Monday, December 2, 2013

The Illustrated Spelling List

Sometimes, I wish I was tech-savvy enough to scan things and post them.
Like today. Kiddo has to write each of his spelling list words and draw a corresponding picture. The illustrations are pretty cute and rather amusing.

1. Like. The picture is a smile; erased and faintly visible behind it is a figure with an ax in his hand. (What? "I like homicide"? What is this madness?*)
2. Ride. Tracks with a barely visible vehicle traveling on them. 
3. Time. An alarm clock with Salvador Dali numbering. I think the clock has legs. Time doesn't fly, it runs.
4. Live. My favorite, a little guy in a striped shirt pointing up to the right. Ah, ha ha ha Staying Alive. Perfect.
5. Out. A door with a person standing beside it. Wearing a striped shirt. Maybe he got done dancing and left the club?
6. Who. ? Striped shirt is shrugging with his hands up in the air, gesticulating, with question marks surrounding him. Who? Is he Italian? I'm part Italian. Does this explain the striped shirt? Is he a gondolier? The spelling list would be more fun with 'gondola', come to think of it...
7. People. In front of this, he has drawn the number 5 and it looks like there are five faces hovering above a very stripey fence. What's with the stripes?!
8. Hide. Okay, this is true kid logic... "Mom, he's hiding candy under the bed!" sure enough, the bed looks like his. Note to self: check under bed later on...
9. Work. A very stripey robot (ahhhh! stripes!) is being built by a phantom hand. I wish I had that phantom hand to make dinner for me...

There was no room for number 10 on the sheet. 10 is 'smile'. I'm smiling because, even though I might need to check under the bed for candy, I've got a pretty creative kid. Going to make sure the ax is stowed now...

*he tells me later that "I was making Halloween pictures but then the teacher said I should draw the word on the list..." Teachers. Always with an agenda for learning....!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Some thoughts on success, failure, and letting our kids be kids

"I decided that I just like to make comic books that are interesting, but don't have any pictures."

This, from the brain and mouth of a very smart six year old. I sit down to write, but he interrupts me:
"mom you said that we were going to wash stones...."
So, excuse me a minute while I fill up the old zinc washtub.

An hour later, our stones and critters are washed. It's my tradition in November to start a bowl of paperwhite bulbs, and the ritual begins with washing last year's stones to make sure all of the dead roots and detritus are removed for the next go-round. I now have two cafeteria trays full of stones of all sorts, some more muted which we found at the seaside, some bright and colorful tumbled rocks from the toy store or souvenir shops. A gnome and a small menagerie of plastic animals, and some shells, round out the collection. We will plant the bulbs this afternoon.

But back to my first line-- that quote of his. These days, I'm enjoying how Kiddo makes connections between things he likes, how he makes things happen. That a book full of text could, in his mind, still be deemed a comic book.... I think it's a reflection of how he's putting his "Wonder Nerd" comic together. The writing is in panels, like a comic, without any illustration. I could correct it and get in the way of his spontaneous joy of writing, or I can shut up and stay out of the way and let him figure it out. I'm going for the latter. As a parent, there is that temptation to correct, to say "well, that's not exactly right, but nice try"... and if solicited further, I will. But there's something to be said for kid-crafted solutions.

Two weeks ago at the Book Fair, he was really really really wanting a Captain Underpants book he already had in black-and-white paperback form. We'd picked it up for 99 cents at Goodwill, along with 6 others. A good use of seven dollars, if you will. I explained that the only differences were that the Book Fair one was hardback and yes, it was in color, and it was $10. We'd budgeted $20 for the Book Fair. "Do you really want to spend half your Book Fair money on something you already have?" He decided no and made some other selections. Two days later, I walked by his room and there he was, lying on his bed and coloring his own copy of that same book. He'd figured out how to get a color version for free, just a little elbow grease. (I should note, too, that he's usually pretty terrific about taking care of his books and treating library books well, so I'm not worried  he's going to think this is a universally-acceptable practice.)

It's these moments that remind me to do what we as parents sometimes should do: butt out. Finding balance in being instructional, informative, and leaving well-enough alone is a day-by-day, moment-to-moment challenge. So sometimes, I hear the mistake in his perception but wait for that second question from him, the one which wants to take his idea further, to understand it better. The question that asks for guidance or feedback or correction- that's when he does want my interpretation, my advice, my direction. A letter to Grandparents and I might take a moment to have him make a few corrections--he'll ask if he's spelled some words correctly. But for his own pleasure? I can see his phonetic kid writing and let it go, know that he's doing this for his own edification and that my pointing out errors unsolicited will do more harm than good. 

This is what I want to keep present in my mind-- how to let fun things be just 'fun' for him right now. Kids get so much guidance and constructive criticism at school; it's nearly constant that he's hearing what his teacher or classmates think of him or his work. We as parents pass judgment on what got done during the day and how well-- or not-- it was done. I think about how we, as parents, are trained by our culture to bombard our child with our evaluations... good job... you did that nicely.. oh, that wasn't quite right, try to make it tidy, some point, our kids just kind of need us to shut up and let them do what they need to do. One of my sisters says that when her boys do what they are supposed to be doing, she doesn't give them a lot of praise or evaluation, just a tacit "thank you" at the most (sometimes, no comment at all) and she moves on. If the task wasn't done in a satisfactory way, she prompts them with a simple "I think you forgot something" and lets them try to figure it out first on their own. 

I think she's on to something...

It's so hard to ignore the messages of our culture, that we should be making our kids feel good for everything they do. I think that's a double-edged sword, because either we are giving out nearly-empty praise or we are correcting some things so much so that we can get them to a 'praise-worthy' status, if you follow my meaning. There's got to be some middle ground here. I don't want to have to notice everything my son does correctly or make absolutely sure that he is doing everything to a tee. If it's a big deal to him, he'll come and ask me. If it's a big deal to me, I'll say something, but not everything can be, or should be, a big deal. If we don't want our kids to nitpick those around them, it's also important that we as adults figure out what to relax on, too. That's a lesson I think many of us learn over time. 

One of my mentors was speaking to me about a mutual friend in an admiring way: "She knows what is okay to let fail." This is an idea I still ponder. How do we decide to when to allow something to fail or be less than perfect? How do we decide "well, my cart can only hold so many apples, which ones do I choose and which ones am I okay with abandoning?" Another person might call it prioritizing, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think knowing when to let something fail, to let it go-- that maybe our investment in that area has become unhealthy, we've become unhealthy in trying to make something successful that is pretty much going to fail or disappoint if we stop with our interventions and allow it to take its more natural course. I see this with situations and people in my life: how do you let go and allow something to land where it's going to land, without continuing to want to produce the best possible outcomes? I am seeing this in different aspects of my life, where I can look at a situation and think "well, that part of the puzzle is failing, but over here? Something is going very right, and maybe this negates part of that other failure. Maybe enough good progress in this area means that the harder, failing part won't be as bad as it might otherwise." or  "Maybe the failure in this one area is for the best so that we can allocate our resources to the areas that are working well and make them more successful"

The trick is knowing, once again, what must succeed and why it must succeed. Common sense would dictate that ignoring areas where our kids are actually struggling in favor of focusing on their strengths is not wise, but once again, some things must be prioritized and some areas of life are more nuanced than others. I have learned in my lifetime that it was a good thing to let some things in my life fail, to pick myself up and put my efforts into things which were working and beneficial to my life and future. Sometimes, letting things fail is liberating... but only certain things, which is why I have a feeling that 'knowing what to let fail' is a lifelong challenge.

For here and now, though, I'm learning to just hang back at times, to enjoy what I can and try not to sweat the small stuff. And to just stay out of some of Kiddo's business,  unless he asks. Maybe that's the trick to being a good parent: knowing when to speak up and when to keep quiet. We're only six, so I think it only gets more complicated from here on out... at least, for the next 15 or 20 years or so.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Saying Goodbye to the Sandbox (and other signs of Kiddo getting older)

"If you don't play in that sandbox this summer, I'm turning it into a raised bed."

