Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sneaky Stuff

Since today's  playdate has gone into approved overtime and I've already got dinner made, I've time to share a funny one...

I knew it would happen, some time soon. Just like losing his baby teeth. It's bound to happen, at some point, but you just don't know when.

Last Friday night,Joe and I went out together, enjoying Happy Hour at an actual 'dress-up' restaurant sans enfant; Kiddo was having a playdate with a good friend. Saturday came along, and I got the news that my little guy is growing up.

"Mom!" he said, his face lit up, "We sneaked chocolate last night!" 

"Oh, really?" I was surprised, but not entirely. See, I've heard this before with the kids I nannied--their excited faces as they triumphantly retold how they got into the candy stash or the cookies.  How they were so happy to finally have gotten one over on their parents. 

And they all say to me the same thing: "Don't tell."

 I would remind them that if they know it's a wrong thing, they shouldn't be doing it. And I would later privately tell the parent, with the reminder to just be more aware of their child's increasing abilities and to please, not mention this to the child as an "Hazel told us you said", but to keep an eye open.  We want to keep the lines of communication open, and to keep all the adults in the loop. At least, I would want this. 

So dear Kiddo, in his infinite glee, said the same thing to me. "Don't tell my friend's mom and dad." 

"Oh?" I replied, waiting to hear what his reason would be for this. Perhaps he didn't want to get his buddy into trouble. 

His motives, however, were less altruistic. "No, don't tell, because when I go over there next time, I want us to SNEAK IT AGAIN!" Cue the sugar-crazed eyes and delight at the prospect of doing it a second time. 

First, let me say that I know that kids are going to be 'sneaky'. This started with whispering 'potty talk' to each other when we were out and about. Okay. I get it. And I KNOW they are supposed to try and sneak sweets. 

But what concerned me was that while I could talk my face off about why it's wrong to sneak and steal candy--at home or with friends-- it  was still probably likely to happen. What I could do, more constructively, was to at least give him good information. "Let me show you something you should remember if you are getting into candy..." I took him into the bathroom and found some different types of medicine packets and bottles.  We looked at the foil packets, and I explained that if he ever sees chocolate in packets like this, not to eat it. "It's for making people go poop, and it can really hurt your tummy." We looked at bottles with lids that couldn't come off--"that's for medicine. If it's in a package that's hard to get into, it's not candy." Then, we went into the kitchen and examined the chocolate stash, the bright colors and pictures on the wrappers, how they were easy to get into.  "This is why you should always ask an adult. Because something could look like candy, but it could make you sick, or worse."

If he's going to sneak something, I want him to do it as safely as possible. 
The same can be said for alcohol, or sex. We don't want them to do these things when they get older, but we can inform them about safety. About not getting into a car if you are intoxicated or your friend is, but calling home. About reproductive health, and why it's best to wait to be in a long-term, committed relationship, and how to protect yourself and your partner both physically and emotionally. 
Even about weapons safety; I want him to know what a real gun looks like so it becomes perceived as something we don't touch or  play with, instead of an object of uneducated curiosity which could kill someone.

For me, it's about giving him the best information possible so that if he does make the decision to do something I don't approve of or agree with, at least he might do it as responsibly as possible.

We do the same thing with things that are dangerous, without the overhanging moral implications. We give kids driver's education classes and make them pass a license test. No one (excepting some religions) really has a moral argument regarding driving an auto, but we all know it's potentially dangerous, and so we advise our children:  No texting, driving while distracted, driving while under the influence of any drug or medication. We teach our children how to use power tools (don't tell me you can't hurt yourself with a sewing machine or electric mixer!), we teach them how to use a potentially-dangerous internet in safe ways.... all because we want our kids to one day be able to do these things themselves, safely and responsibly.

After assuring Kiddo that even though I wasn't happy he was sneaking things, that I was really, really glad that he had told me,  I talked it over with Joe. We both agreed that we would want to know, and so...

Last night, I told the mother what was up. "Just so you know what my little guy is scheming" I said lightly. I didn't want to put anyone on the spot, and in the big picture, this is small potatoes. "And you totally have my permission to bust him if  you catch him" I laughed. I explained that I was encouraging honesty and was not going to make a huge issue out of it, and that I'd been clear with Kiddo that if he was caught, "you know, they would not be pleased. In fact, they might really be pretty upset." Before our playdate today, Kiddo and I also discussed that asking first means that you 'might' get something you are wanting; sneaking it would mean a certain "no" and a loss of privileges. "Oh" he replied, his little face sobering right up.

These things will happen. The sneaky stuff. Oh, shit, I know-- it's only just begun. But I think, for a beginning, it wasn't a terrible one. 

With Plenty of Grace...

Somehow, we have made it more or less peacefully through the holiday season in our household.

I've been doing a bit of "finding what's important" in both how we went about celebrating our holiday and in how I've been running the household. Kiddo was stuck with too much in his room-- all his favorite things-- and I finally gave him the help of moving most of them out for a time. This gave us a more-approachable 'mess' to deal with together at the end of the day. Five year olds still need a lot of guidance when it comes to tackling clean-ups, and my sweet boy is no exception. Having much put away into storage in the basement means that we really do clean up one activity before the next one comes out.  This is good for me because I am also seeing what's really being used.

Activities-wise, I am still a 'less is more' person, and Joe is still a 'more is more fun' person and we managed to negotiate that little "pushmipullyu" successfully this year. 

Yesterday, Kiddo wanted to pull out the kitchen play toys and the little kitchen, which we've stored downstairs. It's a piece of furniture of some consequence and not something for me to tote upstairs alone, so we crafted a 'kitchen' from two chairs side by side, with a blanket over them, a plastic dishpan and an old box.  He cut out some construction paper burners and taped them on (thanks to honorary "Auntie" Lissa, for the much needed paper and tape!) and then I used a knife to cut out a door for the oven. What a fine time we had as he made up several culinary creations, and we cut out tiny confetti from paper scraps to put in a shaker container....which of course went everywhere, but that is what brooms are for.

I deliberately set December 26th aside as a day to just relax. No returning anything, a minimal shopping trip, and still, we had that rough afternoon I had expected. I was a bit too flexible on a few things when I probably should have been in 'authoritative mama' mode-- it really is a guessing game sometimes, knowing when to press them a little harder on things and when to back off. I went with backing off a bit, thinking that he'd been running to everyone's schedule but his own, and I am pretty sure that I would have had similar results and a digging in of heels if I had pressed. Some days, there are no easy wins, but by the time I was walking out the door to meet a girlfriend, he was happy, and that was enough.  At the beginning of that day, he'd said he'd wanted time with me-- and even with several times of being exclusively together, undivided attention and all, it seemed like it wasn't enough.

I'm trying to be flexible but still keep on with the daily necessary schedule. Some days, it seems that even if I spend all day with Kiddo, it is still not enough for him.  I think a lot of parents feel this way sometimes. And even when I follow my own advice,  call him over to play in the sudsy sink while I wash dishes beside him, it still somehow escapes his notice that I am making an effort. I likely couldn't spend any more time with him-- and truly with him, playing games, playing kitchen, cutting snowflakes, reading and engaging-- unless I packed him back up into the womb. Ha! 

I understand why holidays are so hard for kids. Think about all the dopamine they get rushed with every time they open up a present they like? Two nights before Christmas, I was heading upstairs when Kiddo called out from his room, all dark except for the strand of colored lights in one window.

"What are you needing, sweetie?" He looked anxious and tired.

"I need to open a present tomorrow." Of course he did. We hadn't even put anything under the tree to avoid this stress for him. 

