Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'll take this as a New Year's Sign

Ever since I landed my new job in July, I have been trying to figure out my commute. The school is only 1.86 miles away from our apartment and given that we have prided ourselves on being a one-car, OK, a one minivan-family, I was brainstorming ways to get to school without using the minivan. This summer worked out well when it was just me going to school--I simply put on my running shoes, charged my iPod, and walked. I often packed a different pair of pants along with work-appropriate shoes, and would change in my office after wiping down the sweat.

When school started however, I knew that the walk would just be too long for the boys. I am also realistic that they just could not ride their bikes yet. While they've become quite proficient on their two-wheelers and love going on New Haven's bike path, the commute to school is just too urban, crossing far too many busy streets, to make it doable for them (and surely instead of a healthy way for me to get to school, I would be filled with incredible stress and angst the whole way). A friend who lives on the Jersey Shore sent me this eBay link-- she had been considering buying a pedicab/rickshaw. The price was right, but when she brought the listing to her local bike shop, the owner totally balked, thinking that putting it together would be a nightmare. I suddenly seized on this pedicab idea though, surfing the web, trying to see who on the East Coast builds such contraptions. Mostly, I found that these are used for commercial reasons in cities bigger than New Haven: New York, Miami, Chicago. I tracked down a few cool sites selling these big tricycle carriers, but like this one, they were all overseas. I guess we Americans were far more focused on making bigger and bigger SUVs with names like Yukon and Escalade than cool cargo bikes, and we all know how this turned out for us.

Anyhoo, September rolled around and school began and so did the car commute with the boys. I did love that P commuted with F by bike to preschool and P was using his bike to run errands around town, head to his Sunday internship, etc. but I was still unhappy that we were driving. I noticed the families in our school community who came by bike. Mostly, the kids were older and their route different than ours, but still I greatly admire the moms and dads that strapped on their helmets, accompanying their kids by pedaling in what I see as a great life lesson-- one of those even bigger than school can teach. There is a family from our neighborhood that commutes by bike. Dad is a downtown lawyer, and he clips up his suit pants as he has the family toddler in a kid front seat on his bike and the first grader on one of these back attachable thingamagigs that I totally admire but don't work when you have twins. I flirted with the idea of a back trailer, but I really am uncomfortable with having the boys sit so low behind me on the streets we need to travel to get to school so nixxed that as well.

In October, I enjoyed a weekend getaway with my friend Andrea from Maine who is not only a momma of three boys including a set of twins, but also is the person who walks the talk of environmental responsibility more than anyone else I know. In our conversations around life with three boys and work and school commutes, I explained my ongoing pursuit to figure out a no-car solution. "Get a Bakfiets," Andrea responded.

"A what?" came my response. Andrea went on to explain these Dutch cargo bikes and I had her write down this strange word on a slip of paper so I could investigate it when I got home. Back with the Internet, I suddenly became a woman possessed as I looked up these most wonderful bikes. They are far from inexpensive, but I figure with gas prices surely on the way up again and if it helps us avoid a second car (and insurance)-- it will be well worth the cost. I found cool mama bloggers willing to answer my questions about their Bakfietsen, including Jessica in San Francisco who then led me to Lex in not-too-far-from-me Northampton. I loved learning that Lex was also a momma of three boys, yes--including a set of twins, and she offered me a test drive on her Bakfiets next time I am in Northampton. I have yet to get there, but her bike testimony definitely sealed the deal for me. I was going to take the Bakfiet Plunge and began contacting dealers. Our local bike shop didn't know of any East Coast dealers nor could I find any via the web on this side of the country. The closest I could find was a Seattle-based company's brand-new shop in Chicago, but the shipping cost would be the same as the price from the Portland company I contacted and where Lex and Jessica got theirs. Side note: Of course, I realize that it is insane about cost and fuel needed to ship one of puppies from the Pacific Northwest (via the Netherlands?!!), but I don't think I am quite ready to kick in my entrepreneurial skills and open my own local Bakfietsen dealership on this coast.

So now this conversation has now turned from not what? but to when?. Since I really settled on the idea in November about purchasing the Bakfiets, the weather was just turning in New Haven. I wondered the smartest time to buy-- not really about cost but more about practical things about when I could use it and where I could store it once winter weather really was upon us. I live in a rented apartment and we have no garage. I hated the idea of my brand-new cargo bike sitting forlornly out in the snow and our side of the porch just won't be able to accommodate such a wonderful beast along with our other bikes and scooters. I decided that February would be right--I guessed it would take time to ship and when it arrived, the weather would just begin to encourage a bike commute.

And then yesterday-- the sign of confirmation! Sitting in a downtown coffee shop, my three boys became entranced with a stranger with a bright green fold up bike. As I cleaned up coffee cups and crumbs, the guys surrounded this kind woman as she, upon-request, unfolded and folded her bike a couple of times and answered the many questions of my interested sons. As soon as I walked over to the four, I immediately noticed the www.clevercycles.com stencil on her cool bike-- the Portland, OR company I had decided to purchase my Bakfiets. Elly, the cool woman with the cool bike, handed me her card and posted this about us yesterday. So check out Elly's (from BikePortland.org) blog.

And I will let you know about our big 2009 purchase....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Six-Year-Old Fantasies

C: Sometimes I wish you were my servant.

Me: Well, I sort of am your servant.

C: But if you were really my servant, I could ask you for ice cream in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tradition

Here is a snap of our annual tradition-- the only time I dress my boys alike.
Our Waiting For Santa PJs 2008:


Merry! Merry one and all!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snapshots from the week

I drive down the street, frantically looking for an open space. I flip the minivan around and pull up to the curb on the side where I cannot stay, thanks to street cleaning and vigilant tow trucks. I get out, slide open the doors, deftly unstrap the car seats and free the boys. As other families scramble to the front door of the school down the block, I make the choice: I will send the boys off to the door by themselves-- for the first time all school year, while I wait for a legal parking space to open from a departing family. C and S happily scurry off as I climb back into the running car, blinker thrown already. About to make a sharp left, I glance up to the corner, just in time to see a flash of olive green tumble. I see feet flip up in the air and I hear the high pitch wail of my son as outstreached hands scrape the concrete.

________________________________________________________


"Mom!" , "Mama, Mama!" The shouts envelope me as I step through my front door after an evening faculty meeting. Clad in fleece pajamas, feet toasty in fuzzy slippers, my sons jump from their positions on the couch to greet me. Their wet hair is neatly slicked to the side, reminiscent of boys in 1950s photographs, but rarely like their hair in daily life. They lead me to the couch where they retake their places, renegotiating blanket wrapping, making room for one more-- me. I am in time to hear the Christmas story, a part of our December countdown. Twenty four books were wrapped and stacked in a basket, sitting underneath a handwritten calendar marked with the boys' names. Each day the 'assigned' fellow picks one book and the five of us huddle in to read it together. I rest my head against the leather couch, happy that P is reading tonight. F upsets the blanket to climb into my lap. We wrap up again, one boy on me, the two others leaning into me on my left and right. I pick up my head to nuzzle my nose into my youngest's ginger-colored hair, sniffing the surprisingly spicy scent of the boys' new shampoo, and just breathe.

______________________________________________________

Twenty minutes into the service, the pew is strewn with crayons and books. I shift, finally trying to settle in, quiet myself a bit after the morning race to get the three boys fed and wiped and dressed and bundled and strapped into car seats and through the tall church doors-- all by myself as their dad is off serving at another church. After a year of enjoying the playroom downstairs, F has decided that he has had enough of being separated from his brothers now that he unhappily is forced to on school days. The older two can negotiate the service: they know when they must attend to what is happening and when it is OK to turn to their books and drawings, when to stand and sing, and when to turn to their neighbors and shake hands enthusiastically, offering 'peace.' The three-year-old fidgets. He grabs at his brother's book. He sits on the ground, splays his legs, and promptly bangs his head against the wooden pew in front. I lean over and grab him under his arms, hefting him up, as I simultaneously try to shush him and comfort him. He leans against my chest and I lay my cheek against his head, turning my head to do so and notice the seams on my sweater-- the one I obviously have been wearing inside out all morning.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

To Hover or Not to Hover

that is the question. I am not talking about every moment of the day, helicopter parenting. I am simply wondering about my role and responsibility at birthday parties.

Driving home from the birthday party of a good friend of S & C's (I am good friends with his mom, too), I realized that I spent much of the festivities hovering around my guys, trying to head off any potential crying fits, meltdowns, screaming, and the ilk. I actually didn't hover the entire time. When the science lady was doing her fun schtick, playing with dry ice, making alien goop, etc., I huddled tables away from the kids, chatting with another mama. I suspected that the fellows would be excited by her program and would pay attention-- so much so that I did remind them to be good listeners when they first sat down. Is that too much? I know as audience members they often like to ask lots of questions, comment frequently, and generally narrate what is going on as they did with yesterday's magic show. I didn't want to stifle their engagement in the science show or dissuade them from asking questions, I just wanted them to make sure they didn't dominate the scene and let the lady do her gig. Too controlling?