Summer of 2012, this warning was thrown out. Was this a Mom Threat or a wish that Kiddo would always stay, well, little? I'm still not sure. Even at six, we have a kid who loves to dig, anywhere but the sandbox. Somehow, the real earth seems more interesting to him. 
Yet, for two summers I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, the sandbox would get used again. We had constructed so many neat little 'scapes, dug trenches to fill with water and then placed boards across to make a bridge. Little islands had been created. Bits of plants used as 'trees', colored glass stones hidden again and again as they found 'treasure' and various potions of 'ick' were concocted in old clay pots, sand mixed with water and chalk and leaves and whatever else would suit. 

Last summer, though, the writing was, well, on the tarp. As the work on our house had commenced, the tarp covering the sandbox became battered as yard toys were all  piled into it. The blue milk crate full of frisbees (perfect for mud pies), shovels, endless whiffle balls which had sailed over the fence from the neighbors, PVC pipes and other plastic plumbing pieces, and a plastic truck and digger... all of this sat unused. The real metal Tonka dump truck, excavator and crane were left alone in the garage while Kiddo made 'nun chucks' from two sticks and a long piece of string. The mud pies were made elsewhere. 

And the unused sandbox became a haven for spiders, who could make their homes, undisturbed by busy little scoops and spades. The spiders drew a new creature to the backyard: spider wasps. As the work was done on the house, the screen on the backdoor was removed and those pesky, beautiful insects came into the house, then frantically tried to fly out through the large glass picture window in the kitchen nook. I was stung at my first attempt to kill one, but over the summertime learned how to extract them alive with the help of the broom. The wasps liked the spiders, they liked the sand, and they felt right at home in that sandbox.

I like to live in harmony with nature, but sometimes, nature needs to go live elsewhere.

On Wednesday I went outside to tidy up the backyard. The sprawling Delicata squash that was growing out of the compost had already produced one large, yellow squash and was now on to making more little green balls on its stem. Without sentiment, this vine and those huge, nettled leaves were quickly dispatched to the yard debris. Then to the sad tomatoes in their pots. I untied them from their stakes and they were chopped up to compost. But what about all that potting soil? 

In that moment, I decided the time had come to do what I'd promised. I removed the tarp, patterned with the lime green pollen that has been plaguing us, and began to clean out the sandbox. Every tin cup, scoop, old rubbery Viking car and glass stone was removed from where they had resided, half-buried, for far too long. Then, the moment of truth: I dumped out both of the huge planters into the sand. It was done- there was no turning back now. After this I went out to the street to rake up fresh, dry leaves and dumped bin after bin of them over the soil. This way, the neighborhood cats wouldn't be tempted to use the loose dirt and sand as a litter box. The wooden frame that had once held my preschool groups, where so many kids had argued over who could use which truck or shovel, or where should the dirt go--- all of this was covered up by crisp brown and gold leaves. 

Next spring, we will go back in, remove the landscaping fabric at the bottom, and turn in some fresh soil. In this sandy medium, I've promised Kiddo that we could plant carrots. He's also entertaining the idea of starting a couple pumpkins in there as well. On Wednesday his class worked on "pumpkin math", guessing the measurements of a pumpkin in inches and pounds, guessing how many seeds. His worksheet shows his guess was 100 seeds; there were actually 692 or something of that  nature. He taped two seeds to his worksheet to take home; these are the seeds he wants to plant. 

Halloween was last night. Kiddo is old enough to have opinions on costumes and he created a 'zombie' outfit from an old hoodie of mine and a fairy cape. I gave him lessons on how to walk like the undead and he had a great time last night. He recently brought home an adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" from the school library; we read it and he declared how sad he felt for the Monster. It's undeniable that he's getting older...

... but not too old for the Halloween Fairy. Yesterday at breakfast, he wondered what would the Halloween Fairy bring this year? Last night, he carefully chose out several pieces of candy for himself and left the rest on the table for the supernatural creature. The betta fish I bought him  yesterday, kept upstairs out of Kitty's attention or reach, was waiting for him this morning at the table. Kiddo has been talking about having  a fish for quite some time. So, the Fairy has outdone herself and she lives on for another year. 

Kiddo is proud, too. That he is old enough to have his own pet. He has been highly aware that Gus is more or less Mom and Dad's kitty; Gus could mostly care less about poor Kiddo, even as he opens doors for the cat and tries to entice him with Snakoo, a catnip-filled snake. Gus is not giving Kiddo any warm fuzzies; he likes the quieter, more still adults who move more slowly, gently carry him from floor to floor, and feed him his daily meals filled with medications. Gus doesn't give Kiddo any love, and that does make me sad for him. "I wish I had a fish friend", Kiddo would say, "I would come home and he would smile at me and be glad to see me and be my pet." To grant this wish felt like an opportunity to do a very caring thing for our little guy.

It's not just the abandoned sandbox or the empathy for Dr. Frankenstein's Monster or even his high-water pants that tell me he's getting older. The desire for a scooter (which he eschewed earlier this year), the choices that he makes regarding his friendships or using his time-- all of this tells me that we're moving into a new season in our household. I'm liking being the mother of a kid who is starting to ask deeper questions about life, people, and why things are the way they are. I am loving that his friendships are becoming just as important to him as his relationships with Joe and I.

And I love that he still wants to hold my hand when we are out-- that he just instinctively puts his hand out and up to mine as if he expects I will always be there. That for him, this is the natural way of walking someplace. That, even if he is spinning a long story from his own imagination, he still craves connection with me. I am grateful for this, that we still have this. And all to soon, it will be just as it is when he spies familiar faces across the playground-- he drops my hand and runs, backpack bouncing, over to his buddies, over to being a little boy among friends. All too soon, I might become invisible to him unless he's hungry or needs clothes for school, or wants something from me... so I'm holding onto this season, as I hold onto them all, grimacing at the challenges and relishing the delights and knowing that   nothing, not even sandboxes, will stay the same forever. Sometimes they become something even better.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Embracing My Inner Rectangle: Thoughts on Self-Love and Body Image

It all started with a few yards beautiful raspberry wool cloth. For years, I've been fantasizing about turning it into some sort of jacket, the kind I could wear to the obligatory Holiday Party my husband's boss throws for the employees every year. Something I would feel special in, something which would glide over my upper body with finesse, dress me up just enough to feel comfortable and confident in that crowd of professionals, doctors, nurses and other people who work outside the home and have some money to spend on clothes-- and look like it.

Most who know me will have heard me joke that I am somewhat fashion-impaired. And since I wanted this jacket to look great, I've been talking to another mom who studied design and would be able to tailor this to my short, rounder body. On Sunday, this designing mom and I chatted briefly and she suggested I find a pattern of "something that you feel great in". 

I wasn't sure what that could be. It's been a long time since I went shopping for a cute jacket, and unless you count my black fleece, I'm not feeling fabulous in anything I currently own. In the last few years, I know my body has changed-- but one Internet search would bring it home to me in a way which was all too real. 

Typing in "clothes for your body type" brought up pages of hits. I scrolled down and clicked on one site, which compared body shapes to food: apple, pear, etc.... I was pretty sure I was an apple, but didn't find that site particularly informative. The next one, though, just went straight for the facts, ma'am. "Enter your measurements"... which I did, but just because my waist measurement was smaller than the bust and hips did not an hourglass figure make.

"Your shape is rectangle" I was told, the shape of 46% of women. "No discernible waist". This was one of those moments of submission, being told what I already know. By some people's opinions, my being somewhat overweight is part and parcel of 'what's wrong with America these days'. Add to that my incredible shortness, and I somehow wondered for a moment why they didn't just immediately link me to a site with a banner at the top "How to Dress A Beach Ball" or "Muu Muus are Us, er, You". 

This, after two months of diligent walking, no (well, very little) snacking after dinner, not allowing barbeque chips to enter the house in anything other than the occasional single-serving bag.... after two months, I have lost 3.5lbs. I saw a friend yesterday who told me he'd 'lost 27 pounds in the last month or so'. I know it's harder for women, but damn, give a girl a fighting chance, okay? So, all that Rectangle day I felt a bit roundly sad. I wanted to cry. How would I feel fabulous in some fantasy coat I couldn't even identify if couldn't even succeed at losing five pounds in two months? When I tried to joke about it with my husband later, he just said "well, honey, you've got all the curves I need!" and smiled and then went back to staring at the commercial I'd muted. 

Men. Hmmmmph.