"Sure, you can." I don't stand on ceremony, and I figured that a little outlet would be a gift to us all.

"First thing in the morning?" Yep. First thing the next morning I pulled out my sister Amanda's gift to him, some Citi Blocs, which are so awesome, let me just say. He spent most of the day coming back to this activity. Having something to concentrate on besides waiting for the presents the next day seemed to be a calming strategy. He opened something that night, too, and had a few more things to open the next morning. 

This year, there weren't too many presents, just enough. Sometimes, it's me that's overwhelmed by Kiddo's Christmas Haul and I wonder what I'm going to do with ALL THE TOYS. This year, having already cleared a lot out, it was easy to find space for what he was given. It helped that some gifts were practical, like art supplies,while others were books. He's old enough now to want to assemble Lego sets via the little guidebook that comes with the kits. This, he is working toward mastery on. One little X-Wing, given him by a dear cousin, has been taken apart and reassembled several times. Christmas Night, he wanted more time to work on it-- and giving him that extra 20 minutes to stay up apparently made me the 'best mom in the world'. And a hug and kiss. "This is to say Thank You" he told me. 

I've got a pretty nice kid.

I'm ready for the slow-down. For the slow undressing of the holiday from our home. For school to start in a week. I'm hungry for it, truthfully, the way I was hungry for school to close and to have some good time with our family. To have the lazy mornings in our pajamas. And now I'm ready to pick the routine back up again. Ready to go back to Monday mornings working at the school library. Ready for the 12 noon pickup, the walk home and lunch together, the afternoons together. 

It's nice, all this change, this season. Hugs to all of you, those who pop in to see what we're up to. Hugs and blessing for the New Year. May your return to the usual routines be a good, familiar thing. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tempering our Fears With Hope

temper: to dilute, qualify, or soften by the addition or influence of something else 
                                                                                         ~Merriam Webster Dictionary

A few days ago, a blog post caught my eye. The title was "Why I Will Never Let My Daughter Ride Her Bike Alone". Never, as in never ever? Surely, I was mistaken, but no-- reading the article, it was revealed that not only was the author once accosted by a creep when she was a young adult, but that the number of incidents of child abductions by strangers was on the rise in her area.  And while I wanted to give the writer the benefit of the doubt that she would eventually allow her now three-and-a-half year old daughter the freedom of independence as she grew older and into her teens, this mother simply couldn't see herself doing that. Not now, when sensibly, her child of course needs adult supervision, but also not later, either. Commenters debated on the state of the mother/writer's mental health, but I felt I couldn't demean her concern. She wants to be present at any time her daughter might be in the teensiest bit of harm's way. That's pretty natural for a caring parent to want that.

I've been there, and know of this overwhelming anxiety to shield and protect. When Kiddo was three, one of our kind,  responsible neighbor dads offered to take him to the Washington County Fair; he was taking his own daughter and thought it would be fun if Kiddo came along. This collided headfirst with one of my biggest fears: losing Kiddo on public transit. See, every so often this does happen to some family or another, and then they show the TriMet video of the incident on our local "Fear Everything" FOX news station.

Even with this fear, I realized it would be a great opportunity for Kiddo to get to have an adventure, and decided that the conscientious neighbor-- who had managed to keep his own kid alive for five years--was not likely to lose Kiddo. Win/win. So, the fear was still there, hanging out in the margins, but my hope was that Kiddo would have a really fun afternoon with his friends, which he did.

I know those fears, know them like a taste in my mouth. Think I haven't stayed up late at night, worrying about The Big One, that earthquake that's slated to happen sometime, which is going to (how do I say this nicely?) fuck everything up? (oops. sorry. can't.) Trust me, that fear and I know each other well. But still, I let my child go to school in a building that could, of course, crumble down on his head and kill him. Why? Because wise parents know that there's no point in protecting our children's lives if we don't let them live fully. I want my son to be able to enjoy life to the best of he is able, given the norms of society and the reasonable responsibilities which must be fulfilled.

And here's the thing: it's not my son's responsibility to make me feel safer, more secure. He shouldn't have to be held back from participating in life or experiencing incremental freedoms proportionate to what he can handle just because some things really give me the willies. That's my stuff to deal with, not his. This is where I think too much fear can actually stunt one's emotional growth and color how the child interprets the world. Like so many parents who have had bad experiences of our own, too much of our own fears from the past can cast shadows on how our children perceive the world.

Recently, I have heard more than one parent admit that they were dreading the fall conference with their child's teacher. One mom said she was ready to rumble walking in, just waiting for the first utterance of a criticism about her child. While this Mama Bear is likely sleeping somewhere within most of us mothers, this parent's own experience of school, come to find out, hadn't been initially successful. Sarah Lawrence- Lightfoot's book "The Essential Conversation: What Teachers and Parents Can Learn From Each Other" shines a light on this very common occurrence; when many parents come into a conference with their child's teacher, they may be carrying a lot of baggage from their own experiences of schools and teachers. Is it any wonder that this can be such an emotional undertaking for so many families and teachers? 

Recently, I read a very smart line in Kathy Massarie's "Raising our Sons". In it, she suggests making a list of our hopes for our child, and really examining this list closely. So often,  she notices, we parent in reaction to our fears and not in accord with our hopes. This idea seems so relevant, especially as we live in the age of self-proclaimed "proud helicopter parents". Unrepentant, this group of parents assert that it is in their child's best interests for the parent to be over-involved. I'm going to challenge this notion a bit by suggesting that we can be both over-involved and still be fundamentally disconnected from our children in respect to understanding their desires and who they want to be AND the good work of responsibility, growth and development the child must undertake to become a happily independent adult. As a nation, and in my own lifetime, we as parents have gone from the idea of advocacy for our children being 'girls should be allowed to play sports too' to "Timmy deserves an A for showing up and trying (whether or not Timmy studied is entirely another story) or he won't get into Yale in 8 years." 

The former is advocacy, demanding equality. The latter is, baldly put, expecting privilege to be extended to the child because the parent has big dreams for Timmy's future. (Timmy, by the way, just wants to play Legos and that's why he didn't really study.) Timmy's parents fears are getting in the way of their hope for Timmy to grow into Tim, a young man who has a good work ethic and sense of self-worth. 

Don't think for a moment that Timmy feels good about himself, knowing that his parents will go in and bicker with a teacher over grades. 

Don't think for  a moment that our kids see our fearful restrictions and purported advocacy as anything less than what it is: a real no-confidence vote.  The messages are intrinsic to those sorts of actions: The  world is a dangerous place; you are never safe; you can never solve your own problems; you will always need mom and dad to handle your conflicts; etc etc etc.

More to the point: have you ever seen a person stand up fully when approaching a helicopter, or near one? They bend down, to shield themselves from the helicopter's blades. Yet, we want our children to go through life standing tall.

Once again: we must give them their freedom in accordance to what they have shown us they can handle. 

I still struggle with this at times. The other day when we arrived at school, instead of going indoors to class, Kiddo ran away from me, chasing a friend for a few minutes. While I was steamed that he was being pretty disobedient, a dear friend had another interpretation of it~ he was growing and needed more freedom, more time to go run and play with his buddy. "This is what you want, right? For him to become more interested in his friends and not just you. This is good for him." She is wise; her kids are older and are turning out just fine, she knows from whence she speaks. I admitted that she had a point, and that evening Kiddo and I made a plan so that he could get to school earlier to play with his friend.

