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.