Yesterday, the question came up as to"how do your learn to love yourself". When this question came up, I thought "I've loved myself this morning". I'd walked in the morning to meet a friend for coffee (8 oz soy latte if you must know). The morning was sunny, crisp, one of those autumn mornings meant to be savored. People were out, raking leaves, meeting friends-- I took in the many Halloween decorations people had out, making mental notes as to which ones Kiddo just had to see. The brisk walk home was exhilarating and made me feel good. Seeing a friend I adored made me feel good. So what if I was a Rectangle? I felt like a happy rectangle, not a defeated one. Accepting that there are parts of my life which make  it hard to lose weight-- most especially my diet, which is restricted thanks to some hereditary factors,thanks dad-- and that I would either have to devote more time to walking and give up some things I loved (beer!) or be willing to start embracing the rectangle... well, it made me feel better. What my friends love about me is not my waistline or how good I look in a dress, what they love is that I am a good listener, can empathize, I'm fairly smart, look for the humor in things whenever possible, love to learn--- those have nothing to do with the numbers on a measuring tape.

Do my friends want me to be comfortable, healthy and well? Of course. Do my friends want to see me beating up on myself for not being where I was at 37, when I had just had a baby, was making milk like crazy for my son, getting marginal (okay, crap) sleep and being able to walk for miles each day with no other job but trying to get the baby to sleep? Um, no. Do they want to see me skinny, the way I was when I split up with my ex-husband, the stress of the situation making me drop 6 dress sizes? Not at the expense of my overall health and well-being...

I have never judged the worth of my friends by their clothes or their bodies. It's who they are that is important to me, it's their outlook on things which keeps me wanting their company. Even in the hardest times of our lives, we aren't sitting there keeping track of that stuff-- we are caring for each others hearts and feelings. 

Somewhere in this, there is a resiliency to be had. Self-love means knowing that we have value just in our being ourselves. This means being cool with who we are, here and now. Knowing that there's room for improvement, not making excuses and not beating ourselves up, either. Last week, many people spent a lot of time online, directing their anger at Maria Kang, the fitness mom who posed with her hard body and three children and asked "What's Your Excuse?" I find that I am not offended by Maria when I am loving myself. I can accept that she is doing what she needs to do to build her business, and that just like an  unusually contemplative fish with a worm in front of them, I don't have to take the bait. I can let the worm be. (And this is a bad analogy, so please do not think I'm calling Maria Kang a worm... )  I don't have to let Maria upset me or motivate me, either. I can accept that she is lucky to have the resources to work out for hours, lucky to be so beautifully young, and great that she obviously has awesome childcare. I don't need to defiantly post back my reasons for not being as svelte as I once was. Frankly, I do have a bit of a vain streak running through me and this is enough, most days, to motivate me to take a shower, do something halfway-decent with my hair and look nice. And....

I still think a smile is the best thing I can see on a person. A person who likes themselves finds it easy to smile.

So, all this to say-- I'm okay with my rectangle. It doesn't mean I'll stop walking or stop being thoughtful about what I eat or stop striving to feel better overall. It does mean I will continue to do the best I can for me, and that's what my family needs most of all-- a mom who is okay with who she is, here and now. 

And if you know of any awesome jackets for short rectangles, I'm still looking. ;)


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Easing into Autumn, and Getting Older

Should I tell you that the word ease is a bit of misnomer, at least a few days ago? Last Friday, vicious rains began... the season only just ordained autumn and four days of ferocious rainstorms pelted our heads, winds throwing down tree branches like children playing pick-up sticks. This Tuesday a pocket of overcast sky-- but no rain-- drew me out of the house in the hopes of a quick walk. Quick indeed~ ten minutes later, two blocks from home (I was planning on doing circles around the neighborhood and doubling back, just in case...) the sky gave way and brought an initial torrent of rain, followed by sideways hail. Despite the rain it's been warm, so I was caught out with just a warm sweater and jeans. Running to an enormous Douglas Fir, I took shelter only to be swatted by dropping needled twigs. Finally, realizing that the pouring rain was not going to let up, I ran most of the way home, water flying down the driveways into the street creating puddles 4 inches deep or more.  Where the rain gutters rounded the corners on the rooftops, water gushed out over the sides, they  simply could not accommodate the sheer volume of water. Toward the end of my dash home, I stopped for a second to clear the storm drain at the bottom of our street, removing some debris and watching a torrent of water rush down from the top of our block. 

Once home, I had to pull down the shades and undress by the door... a dripping, soaked mess from head to toe. Only my underclothes were dry. Thank heavens for water heaters and hot showers! 

I've been walking as a way to get myself back into shape without, well, straining anything. My body has been talking to me a lot lately, telling me that I am not as young as I was ten years ago. Growing up for me means some soreness, a prescription of naproxen, and getting to bed earlier. It means being more thoughtful about what I'm eating and when. These are things my adult mind can manage and while the craving for junk food still rears its head from time to time, I'm easily satisfied with one chocolate chip walnut cookie or one small serving of Veggie Booty. Chips are not really welcome in the house, especially the barbeque ones-- they are kind of like that friend in high school that always seems to get you into trouble. Fun, but not worth it later.

Kiddo is also growing up a bit. We have nearly completed his second week of homework, which has gone well. We are in a season of learning how to manage his time; I've let go of telling him what to do and have made checklists for the morning and after school, which he uses-- in his way. He is learning that sometimes, when we don't get all of the morning checklist done because we forgot to make the bed after we saw our Legos-- well, you get the idea. Those tasks still must be done, even if it means they get done in the afternoon and we miss some play time or tv time. It's a life-long discipline, time management. If you play in the morning, and then take a lot of time unloading the backpack or dawdling over homework, then we don't have as much time to play later on. 

Frankly, I don't know how families of kids who have afterschool classes and lessons do it. Where is the play time? The down time? I am sure they have it, but I know that in our home, even with most of the housework and dinner prep done beforehand, it's a busy afternoon. 

Kiddo is feeling this, as well as the new bit of responsibility I've handed to him: getting himself, his folder and water bottle into class on time. After the first few weeks of hanging around and nearly walking him through it, I came to that realization that many parents do-- the one that makes us kind of feel bad, but understanding that it's time for the little bird to stretch his wings a bit: I removed myself from the situation. Now it's a kiss goodbye at the locker and a friendly post-it on his desk and I am gone. His teacher is wonderful and will tell me if he's coming in late, so we can help him adjust his morning routine if need be, but so far, so good. 

All of this is a lot for a kid, any kid. Like myself, Kiddo is often in his own head, easily distracted by friendly faces, and really wants to please. I remember walking to school in first grade, crossing a busy intersection twice, alone, and making my way to my classroom, to the cloak room.... Not that I think that was a great idea, nor am I ready to send Kiddo across any intersection solo, but I know that it's time for him to grow up a wee bit, to manage that part of his day and to get used to that. Now, is this a welcome change for my sweet boy? Not really, but c'mon-- I wasn't expecting him to shout "YES!" and pump his fist when I explained this to him. We all have to do hard things in life. For me, it's making myself walk even when it's crappy outside. For him, it's another step of growing a little more self-reliant. Stuff happens and we have to figure out how to deal with it. When I arrived to pick him up yesterday, he calmly explained that he'd forgotten to bring his lunchbox in from recess. We checked the lost and found first and then went out to the playground. "Do you put your lunchbox in the same place every day?" I asked. His eyes brightened. "I know where it is!" he shouted, leading the way to a small cluster of other forgotten lunchboxes. He is not the only one, and I praised him for 'having a same place to put it every day, that's a great idea'. 

At bedtime, though, that's when those heart truths are revealed. Last night, it was so clear that he was wiped out and sad. Changes can be hard. I told him how much he was growing up and that it was a lot of responsibility, and sometimes that's not easy.... and that the work of getting bigger isn't easy at all. Extra hugs and a kiss. Teary, tired little boys do not need to be told they are tired. "I want to play more" he complained. "Why don't you play in your dreams tonight? Have playful dreams." His reply was that he hadn't been having dreams, which meant that he was obviously exhausted and sleeping hard. "Well, maybe your brain needs a rest, so just think about playing and fun things before you go to sleep..." 

I could not solve the problem for him, but could offer empathy and the choice to enjoy his thoughts. Sometimes, that's all a person can do. 