So, as I go forward, I keep those words in mind; that with some defiance and disobedience there is an indication that my son is ready for greater independence. It is the way with all living things, isn't it? Either we must be flexible, willing to learn from life, willing to keep an open mind (still using our critical judgment), to bend and grow, or we risk becoming brittle, fragile, unbending and eventually, breaking. I want to be like a tree: permanently rooted in what's real and solid and true and yet supple enough to bend without breaking, to weather the storms and to grow into something grand, both sheltering and fun to climb, too. Allowing small risks, hugging my son when he's close, and letting him grow into his own person in his own time, with the blessing that his independence and maturity will take nothing away from me, but only make our relationship more interesting, give it more depth, make it stronger. Those are my hopes for my son~~ and I will not let my fears run away with them.

*My apologies if this seems a bit derogatory, however, all they show is fear-inducing clips on our "local" news... even if local is loosely interpreted to meaning the old lady getting mugged at her 'local' ATM machine in Baltimore, Maryland. Perhaps the programmers couldn't find enough scary footage of the Portland Metro area? C'mon!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Obligatory Post

When a friend mentioned to me that I hadn't had a post for too long, I told her I'd pop one together and name it just this: An Obligatory Post.

Hello, friends.  Now you know I haven't fallen off the face of the earth. Happy Thanksgiving, while we're at it!

The short synopsis of part of November is this: I have had my mind on some stuff that really doesn't belong here. You know, the day to day stuff that comes with having a family of ones own and being a human being instead of one of those life-size Hollywood cardboard cut-outs people stand up at store entrances. (Perhaps I could have one made for me? It would stand in my son's doorway with an recording  to help him clean his room. "Let's start with the Tinkertoys. Look all around now. Look on the floor. Okay, they're all in the bin. Great! Now, what about those marbles that are everywhere? You can be the marble hunter and capture them in their container...") 

Life has been at times too funny to share (because sometimes my" funny" is someone else's huge social faux pas), too raw (some extended family stuff), too pleasant (don't want to make anyone jealous or think I'm some Pollyanna-- unless, of course, Pollyanna had a skewed sense of humor and gets bummed out on rainy days), or just too tedious (and then,

So, here's a list of some interesting things I've done in the last 30 days or so:

Halloween. --Oh, I was going to write about it, but nah--- I am SO OVER HALLOWEEN. This year was the first one in which Kiddo asked about every single monster and ghoulie guy we saw. We now have a contrived "Frankenstein's Monster" (Yes, the green guy is not supposed to be called simply "Frankenstein"; that is the name of his deluded creator doctor. Read the book, folks.) It is a good thing we have a bunch of neon green cardstock, as Kiddo has been able to make Frankenstein Monster Heads for friends, too. They're too cute to be scary, and it keeps him busy.... but I'm sick to death of this phase already. NEXT~

Lots of days off school.-- Ah, November is a cruel month. Not so much the weather, although we've had some seriously sucky weather, but the school closures  November is riddled with are enough to throw any kid off track. I understand the why behind them, but I'm thinking that someone would make a mint offering childcare services/camps just in this month alone. I feel bad for families where both parents work--it's gotta be a horrible challenge to schedule the time off or find care. 

Seeing the salmon spawn at Eagle Creek.-- I think this has to be my big November highlight yet. Kiddo and I were invited by an old preschool buddy and his mom to go out to the Eagle Creek area and see the salmon returning to their home streams and creeks to lay their eggs, fertilize them, molt and die. We couldn't see much of the first two activities; the molting was easy to spot, as the powerful purple or red hued salmon had large white spots. We also saw a couple of dead salmon, which the kids thought was the best part of all. I was interested in the water birds that hung around, little and brown, diving for salmon roe. How fascinating that this activity of spawning supports their native ecosystems. And as for the salmon themselves, lets just say I feel like a rather unambitious wimp compared to these amazing and intuitive fish. I can't even imagine climbing a fish ladder, much less swimming against strong current of the grand Columbia River for those hundreds of miles. Okay, time to go back to bed just thinking about it!

The Talk-- Yep. That one. It came up naturally, I followed my rule about answering only what was asked, and you know what? That is a whole other post, so look for it sometimes soon. My husband owes me, big time.

One Week Solo Staycation: Who the heck cares that I didn't go anywhere? I got to be blissfully alone for a week, while Joe and Kiddo are in Florida visiting the grandparents. They arrive home late tonight, and I must say, this has been a good thing. I got the kitchen Marmoleum floor re-coated, so it looks shiny and new. I had our great cat, Gus, and a PG Wodehouse book for company, visited with some friends every other day or so, took some good walks. Yesterday I watched a documentary on the musicians who influenced Frank Zappa and began a BBC Masterpiece production of "Far From the Madding Crowd", with that dreamy Nathaniel Parker. I've seen it before, but still, comfort food, right? It's been a pleasant blend of getting things done, seeing friendly faces and putting my feet up. 

Now, time to hop off the keyboard and go get myself together: I've been invited to help make Thanksgiving happen with a dear family I met nearly seventeen years ago, when their eldest was 17 months old. Our families have become friends, we've held each others babies when they were born, and their big girl is back from college for the holiday. It will be good to see them all, to be with people who have known me for so long, to be in their kitchen with them  yet again. There are a lot of happy memories for me in that kitchen. 

Some things in life seem uncertain, but for today, life is pretty darn good. I have plenty to be thankful for, including those of you who take time to peek in here. You know who you are. Just because I seem like a  misanthrope at times doesn't mean I don't wish you the best. 

I raise my cup of Scottish Breakfast tea to you. Cheers, and Happy Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Another Post from the Desk of....

Sometimes, as a parent, we feel like we've got it down. Like we are swimming in familiar waters, aware of where the deep spots are and reassured that the minnows tickling your toes are just little minnows nibbling, not toothy monsters lying in wait. 

That familiar swimming hole is often the place I write from. What I've experienced, time and again, and what is familiar, tested and true.

But there are those other days, right? Ones where I should add a disclaimer: this writing comes from the desk of a woman who has no idea what the hell she's doing. 

I have a very wise friend who often says to me, when life's road is twisting around a new bend: You have to walk the path to know it. Sometimes, though, I think parenting is more like driving down the road. It really doesn't matter how many times you've driven down the same street, even if it is familiar territory, there's always going to be something new to deal with. Sometimes it's a reckless driver,  coming at you because they are texting or thinking about getting to the bank before it closes or yelling at their kids. (Just proof that we are all driving impaired, in our own ways, really, and if that's not open to a bigger metaphor, I don't know what is.) Sometimes, it's some big potholes or other hazards we see just in time and have to go around. Sometimes, we are lucky and read the signs warning of roadwork and we detour in time; sometimes we are so busy ourselves that we miss the detour signs and end up just plain stuck and stalled, waiting for the safety flagger in hazard orange to turn the sign they bravely hold from Stop to Slow. Then we either breathe deeply, know that whatever's at the end of our route will still be there. Or sometimes, we get peeved with the kids for distracting us, or at the city because isn't there so much construction going on all around the time?, or we beat ourselves up for not noticing, and then get scared because we wonder how much else we didn't notice.

We have no idea what the hell we are doing, because we've never done this before.

Pretty good reason, huh?

Sometimes, we do the best we can in the moment. We use the information we have to suss out the situation to the best of our ability and then try our most reasonable approaches. And sometimes, we realize we can only do so much and sometimes, we have to express to our children our own limitations in how we can influence their world and make things better for them. 