It was during the physical part of the party that I stepped up my surveillance on the boys. At first, jumping in the two large bouncy houses was exhilarating and kicking around the numerous balloons strewn around the floor exciting, but at some point, the kids turned this combination into a competition-- collecting balloons to capture in 'their' bouncy houses, striving for a larger number than the other bouncy house crew's. Suddenly, pushing, clawing, and blocking got thrown in the mix, and I stepped up and stood behind one of the bouncy structures, peering through the black mesh, and prompting my sons to remain in control.

There had already been a few tears shed by S at the start of the jumping, accusations of elbows thrown, an ankle stepped on. I started to have flashbacks of two past birthday parties: one at a kids' gym where C fell apart so completely that I became so out-of-sorts, completely unsure how to parent in the moment (still so traumatizing--for me-- that I have yet to write about it) and the second in a karate place, where some of the party goers became so frenzied by the action, the instructor lost all control of the scene and two boys ended up in fisticuffs--so much for karate teaching discipline.

C and S behaved mostly well at today's event, but as some of the action ramped up, I began imagining the past party scenarios. I asked them to leave the bouncy house, sit for a bit to the side, and got them juice. They didn't protest, happy--I think-- for a drink and a rest. When one of their friends came over and asked if they were allowed to play more, I nodded my consent and off they went, back into the fray. I again positioned myself on the periphery of their chosen bouncy house, suddenly aware that most of the parents were hanging out at the tables. I was one of the few standing, totally following the action at close range.

And I can't help but wonder-- Am I too controlling? Do I not let my guys cut loose and just have fun? I know that I have stricter standards of behavior that I expect from the boys than it seems that some others do, but this doesn't bother me. My folks were stricter than many other parents and I think my siblings and I all turned out well. So while I don't want to spoil my sons' fun, I do want them to be polite, well behaved, and considerate of others. I am just not sure of the line of appropriately vigilant and over-the-top, crazily involved and controlling....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Way Better Than Jewelry

I am not a big jewelry girl. I tend to like chunky silver stuff, some cool wrist cuffs (never worn together), and my necklace with thin tags stamped with my sons' names. Long before I ever watched Blood Diamond and was horrified by the diamond trade depicted in that film, I just never really 'got' diamonds. I don't go around sneering at other people's jewelry choices like I may about their parenting choices (hee-hee). OK, I only may sneer on occasion if the piece is so ostentatious it's meant to be noticed by others, even while sitting on the other side of say, a baseball stadium from said finger wearing said ring. And truthfully, I'm just not around folks with that kind of taste... or money.

I've heard these stories about women who just wouldn't even consider marrying a guy if he didn't get her the 'right kind' of rock or even these so-called "push presents," some strange custom of giving a new mom expensive baubles for, uh, how to explain. OK, here's a quote from the New York Times: “'It’s more and more an expectation of moms these days that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body,' said Linda Murray, executive editor of BabyCenter.com. “The guilt really gets piled on.'" I just don't relate. I wear a plain white gold wedding band that first belonged to my husband's grandma, and I certainly didn't expect anything material-wise for having carried our children. What I did expect was a full partner in the parenting department: someone willing to take on as much of the care of the babies that I did, not championing the 'aren't I such a great dad for changing one diaper.' And this partner I got fully in P. Here's a guy who gave up a great career in NYC, running an amazing organization with numbers of staff people working for him, to take on a job in rural Maine with no prestige and no retirement account, where he answered fully to two cranky and demanding bosses, a.k.a. one-year-old twins.

So I don't want nor do I get jewelry from my husband. But let me illustrate what I do get. Tonight at 10:45PM, P announced he was exhausted and going to bed. I just got home at 9:45PM from a meeting and was still looking for some down time before sleep. He went into our room, slipped into bed on my side, and will sleep there until I'm ready to climb into bed. I'll nudge him a bit and he'll roll to the right, his designated territory. He does this, starting out on my side, totally unprompted, because he knows how much I hate climbing into a cold bed. And that act, my friends, is so much more precious to me than any gem-studded piece of metal.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Three is a Uh.. Magic Number?

I have an incredible fondness for Schoolhouse Rocks. I find these clever educational cartoons from the 1970's focusing on grammar, multiplication, the electoral college, energy etc. to have withstood the test of time-- I loved them as a kid and I love them now. When teaching middle school language arts, I would cue up the specific part of speech we were studying and even my too-cool-for-school students would get excited, singing, "Verb:That's what's happening!" and "Interjections show excitement or emotion..." Just over a year ago, my three sons discovered our 30th Anniversary DVD of these favored Saturday morning jingles and soon became addicted. They particularly like "Interplanet Janet," "Electricity," and "Naughty Number Nine."

While I've collected no hard data to support this assertion, "Three is a Magic Number" is among many from my generation's most remembered and favored from this collection. Blind Melon covered it in the mid-90's and more recently Jack Johnson put his own spin on the song with updated lyrics about reducing, reusing, and recycling, gathering a whole new fan base for the tune. I like the song a lot, but lately I've been thinking of it in less fond terms. OK, I get the stuff about tripods, tricycles, triangles and even faith, hope and charity. However, as a person who had twins her first go-around, I never could quite relate to the verse "A man and a woman had a little baby. Yes, they did. They had three in the family. That's a magic number" since P and I immediately jumped from two to four in our family. And truthfully, that's not the part that's been bugging me these days.

I have two complaints with this three-as-magic idea lately: 1). I have a three-year-old 2). The dynamic of three boys is anything but magic in our home right now. Now, I'll be the first to celebrate the fact that F's threeness has led to the albatross of diapers being lifted thanks to his recent potty training success. Yet I am finding the other aspects of three-year-old behavior to be less celebratory: the screeching, the insistence on doing everything by himself, the general crabbiness, and grand drama when his parents say no. All of my friends who are parents agree-- it's really not the terrible twos; it's the threes that get you. I had to laugh when I saw the book title for this age range in the book series by Louise Bates Ames about children's developmental stages: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy.

When we learned I was pregnant with F and he was a boy, we were thrilled. Even though I grew up with five sisters, I never felt the burning desire to raise a girl. Of course, we would have been perfectly content with daughters, but we got three boys--so right on. We were in the boy mode. And adding a third child to the mix in general didn't seem overwhelmingly daunting. Yes, we had to reconsider our car size to accommodate three carseats, but other than that, we felt totally outnumbered with the twins so didn't see much of a difference being literally outnumbered.

Lately though, having three boys has become more complicated. The energy, both positive and negative, can reach overwhelming levels quite quickly in our two bedroom apartment. Yet more than that, F has reached the age where he is acutely aware that his brothers are doing things that he is not, and he wants to be included--all the time. He must be included or he will shriek, and throw himself on the ground, and fuss, and make anyone in his general vicinity wish he came with a mute button. And while I can empathize with being the younger sibling wanting to do what one's older siblings can, I can't help but wonder if the twins plus a singleton complicate this dynamic even more. While S and C are certainly not always a united duo, they do tend to do much together and F clearly feels like a third wheel, left out, left behind, and boy, he'll let us know how this displeases him. We've made some adjustments to our routines to have him feel more included. For instance, even though the boys attend different schools and need to be there at different times-- technically, the twins need to arrive earlier than F-- we all now leave the house together, bringing F to school first in order to avoid an ugly morning scene (on top of the chaos of just getting out in the morning, dressed with lunchboxes in hand). Of course, there are plenty of situations where all three cannot be doing the same thing. We try and treat S and C like individuals so they don't always get the same thing. F, his own person, doesn't, can't, and frankly, shouldn't always get what his brothers do.

Our latest dilemma: C and S were asked to participate in P's divinity school's Lessons and Carols which is a big deal because they will surely be the youngest participants. They will read one of the lessons, and we were careful to split the reading right down the middle so the two have equal parts. However, as we've begun to practice for Wednesday night, F has made a louder and louder stink about his part or lack thereof. And while the older boys practice reading aloud, standing behind a makeshift podium created from two stacked ottomans, I can just picture the scene in the chapel when they get up to read and F gets left behind in the pew. Or if we just let F stand with the two of them at the lectern that evening, with all his three wiggliness-- surely the lesson would not get heard. Tonight's new idea: teach F the line, "Thus ends the lesson" so after his brothers finish their reading, he can chime in. Three's just not feeling so magical.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday, Indeed

I read this headline and opening line of an article just reported and shuddered for many a reason:

Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down

A worker died after being trampled by a throng of unruly shoppers when a suburban Wal-Mart opened for the holiday sales rush Friday, authorities said.


