the guts and conscience, will have to speak out. Even if we are called meddling or judgmental or any other host of derisive names. We, who will not make excuses for other adults, but expect them to act like adults. I will keep speaking out, even if it makes me incredibly unpopular. These little ones don't have a powerful voice, but I do. Even if I'm the last one here in Crazytown to do it, I'll keep hollering.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

And Then There Were Five...

I have five, just five, more days of teaching preschool left.

Five more days of my "little hippie school", my private endearment to the very in-home preschool I started a year and a half ago. I'd wanted to go back to work, with the hours I wanted to keep, and so I'd crafted myself a job---and took my family along for the ride too.

Nearing the end of this school session, knowing it's going to all end soon, I have some hindsight and perspective that I didn't have beforehand, when it was all "wow, golden opportunity" and hustling. I am very blessed, very fortunate, that this experiment of sorts has been good. Coming away from it, I feel so lucky. The families that came to me were good ones. The kids are great. They have grown up a little, in very nice ways. My time with them brought little challenges from time to time--what teacher's life doesn't?--which have become opportunities for my personal and professional growth. I choose to see those odd curve balls life throws my way as a personal challenge: what do I learn from this, and how do I do this better next time? Even if there is no next time, it's always good to have a plan.

However, there will be no "next time" of having preschool at home. Our family is ready to have our house be a home again. Having had the entirety of the common areas all dedicated to hosting school, we've had limited space to entertain. Now, Joe and I have fantasies about a new sofa that sound sensual: words like "supple", "plush" and even occasionally "leather" are used. I have daydreams of curling up on that sofa, a blanket wrapped around me, to read a book and drink a cup of tea. We are looking forward to getting the woodstove out of jail, that big ugly safety gate which borders the red sandstone hearth pad. Grown-up books will inhabit part of the built-in bookshelves the way they used to. Kiddo will have a science table for his plants and rocks and bits of nature he always wants to bring indoors, and no one will muss it while he's gone. I'll clear a space in the basement for the kid-sized school table, so our messy crafts and easel can live there, and I haven't even contemplated where all the shelves of unit blocks will go...

There are also going to be things I'll miss. The structure of the week, the rhythms of the day. Using my brain for all the social coaching and classroom management, and even the planning of activities. Greeting everyone in the morning, helping the children to say goodbye to their parents and head in to get ready for Gathering. Teaching them is so much fun. Providing rich materials to help them discover their world, to make it just one facet more interesting, increases its brilliance. Introducing the beautiful and silly world of poetry to a child is delightful. Watching their faces a couple weeks ago when they worked the magic of wax resist, marveling at how the paint 'jumped over' the crayon lines. Hearing them whoop and giggle as we floated containers in a tub of water, marked water lines and then filled the containers with marbles and stones until they sunk with impressive glubby bubbles of air. Lifting them up, amazed and a little scared, to observe a hive of bees resting in their hollow tree on a cold morning, and then hearing one child say "that's sooo cool", and knowing it was just a a providential moment they might remember forever or forget tomorrow... who's to say? I write these moments on the pages of my heart.

Yesterday, I spent nearly an hour or so with Kiddo, doing wax paper crayon melts. His was colorful. Mine was purposeful, the end results to be bees wings for the bees the children had painted at the easel earlier in the day, all yellow and black and every other mixable shade those two colors could create. I spread out the pieces of waxed paper, used a potato peeler to shave off curls of paraffin and crumbled them fine between my fingers, laid out strands of pale and golden yellow and brown threads and liberally scattered sequins over it all. These melted into beautiful sheets of thicker waxed paper, the threads reminiscent of the veins in a bee's wing.

We attached these wings today. I love for the children to have beautiful things, and while the wings took time, I knew that they would be gorgeous. They were, and the children were so proud to have made their "bees", having added bright buttons for eyes. They likely would have loved them with white paper wings, but it was a heart gift from me, those wings.

I want these children to fly on. To keep on dreaming of "going to the Milky Way to drink milk" or building skateparks or as one told me today "I want to grow up to be a baby. I start as a girl and grow to be a baby." I want them to want the impossible while they are still young and no one has told them "you can't" just yet. My biggest wish is that these children will find new preschool  homes next year and know in their bodies that even though new schools are a little scary, or can make them feel a little shy, that they have done it before. They have gone into a new environment and found bits and moments of joy, friendship and community. It's not just about knowing how to stay with the group or even how to 'be' at preschool, it also about the confidence that having done a new, challenging thing before gives them.

We journey on to new ventures, these children and I. They to their summer vacations and new preschools, I to my work on the book that's been simmering on the back burner, and to a newer ambition: leading small workshops for parents. I don't know when that will be organized. Right now, though, I turn my efforts homeward, to making our home anew, to spending a sweet summer with my little boy, out in the garden tending the veggies and the weeds, at the parks, exploring every fountain downtown once again. I'll have more to offer my husband, more for myself at the end of the day. I've got ever-more educational and parenting books to read, more to learn. And oh, though, what this preschool has taught me, even about myself.  I wouldn't trade the last year and a half for anything.