Lately, I've experienced situations I which just couldn't fix or make better for Kiddo. This morning, I found myself throwing a couple of other parents under the bus because Kiddo simply didn't understand why I couldn't conjure up a playdate with their child for him. I felt terrible about the whole thing-- their being too busy to make planning anything easy, their never reciprocating playdates-- but mostly, I just feel bad for Kiddo. And after repeated questioning on the subject, with him getting increasingly madder at me, I just told him the truth: "Listen, making time for playdates is just not an important thing for So-And-So's parents right now. I don't know why, but that's the way it is, and there's really nothing I can do about it."

I felt bad, but didn't know what else to do. Sometimes, kids just won't take your word for it. They won't believe what they don't want to believe. I needed to help him understand that this wasn't about me, and it most certainly wasn't about him, it just was how things were. They were busy. Playdates weren't on their list of priorities. I didn't think it made the loss of his friend's presence any less felt, but I had run out of energy politely reminding him that the family 'was busy'. That really doesn't mean shit to a kid, right? They're busy too, and they have to stop all the time for us and our needs. So, our adult excuses just seem empty to them. They are focused on their disappointment, not the why of it. 

This is where we have to wing it. We have to just go forward, hoping we do what's best for our kids. I realized that his ego must have been hurt, however, it was life circumstances doing the hurting, not his friend refusing to play. There's a difference there. Life being unfair vs a friend's rejection-- take your pick.  I know which option I'd choose.  

So, there you have it. We go forward with what we've got-- whatever we've got. Life just seems to keep shaking things up, lest we get complacent. They get bigger and all of those other challenges we have mastered fade into the background as new ones arise. I have twenty years of experience in working with children, five years of being a mom, and some days I'm really pretty sure I don't know what the heck will come next, where the parenting journey will lead. I most certainly do not, at all times,  know what the hell I'm doing. Maybe that's what the fun part is, the part that gives us something to talk about, to mull over. The unexpected. Expect it. It's the only guarantee you get as a parent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The First Loose Tooth-- Don't Delay!

A couple of  months ago, a dear young friend took a post-graduation trip to France.  While there, she remembered our Kiddo and brought home a sweet gift for him: a wee round container made of boxwood. The top is painted brightly with the words "Dent du Lait" and screws on to the bottom, hollowed out to hold a baby tooth. Dent du lait is French for "milk teeth", which is what baby teeth are called in other parts of the English-speaking world. Dent du lait, when spoken, also sounds like "don't delay", and that's where my wish comes in.

Last night while eating a spicy, fresh apple, Kiddo moaned and then opened his mouth with an aggrieved look. "My teeth hurt." Perhaps I'd accidentally missed a tough piece of core whilst slicing it, and so we moved to the bathroom, I wrapped some floss around my fingers, and then took a good look into Kiddo's mouth. On the bottom row of teeth, I could see a little blood and so I gently pushed on the tooth. IT MOVED! I smiled and told Kiddo the best news of his Kindergarten life thus far~ "You have a loose tooth!" 

After this revelation, Kiddo was on a mission to find his little "Tooth Fairy" box. Once that had happened, we very carefully brushed his teeth and because his mouth was beginning to hurt, gave him a dose of Motrin. This was not going to be an easy, happy night after all. About a half-hour after bedtime, he complained of the tooth hurting. We rinsed with warm salt water, which helped temporarily. In this case, "temporary" translates to "about five minutes". Then he was up again. And again. Then he didn't want to fall asleep because he was afraid the tooth was going to come out . I reassured him that this wouldn't happen, that it was stuck in there with lots of little threads of tissue, and that it would be a while before it came out. 

I laid down with him and told him the story of the Three Bears. Settled him in. This was at 8. At 8:30, he was up again and I begged Joe for mercy. "I've been doing Tooth Trauma duty for the past hour and I need.a.break." He laid down with Kiddo and 15 minutes later, Kiddo was asleep. 

This morning we ensured the tooth was still there. I served sliced bananas and yogurt, and then scrambled eggs and rice, for breakfast. Soft foods. Another dose of Motrin, and I slipped half of a banana into his backpack for him to take to school for snack. This, instead of taking a chance on graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks, the latter of which I was more concerned about. Get one of those 'fruit gellies' stuck on that wiggly tooth and who knows how much that was going to hurt.

In my secret heart: I am not looking forward to tonight. I'm making matzoh ball soup with good bread and smoked salmon for dinner. And a Motrin nightcap for Kiddo again, likely. 

Teeth hurt. I know this because I remember a wisdom tooth coming in when I was in my early twenties, and how much that hurt. It's good to have this memory, because it is very empathy-inducing. And thus, while he's playing up that loose tooth at school, I know that darker side of this will come to the fore at home. Because we are safe to complain to. We adults can be excited for him, and we also know that besides the social glamour of having a loose tooth, it just freaking hurts for some kids. 

So, Tooth Fairy, if you will-- don't delay. Help that new tooth emerge sooner than later, to help that loose one become a tooth in a box, waiting for you. I know friends who have betting pools on when their kid's loose tooth finally pops out. In Kiddo's case, I'm betting it won't be soon enough. I'm looking forward to sneaking a box out from under his pillow, putting a dollar's worth of quarters inside (because our Tooth Fairy is not subject to inflation and has a healthy sense of proportion) and letting our wee Jack-o-Lantern faced child enjoy the treasure and magic of trading bone for silver. Okay, cupronickel, really (75% copper, 25% nickel). No matter what we call it, though, it's a dollar and it is good because a fairy came in the night to visit, and that tooth will be out, with more to follow. 

Better stock up on the Motrin. And coffee.  I think we're in for some tough nights.  

and the epilogue~Happily, the Tooth Fairy can read and Kiddo lost his tooth the day after I wrote this.  Of course,  it was right after I'd gone to the store to buy more soft foods....

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Laptop on the Attic Floor

Mindful parenting. Being thoughtful. Being present.

Whatever you want to call it, sometimes it's hard when there's a constant distraction around. Which is why this laptop has been relegated to our upstairs attic bedroom.

Last week, amid a lot of fuss and stress, I felt I was needing breaks.

What easier way to 'take a break for a minute' than to go online and look at something trivial?

The only problem was that this was starting to happen a lot. Needing these mindless breaks did make sense in a way; Kiddo's big feelings seemed ever-present and like they came one after another, like a series of tidal waves.  While I did what I felt was right in being empathetic, responsive, and offering clear choices when need be, it apparently wasn't enough. So,  on Wednesday night I unplugged the laptop and moved it upstairs. I wasn't 100% sure how this would work, but knew that something had to change.

I can say that I've made a few observations in the days since:

I have been more focused on Kiddo and Joe at my morning tea, when I used to hide behind the screen while trying to wake up.

Taking a break on the laptop now inspires me to make some clear-cut decisions about how I'm using my time. Because I am actually removing myself from the ground floor, where most of the action is, I have to finish what I'm doing-- or at least have it at a good stopping place-- before going online. 

Because I'm going upstairs, I have to ensure that Kiddo is engaged and okay for a few minutes. Checking in is good.

Because I'm not physically present, Kiddo doesn't feel like he's having to compete for my attention. Out of sight, out of mind. I'll be down in five minutes-- and when I'm down, my attention is all yours. 

Because I'm not online much these days, when I go on that Mamaworldparenting  Forum, I find that I am developing a limited tolerance for some questions. Which forces me not to answer them much, because I don't want to be rude and tell them "hey, nice first world problem you have there. Quit your complaining." Which is what I really DO want to tell them, but so I don't, so I stay offline more and more. It's a relief, in a way.

Because I'm sitting on the floor, I have to deliberately decide "Is this so important that it's worth my legs falling asleep to look at it?" I hate to say it, but at my age with my body, this question comes into play a lot. 