I swear my next post won't be so dark....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not Ready for That Exit

After we crawled three miles in 40 minutes to get on to the Tappan Zee Bridge, I was thrilled when the traffic opened up and our Sienna zipped down the highway, passing the Welcome to New Jersey sign. We had about eight miles left in our Thanksgiving trek, and while it wasn't quite the 'over the river and through the woods' journey I've had in other years (note to self: must write the first-Thanksgiving-in-the-Peace-Corps tale at some point) to get to celebrate the holiday with family, buying all the food supplies and packing up the three boys still tuckered us out enough to make us quite anxious to reach my sister's home. Add to the mix one three-year-old fellow who has been wearing underwear for just nine days, and you can just hear my sigh of relief as P exited the highway.

Except not this exit. With growing awareness as he made the first left and then the right, I sucked in air sharply as I realized the route we were heading to K's. "Why are you going this way?" I suddenly barked. There are exits just a few miles down the highway we could have taken, but somehow the evil navigation system led us to this one. It took a moment for P to register just why my voice suddenly became loud and tense, and he reached over and grabbed my knee. I sank down into my seat and froze. Unaware of their mom's growing panic, the boys happily sang along to the CD, "The shot heard round the world was the start of the Revolution," a flashback of the Saturday mornings of childhood spent watching SchoolHouse Rocks.

As our van reached the light to make the next left, I flipped my hood up over my head and dropped my gaze, staring at the silver sewn letters of my hoodie, the zipper half zipped, my sons' names engraved on the thin tags I wear around my neck-- anything to avoid seeing the street we were now traveling on. My stomach gurgled and I suddenly felt nausea rising up to my throat.

341 days ago, my dad was killed on this street. I have not been near it since I last visited him, just ten days before he died. I sort of vowed that I would never drive on it again. Some folks need to revisit the place of their loved-one's death, mark the scene with a wreath of flowers, a plush toy or a handmade wooden cross perhaps. I have never felt such a need. I have concentrated on scenes in my head, remembering times that he was alive and vibrant--- blowing zerberts on my sons' pale bellies, shouting too loud at my nephew's football games, hammering the bottom of a bottle of ketchup to drench his food with his most-beloved condiment. I don't let my mind go to the place where I might imagine his last moments, the impact of the car, the wet pavement of that dusky December evening.

And tomorrow, I will celebrate Thanksgiving with four of my siblings. It will be our first Thanksgiving since we became orphans. We'll make my mother's stuffing because no matter how fancy that smoked oyster or andouille sausage dressing recipes you have-- white bread, lots of butter, onions, and a generous amount of Bell's Poultry Seasoning tastes like home to us. And when we sit at the table, I'll be sure to look for the pale green glass dish full of Gherkins pickles because for my dad, the Thanksgiving meal was just not complete without those sweet pickles served in his own mother's special pickle dish.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Invites and Prayers

Thanks to my clear handwriting, every once in awhile a friend will ask me to address invitations for her. I am far from a professional calligrapher, but I enjoy this task-- finding the perfect pens, experimenting with varying fonts, and finally marking the creamy envelopes with names of people I don't know. It is interesting to note that the only 'C' I received on a report card in elementary and high school was for handwriting, I think in second or third grade. It doesn't take much of a pyschologist to note that given my strong perfectionist tendencies, clearly I've been making up for that mark ever since, but that is far from the point of this post.

This morning sitting at our dining room table, I was happily addressing some envelopes for save-the-date wedding invitations for a friend. It was one of the few lazy weekend mornings we have had for some time. The boys were reading, spread out on the couches, legs askew draped in fleece blankets. P had lit a fire and turned on some of my favorite folkies, Gorka, Griffith and Wheeler. P was in the kitchen starting a fancy stew for guests we're having over tonight, and the smell of red wine and mushrooms was already wafting from his post at the stove.

S sat up from his reading and came to check out what I was doing. "What's that?" he inquired. I explained that I was addressing envelopes and pulled out the printed invitation to show him.

"You see-- Bella is getting married this July and she wants her friends to know the date so they can mark their calendars."

"Is Bella marrying a woman or a man?" was the follow up question.

"A man. His name is Derek," I explained.

"Oh," Sam replied and turned away from the table to resume his position on the couch.

And with that short exchange, I felt a small tug at my heart. His simple inquiring whether our friend was marrying a man or a woman, held no judgment, no politics-- it was just a question. And I felt a small bit of pride because for him, it was just about love and the decision to marry the person whom you love. In his relatively small world, for what he has learned in our home, and in his community, and now his state (yea, Connecticut!)-- women can love women and now they can marry, just as men can love and marry men (which makes him relieved) even though he knows that there are not many places that same sex couples can marry.

For the past weeks, my excitement about the presidential election results have been tempered by the California vote to repeal gay marriage. When I first heard the passing of Prop 8, I was incredulous and then just plain sad. I, like many others, read the story of another mom of boys, Pam Patterson, who took a huge chunk of her family's savings, $50,000, to fight against gay marriage in California saying: "It was a decision we made very prayerfully and carefully. Was it an easy decision? No. But it was a clear decision, one that had so much potential to benefit our children and their children."

I think of Pam's sons and my sons, and I just cannot see the benefit of denying two people who want to commit their lives to one another in marriage. I think how painful it might be if one of those Patterson boys grows up to find himself in love with another man. And my prayers-- well, they ask that when my boys are old enough to make such a decision, they may marry the people they love.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Yet another reason...

to resist the video game thing in our home:
"Video game consoles consume a "staggeringly high" amount of energy, according to a report the Natural Resources Defense Council is releasing on Wednesday."

The boys have just started to press us about the video game systems they hear about from their classmates. C has been keen to invite himself over to a few of his classmates' homes, boys I don't think he actually plays with, but who both just so happen to have wiis at home. I tell C that clearly he is more interested in playing with the wii, not the boys themselves-- which to his credit, he doesn't refute. I finally made the bold pronouncement in the car this evening: Just like we will not be getting a dog anytime soon, we will not be getting a video game system. We're--just---not.

Do you think that I can appeal to their burgeoning sense of environmental concern to combat the pull of the video games? Yeah, and I worry about their 'likability factor.' Imagine how this would go over in a kindergarten/first grade classroom, "We don't play video games because they waste energy and are bad for earth."

Self-awareness at Six

Given my English teaching background, I am always a sucker for a good simile. Today while driving to school with C and S, I spoke with them about the two times of the day I find the most difficult: getting out of the house in the morning to go to school and leaving school in the afternoon.

"Yup," S sagely replied, "School is like baths for me. I don't like to get in the bath, but once I am in-- I just never want to get out."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dinner Conversation

S, giving yet another reason why he can't eat the dinner in front of him (one of the few dinners he actually used to eat on a regular basis, and by 'used to,' I mean as recently as this past Friday night): Don't you remember, Mom? The last time I ate _______________, it felt like there was fire coming up through my throat.

Me: S, I have to say I don't remember that. I just remember you eating _______________ and loving it.

S: No, Mom, really. One day when we had ___________, I felt like smoke was coming up out of my throat. Smoke, and maybe even fire.

C: Maybe you're just turning into dragon.



Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Right Place

The elementary school where I work, and S and C attend, starts each Wednesday morning with an all-school meeting. All the kids, teachers, staff, and any available and interested parents gather to sing songs, listen to class sharings, acknowledge birthdays, etc. The kids themselves lead this meeting and I find it most exciting each week to hear a sixth grader or third grader or even a kindergartner stand up in front of this crowd to tell us what his/her class is working on. It is also fun to sneak peeks at my boys in the mass of kids, sitting with 'meeting buddies,' students from older grades that they sit with at these gatherings.

This past Wednesday, S was particularly looking forward to the school meeting and asked his dad to attend because his class was going to do a sharing about their apple survey. S, himself, was not the one to stand up to explain the survey procedures and results but he just loved that two friends from his class were going to do so. These two first graders did an admirable job in front of 170+ squirming children, faculty, and parents and I was as proud of them as Sam was.

One moment of pause, however, when the meeting started. The music teacher got in front of the crowd to lead us in a song. His strummed his guitar and the school community members who had been there in past years started singing about Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean. "Oh," I thought to myself for just a second, "It is weird that this school, so outwardly into social justice and treating others fairly, is singing a Christopher Columbus song."

And then I heard the fourth line:

1492
Nancy Schimmel

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
It was a courageous thing to do
But someone was already here.