This morning, though, was so good, it gives me hope. Looking out into the misty morning, Kiddo asked me "Mom, look at that blue jay." In our plum tree a scrub jay was diligently working to crack a nut. "Where's my friend, Mom? That bird?" I asked if he was referring to Sweetie Tweetie, the songs sparrow we named a couple  years ago. "Right there" I pointed out the window. Then, on the way to school, he stopped by the neighbor's yard to point out a spiderweb to me, a golden and brown orb weaver patiently waiting in the center. "Let's observe the spider for a minute, okay?" he asked. We had time and he commented on how beautiful the spider was. 

After dropping him off, I made my way through the neighborhoods at a brisk pace, over to Laurelhurst Park for a turn or two along the paths that border the expanses of muddy lawn and which travel around the pond. Pale lavender cyclamen had popped their heads up just above the grass line. The late white summer magnolias had crumpled in on themselves, the trees are beginning to turn. As I walked near the pond, the ruddy brown, scaly needles of the Cedars of Lebanon crunched under my feet. Only a handful of walkers and joggers were out this morning, so many of us wished each other a good morning and continued our huffing and puffing along, grateful for a morning without rain and avoiding the muddy spots or slippery leaves. 

Growing older means that my feet hurt more than they used to, but that the ache and the sweat feel good when one gets home. Another shower and then the discipline of getting housework done while the getting is good. As I type this, the sun is shining white through a large bank of clouds. They say we're in for a sunny afternoon. More goodness to come. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Not-So-Secret Identity

Walking up to my house this morning, I see my neighbor. We wave to each other. She is a fun gal; last night we were out at Belmont Station, sipping a pint, then a glass, and cackling about all sorts of stuff. Last night we were known as Two Ladies Out For An Evening. Today, however, we just wave and smile and return to our houses, slipping back into our mundane roles as Moms Who Have Just Dropped Their Kids Off and are now facing the reality of Housework and Other Important Tasks.

Now, before you start asking me why I'm typing instead of scrubbing, let me assure you: this is the calm before the storm. Or rather, this is me taking a few moments before addressing The Aftermath, which is the result of Kiddo being home sick for two days and my usual jobs being put off.

Why put off the jobs when he is sick? Well, if you want to know the desperate truth, it is this: after most of the year of having contractors around the house and a little boy making messes everywhere, I want to be able to complete a few chores and have those areas looking nice for at least a couple hours before crumbs begin to hit the flooragain, before three loads are folded and the pile of clothes delivered to his room is met with an "awwww.... I hate putting it away" (just wait until you are eight and get the privilege of learning how to do it!). I need the quiet so I can crank up a cd loud and scrub the bathroom, wiping away the toothpaste spatter from the wainscoting and scrubbing the shower and tub with the sharp, pungent smell of vinegar and water. 

Kiddo wants to earn a dollar vacuuming the bathroom this afternoon, which is highly necessary. Yesterday I'd done some digging with my pants rolled up and before sprinting out the door in the evening, I unrolled the cuffs, only to deposit an acre of topsoil on the Marmoleum. Most was cleaned up, but between the bit that was pushed to the side plus the hair-- all the hair-- on the floor, it is a must for today. If Kiddo decides not to do it, I will, and I will pay myself with a nice glass of ale, thank you. Yes, I rate more for pay than the kid does, but I do an awesome and thorough job of vacuuming, if I do say so myself. I actually get the walls and corners where the spiders set up shop, spinning their webs and leaving the cobwebs behind like ephemeral ruins, destined to be gone so quickly.

Let's not even discuss the yardwork that's calling me. At least the zinnias still look good. Last night a neighbor friend stopped us on the way to the pub and told me that she had been planning to leave me a note. "I walk past your house all the time and I just wanted to thank you for your garden. " Wow! It only motivates me to get out there a bit more often...

But for now, work to do, a radio to crank up. Dishes in the sink are muttering at me from last night, acting like surly neglected children. The house-wide dirty laundry call comes first, getting a load started is of utmost importance. We all like clothes--- at least, it's the law around these parts. Plus, there's dinner to think about..... the work of a stay at home mom is never done, but I might take pictures of the clean areas, just to remind myself that it really, truly happened.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sympathy Soup

Kiddo is busy; "just five or six more minutes of Lego time and then I have soup for you."


"I know, you don't like being sick." In our house, sick means soup. Lots of chicken soup. Chicken soup coming out your ears, maybe. Kiddo, however, doesn't like soup. I'm not sure any kid of mine could not like soup, but apparently this isn't an inherited trait, soup-liking.

In any case, because he's going to have to suffer through a bowl of soup, I tried to get the kind he liked best least disliked and I'm making some sympathy soup for myself. Of course, I will enjoy my bowl of soup in ways he will not, however this is better than heartlessly eating something really delicious, like a grilled cheese sandwich, in front of him. Which I really am craving, but will not indulge in.

A pan of boiling water, a veggie golden-broth bouillon cube, some chopped carrot and celery and a handful of egg noodles. Easy peasy and Kiddo has company in his liquidy lunch. I'll use some special plates, give him a stack of soda crackers and let him go at it. Applesauce will be the treat for finishing.... applesauce with lots of cinnamon.

Kiddo is home, the jazz station is playing Oscar Peterson, the windows are open and the sun is shining. What could be better? Sorry Kiddo's sick, but I'm going to enjoy this moment anyway.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


You know what I like about being my kid's mom? It's that I really know him. Not just the things he likes-- his favorite shows and toys or which kind of Lara bar he'd rather have-- but what he's really about. Who he is, uniquely, and what he needs from me.

Today, the word 'upbeat' came into my head. We've had a good day today, the day before school starts. The guys started work on the windows and it just made sense to head out into the day, to break up the usual daily routine and have some novelty. To be honest, the day hadn't started at all well, but I got that off my chest early on and moved forward. We went out to search for a Thermos initially and I structured the day around it to include lunch at a favorite sushi restaurant--he's getting better with his chopsticks, a trip to the zoo for an hour or so, a jaunt back downtown to buy a Clone Wars thermos (hey, at least Yoda is on it) , a stop at Pearl Bakery for us to share a croissant and a much-needed small latte pour moi, a visit to Powell's to browse ( Must note the new Alan Say book "The Favorite Daughter", a lovely story) , shopping for groceries and a partridge in a pear tree. We took the 4:12 bus home to our little neighborhood and voila! we had just enough down time before dinner and rolling into bedtime. 

Did I talk about school? No. Did I mention anything he might be worried about? No. I let him just lead the conversations and was present with him, delighting in some silly things, hurting my back to help him up high enough to see fish jumping out of the water as they were being fed... it was worth it, the look on his face. He had an Icee of an unrealistic blue color and got the cold shivers in the shade and we snuggled up to warm him and he just giggled. Giggling, too, at the invitation to smell the 'strong scent of the bobcat....uses its pungent urine to mark it's territory'~um, no thanks! It was the light and silly moments that made the day good. Even just agreeing to the crappy merchandised thermos somehow made the day better. It was as though even if I couldn't give him a perfect life or a perfect school year, at least he had something he thought was cool and actually cared about. Even if just using the thermos for lunch is something that makes him happy for a few moments for a few weeks, that's something, right?

Upbeat is how I think we have to be, when we see our kids walking into new challenges. It's okay to empathize, but to also move through that empathetic moment to the "looking forward" moment. Today, when school was mentioned by him, I said that yeah, it's going to be different, and I am so glad his buddy will be in his class. When he complained after dinner about it, I had him help choose the goodies for his lunch box. I want him to be sure to have something to look forward to, and this is one area I actually can have control and offer control to him. The conversation also gently veered to "it will be fun to have recess with your friends again" and "It will be interesting to see what sort of things will be in your new classroom". 

The challenge, I think, will come in a few days or a few weeks, when the honeymoon (if any) ends. I am dreading the mountains of paperwork I will get in the next week or so, and know that life is going to change for our family with the quantity and nature of homework, for him being gone 6 hours a day in instruction.... so I'm going to try to be upbeat for myself as well. Remembering to take care of myself, to take walks, to chant "this too shall pass" when it's him and "it's not him, it's me" when my hormones kick into gear. I will watch comedies, get books on disc to listen to while I work, and avoid NPR for a while-- the war drums make me anxious. This is a time to batten down the hatches a bit, to accept that it's going to be a rough few months as these transitions are, and do what I can to stay upbeat for us. Sometimes, one parent has to lead the charge and guide the family through changes and I'm up to the task. Upbeat to it. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Pre-Season Season

10, 9, 8....  a few days ago, the countdown began. School was starting in a week or so and to add to the chaos, our new kitchen windows (at long last!) would finally be coming in from the factory. This is the last installment of our 9 months of work being done on the house. It's been worked on since January, from the inside out. Our bathroom got a facelift, our garage got new siding, the old boards on the house were replaced, small repairs made, our whole little bungalow now painted a cheery, bricky-orange color. The windows and a screen door for the back are the very last things on our once-long list.