Kiddo's life isn't miraculously better now that the dreaded computer is out of the way, but I feel like a better mom. I'm not as conflicted/distracted and am able to be a bit more deliberate. When I go upstairs for a few minutes, it really does feel like more of a break. 

I could wax philosophical a bit more on this good move, but my feet are getting tingly....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Old Mother Hugger

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare....

Sometimes, even when you try to make things better... well, sometimes, you just can't.

Monday was a lesson in futility. Ironic that I had written a post on making things better. Ha! 

I think you have to count the things that go right and hold onto them, so when the deluge of Things That Go Wrong comes along, there's something to keep us from getting swept off in that current.

Monday afternoon, miracle of miracles, our eye exercises and homework went off without a hitch. Things were looking good. We had our snack story-time and enjoyed a few one-page chapters of "Seabird", and then, when Kiddo was ready to get down from the table...

....well, I can't tell you exactly what happened, but he ended up smashing himself onto the floor. It actually looked like he was trying to slide off or fall in some way, but it went all wrong. "What were you trying to do, sweetie?"

"I was trying to do a cartwheel, Mama." he sniffed through his tears. A Cartwheel. From a sitting position. Leave it to my kid to be the first in the world to attempt that feat. 

Thus, when we were needing to separate for Quiet Playtime, he 'needed me'. I need to go to the store, and proposed that he could do this with me in lieu of the playtime. He wanted company. I wanted to make spaghetti. We all have our motives. Heading to the store, he fell and skinned his knee. Before we even got there, in my mind, I imagined getting him one of those little toy motorcycles that you rev up with a glorified zip-tie sort of thingy. He'd been interested in them earlier. This would cheer him up, right?

No. No it did not cheer him  up. So excited to get it, telling everyone at the store about it. Everyone. We got home and I made it zoom successfully. Kiddo? Not so much. In fact, after several crash-and-burn wipeouts, he came to me tearfully, gulping and big-eyed. "Mama. I can't do the motorcycle." Emotional crash and burn there.  Poor kid. He really Did Not Need This. All the things in the world lately which feel so hard for him, and now a toy he was excited about was nigh inoperable. I hugged him and suggested he try to find something he knew he *could* do so that I could make that spaghetti and get dinner going.

Then, whatever it was he thought he could do, well... it wasn't working. I'd just started cutting up vegetables for the red sauce when he came into the kitchen again and looked at me, so miserable. 

"Mama" his voice broke, "I just want to be a crying machine."

My heart broke and cracked a little bit, I'm sure. That one-- I'll remember that for quite a while. I left off the kitchen work for a moment and took him to his room and just sat with him, ignoring the piles of laundry he'd yet to put away or the toys all over the floor. This wasn't the time to bring it up. And there never would be a great time to bring it up that night. It was a hard one, and Joe was so great. When I told him that I'd been working for over an hour to get the spaghetti made, he smiled. "It's going to taste great." he said. When I grudgingly smiled at him, he teased me again. "Honey, it really WILL TASTE GREAT." 

He was going out for the evening and asked me what he could do to help. I suggested he could start with making me a martini. 

The rest of that evening was a push to do the bare minimum and to keep us from rolling away on a sea of tears. Joe escaped and I did the dishes like the mindless zombie I'd been reduced to.

Looking back on all of this, I think I've found a new idea for a business: moms would benefit from having someone to 'mom' them from time to time. Sure, some mothers of young children have great, supportive relationships with their own moms or other women in their family. But what about the rest of us, who just sometimes want to go get some hugs and have a cup of tea and a good cry? Like Old Mother Hubbard, who goes to her pantry and finds nothing for the dog.... she has nothing for herself, either. 

I think a lot of us moms, sometimes, some days, experience an emotional empty-cupboard. Mom hasn't enough to feed herself, yet she is tirelessly giving of herself and what little she has to her children. 

Who feeds her? Who ensures her cupboard is full? Who gives her hugs? Not "Hey baby, maybe later when the kids are asleep...wink wink" hugs, but simply "I love and accept you unconditionally and know you are doing the very best you can right now. So just let me hold you, let me support you for a moment. Let me tell you that even with the mistakes, I know you work so hard, and bless you for this." 

I think there's a market for this. We keep trying to create empathetic robots people can relate to. Maybe we need to hire retired women who have a little love and comfort to give, and hook them up to receiving third party payments through our insurance.

Last night, a mentor-friend of mine called me up for an evening walk up to beautiful Mt Tabor. I had forgotten how pretty the reservoirs are in the evening, with the lights shining on the water. She and I talked, she gave me some excellent advice which I will follow up on. 

But the last thing she did was what I needed most. She gave me a hug. A kiss on the cheek, which is our way. The advice was pragmatic and good, but this was what I needed. Another, older, been-there-done-that mom just accepting me for the mess I was in that moment and loving me for it anyway. It makes me think that this would be a valuable service for those of us moms who are just slogging through it. A hug, a listening ear, a place to cry and some good advice...

an Old Mother Hugger. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making it Better

First, this isn't a cute post about kindergarten. Just so's ya know...

This is a post about feeling very urchin-like and prickly and sore. I'm not sure how an urchin can feel sore while being prickly, but this wee lady urchin is feeling like things have been a bit much. That said, it's getting better.

Last week, we had some trouble with our Gus Kitty. The vet put him on some meds to help stimulate his appetite. That stimulated a lot of other problems. Here's the index:

Days of Upset Kitty: Seven
Number of Kitty Messes Cleaned Up: Several
Visits to vet: 2
Number of feline meds administered: Five
Amount spent: about $400
Number of Sad Kitty Looks that Ripped My Heart Out: Too many to count.
Thankfully,  Gus seems to be feeling better and we now have a new vet whose care plan seems reasonable to the humans and respectful to our very senior cat. Yeay, Kitty.

Last week, we had some (no, LOTS) of fuss and trouble with school and homework and eye exercises.  There is no index for this since counting tears and trying to quantify frustration only makes me depressed. Our new eye therapist is well-intentioned, but gave us some exercises which are a bit cognitively beyond what Kiddo can do. One problem is that due to his ocular motor dysfunction, Kiddo tends to tilt his head to suppress the image from one eye or the other, so his brain is only processing one image instead of the image from both eyes. He has to self-check this for the eye exercise, and this is really, really difficult for him at this age. It would be a perfect exercise a year or two from now, but when you are five and trying hard and not 'getting it', there is high potential to feel like a failure and get down on yourself. Which is what happened.

The homework isn't too bad. It's just running in conflict with his desire to play. Everything is 'after homework'. 

And then at school, he got upset because there was a 'scary story about people who were mad at each other and then someone was lowered into a cave'. This was from the week before, and I checked it out with his awesome teacher. She mentioned that it was a book-on-tape version of 'The Rescuers' and I explained to him that there are lots of things about school other kids don't like, but that they have to deal with and just do.  This, like it or not, is his. I know he's pretty sensitive to 'scary' and I respect that at home (because when he's done being scared of things, then he's over it. It's not an act.), but I also know that school is going to be different. 

So, I read him "The Book of Scary Things" hoping that a book which talked about scary stuff would neutralize it a bit.  Instead, I have now unwittingly introduced him to the idea of monsters under the bed. 

Luckily, we have a load of felt-toothed plush dinosaurs to stand guard. 

And then this morning, I responded favorably to a post written by a father, who was angry because  he'd taken his  little girl to  G-rated "Cinderella' and she was scared by a preview for a PG horror movie. When I mentioned my little guy was sensitive to this stuff too, another poster replied that unless a child is autistic, being afraid of the thrilling content I described was not 'normal'. And that I was overprotective. 