Columbus knew the world was round
So he looked for the East while westward bound,
But he didn't find what he thought he found,
And someone was already here.

Chorus
The Inuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onandaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.

It isn't like it was empty space,
Caribs met him face to face.
Could anyone discover the place
When someone was already here?

Chorus

So tell me, who discovered what?
He thought he was in a different spot.
Columbus was lost, the Caribs were not;
They were already here.

Chorus

"Ahhh, yes," I smiled, "We are in the right place!" So I may be one of those liberal, Ivy League, New Englanders that Sarah Palin and her followers accuse of being unAmerican or elitist or unpatriotic, but I was so happy in that moment to be here singing about indigenous people.

And speaking of right places:
While I have really liked living in New Haven this past year, I haven't much identified with the state of Connecticut. I guess when I thought of this state before, I always associated it somehow with Greenwich and Westport and those other preppy, rich towns that just don't call to me. However, yesterday I was most pleased to live in Connecticut so I must give this state a shout-out: GO, CONNECTICUT! Check out why.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lines

C climbed on to my lap last night and stretched out. I wrapped my arms around his skinny little self and told him how much I loved him. Suddenly, he got to confessing. He seemed to be checking in to see if I would still love him once I learned that twice he had to have talks with his teachers about his behavior in lines, once on Friday and again that day. I quickly assured him that I totally loved him that he didn't need to earn my love and he wasn't going to lose it, but I got curious and asked him to tell me about the line issues.

He explained that while in line he was working hard to follow the rules. Once the class went by "the tree of silence" he stopped talking--completely. The problem, however, was that a couple of his classmates had not. And those of you who know my son, or at least read this blog occasionally, know that C is a rules follower. He follows rules and he really expects everyone else to as well. He has a grand sense of justice and injustice about big things (incredulous and vocal about the unfairness that gay folks cannot marry in CT) and small (talking in line when you are supposed to be quiet, for example).

And here was the root of his line issue. What to do when other kids are talking once they pass that "tree of silence"? C explained that he knew he couldn't tell the teacher because clearly he would be breaking the rules by talking so first he tried a silent shush. When this didn't sway his classmates, he went to his arsenal, beyond the finger to the lips, and pulled out an elbow. Needless to say, his teacher saw him throw the elbow--BOTH TIMES-- and when the class returned to the classroom, C was called out for a private discussion about this behavior. P and I suggested that this would be a really good thing for him to work on in school: he will work hard to follow the rules in line but ignore other kids if they are not. At first, C didn't jump at the suggestion. "But I just can't ignore that. I just don't know how to ignore things." Well, that may be true on one level but that's not quite accurate as he is quite adept at ignoring us, especially when a book is involved.

However, this suggestion suddenly got a bit sticky because we remembered other conversations with our sons about the necessity to speak up when someone is doing something wrong. If kids are being unkind to another child, you must speak up. If someone is asking you to do something that is not right or makes you uncomfortable, you must tell him/her that you will not participate. Ahhhh-- this is a sticky line. Call out the big injustices in the world. Oh, but don't be a tattletale (and certainly don't throw elbows into the mix). How do you explain to your kids when to speak out and when to let it go? I discussed this strange mixed message we were sending C with his teacher this morning. She gave me a solid guideline that they use in their room about "when a child is hurting or going to hurt himself or another child, this is the time when it is necessary to tell." I thought this was a sensible message for this age.

And then, I was driving to school this morning when we reached a busy intersection. Suddenly a siren came screaming from up the street. Dutifully, I pulled my car to the side of the road to let the firetruck barrel past when I noticed other cars didn't seem to follow suit. This got my hackles up. Frankly, it pissed me off even though the firetruck did get through. It was a similar feeling to the times I get supremely annoyed when cars make a right on red when the sign clearly states "no right on red" or when those jerky drivers try to bypass traffic by driving up the shoulder and then cutting in. Dude, there are rules and you just aren't following them. It's just not right. If I wouldn't do extensive damage to my car or possibly subject myself and any of my passengers to possible injury, it would be great--just once--to block one of those jerky drivers by straddling the shoulder right when they come charging up. Yup, the light bulb dinged.

Rules follower. Elbow. Yeah, I get it.

I don't condone it. But suddenly I got it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Year Later

A year ago, I wasn't writing this blog. I wasn't writing this blog then because I hadn't started it yet. I had thought about starting a blog months before a year ago, but I was so overwhelmed in a new place that I couldn't quite move myself to press a few links on Blogspot and get going. I was overwhelmed with getting my kids situated in a new home and new school. I was overwhelmed by their neediness because they didn't easily get situated in a new home and a new school. I was overwhelmed with hanging with the one who had no school to go to. Mostly, though, I can now admit aloud that I was totally overwhelmed by my own neediness. I lacked community. I lacked friends. A year ago I lacked any context outside of 'mother of' and 'wife to' and I was struggling mightily with that.

When we moved, I had expected instant community. My husband was heading to graduate school and hey, wouldn't all those grad students just hang together? And let's just put it out there-- he was headed to grad school where people were in training to be community leaders (faith communities as he is in divinity school/seminary). Wouldn't the sort of people who went to that sort of grad school be open and welcoming and happy to see us and our three little fellas? But they didn't seem to be for the most part. They were busy. They put their heads down. They had so much reading to do. They hung with the people they already knew. They didn't have kids and only seemed to react positively to those cuddly teethless ones who didn't throw tantrums. And I was lonely and struggling. And I didn't really have anyone to talk to about that.

It's a year later. And I know it's a year later because today we attended a park event that we attended last year. Our experience at today's event made me think of how far we've come in a year. Every time we turned around, we ran into someone else we knew. There were kids S and C went to school with last year. There were kids the boys go to school with this year (F included!). There were families we met at soccer. There were even a couple families we met through P's grad school. We knew a lot of people there and there were greetings galore. And my guys climbed a tree with a neighborhood friend, and compared lollipop flavors with school friends, and took off their shoes and bounded into the bouncy house with kids they knew from other places. And I hugged a few moms and was hugged in return. And walking away from the park, I thought about what a difference a year makes. Instant community did not appear when we moved here. But community has happened-- quietly, slowly, without much fanfare. We know folks and are known by folks. And that feels good.

A year later, I find I haven't been writing this blog either (it's been nearly a month since my last posting). But I haven't been writing for such different reasons. Last year I felt empty. And this year I fill full--abundantly full, somewhat overwhelmingly full-- but full nonetheless. I am working a job where I am learning and am surrounded by interesting people. My kids are all in schools where play matters and their emotional well beings are being cared for. My husband is going to classes, studying, writing, and interning in a church. We are racing out in the morning to get all of us to our designated schools on time with clean clothes on and lunches prepared and packed. We are busy each weekend with visits and music and birthday parties and work. Yes, life is suddenly full and I am finding it hard to find time to write. And while I am feeling a bit crazed by the schedule, the truth is that I would rather feel full than empty.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Those Moments, Too

Often my posts seem to focus on the tough parenting moments, interspersed at times with clever or funny things that come from my kids' mouths or at least, things that strike me as funny or clever. I realize that publicly (as public as this blog may be with just a few readers), I don't tend to write about the times when my kids amaze me with their kindness, gentleness, goodness or compassion. I don't know if I avoid using those moments as material for writing so not to appear bragging, or simply, perhaps it's the opposite moments, the ones that cause me to grind my teeth in the back to stubs, that push me to the keyboard in attempt at some sort of catharsis or at least, dull the pain.

Tonight while instructing the guys (over and over) to get dressed in their pajamas, S was amazed when P called him out on spinning his top around like a lasso when P didn't even appear to be looking at him. P explained it was because parents have superpowers, an idea S quickly rebuffed. P insisted, and when S wanted details, P ironically began to list the things we parents [wish we] can do.

"Our superpowers include the ability to make our kids eat vegetables and fruit at every meal, the ability to make a toddler stop pooping in a diaper and use the toilet, the power to have our kids put on their shoes and coats quickly and leave the house in just minutes..."

"And to care," C spoke up, not quite catching on to P's sarcasm. "You forgot the superpower that parents have to make their kids care. It's the most important one out there."

Imagine having the superpower to make someone care? We can model kindness and compassion. We can talk about the ways we treat others and read books to our children that reflect those values. Ultimately, however, I wonder if teaching a kid to be compassionate and show empathy for others falls into the 'eating your veggies' category. We all tell our kids that they should eat their vegetables, and some kids love those string beans. Some kids will deign to take a bite or two if there is enough incentive or they're simply pleasers. And some kids just refuse, outright refuse, to let anything naturally green colored past their lips.

