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....


Monday, September 10, 2012

It's Showtime!: The First Day of Kindergarten

Little Buddy, Sweet Kiddo, has been letting me know what he needs lately. 

It's lots and lots and lots of company. Unless he's in the bathroom, he is wanting companionship, nonstop. I try to think with my adult brain what it is that he finds so comforting, and then the answer is simple:

He just doesn't want to have to do it-- any of it-- alone.

School has been undeniably in our face. I waited until kindergarten was coming up close, and even without mentioning it, the presence of this transition was palpable, present. Last Thursday, Kiddo went in for a twenty minute evaluation with one of the kindergarten teachers. Her smile and calm demeanor was just what Kiddo needed. His brief time in the classroom made him hungry to explore the room more. On Friday, we received word of his class placement, which was with the teacher who had tested him, and then went to the school for an Ice Cream Social. He ate an ice cream sandwich and I picked up a yard sign to tell you how I'd like you to vote in the next local elections... vote for funding the arts in schools, folks!  

We were happy this weekend, for the most part. Happy and busy. And smart: with the need for constant companionship, it was good that I scheduled two great babysitters. Saturday night found Joe and I discussing what we could do over the next few weeks to make this school transition go more smoothly. Of course, we discussed it over some heavenly Viet/Thai food, and later over a pint at one of our favorite pubs. Sunday, another beloved babysitter gave Kiddo lots of undivided attention while we visited with some friends and whiled away the afternoon together. 

This was just what we all needed. Kiddo seemed to revel in the attention and the downtime---after a few very intense weeks of an "I want to crawl back into your skin and possess you" level of contact and need--helped me focus on what was important. At bedtime last night, I reminded Kiddo that if he got up to look at books we would need to turn the light off at eight o'clock. "You have school tomorrow." I didn't want to say it, right before bed, but there it was.  The rest of the evening was pleasant-- he looked at books until 8, then lights out. I went upstairs, watched some PBS  and made a schedule for the week, the crowning glory of which is an afternoon/after-school schedule which is super-consistent. He's going to start kindergarten with half-days, and so I wanted our afternoons to be extremely predictable, with no big demands asked of him. 

Here's what our afternoons will look like:

11:15 -- I make our lunches
11:40--I walk to the school to pick Kiddo up
12-- We head home with a small snack.
12:30 or so-- Home, wash hands, lunchtime. (see how I made that lunch in advance, so we don't have a   hungry child grumping at me?)
1:15-- playtime for Kiddo; dishes/dinner prep time for moi
1:50-- eye exercises
2:30-- Snack Storytime
3--Quiet playtime
4--Household tasks/finish responsibilities (hanging up bags, coats, etc.)/homework
4:45-- start dinner together.
5:30-- set table, get ready to eat....

Boringly awesome and consistent. I congratulated myself for this, then headed off to sleep...

Until one in the morning, when a sad, tight voice rose up the stairs: "Mommy. I need you to be with me."

Nice thing was, I knew that was coming. It was almost written in the playbook-- "Even if they seem fine, they will need you in the wee, quiet hours." I took one for the team, grabbed my pillow and went downstairs to spend the rest of then night alternately in the throes of a child's death grip and on the 12 inch margin of the bed. 

This morning, though, went off without a hitch. (Okay, so he put his pants on backward, but that's easily fixed. ) No tears,  nor tiredness. I dropped him off at the school for a short orientation/practice day. He found his seat easily, nametag waiting for him. Kissed him goodbye and left with all the other parents.

I wonder, sometimes, what the outcomes of certain situations would be if I didn't do the extras? Like in this case, I wonder how our morning would have gone if I had told him "go back to bed, you're fine" instead of just being available. What a big, potentially scary unknown Kindergarten must be for some kids.  For us adults, I think it would be comparable to starting at a new job or office, where we are coming into a new environment, with its own structure, both in the routine and socially. If I were to need some reassurance,  would I want my husband to brush me off and say "oh, honey, don't worry about it, you'll be fine"? I'd probably want a little more-- I'd want some reasons he thought I would do fine, or some empathy and  few words of wisdom. Mostly, though, I would want to feel like I wasn't doing it alone. That I had some help for those harder, longer and less-familiar days. I would want to know that my family understood this was a challenge, appreciated the situation, and had my back. 

If your own family--parents or spouses-- can't express support, encouragement, and offer a sense of security, who is left to turn to? 

We continue to hold Kiddo close while still holding to our guidelines for discipline and behavior. We continue to try to say 'yes' to what we can, and to say 'no' smartly. We want him to know we are, indeed, here for him. We are consistent--boringly consistent-- and this is what will help Kiddo continue to feel secure, cared for, and that the world hasn't enormously changed. His mornings will broaden his horizons-- they will challenge his understanding of what he thinks he knows about both himself and his world. His afternoons will hold him, secure, snug in knowing that his place at home of being a loved, creative, contributing member of the family has not changed a whit. Not in the least. 

And to all of you who have children going out to school for the first time~ my best wishes to you and  yours.