And, of course, the work on the windows would start the day before school begins as well. Just because life is messy and doesn't like to shake out her linens much--  life seems to like things crumpled up and folded on each other instead of lying smoothly. Sometimes, I really do wish I could take  steam iron to Life, press it flat and readable instead of being stuck with so much of it-- gobs of it-- that my arms just feel full trying to gather it all up and figure out what to do with it. 

Enough with the fabric of life stuff... in any case, being that I am a planner to the nth degree and that I have learned that I cannot control people, but I can most certainly, all preschool-teacher-ish, control the environment, that is the direction I usually go in. The devil might be in the details, but if one is examining the details -- really questioning and scrutinizing--one might be able to flush the devil out. Or at least give him less hiding places.

I call this the pre-season season, because much like spring training for major league baseball, this progression to The Season has become its own event. My brain has been humming as my life is filling in the blanks to the question "and then what?" and my days have been busy as I act on the answers.

Here's a great example: the kitchen nook where we eat and do homework is getting a new casement window. Okay, this seems mundane  but it is something to cheer about because I will now have a kitchen window that actually opens easily. (read: without swearing or sweat). That said, the crank of the window needs to be accessible, and so the chest of drawers we've had in front of the old, crappy window must be moved. To where? Good question. How about that spot in the living room, near the door? We can remove that other small two-drawer thing with all our outdoor clothes and put them in the bottom drawer of the chest. 

But the chest has also got a lot of the things we need for homework. What about that? Thus, I begin to reevaluate the homework situation. Like many young kids, Kiddo is easily distracted and so sometimes homework can take a loooong time, mainly because we are looking out the window or the guys (our friendly carpenters) are walking through or we just have too much going on. So~ maybe the dining room is the place to do the homework? The table would face a wall which offers far less visual distractions than the big picture window. (I've had to close the curtains during homework time on more than one occasion.) And if we use the dining table, of course we'll need a protective cover for it, but we'll also need to center it to that wall, so that means we need to move the small 'nature' table we have... but move it to a corner where the stereo speaker is-- hey, set the speaker on part of it and there's enough room for a basket with pens, scissors, glue stick, etc.-- now we have a little area for homework supplies....

And so, all of this unfolds like an onion, layer after layer, moving things to solve one problem and then figuring out what other considerations must be kept in mind. This extends beyond the material as well... because it's  not just the environment that needs my attention,  it's  also the structure, the routines of our day that also need review. For instance, last year Kiddo attended half-day kindergarten, which, in my opinion, was a good choice for our child and our family. But now he'll be in school a little over six hours a day. That's a long time for both of us. I have goals for this winter which I want to work toward:  more walking, prioritizing a few projects, volunteering in the school library again and finishing a very large project there I began last school year. Plus all of that daily housework-type stuff. Plus, this summer I learned a very important thing about Kiddo, too, which is that he does fairly well with schoolwork if you sit with him and help him stay focused. 

That, in itself, means that I have to imagine what our 'after school' time might look like. As I consider the expectations of the first grade teachers (reading 20  minutes a day, for a start), I realize that much of the time between school letting out at 3 and starting dinner around 5 is going to be gobbled up quickly. Lingering to play at school playground, the walk home, a snack, homework... all these things take time. Which means I'll be prepping dinners earlier in the day, no shopping or doing housework or anything like that. Just getting a (likely exhausted) Kiddo from point A to point B with the least conflict, stress or drama possible. 

Honestly, I am expecting a couple of very hard months as Kiddo readjusts to these new expectations. I am expecting we will all go to bed a bit earlier because hard times for our children usually mean hard times for the parents as well. Everyone gets stretched and frankly, stretching hurts a hell of a lot at first. We will be more supple as we roll into winter, but autumn challenges me to think ahead, predict which areas of life will be problematic and to try to troubleshoot as we go forward. 

It's Labor Day weekend and tomorrow is Monday, the last day before all the action starts. We'll be moving more furniture out of the way, the banging and hammering (and swearing, likely) will begin on Tuesday as the new windows find their new homes, then school begins the next day. Our school was getting a new roof this summer-- thanks to those who voted for that bond measure-- and those roofers are working on a tight schedule, so no Meet and Greet with the teacher the day before school. Kiddo is going in cold, but I'll pack him a tasty lunch and hope for the best. 

The Pre-Season is winding up and the Season starts too soon. In the meantime, we are also prioritizing fun. Yesterday we went out to the country for a friend's birthday gathering: Kiddo played ball with our friends' dogs, built forts, and the adults just did what we often do-- hung out and just chatted, catching up after too long. Today, too, we're going to enjoy ourselves. I'm taking Kiddo to the nickel arcade and hopefully the afternoon weather won't be too oppressively hot so that we can enjoy the park on the way home. I'll be trying to schedule some fun into our upcoming days....

Do you have any secrets for helping kids transition from summer laxity to school time? Leave a comment and share your tips with us. We are all still learning, aren't we?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Golden Dragon (or Pride in Earning a Quiet Afternoon)

This is an afternoon I've waited a heck of a long time for. An afternoon to be proud of.
An afternoon I have more than earned.

Kiddo, at long last, has done enough jobs and finally saved up enough allowance to buy his heart's delight, Lego's "Golden Dragon" from their Ninjago line. Never mind that I hate how Lego uses cartoons and books only for merchandising... I don't even freakin' care. I have earned this afternoon, down to the very last dollar.

Y'see, Kiddo earns money the old fashioned way, he works for it. His allowance is kind of small for a reason; it gives him a chance to really gear up and work if he wants things. A couple months ago, Kiddo stated his intent-- The Golden Dragon-- and began to work pretty diligently at small jobs I'd offer him. When he'd hit about $15 dollars or so, I talked to Joe about the some of the very real problems with Lego sets, namely that their prices do go up and that they do eventually discontinue making sets. Long story short, we decided to buy the set for Kiddo without his knowledge, this way the price would stay fixed (and we wouldn't have to bail him out or disappoint him at the time of purchase) and that they wouldn't run out, because he would have been crushed.Yep, a bit helicoptery on that one, but frankly if he was busting his butt around here, I wasn't going to let him get shorted because he was too late for Lego.

And so we've both been busting our butts. It's taken me twice as long to do the dishes when I'm also helping him with vacuuming the bathroom. He's emptied out countless buckets of yard trimmings for me (so much work for me!), he's very, very cheerfully helped me completely empty out his room of nearly everything for a deep clean-- he was doing it for $1 but wouldn't you know I paid him $3 because of his cheerful attitude and no complaining. (Yes, he's found my weak spot, I will pay extra for no complaining!) I dug out a whole ten square feet of canes to Freecycle to a new home so he could earn a dollar hauling the endless paper bags of them up to the porch. Ah, the chicken and the egg... is he earning more because I've been a busy lady or am I a busy lady to help this kid out? In any case, I have a lovely symbiotic relationship going here, stuff is getting done and I am glad for it. And this afternoon, he vacuumed both the living room and kitchen, complete with helping to pick up items and delivering a pair of snow boots to a younger neighbor besides.

He'd earned his $30 and now wanted to take the bus to the store for the Lego set. I wanted to surprise him and played along. We got our shoes on, I grabbed my purse, and we made it down the stairs before I stopped. "Uh-oh" I said, "I forgot to bring Gus (our cat) in. Let me go get him, you stay here."

Then I ran through the house and grabbed that precious box from the Room Dedicated To Cribbage Boards*, and called Kiddo to the back. "Oh, honey, there's something here you need to see...."

Enter the first hour break I've had in a LOT of days. One where I am not working at something or re-arranging the house (that's another post) or thinking about school stuff or dinner. This afternoon, dammit, I earned this. I am not going to lie-- there is a gin and tonic within reach and the spanakopita just came out of the oven, so I'm going to have a snack. But first-- " Mom, watch this!" a ball shoots out of the dragon's mouth, the head not yet attached to his body. Boy, do I love this kid! He's so much fun. And he's once again playing quietly. ah.........