Yet, while we are constantly talking with our kids about good behavior, polite manners, kind action, I realize that empathy and compassion is something that both my older fellows have already practiced. That's something I can forget when I get wrapped up in their melty moments, cheeky talk, and difficult phases. However, every once in awhile they do something so utterly kind and naturally empathetic without any prompting, it stops me in my tracks. And there was that moment this weekend. At a picnic for new students at P's graduate school, C and S met the daughter of an incoming student. Eight years old, she is deaf and has autism. But without any questions and with no fear or backing away or comments that she looked or acted differently, C went to befriend her. And when learning that she could not hear his questions, he raised his skinny little hand and waved to her and started to sign his name with imperfect but earnest finger spelling. And S followed behind, saying hello with his hands and smile, and he, too, stretched his fingers to share his name.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Big Dose of Defensiveness

A recent post by my good friend Andrea got me thinking. OK, that's not an accurate statement because the truth of the matter is that this is something I have been thinking about pretty intensely for the past two plus years. Her post reignited the internal debate I've been struggling with for some time.

Let me say this upfront so I do not mask this response in general terms: My six-year-old twin boys start kindergarten next week. Yup, they are six. Yup, they are heading to kindergarten. And while we're attempting full disclosure-- They are heading to kindergarten at a private school.

So clearly this means you know exactly what sort of parents my husband and I are. From media accounts discussing this issue of 'holding' children back to enter kindergarten at a later date than the typical age five (a.k.a. "redshirting"), it seems clear that we are upper middle class folks who are intensely concerned about our children getting into elite colleges, so much so that we are starting the process of their Harvard applications now (and probably tutoring them in Chinese and logarithms, while providing them cello and fencing lessons). And further, you might also conclude that by 'abandoning' public schools and raising the age on entering kindergarten, we don't care about poor kids who don't have the same opportunities to make these choices as we do and are directly responsible of widening the gap between "the haves" and "have nots" in this country.

Defensive, much? Well, maybe. Well, probably.

I guess my point of writing about this falls under the category of "Let me tell you my side of the story." Did my husband and I struggle with the decision of our boys' school placement? We sure did. Do I still question myself about whether or not we made the right decision? I sure do. Do I hope that my guys benefit from our decision? Of course, I do. It's the parent I've never met (and I've been a teacher for about seventeen years so I've met a lot) who intentionally makes decisions regarding their own children with the hopes that these decisions will intentionally hurt his/her child.

Suddenly this topic seems one of those 'zero sum' ones, you know, like the whole stay-at-home mom versus the working mom debate where shades of grey are not always appreciated nor the recognition of others' points of view as valid. I've always thought that moms are especially harsh on other moms' decisions because certain decisions are so difficult or painful or tortured, some moms simply cannot allow for someone else doing something different as 'right,' making their choice therefore 'wrong.' I managed to find many a post and lots of comments about this very topic across the parenting blog world, and boy, a lot of folks would be quick to brand my husband and me as 'hopped up' or messed up or sneakily subverting rules or ultra competitive or just plain crazy (read, for instance, the 144 comments here).

Well, the very term "redshirting" gets my hackles up. It comes originally from collegiate athletics when an athlete may sit out a season, due to injury or in hopes to gain physical advantage, so that s/he can play on a team as an older and potentially bigger participant. By associating a parent's choice to start a child in school when he or she is socially, emotionally and/or academically ready with this collegiate athletic term, folks are couching this decision in competition: That the decision to start a kid at six has everything to do with the kid doing better than others, giving him/her an advantage over others in academics or sports. Do you as a parent make your children eat vegetables so that they can be bigger and stronger and healthier than other kids? I think most of us are pushing the broccoli so our kids can be healthy period. No competition there.

And if there is one definitive answer when a child is ready for kindergarten why does the cut-off date for kindergarten entrance differ from state to state? For instance, a child who turns five in October could enter kindergarten at the age of four if she lives in Maryland or Michigan or Montana, but not if her family suddenly moves to Massachusetts or Minnesota or Mississippi. My older sons were born in late July. They would not have been eligible to enter kindergarten last year if we lived in Indiana, but wait, the twins were born a month early--putting their actual due date to late August-- what if we took that into consideration? Suddenly they would be ineligible for kindergarten in Alaska, or maybe in Washington or Kansas or a number of other states if they were just born a few days late. This range of cut-off dates is six months (that's from July 1st to January 1st) and that's a pretty significant amount of time for little folks' development. Are kids across the board in Connecticut just more mature and more skilled than all kids in Indiana? This range makes me suspect that kindergarten cut-off dates are semi-arbitrary having a bit to do, perhaps, with true kindergarten readiness and more to do with funding and testing and scores and politics.

So truly, bottom line, what's our reason for having the boys enter kindergarten this year instead of last? It's not an academic one. Both of the twins are solid academically and frankly, with no boastfulness here, would likely be advanced skill-wise even if they entered first grade next week. They read chapter books, solve sudoku puzzles, and can identify more countries on the African continent than I can.

But school you see, is not just about academics, and giving a child time is not just about getting ahead academically. I am a believer that the social and emotional well being of kids is as important, if not more so, than their academic selves. My twins are young socially and emotionally. They cry easily, become frustrated quickly, and have trouble letting anything go, and one in particular struggles heartily with perfectionism, self-doubt, and anxiety. They are going into their fourth school setting in four years AND for the first time in their lives, they will be away from each other (in separate classrooms) for significant periods of time. Kindergarten for them will not be about learning their letter sounds or writing their names or one-to-one counting correspondence. Kindergarten, for my sons, is all about learning to cope with disappointment, to express their frustrations with words and not always tears, to make friendships with kids on their own and learn the give-and-take friendships require.

And because we knew these specific things were what these specific boys need, we found a school that believes in the same philosophy about children and education as we do-- a school that focuses on the social curriculum, that believes in class meetings to discuss issues, that recognizes the importance of play and singing and running around and reading aloud every day and no homework until fourth grade. And you know what? We couldn't afford to send our boys there and we were bummed, but registered them for a different school, our local public one, that would be just fine. And then you know what? Through an incredible twist of fate, I was offered a job at that more-than-fine school and with that job came partial tuition remission. And even with that tuition help, it still will be a sacrifice to have our boys go there. But we believe in education and want to do right by these boys, and we've made a choice to put our money there instead of a second car or a grand vacation or or even a mortgage (we're still renters). And yet we still well understand how blessed we are that we can make such choices.

And in a few years when we need to decide what's right for our third son (born mid-September, by the way), we will assess his needs and our family's situation and we will make a decision that aligns with both of these things.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Negotiations Have Begun...

We've begun to discuss Halloween costume choices. Yes, I know it is August and we have a few things to get through before the Day of Begging Candy, but somehow the topic has already become a favorite at the dinner table. While neither P nor I consider ourselves to be particularly crafty, we started the tradition of making the boys' costumes even though we don't own (or really know how to use) a sewing machine. We've set the general guidelines: if we can make it with a colored sweatsuit and a hot glue gun (with some fake fur, markers, paint, craft foam)-- we're good to go.

Well, almost...

In our own feeble way to fight the big ol' evil corporate machine that markets unabashedly to children trying to turn them into always-wanting-more consumers and fill our homes with a lot of unnecessary plastic crap, we have put the kibosh on items that contain images of any television or movie character. No, Disney Cars' sneakers, no Diego backpacks, no Pirates of the Caribbean themed birthday parties (Who lets their five-year-olds watch those movies anyway?) And I should clarify: we aren't anti-TV. Oh no, we watch TV and have said a few blessings to the gods of DVDs for saving us more than once. We are just against the endless amount of branding and the millions of dollars corporations make off of kids and their tired parents. Yes, I once really liked C's Oscar the Grouch shirt and I point to the non-profit status of Sesame Workshop, but that distinction with Nickelodeon's for-profit rampant imaging of Dora is a bit too confusing for them to grasp. So we just say "No TV or movie characters" and try to stick with it. Every once in a while, a toothbrush with a character may make it into the grocery cart (I wasn't the one shopping for toiletries that day), but we've managed to clothe our boys, feed them, celebrate their birthdays, and even find cool toys for them, without branding for the most part.

I knew my boys actually had absorbed my rantings about this when they spent a weekend with one of my older sisters. She had taken them shopping for a gift for one of her daughter's friends. In this huge store that shall remain nameless, my boys caught a glimpse of a toy aisle and gasped in delight when they saw red and yellow trucks from Word World, a newish PBS show where the animated characters are made up of their letters. For instance, Duck is animated with the letters D-u-c-k. There in Big Box Store, stood two T-r-u-c-k-s and the boys got excited. When my sister, being the good aunt that she is, offered to buy them the trucks for an upcoming birthday. Their reaction, she later relayed to me, was to explain that "Oh no, you can't buy those trucks for us because mom won't like it. She doesn't like to buy anything from TV shows." Of course, she cited the Aunt Rule for them, you know, the one that overrides the Parent Rule, and the T-r-u-c-k-s entered the cart and now have a treasured place in our toy chest.