She is now first on my list of  People  I Would Like To Punch In the Neck.

So, what did we do to make things all better? Well, on Friday I picked up Kiddo from his half-day kindergarten and we went out for lunch, out to sushi, where my scaredy-cat child ate sea eel and edamame and loved it.  We bought the cobwebby Halloween stuff for our porch that he's been asking about since last October. (Now we need black pipe cleaners to make 'spiders' for the web.) We watched the start of a great BBC dvd called "Oceans" and he rather fearlessly flew down our low-grade hill on his scoot bike. Even when he decided to stop himself by aiming toward a pole, he got back up and brought his bike up the hill, smiling. "Did you see that?"

(Oh, honey, of course I did. I think my heart saw it and stopped for a moment.)

He had a favorite babysitter while we took Kitty to the vet. His playhouse in the backyard was worked on.  A happy surprise for him, Saturday night-- we met up with his dear playmate and her folks and went out to pizza.  On Sunday he had a few adventures, and the last thing we did yesterday was to let him choose which game to play before bedtime.  And the dinosaurs were still there to protect a sleepy boy when things got a little 'scary'. (Thanks, cousin Nate, for so thoughtfully passing your dinos on to your little cousin.)

This afternoon looks promising. I know there will be more homework, eye exercises. He did a rather naughty thing yesterday-- I won't say what-- but part of the consequence, we decided, would be extra chores, so he's going to have a stack of kitchen and bathroom linens to fold and put away. So, add that to the list. But we also have ways to make life better: a nice snacktime already planned out; the promise of watching that King Crimson concert dvd he loves; another daring scoot-bike journey through the neighborhood. Enjoying the exciting book we're now reading: Holling Clancy Holling's "Seabird".

Even with all the chaos and some days, heartache, I do love my son just for who he is: a small, creative, bright, thoughtful kid who is sensitive, jokey, silly, and who is a good friend because he adores his friends. A boy who is brave in the ways that really matter in this world. (Okay, not with dogs, but still... some kids are great with dogs and not so good with people. We all have areas we could improve in.) A kid who does keep trying, even when it's hard. A kid who is dealing with the daily challenge of actually seeing correctly, and who doesn't complain much about it.

I'm proud of that Kiddo of ours. There's so much more to come, and after last week, I am grateful for where we are today. It'll be another ride on that roller-coaster we call LIFE,  I am sure, but what the hell? You pays your money, you takes your chances. Besides, there's a bar across our laps holding us into our seat, so we don't fly out. 

That's called love.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How Do You Know....

Over the next few weeks, I'll writing a small, hopefully funny series regarding the challenges of having a child who is starting kindergarten. For those of you with older children, please chime in and comment with any advice or encouragement for us, the parents of new kindergarteners. For those of you with younger children-- well, snicker away friends, your time will come too...mwah ha ha! 

How do you know...

....when your kid is trying to steal your soul?

I was wondering this a few hours ago, stepping out from the shower.  Kiddo was in his room, playing a rather strange and slightly dizzying pre-programmed tune from his keyboard and changing the key it was in every once in a while. Wrapping a towel around myself, I peeked at him sitting in his doorway with his back to me, keeping time by waving his forefinger back and forth. The music sounded like some sort convoluted, anxious Noir version of Del Shannon's "Runaway", only interpreted differently through a whiny, pitchy robotic sounding keyboard on some sort of 'horn' setting. In fact, the music didn't sound like music. It sounded like an impending headache.

And this was when I asked myself the very question I put forth to you now: 
Is that child trying to steal my soul? Or just my sanity?

Ten minutes later and we are flying around, getting ready for school. Teeth brushed? Check! Bed-head wetted and combed into something respectable? Check! Face washed? Shoes on? Check! Check!

"Go put your coat on, buddy." I disappear into the bathroom to quickly scrub my teeth with my own toothbrush and after a minute, I have the feeling that something isn't right. Peeking out the door, I spy Kiddo in the hallway, lost in space. 

"Dude! Coat!" I'm hoping my short syllables will jab him into movement, action. He is doing a marvelous impression of an inanimate object. Say, a short Roman column wearing an orange and blue striped shirt and jeans. 

With glacier slowness, his eyes turn to me, and then the light of thought enters his eyes as quickly as the sun rises. By this, I mean slowly. "But I don't know where my jacket is, Mommy." He looks utterly helpless.  It is obvious that it has not yet occurred to him that asking-- ASKING-- would be the next step of the process at hand.  

And this is befuddling to me because I have a child who is very adept at asking questions. Lots and lots of questions. About the aerodynamics of Tinkertoys. About why some people do this and others do that. Questions about the why why why of everything. Philosophical questions. "Why do people celebrate the harvest?" Mom's ability questions. "I really want apple juice. Can you make a cider press? Why not?" Questions about why we will have to wait until next summer for blueberries. 

But that one question-- the one that is pertinent to going to school-- is elusive and slips by him, leaving him  with mouth agape and pondering the huge enormity of "What Do I Possibly Do Now That I Can't Find My Coat?"

It is a really good thing that I do indeed adore my sweet little boy, because otherwise, I would be totally and completely convinced that he is not only trying to steal my soul, he's also trying to wipe out any semblance of reason there might be in this world. Kids are so damn random

I know he's really not a minion of the Horned One. I know because when I gave birth to him and they handed me his tiny, red, mewling little body, I didn't see any horns, hooves or a pointy tail which would indicate that he comes from the same family as the guy on those cans of Underwood Deviled Ham. I know that this wasn't cosmetically altered while I was still in a birthing bliss because I had a homebirth, and while the midwives were good, they weren't that good.

This week has been good overall. Kiddo's suspected allergic reaction to pollen is actually a cold, which has allowed me to stop beating myself up over the weekend's mistake. We've created a chart to make sure he doesn't miss his Claritin in the morning. And just when you conquer one parenting challenge, like a line of dominoes, there's always one right behind it to fall down and take its place. 

I'd like to believe it was a stuffy head and nose which caused his brain to temporarily stop working this morning.  Better than soul-stealing. I'll go with that... but if he's feeling better in a few days and I start smelling a rather sulfuric scent coming out from under his door... well, then, I'll be rethinking a few of my philosophies... 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Parent of the Year Awards

Over the next few weeks, I'll writing a small, hopefully funny series regarding the challenges of having a child who is starting kindergarten. For those of you with older children, please chime in and comment with any advice or encouragement for us, the parents of new kindergarteners. For those of you with younger children-- well, snicker away friends, your time will come too...mwah ha ha! 

Joe and I will not be winning any parenting awards anytime soon. And when you hear about the most recent bout of parental stupidity... well, I hope  you won't chuck me off your list of friends, thinking I'm the most self-absorbed mother in the world. I'm not. Really, I'm not. But this morning, boy, I'm feeling like I deserve a tomato thrown at my head, or at least, that I should hang it low in shame. 

This weekend started off with a bang. Let's call it the weekend of good intentions, shall we? I got up on Saturday, fed the Kiddo, fed the cat. Kiddo played out in the backyard while Joe worked on getting the dead moss off the garage roof with the old broom, flinging it grossly--rather unfortunately-- everywhere. We did our myriad Saturday errands, the air hot with one of those 'golden haze of summer' days. At the very end of our day, we'd planned to head to our favorite lumberyard, Mr. Plywood, for wood to build Kiddo a playhouse. That said, once push came to shove, we realized that we didn't have a good-enough plan to know what to buy, in what lengths, and what would fit into the car without removing that gargantuan car seat from the back. (Joe would more or less rather cut off his arm than have to remove and reinstall the car seat.) While the delay in getting the lumber was disappointing to Kiddo, we promised to make good the next day and moved on.