*Yes, we have a room dedicated to cribbage boards. Someday, it might be tidy enough for you to take a tour. For now, it's disguising itself as a bone of contention/ junk room. C'est la vie- I'd rather have cribbage boards in the old back bedroom than skeletons in my closet!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Winding Down in the Garden

Summertime writing comes in fits and starts for me. Quiet when we are busy, and now, restful after two trips within three weeks, I am catching my breath and thinking of the month to come.

We took two fun trips, one to Oceanside (which makes me always think of Robyn Hitchcock's song of the same title and its sweet chorus: "Maybe I will find today/Maybe I will lose tomorrow/Gonna rock on to the oceanside") and another, a camping trip with my father and immediate family on his side. After doing all  of our family's planning for these trips- menus, clothing lists, camping essentials, etc, my brain is now in Recuperating Mode. Hence, we have had a few mellow days where we've just taken care of basic needs and I'm catching up on laundry. So it goes...

Before I forget, here's something fun I did to preserve the summer fun. In Oceanside, we collected loads of neat rocks and shells. Joe and I are chronic beachcombers, no matter how hard we try.We also spent time digging loads of trenches and moats and creating dams... which only facilitated our finding more agates hiding in sand and rocks. ANYWAY, after I got home, I went outside and clipped a big handful of lavender in bloom, then found a rectangular vase and placed the lavender in there. Instead of adding water, I poured a layer of beach rocks and shells on either side of the flowers, so they support the flowers and show beautifully through the walls of the vase. You can use any kind of flower that dries well for this if you don't have seed pods or poppy pods would also work, or dried Lunaria/ Honesty (Silver Dollar plant)... or wait a while if you  have some Physalis (those orange Chinese Lanterns) growing in your yard. I wish I did! I now have this sweet arrangement in our bedroom. Warning-- it does drop the tiny lavender flowers when they dry out, but that is what vacuums are for.

Now that I've had more down time, my mind has turned to the garden. It's been hot, so work is limited to earlier mornings before 9 and cooler nights if I have the energy. But it's still good out there. This morning I deadheaded the zinnias-- they are one of the easiest showy flowers to maintain, FYI. The sonata pink cosmos were in a sorry state, so they were trimmed back as well, and the Bowles Mauve wallflower finally had it's long stemmy flowers trimmed back. I have more to do, but this summer has blessed me (ha!) with a sore back, no matter what I seem to do. Having work done on the house means that my lace-cap hydrangea was partially stomped down, so that's getting clipped back to within an inch of it's life so that it grows back strong and hearty in the coming years. Our composter surprised us with a squash vine... I have no idea which variety of squash will appear, if any, but let's cross our fingers for a pumpkin! The blueberries still have another week or two left in them, and my Ugly Lena tomatoes are suitably miserable-looking, which makes me glad. If you think that's crazy, it's only crazy because it's true-- this plant looks terrible, foliage-wise, but produces amazing roma-type tomatoes, only with a brandywine interior and an incredible rich flavor. I've been battling blossom-rot but have two tomatoes turning red as I type.  I'm so excited, already I can taste a tomato-mayo sandwich on some sourdough bread. Simple pleasures...

Kiddo's tutoring is winding up and so we're talking about doing an independent study on mummies for a few weeks. This is his idea, folks, and it's a fun one.  I can get a few books from the library and create some cloze stories as well as finding some supplemental print-outs.  Mummy math? What do you think of that? If four mummies each used 10 bandages to wrap themselves up, how many bandages are being used? (use a hundred's board to figure this). ... oops, was I thinking school out loud? OMSI is hosting a Mummies of the World exhibit that Joe is going to take Kiddo to, so that's going to be a fantastic experience for them. Now, if three pyramids each have 7 treasures (place 7 counters on each pyramid illustration... ) Okay, there I go again, so perhaps it's time to leave. Enjoy these wonderful summer days while our time before school is winding down. I'm planning on doing a few fun excursions in the next few weeks. What are you going to do?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Making Amends Outside the Family

One of the most heartbreaking things a parent has to go through is watching their child's sad face when it's time to pay the piper. 

It's one thing when our children cause a problem for us; we feel our frustration at the situation and call on them to fix the mess they've made. We may even feel angry at our child for doing that very thing we asked them not to do, or angry at them if they present a poor attitude when it's time to fix the problem. That old saying "familiarity breeds contempt" sometimes feels a little too true when we are asking our children to wipe their mud from the floor or clean up their arts table full of paper cuttings or (egad!) go flush the toilet please, now and instead of a cheerful "yes, Mom" we are met with sighs and gallumphing and the despised eye roll. 

Yet it's a whole other story when someone else calls on our child to take care of a problem they have caused. Instead of eye rolls, there are tears. There are passionate declarations~ "I won't do it if they are watching" or "I'm going to go hide in my room forever and not come out until they are gone" or something else which is sadly unreasonable but a real reflection of our child's fear and embarrassment at the situation they have--unwittingly or not--created. It's one thing to make a mistake, but it's completely another to do something you were told not to do, and then to get called on it by someone who is not in that safe realm of unconditional love which parents offer. And if that person gets a little cross and wants you to fix it, which is an extremely reasonable consequence.... well, that's the worst, right? 

It is the worst if you are a kid and this adult isn't one of your nurturers, not a caregiver or teacher, but someone you think is kind of cool. Especially hard. There's no way to save face and boy, do little egos get crushed. 

And it's the worst to watch as a parent, but it's also so important that we don't step in too much if we see that the adult in question is relatively judicious and a good person.  (Of course we intervene if that adult is not judicious or showing those honorable characteristics which indicate that they are a person who does want what is best for our child.) Sometimes, we have to allow those moments to continue to invite that adult to be important in our child's world. Should we stymie that adult's proposed reasonable consequence, this will impact the future relationship between our child and that important person in their lives. 

We count on other adults to be loving, caring people in our children's lives. Our kids need to know that they are important to other people besides their parents and peers. That there are adults who are looking out for them, even when those moments of correction are emotionally difficult. These adults care enough to be willing to be uncomfortable with our children. Let's face it--what adult wouldn't be a bit disconcerted at having to help another person's kid make things right after that sort of conflict? It's not a pleasant task, yet it is an investment in keeping their relationship square with each other and it helps teach the child that it was important enough of an error to fix it. 

I'm grateful to have these sorts of adults in our lives-- people who love our child enough to want to help him fix his mistakes. I am so very blessed to have this level of investment in my son by people who do care about him. And it does break my heart to have to see the hurt and embarrassment, the anger the child has at themselves for making the mistake, even when that anger is misdirected. This is when I have to take a step back and not intervene, but to let those other teachers have their moment of teaching. To allow them to get their relationship back on track in real-life terms. Parents love you unconditionally, but others ask you to play fair with them. This is a hard, good part of real life. To let others help our children, even when we want to protect our children from those harsh feelings they might have about themselves in those moments. 

Sometimes, it's really hard to be a parent. It takes real guts, and it is gut-wrenching. But it is never boring and I will be grateful, too, for that as well. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Future Advice for My Son: No Crying Selfies

Hello dear Kiddo, this is your mother. 

Sometimes, in this wacky world of ours, I see something that is so deeply disturbing--and far too trendy-- that I feel it must be discussed at all costs, lest you make the same miserable mistake I see so many young people making these days. 

Now, before you start off by saying "now, Mom, I know-- I know... even if everyone jumped off the Burnside Bridge, I will have the smarts and common sense not to. I know how to be cool by NOT being a follower", consider this-- I'm sure that the people who have made the mistake I'm about to mention also thought of themselves as individuals. Individuals with their own unique feelings on their own unique path...

...yet, that path is one of humiliation and regret. That path will likely only lead to public mockery at worst, severe eye-rolling at the very least. 

I know that you are growing up in an age of unprecedented self-absorption and increasing (like, off the charts!) narcissism, so it's natural that you might want to post your every feeling and experience online. You are a kid in a new world, I get it. These days, it's not enough to just call your one good friend and share your heartache like a more dignified, gray-haired older person might have done back in their day. You know, using those antique telephones- hey, we used to have outrageously long extension cords for those so you could take it into your room... or the wall-mounted ones had super-long spiral cords so you could hide behind the island in the kitchen to talk with some pretense of privacy. We all did this when Dad and I were kids. We'd call a friend and talk when we had something to share.