So back to the costume debate. No TV or movie characters. This extends to Halloween costumes. However, book characters, we can do. Being a huge lover of books and still relishing those special days in elementary school when you got to dress like a favorite book character (Harriet the Spy, Johnny Tremain, Ms. Frizzle, Waldo), of course, it is OK to dress as a book character! And boy, did the twins make really cute Thing One and Thing Twos a few years ago.

Tonight's discussion:
S: I really want to be Spiderman this year.
M (for me or mom, whatever works): I'm not sure about that idea.
S: But come on, Mom. You know, Spiderman may be in movies, but he is also a book character-- Comic books! So I can be Spiderman.

Does this mean our Halloweens of dressing as jungle animals are numbered?!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Huh?

"I wish I was around when you were a little girl, Mom. Then it would be like I had a sister." ~C

Friday, August 1, 2008

A Tale of Two Riders

Two weeks ago, P and I admitted some parental panic to each other. We were invited by some new friends to their pool club for a swim and casual dinner. The boys were most excited to get into the water, but C and S became instantly dismayed when they learned that they couldn't go in with their noodles (against pool rules). F, happily strapped into his floatie vest, didn't mind in the least so walked right down the stairs and bobbed away for the next hour, swallowing a fair share of pool water. However, the twins were sort of panicked. They had grown comfortable in the water-- or so we thought. It turns out that they had grown comfortable with the idea that their long orange and pink noodles were buoyant and would actually hold them up in water. Without them, the boys had no confidence that they could actually float. The grabbed at P and me. They grabbed at the wall. Their two new classmates dove and splashed around them, but the boys could not even begin to imagine that they could swim.

This event suddenly became significant for me. My boys can't swim. We had done some swimming lessons, but clearly, P and I had not been on top of it enough. Heck, the truth was that they hardly spent any time in water in the past two summers. How were they supposed to learn to swim without spending time in the water? And while we were going down that road-- the boys couldn't ride bikes or catch a baseball or a myriad of other physical things I was doing when I was six, that kids around us seem to be doing. Suddenly, I became panicked. What have we been doing as parents?

Well, we had been reading tons of books. We'd been visiting art museums, attending concerts, taking music lessons (S- guitar; C- violin), hanging out doing science experiments, solving Sudoku puzzles, attending art and farm camps. What have we done? Are we setting our boys up for Geekdom? Would they be able to relate to their peers at school? Would they become social outcasts-- those quirky, arty types who often aren't celebrated in the first, say, 18 years of schooling?

I shared my fears with P. He had begun to feel similar parenting doubts. So what to do?

This afternoon, P emerged from the basement with the boys' bikes SANS training wheels. He invited S to join him across the street at the local park, a space with a large enough grassy area and few enough trees. They set off as C and I started to tackle writing the birthday thank you notes (that's not geeky, just properly mannerly). Twenty minutes later, a sweaty and triumphant Sam came running back into the apartment. He had done it! He had ridden his bike-- by himself.

P was pretty thrilled as well. "It was one of those magical dad moments," he explained. He described how he held the back of S's seat as S pedaled and got his sense of balance. After a few runs, carefully and quietly, P removed his hands from the seat and off S went. He was riding the bike all by himself.

"Come on, C, it's your turn now. Let's get your bike helmet. I'll grab your bike. Let's go!" P was excited to repeat the experience with C.

C didn't jump from his seat. He started hedging. He start hesitating. "I don't think I will try it today," he told his dad. A discussion ensued. C was scared. He was anxious. He didn't think he could ride a bike by himself. No, he would wait to try until he was sure he could do it. P began to coax C a bit stronger, gently pushing him to think about trying, assuring him that he would hold tightly to the back seat. He could be trusted. Come on, give it a try. You need to practice in order to learn.

A reticent C relented. He strapped on his helmet. An eager and excited S wanted to keep riding so asked me to go over as well. F joined in the party. When we got to the park, I wanted C to have the same one-on-one time with his dad so the two other boys and I went off to the side. I was thrilled when I saw S push down the pedal, raise his other foot from the ground, and take off riding. Magical, truly!

And then I turned to watch C. It didn't seem to be going as smoothly. There was clearly more discussion happening. C was wiping his eyes. I couldn't stand it. I walked over. C had become increasingly anxious, convinced that he could not ride. He would never learn. He would get hurt. He just couldn't do it. "Yes, you can," P encouragingly countered. He talked about how it could be scary, but he was sure that C could ride a bike. C climbed up on the seat but soon panicked. More tears. More words of defeat, despair.

It was heartbreaking to witness. C standing there with red eyes, convinced that there was no way he would ever learn to ride a bike, too afraid of failure to even try, utterly stuck by insecurity, panic, perfectionism. And there was S, happily tooling around on his little blue bike, so thrilled to have figured this riding thing out, trying to master turning, riding over bumpier ground, playing chicken with trees. And that was joyous to watch.

Parenthood: magical, heartbreaking, joyous, painful. It was all playing out in that moment.

Ever-patient P didn't give up, kindly cajoling C, logically explaining the things C had mastered so far in life-- crawling, walking, running, reading, and on and on. Things that took some practice but he had learned. P talked about the rewards of just trying. C still was not convinced. I decided to give something a try. I asked him to sit facing me and to say the words "I can ride a bike" with me. He did, and we said them again, and then again, hoping that by saying the words he might believe them. I then tried a visualization exercise with him. Maybe if he could see himself riding, he would be convinced that he could. He went through it all with me, even laughed when I asked him to picture himself pedaling the bike and then Dad removing his hands and seeing himself ride off. "See, I know you can do it! You saw yourself do it!"

"No," C countered, "I only actually saw myself sitting on the bike."

I guess we could have given up. We could have left it there. It was one of those tough parental moments. We wanted to be encouraging and supportive, but not too pushy and overbearing. Where's the line?

In the end, I am happy to report, C got back on the bike. He trusted P to hold him upright. He pedaled a bit. He put his feet down. He tried again. And then again. And then at some magical moment, P did lift his hands, ever so gently and carefully from the back of the seat, holding them just to the sides of C's hips. And there was C, riding the bike. BY HIMSELF.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Problem with PAP

PAP= Passive-Aggressive Parenting

The problem with Passive-Aggressive Parenting (PAP) is, quite simply, it just doesn't work. Normally, I try to reserve judgment (aloud, at least) for whatever parenting choice you make. Becoming a parent myself has humbled me tremendously. Back, before kids (BK), I may have had all sorts of opinions about the way you parent-- How you talk to your kid while walking down the street, what food your son has for lunch, how you listen to your iPod on the subway while riding next to your child, essentially ignoring her, how your offspring is running wildly through the aisles unchecked, the dangerous 'toy' weapon your daughter is wielding, etc.

But I have learned my lesson (mostly) about judging other parents. One never knows the full context of a situation that we may see just a quick snapshot of as outsiders. Maybe you eat only organic, vegan fare at home and your child just underwent a painful medical test so you relented to his pleas and let him try sodium-laden Lunchables for the very first time. Perhaps, your child just finished singing her version of Raffi's Greatest Hits for the eighteenth time, which you listened to patiently each time, even smiling slightly throughout her off-key Baby Beluga--yet again, and just needed a little Springsteen in your life. Maybe your little darlin' has just been cured of selective mutism, suddenly able to speak to the grocery check-out clerk, and is celebrating his remarkable breakthrough, while you stand stunned by his public words. There have certainly been moments in my parenting career that I would not want a camera turned towards me, so I have tried to abide by the 'live and let live' philosophy when seeing how others parent. I surely have learned that nearly every time I have uttered, "Well, I would never __________" in terms of parental choices, I've ended up doing many of those things (My kids eat hot dogs, for example. Gross.). Often we are all doing the best we can in the situation and parents should be supportive and understanding of others fighting the good fight.

However, there is a judging caveat here, and that has to do with PAP. You see, if you were just employing this strategy at home, then I might have nothing to say about it. The issue is that you use PAP everywhere and suddenly, my kids and I get pulled into your ineffective and blame-somebody-else way of 'disciplining.'

For example, when your child roughly tackles mine without provocation in the playground, and you say, "Now, Beulah, you know that C is very sensitive and hockey isn't a sport he likes," you have just placed the blame on my kid for getting upset by your kid's aggressiveness. When your son grabs food from F's hand as he enjoys his snack, and I decide not to force F to share, as I most definitely would have if someone asked politely, your response of "You see, Herbert, some parents have their children share their food, but they don't have to, so you can't eat F's snack," you have just told your son that his behavior wasn't bad, mine was.