Sunday, well, besides a rough start, this day found us going to visit an old neighbor in her new neighborhood and going to their Harvest Fair. This was a treat for Kiddo, who hung out and watched apple cider being made for about a half hour before we treated ourselves to some grilled corn. More of a 'golden haze' day in the park, and with over a week of no rain, there was plenty of pollen and junk in the air. Not that it would occur to us at the time. We spent the rest of the afternoon pleasantly, picked up the 4x4s and 2x4s needed for the playhouse from the dusty lumberyard and then went out for a snack. All was well,  until an hour before bedtime on Sunday night. 

That's when I heard the very beginning of the oncoming Parental Guilt Train, heading right toward us.

Sniff. Sniff sniff. SNIFF.

Kiddo's brilliant, well-intentioned parents looked at each other and a very stupid, 'uh-oh' conversation started something like this:

"Did you give him his Claritin this morning?"
"No, I thought you did. You gave it to him on Saturday, right?"

"Uhhhh, no. I thought you did."

Okay, so my kid has two rather disorganized parents. And to keep Kiddo on his scheduled Claritin dosage, we decided to wait until the morning to start him up again. Well-intentioned, sure, but probably stupid in retrospect. We could have gotten him back on track now and stretched a dose later in the week. But no. Tired and hot, our brains were not quite working correctly. 

And it hadn't occured to me that over the weekend, between the flying dead moss spores and 'golden haze' of summer, he'd been bombarded with pollen. Don't forget all the wood dust at Mr. Ply. Add that to the "Guilt" column, please. Poor, poor kid.

So this morning, it's Monday and Kiddo woke up, still sniffy, still wanting to go to school. He really wants to go, wants to play. Wants me to play with him before school. He manages to stay in good spirits,  we get him to school (taking his temp first, just to be sure it isn't a virus), and let the teachers know to call if they seem him glazing over. And this is where I have to keep it short, folks, because guilt is a great motivator. I've got a stack of laundry to fold, dishes to do, dinner to prep, so I can just be available for Kiddo this afternoon. 

Lesson in all of this:  Make sure there's a way to keep track of the important things. Like your kid's allergy medicine.  

I'm going off to make a chart right now, because if this guilt doesn't compel me to get Kiddo's medication straight for the future, I likely will win the Crap Parent of The Year Award. Or at least be nominated. I still think Tanning Mom has got that award category all locked up, but who knows what other stupid parenting move I'll make before the year is out?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dumb Revelations

Here's a toast to all those sleep-deprived Moms and Dads who are who work so hard, in the home and outside of it, to keep their families well-cared for.  You rock!

Last Sunday, one week ago:

It is seven a.m. and I am awake. I can't sleep anymore, and the constant bustle from downstairs is enough to push me to my feet and into the kitchen. I look with disappointment at my two beloveds, who could do quite a good job at waking the dead some mornings.

I didn't get to sleep in. Being wakened too late means not being able to get back to sleep. And I really love to sleep. In fact, I write a lot about sleep. It's importance in my life is not to be underestimated. I look at my two guys, knowing school is about to start and how so much is changing and I forgive them and get on with my day. 

Besides, there's always next Sunday....

Over the week, the new routine of getting Kiddo to Kindergarten on time leaves me tired, so exhausted in the evenings that we barely talk. We just grunt at each other. It's like living with wild pigs-- uh, uh-huh, huh-- let me just say that this is one phenomena of marriage that no one ever warns you about. How you may, for days at a time, talk in some sort of primeval grunt-language to your significant other. It's as if, in the midst of stress and too much engagement, we can revert to our Neanderthal ancestry and decode deep meaning in simple sounds. "Unh" could very well mean "And how was your day?"
"Huhhhn" : My day was rough. Ha. How's your been?
"Hghghn! "(low ancestral throat-clearing noise):Not too shabby. What's for dinner?
"Huh" (chin thrust toward stove): See, my manly provider? I am cooking up the edamame tofu nuggets your hard work has diligently provided for us. And some peas and rice.
"Huuuuuh!"(excitedly) : Excellent, my faithful cave wife. Pause.Uh-I hear there's a PTA meeting tomorrow night...

Each morning, after having stayed up too late getting life done, I tell myself: next Sunday, next Sunday. 
Next Sunday is turning into the Garden of Eden in my head. By Thursday, I'm imagining sleeping in on Sunday and waking to beams of sunlight falling into my bedroom window, a glass of flowers on a beautiful table staging it all in such a lovely way. Never mind that I don't own the table in question. This Sunday sleep in is going to be fantastic! I will have good dreams where I fly through the sky in a van with all my favorite people and we will have plenty of fun adventures. 

Saturday night rolled around,and after a nice evening out, I decided to stay up and work on a crossword puzzle. "I'll get to sleep in. Blissful, glorious sleeping in!" This was my last thought before I heard "Daddy! Come help me with my clothes!" below me. What the hell was that? (oh I know what it was...) Who was trying to wake me up? Who, oh who, was playing with scorching hot fire?

Mama Bear woke up and tromped downstairs. Seven in the morning. Barely, not even touching the 12 on the clock yet, seven o'clock. So much for anything! Mama Bear woke up and tramped around. She banished the family from the kitchen and made her tea, growling and scowling. One morning. ONE MORNING! She'd worked so hard to keep the Baby Bear quiet while the Papa Bear slept in yesterday. Didn't Papa Bear understand that Baby Bear needed lots of reminding, along with a few well-timed reminders of the consequences for being noisy? Wasn't that what she'd been doing for these years now? Why was it always her job to grease the wheels for those two while they fumbled along together, not letting her sleep?


Baby Bear, who should have known better than to yell, got no company for the next hour. Papa Bear went out for a run, and Mama Bear took her cup of tea upstairs, laid in bed and finished a rather teary moralistic novel by Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, titled "The Moorland Cottage". Satisfied with the ending--which was rather moralistic and gothic and perfect in every way, rewarding good and punishing evil and casting the light of the pathetic on those who would be mean and despicable--the Mama Bear subsided into my usual self. Joe was returning from running. I would go downstairs. We would have a family meeting about how to have a pleasant rest-of-the-day and what the expectations for that would be. 

We did some brainstorming about how we could solve this problem for the next weekend. 

Or I might be spending an upcoming Saturday night at a hotel... just to get a bit of sleep.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Oh! The Things Our Kids Learn at School!

Over the next few weeks, I'll writing a small, hopefully funny series regarding the challenges of having a child who is starting kindergarten. For those of you with older children, please chime in and comment with any advice or encouragement for us, the parents of new kindergarteners. For those of you with younger children-- well, snicker away friends, your time will come too...mwah ha ha! 

Yesterday afternoon was a pleasant one. The walk home from school was delightful;  we were approached by friendly cats and Kiddo polished off his requested seaweed snack quite quickly and happily. The rest of the afternoon was a dance which required both mental presence and thoughtful observation, knowing when to noodge Kiddo onward a little more and knowing when to pull back, reconnect, and then to start again. Homework got done, I folded laundry  while we watched a documentary on the Afro-Cuban All Stars out of the corners of our eyes; Kiddo sat at his table, cutting, taping and creating with some old greeting card boxes. He wanted to make a 'flying urinal' and asked me how to do this; I answered this request with a shrug and tried not to visualize the true atrocity of this idea in real life.  Sometimes, it's a good thing not to take their every idea too, too seriously.