Now, your words can reach so many people at one time. An image can go out to the masses in as much time as it takes for me to blink. Which is why I feel I must, must caution you against one of the most stomach-twisting trends of self-expression possible:

The crying selfie.

I'm sorry, young man, but there is nothing that screams "not ready for technology" more than this horrid misuse of social media. Please, if you are upset, come talk to myself or your father. We will likely be sympathetic, we will try not to point out the lesson within your disappointment too, too hard, and I can nearly guarantee that there could be some ice cream in it for you if you look sad enough. Come talk to us, or call up a friend if you need to talk.  We won't hover, we will let you talk without interruption, even if it is on the landline. We have progressed to the cordless phone, so you can take it into your room. Yippee!

Non-judgmental listening, ice cream, the promise of unlimited phone use on the landline... all of that. So long as you promise us-- please promise us-- not to go posting sad pictures of yourself online. Because every time I see one, I have to wonder: why the hell is this kid's parents letting them post these horrible pictures of themselves in all their pain and woe? Who forgot to teach that kid to have enough regard and respect for themselves so as not to make a spectacle out of a hard moment? This is akin to the sad sack girl at a party, crying in the corner to get attention. Young son of mine, we all see through that girl. Let me be blunt: if she really, truly felt like such shit about something so gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking that she has to be sobbing at someone else's event, she should have stayed home. Instead of using good social judgment (not to mention manners) and staying home, she brought her need for a pity party along and is now going to be the downer in the corner whom everyone 'checks on' but no one really has much empathy for. 

Truthfully, when we see attention-crying in a social situation, it's all just ugly and awkward and we wish that it would Just Go Away. 

This is what I want you to think about if you are ever tempted to post a crying selfie pic:

1. Did you do the necessary problem-solving that was available? In short, are you crying over spilt milk when you have a clean-up rag in your hand? 

2. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill?  That is to say, have you zoomed in on your sad moment to the point that you are magnifying the situation all out of proportion?

3. Did you check your pulse before you send that weepie picture of yourself? That means two things: First,you are still alive and therefore this is not the end of the world as you might, in your youth, perceive it to be. Second, it means that you are still among the living and will therefore be alive as your peers mock you for it. 

4. Whatever it is that is hurts so bad for you now is probably going to be small potatoes compared to the pain and loss you will experience as an adult. Not that adult upset is superior, but it usually has more catastrophic consequences. (Unless the adult is a Drama Queen, then of course all bets are off.) The heartbreaks and disappointments of today are practice to make you stronger for the stomach-lurching future disasters of adulthood. Learning to cope with them in a dignified manner as a young person will be of benefit in the future when the stakes are higher and the degree of maturity in how you handle disappointment will have far more impact on how things shake out than then do now.

All that to say, son, no crying selfie pictures. None. This will only show a lack of character, lack of good judgment, and result in my saying "Well, why don't you just put it on a billboard in the middle of town?" before I take away every possible access to social media  you might have. Seriously, sweetie, don't mess with me on this one. No Crying Selfies. Period. If I have to explain any further why the Crying Selfie is so bad, we'll also be discussing the virtues of having a shred of dignity and a modicum of self-respect. And likely finding a therapist who will be able to teach you how to deal with disappointment old-school style, like crying in your room, slamming doors and screaming "My life is over! OVER!" at the top of your lungs the way we did back in the day. Real, authentic teenage anger. Dad and I can deal with this. We can even deal with few expletives if you are detailing why life isn't 'fair' at that moment. 

That's the deal: you get to scream and curse if it's truly necessary. Be undignified at home, with us. We've even seen you do some pretty embarrassing stuff when you were little, so this is really not going to phase us. (Oh, and we didn't take a picture of it and send it to everyone. We have practice in preserving your dignity.) No crying selfies, 'kay?

We love you or we wouldn't care enough to say no. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Boob Tube May Be Making Idiots of us All

Sometimes, some things make me wonder if I'm really, truly living in the same world as others. We seem to be occupying the same planet, and likely even do many similar things like eating, drinking, taking our showers and getting on with our lives. This morning I read a post wherein the author was wondering "what the world was coming to" because apparently the Discovery Channel has a new show with gasp! naked people. AND, further horrors!, the show was on at seven or something and not late at night along with the lurid ads for Joe Francis's latest adventures in filming half-dressed drunken co-eds. 

Besides the fact that I often ask myself "why isn't Joe Francis in jail already?", I had to wonder how capable the author of the post in question feels in their everyday life. Do things like having the newspaper not make it to the porch utterly stymie their day? I mean, of all the meaningless bullshit on television, this is what they choose to get upset about? Naked people? Not stupid mean people, stupid diva petty behavior, not toddlers being taught to act like trash by their personality-disordered stage mothers, not the super-violent shows featuring the undead....

nope, the real problem is the naked people.

Palm, meet face. 

The real problem is that people are getting dumber by the day, some of us. I'm sorry to say it, but if you have to go and lament that there are naked people on television and think of this as a cataclysmic event, life is going to be very hard for you going forward. We do this magical thing in our house where, when we don't like what we see on tv-- we do this thing called 'turning the television off'. I didn't even have to go to school for it or go online to find out how to accomplish this. No "DIY:Power to Choose What You Watch, if You Even Want to Watch Anything at All". 

I am feeling so capable this morning! Really! 

Apparently, though, someone else had lots of concerns too. What about the kids with televisions in their rooms? 

Well, what about them? Besides the fact that kids don't need a tv in their rooms?

Besides the fact that there are parental controls which one can avail themselves of?

Besides the fact that someone was dreaming their way through life, thinking that the tv stations were only going to display anything of questionable content after 9 pm. Are you for real? 

When did we get so clueless that we expected the television and cable stations to care about us? Our kids? That they deliberated, thoughtfully and sensitively,  about when their programming would be on and who it would affect? If this is truly the state of things--and I don't think it is on a wide spectrum, or we are all in trouble--we have become thoughtlessly and incredibly dependent on others to think for us. Frighteningly dependent.

That, to me, is far scarier than naked people on my television. Which isn't scary or upsetting to me, but kind of a waste of my time. If I want to see a naked person, we do have a full-length mirror. What's scary to me is how we teach our families and selves to be dependent on being entertained at all time, no matter how mediocre or craptastic the so-called 'entertainment'. Yesterday I saw a father at the pub with a toddler child; he bought the child a small bag of potato chips and then set an iPhone in front of her so she could watch an inane video of a cartoon girl smiling. 

Did Dad talk to her? No. Did he play with his little girl? No. He sat alone, she stayed in the stroller, and he drank his beer and didn't talk to her. The iPhone was his proxy parent. I felt sad for the kid, really. I remember Kiddo being this age, I'd lift him up and let him watch the flashing lights of the elephants dancing on the Delirium Tremens beer sign and giggle "look at the dancing elephants", dancing with him and singing a little tune. We looked at the tap handles on the wall, talked about the animals on them. "Oh, look at that big polar bear" or "See? There's a black doggie." We packed board books. Now he's six, but still points out the 'dancing elephants'. Yesterday, Joe and I were having our beers and writing/drawing a story with Kiddo about "Fang Friend", a buddy he'd imagined in the form of a two-headed snake and likes to make up stories about. As I saw this younger father ignoring his child, I did have a moment of fear that with all the new technologies, people are going to begin to park their kids in front of little televisions everywhere they go and they will feel that this is an acceptable way of parenting

Kinda-sorta reminds me of Huxley's "Brave New World" where humans are created in scientific ways, gestating in glass jars and raised up by screens instead of parents. Just in case you haven't read it, things don't end well for the one  human who can think for himself. Pretty sad, but we are somewhat recreating that dynamic when we keep shoving screens at our kids instead of engaging with them, helping them solve their problem, work through their boredom, learn how to be patient while waiting, learn how to plan ahead and bring a book or activity along.... instead of relying on pocket tv.

I don't want to live in a nation where we all wring our hands because we feel powerless when the tv does something bad, because we are incapable of getting off our butts, turning off the channel and finding something else to do. How passive and helpless do we have to be, really? How many other options does that person have, so that they don't need to waste time and energy being upset about this one? How we teach and guide our children when it comes to being self-reliant and keeping themselves busy will have a lot to do with how they choose to parent the next generations. How we teach them to be choosy about their media choices-- and how much they engage with media versus the real life will have a very significant impact on how we do as a nation in the future.  