Look-- call your kid out on his poor behavior. Tell him what he's done wrong. Punish him if appropriate. I will do the same for mine. Because in the end, if you continue with your PAP, don't be surprised if 1.) people stop returning your phone calls asking for a playdate, 2.) your kid gets the 'needs work' box checked for 'plays well with others' in his social skills assessment in kindergarten, or 3.) your little darling grows up to never, ever take responsibility for anything she does wrong and continually blames the world and her parents for whatever doesn't go her way.

Oh, and if you don't call him out on his bad behavior when he's hurting my kid, don't be surprised when I do.

Monday, July 28, 2008

For the Love of Words

As a now former English teacher, but still compulsive reader, I admit that I love words. I am not snobbish about this, however. I don't exclusively love large, impressive words that make it onto diligent/ uptight 10th graders' SAT study lists. I love all sorts of words and believe in the power of words-- for both good and evil.

Truly, though, who doesn't laugh at words like shenanigans or hullabaloo? Who doesn't cringe when hearing the sound/s certain words make? Moist is the number one cringe-worthy word in my book. Who doesn't think a phrase like "Don't muck about" sounds so perfect in the right situation or absolutely love this one, "The boys are finally in bed-- asleep!"?

Is it any wonder, then, that my boys are starting to talk about their own word observations and preferences. First, they are quick to take note of and share aloud any misspellings used for cutesy purposes they come across. They have heard many times how I hate, absolutely hate signs/companies named things like Kalico Kids or Kathy's Kones. It's still alliteration, people, when you spell these words correctly. "Look, mom," the guys will remark, "It's one of those jokes you hate" as they go on to describe the intentional misspellings.

Recently, F has discovered a new favorite word- caboose. He picked up a new book about trains last week and insists we read it over and over and over. Each time we get to the page with the word caboose, he laughs and laughs like it was the first time he ever heard such a funny word. He laughs more than a group of second graders confronting the word underwear in class. He repeats it, again and again, finding new amusement, each time the word rolls off his tongue.

C, too, is letting his word sounds' likes and dislikes be known:
"I do not like the sounds -elly and -ummy so please don't call it my belly or tummy. I really like the sound -omach much better so please just call it my stomach from now on!"

The funny thing about that is that he seems to have no problem with the sound -elly when connected to jelly, as in jelly bread, a food combination he finds particularly yummy, and would prefer to eat for every meal, every day if we would let him.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Facing My Past on Facebook

One of my closest friends, a few years younger than me, far more hip, and way more plugged into social networking on the Web than I, pushed me to join Facebook about nine months ago. We talked about it on the phone and then the 'formal' invitation arrived in my email inbox. I had heard about the site a few times before and was perhaps a bit curious, but thought that at 38, I was too old for such things. I remembered when my oldest nephew and niece joined some years ago, talking about romantic statuses, and finding folks they were going to attend college with, and it just seemed that this was for those younger than I, like those born in the 90's, after my college graduation. Just before my husband became a full-time graduate student, one of the administrators told the newly accepted students at the open house for accepted students that she had set up a Facebook group for folks to get to know one another even before the September matriculation. This whet my curiosity somewhat and I was interested in perusing the members. P wasn't at all. I think I tried to log in once, but since I wasn't really the accepted student, I felt like a fraud and when I did see who was in this group---damn, his fellow students seemed young, really young. I didn't take it further. When orientation rolled around and there was some talk about conversations that had occurred on Facebook, a current student said, "I am 40 and I have no idea what anyone is talking about." P and I laughed heartily. Us, too. So we were not alone, and there was something quaint (and perhaps, rebellious/maybe just clueless) about our antiquated status as nonFacebookers.

So, why then did I join Facebook a month ago? I can't say. It did start with a small group of friends who were P's classmates, a few even who are older than we, who communicated regularly through Facebook. Once I set up my account, I got into it-- uploaded a photo, filled in my profile, and began sending 'would you be my friend?' emails, reminiscent of those fourth grade passed notes (check the box for yes or no). Once I had added the grad school crew, I tracked down a few friends from Peace Corps, and one or two former students with whom I had particularly good relationships, and contented myself with my new way to communicate with these few folks. I sent inbox messages, learned to post on others' walls, and even browsed others' photos. Soon a request popped up-- a high school classmate, someone I had not thought of since school nor spent much time with when in school, wanted to be my friend. I hit the 'accept' link (ie. yes box), sent her a two-line note, looked at snaps of her husband and son, and heard nothing back from her.

But now-- a new world had opened. Reconnecting with high school friends, huh? I spent two good years at a boarding school in Jersey, actually went back for a few years to teach/work there some time after college graduation, and even hit a reunion eight-months pregnant with twins (a good reason, I figured, to have gained tons of weight since high school, so others would have less reason to judge me). But the truth was that I had not stayed in touch with folks from high school. I had two completely different sets of friends my two years there (a crowd of seniors while I was a junior so they graduated and moved on, and I cultivated a new crew my senior year) so I didn't have the base of four years of bonding in adolescent angst. Also, thanks to having four older sisters, I think I always knew that high school would not be the be all and end all to my life, so I enjoyed my time, but then got the hell out of Dodge, and didn't look back-- or at least, very often.

There was one small detail that did make me think of high school every once in awhile. Yup, a boy. The whole cliched first-love-got-my-heart-stomped-I-wonder-what-ever-happened-to guy. We were an unlikely pair. I: extremely type-A, totally uptight, stay up all night to study for an AP history test, team sports player, and good Catholic girl who didn't realize until college that a lightening bolt would not appear from an angry sky, striking me dead if I missed Sunday mass (and I never did in high school, even when I stayed on campus on weekends, walking to town for church with the one other good Catholic girl I could find on campus). He: extremely clever but unmotivated in school, skate rat/surfer, guitarist, comic drawer, and far from Type-A. How we first ended up together was a prom party gone awry, both with dates we weren't actually dating. We seemed to hook up more out of convenience than perhaps actually liking one another. The one hook-up was forgotten-- or was it? Suddenly weeks later there was flirting and some kissing in a school hallway before one of us had to get to an English-class-required evening film screening, Apocalypse Now (yes, we had finished reading Heart of Darkness). Damn, why didn't I ever pick up on that clue, until now, that this relationship was destined for turmoil?

As one who likes to believe she does not live in drama, this was my one drama-filled relationship. Together, then not. Almost back together. Then girl interrupted. And not just any girl, new best friend girl, who went after said boy while I was home for the weekend, feeling good about my new haircut, and waiting to return to school so that I could finally get back together with boy. Whoops. Then, lots of playing of Joe Jackson's Is She Really Going Out With Him? for weeks at a time, alone in my corner dorm room. Months pass. Some form of romantic apology from boy, in public, wrapped up in Cure lyrics (c'mon, it was the 80's). Ahhh, back together again. Real love this time. Real loss of virginity (on my part, anyway). Smitten, smitten, smitten. More drama. Smashed car. Argumentative parents. One extremely, pissed-off mother (mine). Somehow this just made the ardor seemed bigger and more real, our own little version of a Shakespearean star-crossed lovers thing. Off to separate colleges with no promises to stay together, but perhaps a small hope on my part, even though I was saying differently, that we just might. Then the Dear Jane letter and really no more contact.

That is until Facebook entered my life. I had heard bits of boy's life, but since I wasn't really in contact with high school folks much, I knew very little. And then I typed his name in the search box and a listing appeared. No photo. Was it him? Recklessly, I typed a quick inquiry. And the affirmative response came, and now twenty years later, the boy and I are back in touch-- enjoying figuring out how our stories developed after we parted, sussing out if we might be friends, examining if we even like one another as people after all this time.

And just because I couldn't help myself, I tracked down the girl at center of the interrupting. A new last name. Squinting at the photo, was that really her? I checked with boy. He couldn't tell either. And I could have left it alone there, but, of course, I didn't. And now I have had a lovely exchange with this woman, now living across the country, mother of five boys, including TWO sets of identical twins a year apart, and I can't help but think there may have been some karmic retribution there....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You Say It's Your Birthday, It's His Birthday, Too

As I looked up from my hot-glue gunning to see the clock flashing 9:37 Saturday night, I called out to P, "Aren't you glad we opted for a simple birthday party this year?" He grunted, hunched over the kitchen table, busily carving two chocolate sheet cakes into sixes.