This morning, amidst some complaining, Kiddo asked me why he had to go to school and 'do so much stuff' that he doesn't always enjoy. I reminded him that we do this now because we are learning to be responsible for ourselves. We go to school so we can learn because one day, he will want to have a job and his own family. "If you do not learn these things, it will be very hard for you as a grown-up, when you want to be able to take care of yourself well."  In any case, we made it to school on time,  put the coat in the backpack and the pack in the locker and then...

... and then, I found a challenge to my family values, right there at my son's place at the Oval Table. There, in the form of an early reading magazine called "Tessy And Tab", which focuses on two animal kids, a duck named Tessy and a kangaroo named Tab, was a message which could potentially confound the good values I am trying to teach.  I am long familiar with this inter-species family and have no problems with it for the most part....

But today, today-- Tessy and Tab were about to teach my child some seriously bad shit. Today, "Tessy and Tab Earn Allowance" flew right in the face of the family values which we have at home. 

First of all, the fact that Tessy and Tab earn an allowance in and of itself is not a bad thing. It was how they earned the allowance which bothered me. If you can read, and if you care to look at details, you see that every time Tessy or Tab do a task, they check it off on a job chart, which also assigns a monetary amount for the task. The problem for me is that the jobs Tessy and Tab are getting paid to do are things  which they should be expected to do anyway, because they are being raised with self-respect and dignity. We watch as Tessy brushes her teeth and 'earns' a whole freakin' quarter for this.  Tab puts on his pajamas-- such a strenuous, hard task!-- and 'earns' a quarter for clothing himself before bed. At the end of a week of cleaning up their rooms and dressing themselves and doing things which usually fall into the category of 'reasonable expectations for care of one's self and one's space' , Tessy and Tab get $6 and $5.75, respectively. 

I had to wonder what the going rate for eating breakfast and bothering to breathe was for that family. Holy crap.

Needless to say, by the time I was done reading the mini-magazine, I wanted to spit. Here's Kiddo, who gets one whopping dollar a week of allowance so he can learn how to be responsible with money. It isn't connected to completing his responsibilities; those have natural, not financial, consequences, and he can do 'extras' for more money... and now, the duck and the kangaroo are introducing the idea that in some families, the basics are 'extra'. Considering Kiddo earned 'extra' money last weekend by vacuuming the bathroom (worth every one of those twenty-five cents in my book!), Tessy and Tab are making me look bad. "Tab has saved up $57".  Well, that's because Tab has learned how to save, but that's not mentioned. Instead, Kiddo sees that Tab has lots of money and he gets paid for doing the expected, not for going above and beyond. 

I am sure other families follow the Tessy and Tab method of allowance. And I won't quibble with that, really. That's their deal. We thought long and hard about why we do allowance the way we do, and I don't feel threatened by the fact that someone else is doing it differently.

But for Kiddo, let's face it: either the story went in one ear and out the other, or it's going to be a little like hearing that the other kids get donuts with syrup on them for breakfast when he's being served oatmeal. Perhaps I'm going off on a tangent here, but I think we as (perhaps too-touchy-feely parents?) are beginning to normalize some ideas which really aren't normal or usual. Can you imagine a farm kid in the 1940s asking Pa how much he's going to get paid for milking the cows? Pshaw! I can't begin to imagine, even a generation (or  two) ago, asking my parents 'what will you give me' for brushing my teeth, and I know in a heartbeat exactly what the response would be:

"Nothing. But if you don't do it, you can get a spanking." 

So perhaps we as American parents have gotten a bit off track, no sticks now, but waaaay too many carrots. I don't mind offering Kiddo 'extras', jobs he can do to earn extra money. I think it's great if he wants to go above and beyond. And this is exactly the problem I have with the thinking that contributing to one's own health and care and contribution to the family is 'extra'. It is not. If we were grading, doing this bare minimum would get you a "C" grade, maybe a "B" if your attitude was extra-helpful or a "D" if you made it misery for others. But the "A" requires more effort. It requires that you extend yourself a little bit more beyond the minimum and grow a little as a person. 

No wonder so many teachers have helicopter parents in their classrooms, demanding the child's grades be raised just for showing up. Sounds like they laid the groundwork for that one at home. 

Just one of many challenges to our family culture which I am sure will be coming at me in the years to come....and now I have to wonder what more lies in store for us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Notes from the "Day After"

Over the next few weeks, I'll writing a small, hopefully funny series regarding the challenges of having a child who is starting kindergarten. For those of you with older children, please chime in and comment with any advice or encouragement for us, the parents of new kindergarteners. For those of you with younger children-- well, snicker away friends, your time will come too...mwah ha ha!

 There is a sticker on our refrigerator my dear friend Tony gave to me a few years ago. He gave me this because the sticker has a cat on it that looks exactly like our dear Gus, only with a very serious look on its face.  Above kitty, in bold red letters, read the words which most define me:


Truer words were never written, my friend. Especially when the morning is question comes after the very challenging afternoon and evening we experienced yesterday.

Parents, heed my warning. Be very aware that even when the first day of school goes well, they are going to be t.i.r.e.d. Soooo tired. Soooo whiny. From the moment I picked up Kiddo from half-day kindergarten, the Afternoon of Angst had begun. Or shall we refer to it as 'transition trauma'? Either way...

He didn't want to wash his hands before we left the school, so that he could eat his apple slices on the way home. I helped him. Bad Mom! I got his sleeves wet. End Of The World. (note to self- pack wet wipes for this task)

Bad Mom! I didn't bring enough apple  slices. Good Mom! A cream cheese and jelly sandwich was waiting when we got home.)

Bad Mom! I had to pack up some playdough tools I'm loaning out, and I didn't let him play playdough while he was eating lunch. Good Mom! He got to play with it while I was washing up dishes.)

Bad Mom! Kiddo had to clean up the playdough to do his homework. Good Mom, "I see you need a little break before your homework. Let's go lie down and read some Uncle Wiggily" ((from the new book which Good Mom had kindly ordered last week from Powell's.))

 Bad, bad Mom for making him do his homework. SUCH a bad mom....Where do we start with the story of How Mean Mom Is? 

Good Mom made him a snack. Good Mom let him play outside during Quiet Play Time... AND Good Mom let him go play with the neighbor boy for 40 minutes, after a short moment wherein an 'agreement' was discussed for expected behavior at pick up time.

Bad Mom, for coming back and actually picking him up and not letting him LIVE with the neighbors. 
Bad Mom for not giving someone all the attention they wanted while she tried to cook dinner. 
Bad Mom for suggesting that an early bedtime was necessary. It was.

Here's the thing: when they a child is so tired as to be disagreeable, constantly, I have decided that, for sanity's sake, it is okay for that child to go to bed a half-hour early. Even if you don't sleep, child. Even if you are awake, looking at the ceiling--- this will not kill you. However, staying up and complaining at me, I cannot guarantee the same result...staying alive, that is.

And if you hop out of bed to complain to me once more about how you can't sleep, your life may indeed be in serious jeopardy.

At eight o'clock, the house was serene. Kiddo was asleep. Joe and I watched a movie, I had a beer, then stayed up later to watch "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" and make our schedule for today. Imagine, I can do a much better job scheduling  and planning proactively late at night after a strong beer than I ever could in the morning. Why? Because I am NOT a morning person. But Kiddo woke up, right as rain, no complaints... 

And so we roll on into Day Three of Kindergarten. Stay tuned... the story continues....