We are pushing our children away from us, routinely, before they are at a developmental stage of desiring this separation. That, I think, is one of our worst mistakes we are making. The fallout of that can't be good, either. As the child seeks their parent's attention and is instead handed a device, what we are saying is "watch this, not me".  So I guess we need to be very, very careful about what they are watching, huh?

Or maybe we just need to think for ourselves and turn the boob tube off. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

(Not the) Fun Mom

Just as I am typing this title,  my sleepy Kiddo, so cute in his submarine pajamas, walks into the kitchen and over to where I sit here, with Gus on my lap, and snugs up to me. "Mom, what are we going to do today that's fun?" 

Not "Mama, my heart's angel, deliverer of my life, good morning, how are you?"
Not "Mom, I had a dream about you and you were defeating Lord Garmadon and the skeletons and you are the best mom in the world."

No, the first things usually off his lips in the mornings these days is: "Mom, what fun thing are we doing today?"

This makes me want to slip into my new alter-ego, Julie, from The Love Boat. Remember Julie? She was the cruise director, always directing people to fun activities like scuba diving in  Puerto Vallarta or shuffleboard on the Lido Deck. Julie always had time to make life fun for everyone and every so often, she'd even have a few minutes to get herself involved in some heartbreaking romance for a week or so. Julie was all about fun and excitement. Me?

"Well, sweetie, today we're making chocolate chip cookies." 

"Okay. (Looking over to Joe.) Dad, will you come lay in bed with me for a few minutes?" Off they go. And I feel like Julie again: the Julie who just got dumped by her dinner date (they were going to eat at the Captain's Table, too!) by some guy who has taken up with some exotic looking-creature in disco dress instead.

The cookies are actually significant to me. We were going to make cookies yesterday, but I forgot to take the butter out of the freezer early on and there's no way you can cream butter and sugar together when the butter is in a solid state. I could have been a sport and shown Kiddo "hey, let's see if we can mangle the beaters and destroy my hand mixer", but see, I'm not a Fun Mom, more a utilitarian, all-purpose sort of mom. I will need that working hand mixer for another day when you are bored, Kiddo, so we had to wait an extra day on the cookies. No big deal, though, because yesterday, we got to do a bike ride to the store. He picked out some fusilli, chatted up his favorite grocery store personnel and we went home. 

and we got to make Pesto! Big whoop-ti-do, right? Not for us. Making pesto is a sort of culinary coming together for Kiddo and I, one of our more sensory activities. We pluck the basil leaves from their stems, he gets to pick out the big chunks of fresh Parmesan I've grated, and he's my Master Cuisinart Button-Pusher. Over the past few years he's learned how to use the 'pulse' button without being told "push/stop/push/stop", so he's a wiz at getting the pine nuts and cheese ready for the basil and olive oil. Yesterday he tested the nearly-finished product on a tasting spoon and declared "it needs more salt". Kiddo is into this whole pesto thing and loved being able to stir the bright green sauce into the warm fusilli, sneaking bites while I pretended not to notice.

There is still work being done on our house, and the two fellows doing the job are in their 50s and childless by choice. That's right-- neither has had a child or helped to raise one. Yet, I still feel judged by their presence, by what they don't say when I'm helping Kiddo with his homework on into the second hour and losing my patience, and by the repeated mention of The Fun Mom.

The Fun Mom is the wife of one of Carl's* friends. I kept hearing her referred to as "The Fun Mom" so often that I thought this might be the name you'd find on her birth certificate. Maybe she was the product of forward-thinking parents who knew she was destined for popularity among the friends of her future children? I don't know, and really, don't care. The fact is, even though I've never met this woman, she was bugging the hell out of me. I'd be exasperated, reminding Kiddo to write his name on his homework, and he'd be fretting and whining how boring it was to write one's name on one's work because he has to do it "all the time" (oh, child!), and in would pop Carl, regaling me with another story of The Fun Mom, another mention of how all the kids like to hang out at her house. 

Another affirmation that being the utilitarian "get it done' mom isn't cool.

Until I noticed, one day, that the one story I kept getting about The Fun Mom was that she allowed the kids to play video games in the basement. That she is cool because she lets the young'uns play some shoot'em-up game where (Carl tells me) the kids have their characters stand over the victim and shoot them and then the kids yell "I teabagged him!" in victory, not knowing that 'teabagging' isn't the term for killing anyone, unless it's with total embarrassment at a gay strip bar....

I mean, WOW! Compared to that, I am SOOOOO not the fun mom. And it suddenly occurred to me that even if I am not a whole bucket of fun 24/7, I shouldn't care what anyone (who doesn't live here) thinks of my parenting. I am a housewife who folded four loads of laundry yesterday while my son watched "The Cat in the Hat" tv show. I am fun enough to tolerate Martin Short's goofy voices for my son's sake. I am fun enough that even though I had two full racks of dishes to wash, I also put together a math refresher sheet with a nickel-arcade theme and gave him a dollar's worth of nickels to work the story problems through. ("The game needs 4 nickels to  play. With all the nickels, how many times can you play the game?") Fun enough to read him his "Ninjago" early reader over again, even though it bores me to tears. I got on the phone and arranged a playdate for him on Saturday. And I let him have an ice cream cone, just because.

Fun enough.

This  mom is trying. Really, really, trying. I'm not Julie. Julie didn't have crumb-laden floors because the passengers never minded the warning "Please eat over your plates!". Julie didn't have two full baskets of clothes and linens to fold: I'm pretty sure there was a laundry staff of underpaid workers on The Pacific Princess. I'm not the freaking entertainment coordinator, I'm trying to run a household. This means that I am chef and scullery maid all at once. This means that sometimes we have to walk to the store for groceries, but don't worry, you can bike, even though somehow-- for reasons which don't make sense--it always takes longer when you bike. This means that sometimes I'll offer you playdough to keep busy while I'm washing the dishes...

But if you don't want to do Playdough and you don't like my other suggestions, I'm comfortable letting you find your own fun. I do not think you will D-I-E if you are not entertained. So I will let you be bored, sometimes, so you can figure out what to do on your own. You can help me if you like, with what I'm doing, I'd love your company. And I know that some would say that reading, math and writing during summertime to keep our skills sharp isn't necessarily fun, but I'm looking for ways to keep it interesting. I'm trying to keep it all balanced. I'm trying to ensure we don't have a two-month-long transitional meltdown like we did last fall. Because that was the Most UnFun Ever. Ever.

The other day, Kiddo and I were talking, again with the "what sort of excitement have you cooked up for me today, Mom?" conversation and I dropped a bomb on him. 

"Sweetie, my job as your mother is to take care of you, to make sure you are growing and learning and that you are healthy and fed and alive. And that you have a safe and friendly house to grow up in. But it's not my job to make life fun for you or keep you happy. That's for you to figure out--- how to find that happy place inside yourself, and how to be happy with what you have. Just like it is your job to follow directions and take care of your tasks, but it isn't your job to make me happy either."

This is likely both sobering and liberating at once. This at once declared that I am not, as we thought, Julie-- whose focus is solely on making others feel like they are having a good time-- instead, I'm Captain Stubing, running the ship and trying to keep it on course. While Julie will happily drop everything for you to make sure your experience is pleasurable, Captain Stubing is more "Learn to play solitaire, dude, I'm steering this damn thing and trying not to hit a coral reef."

As for the Fun Mom, I never hear about her kids doing homework. I'm sure they do it, it likely just doesn't fit into the Fun Mom story. Besides, why am I listening to some childless guy's opinions about parenting anyway? I might give them more credence if he was a peer teacher or a step-parent, but his background was in "Hot Cars, Hot Girls" before he became a carpenter. He's a good carpenter, and hell, I wouldn't tell him how to do his job-- if I was in charge of that, the house would probably be on the ground already. So maybe I'll be less self-conscious and not let those Fun Mom comments get in my craw so much. I'll bet he's never gone into Hour Two of homework--repeatedly-- like I have with Kiddo.

But he's not a bad guy, so we'll still give him some cookies. If cookies aren't fun, I don't know what is.

*Carl is not this guy's real name. Just so's ya know.