C and S are turning six tomorrow. Up until this year, they never really asked about a birthday party. Living in rural Maine on a boarding school campus, we simply had the few other faculty kids stop by at cake time. Moving into full-time school this year in a new place, the party invitations started to flood in and the guys got the idea that these birthday party gigs might be a cool thing to aspire to. I have to admit that all the invitations that arrived at our home did not make it up on the family calendar. Due to parental discretion, a few invitations were quietly responded to with a 'thank so much, but we can't make it' without S and C being informed. Despite all that you hear about over-the-top kids' parties these days, for the most part, the parties the boys did attend were totally reasonable. There were some that included themes or rented space or party bags, but nothing was so consumer driven or expensive that it made our wedding reception look paltry.

Interestingly, two of the party invitations we said 'yes' to specifically asked guests not to bring gifts as the parents tried to refocus the giving to others. One suggested, without too much fervor or pressure, that if we did want to recognize E's birthday, we might think about contributing to Heifer International as E had been saving to buy a goat for a family in need in a developing nation. While the boys were enjoying watching chickens and listening to E's family friend fiddle at that party, I became sort of amused, then a bit perturbed, by a conversation a few mamas were having in the corner. "I brought her a gift anyway," one mom declared. "It's all well and good to teach your child a lesson, but you shouldn't punish the kid." I found that remark quite telling. Clearly that wasn't about E or E's parents' wishes at all, but about the parenting choices this mom was making. I could only imagine attending a kid's party where it was implicitly understood that you were to bring gifts and deciding not to bring a gift intentionally because it's against your parenting philosophy/style. How would that go over?

So with this new exposure to classmates' birthday parties, S and C started to have general discussions about what they wanted for a party. "It should be a math theme. I want a plus sign pinata," was one memorable request. P and I began responding to the party talk with some gentle letdowns, "We'll have to see how we'll celebrate your birthday this year." In the end, we decided to hedge it a little: we would have a party with invitations (OK, over email only) but would invite just cousins and keep it old-school: sandwiches, cake, and ice cream. Let it be known that their presence, not presents, was what truly mattered. I remember once hearing/reading a parental commentary on these escalating kids' party ideas that always worked around a theme. Remember when we were kids celebrating our birthdays, the 'theme' of the birthday party was a birthday party, this fellow remarked. And thus it was.

We did want the boys to feel their celebration was special. As always, P took cake requests and after a bit of wrangling, both boys decided they wanted chocolate on chocolate cake in the shape of a six, an idea C came up with while reading a math book (Who gave him that book anyway?). I traditionally have always made them paper crowns but decided to up my game a bit this year, in part inspired by Andrea, who was inspired by another crafty Maine mama. I don't possess any sewing skills, but have learned from Halloween costume creating that I can work a glue gun and some craft foam pretty well. It only took two trips to the craft store to pick up the necessary supplies, and feeling that F would definitely feel left out if he didn't get a crown, I decided I should make him one as well. And while I was doing that, shouldn't I make crowns for all the younger cousins attending the party? Thus, the blinking 9:37 and the burnt thumb--that hot glue really sizzles on skin.

I went to bed, a few hours later, pretty darned pleased with myself. The crowns were complete and I decorated a couple of poster boards, one for each birthday boy, and hung them in the living room. I woke the next morning to the distinct sounds of sobbing. As I swam out of sleep, I managed to piece together the source of this grand unhappiness. S had specifically requested the purple board, but I had, in my crown-making haze, inadvertently made his birthday poster on the green poster board. Bad mama. It was hard not to feel just a bit put out by the tears, but as P explained, "When you're that age and you've had to share everything, these little things to us are a big deal to them." We gave him some love, but the poster boards remained as originally decorated.

In the end, it was a great party. Simple. Cousin-filled. A few gifts but nothing wild. Two appreciative nearly six-year-olds. Oh yes, and one very confused little brother who totally doesn't get why his two brothers are getting presents and he isn't....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Imagine the reaction to THAT law

I have worked outside the house, this time around, for exactly seven days. Tonight at the dinner table, S turned to me and said unprompted, "You know, Mom, I miss spending so much time with you."

"I know, S. I miss spending so much time with you, but you are so lucky."

"Why am I lucky?" S queried.

"Well, now you get to spend all this time with Dad. You guys have been having tons of fun together. You know, not all kids get to spend this much time with their dads."

C perked up, a bit alarmed, and jumped in, "What? Not all kids spend a lot of time with their dads like we do?"

"No," I responded, "Some dads can't stay home with their children. Maybe someday if you decide to become a father, you might make the choice to stay home with your kids."

"Or," Sam hypothesized, "Maybe I could become president and make a law about all dads spending lots of time with their kids."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My posting has slowed down as life has been flipped upside down (yet again). I am now going to work outside of my house and yes, receiving a paycheck, while P takes over the care of the boys for the summer months.

After work tomorrow, we are off to VT for the 4th to visit friends who also have three boys: twins and a third, just a year younger than our fellows. And then on the way back home, my husband and sons will drop me off in Western MA by myself for five days--five days, people. This is a combination gift from P for holding down the fort by myself while he was in Africa and a gift to myself for getting through this year in a new place with few connections and the death of my dad in December. It will be the first time since I became a mother that I am doing something by myself: no kids, no husband, no siblings, no friends. New adventures with folks I have never met. While, I will not have a computer, I am, however, bringing a journal and hope to do some writing.

Stay tuned....

Letting Go

There are many instances when P and I say with great exasperation to C, "You've got to let it go." C, for all of his incredible gifts, is not, shall we say, a 'flexible' child and we are not talking about his physical ability to get into many a yoga pose (he can!). No, C is not easygoing. He has a strong sense of justice. He knows the *right* way to do something. And if someone breeches C's sense of rightness or justice, he notices immediately and it bugs him-- a lot. He does not like to be wrong. He does not like it when he is the one to make a mistake or not get it on the first try. Can you see some perfectionist tendencies here? Ultimately, when C feels slighted or if he perceives someone is doing something the incorrect way, C cannot let it go. He holds on ever so tightly to that wrong, that slight, that error and mentions it over and over. He's an amazingly sweet and generous fellow, but C cannot let things go.

This is my first week back at full-time (PAYING) work in three years. For two nights in a row, I could not sleep. I fell asleep without counting too many sheep, but during those nights, I was awoken (ahem, F!) in the wee hours and suddenly my brain started churning-- over and over-- keeping me awake for the rest of my much-needed sleep period. I kept thinking about (dumb) things I said at work, about a mistake I was sure I had made that would cost the organization money, about all the things I need to learn that could potentially be hard for me to learn. I tried quieting my brain, talking myself out of the churning, emptying all thoughts, but frankly, I suck at meditation. So as I dragged my sleep-deprived body across the street and over the bridge on my walk to work this morning, I suddenly made the connection. Oh, letting it go. Yup, I have an extremely difficult time with that as well.

Next time I have the urge to tell C to "let it go already," I will stop. I will breathe. I will respect that he has a churning brain. I will acknowledge his feelings and gently try to nudge him towards a sense of calm in imperfection: others', his own, and his mother's.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Barbie Kicks

We spent a few hours this past weekend floating in my sister's pool. It made me realize how little exposure my fellows have had to swimming. We have done intermittent swim lessons at various times in their lives with some mixed success, but we haven't had continual access to a pool so their opportunities to swim have been staggered. All three of my boys like the water as long as it stays in its proper place, ie. not in their eyes, mouths or noses. No one likes water up his nose, but it is harder to learn to swim if you don't put your face in the water. I do remember my mother doing an interesting version of the crawl with her head and face, adorned with sunglasses, bobbing above the surface, but the boys aren't there yet.

This weekend was only the second time we've swum this season so when the guys first got to the pool, there was some hesitancy, most, surprisingly from F. He had been the guy you couldn't let near water because in the past, he would just charge in with no sense of the physics of floating or sinking. However, this time, even with his upper arms encased in blown-up plastic, otherwise known as waterwings or 'floaties' in my house, he first clutched frantically to my arms and hands. By the second day, however, he realized that the floaties would actually allow him to, well, float (hence the name), and he became insistent that we didn't touch him. "No, I want to swim," he cried with great emphasis, as he beat his legs ferociously, bobbing along by himself. It seemed suddenly clear that if we just gave our fellows regular access to water, maybe we would get to a point where they could put their faces in the water. Now I understand why people join YMCAs or pool clubs...

My favorite moment of the swimming came when S was attempting to use a kickboard. He curled his fingers over the top, positioned his pale torso on the board, and set off with clunky kicks, spraying water in all directions. I tried to explain that when kicking, he should try to keep his legs straight, don't bend at the knees, and do small flutter kicks that didn't need to make large splashes. "Yeah," my sister explained, "My girls' instructor told them to do Barbie kicks. You know how Barbie's legs look--kicks just like that."

"Who's Barbie?" Sam replied.

That response made a big, happy splash in my book.