Saturday, November 6, 2010

Must work on this cloning thing...

Ok, so I haven't posted anything in months. This is not for lack of content. Over and over things happen that I think - wow, that might be interesting to write about and reflect on later. Things like, my youngest's first year in soccer and his embarassingly terrific team, or the way he gets so excited when the ball comes to him, he forgets to kick it. Things like this whole homeschooling odyssey: the good - moments of wonder and excitement, the bad - hours of playing the rubber pencil game, and the ugly - mostly my temper in the aforementioned moments. Things like B's amazing soccer exploits and his growing ability to achieve academically. Other things like karate, T's awesome new teacher, the science and technology festival on the national mall, and Lego league.

But, start adding this stuff up, man - no wonder I'm so tired. Between the stress of waiting for a personnel thing, and dealing with obstreporous colleagues as program chair, while homeschooling in the back of my office, and keeping that down low while I teach over 100 college students... between getting two kids to piano, keeping an after-school babysitter here (most days, meeting the bus when not), getting a kid to karate three nights a week, another two soccer two, and a third to soccer one, and soccer games Saturday... between getting a kid to Lego team three days a week, reading to the second grade class sometimes, helping with second grade homework, and helping the other kid through his Lego project stuff, and grading college papers... between doing laundry (sometimes), folding mountains of it (rarely), and remembering to feed the kids... between ordering Halloween costumes, dressing kids up, and remembering to feed the dog... at the moment - there just isn't that much left. And, that may explain (partly) why I've put on some weight and hardly ever find time to exercise (and while I generally consider exercise a priority - I am just tapped out).

Don't take this as a statement that I am busier than everyone - frankly, everyone I know is just too damn busy.

I also recognize that I am pretty fortunate. We both have jobs we enjoy, our kids are mostly healthy, we are mostly healthy, and we live in a house we love. Dh is helpful - I am not doing it all alone.

Sorry, there wasn't a point here, just an explanation with a bit of a groan.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Avoiding Boredom and Obsession

So, Z is finding that the days can be long when you aren't shuffling to and from different rooms and juggling which notebooks and books go where when. Also, when you aren't doing worksheets, there is a lot more free time.

What happens with all of this time? Well, Z is definitely more engaged with the family and me in particular. Z is also a little aimless during the day. I believe that we call this "deschooling" and it is a little hard to watch. The goal, from what I gather, is to let boredom guide his choices in finding ways to learn that engage him.

We are walking a tightrope a little though. When he has too much idle time, he sometimes obsesses about weird things and I don't want that to become a habit. We are seeing more fears about random things than usual, and I don't want to give him time to consider fearing random things (usually environmental exposures) to become normal. For example, he took a sip from the fountain this morning and realized it smelled like cleaning chemicals... so, of course he freaked out that he'd been poisoned.

I am trying to help him find things to do such that he doesn't have time to obsess, but not assign random things to do. He (I believe) needs to find his own way here to learn to engage in his own learning. At least, that is my philosophy at this very second.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Finding passion.

So far, Z spends a fair bit of time in my back office with the door closed. I can hear lego's and other toys back there. I can hear him talking to himself and reading. He still isn't doing much writing - but he seems to be learning a bunch (nothing specific - some wiring, some gee whiz, a little of this and that).

Writing something every day is going to be challenge. All week, he has not done that voluntarily. Nor has he put his best effort in. I don't really have currency to dangle except pride in his work.

Maybe this is the issue. One of my bigger emerging goals this year is for Z to discover passion. In karate, his instructor keeps asking me "Does he like this? He seems to be just phoning it in". But, Z claims to love karate, despite looking like he is barely there. The only place he actually seems enthusiastic is when draped over something reading, or when playing Wii or other video/computer games. But that is not really engaged in the world.

Z needs to find something that can inspire him, get him engaged with the outside world, fire him up. He needs to learn to show enthusiasm. If he loves something - people should know it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Our start: Homeschool

Well, we went to my office on Sunday to set it up for him. Z set up his beanbag chair, lapdesk, notebooks, history wall chart, and other paraphernalia. He was so eager to get started, he sat right down with a notebook and started writing a story - like, actually writing... without a cattle prod up his butt. Ok, only two short sentences, but - hey!

On Monday we had the FIRST DAY OF HOMESCHOOL. I feel kind of awkward there, it is known, but not widely, that I am homeschooling Z at my office. At any rate, I took him to the library and got him into the system so that he can borrow books without me. He borrowed a science book about experiments for kids proposed by Thomas Edison. Then, he pored through the entire book through the day - discussing serial and paralell circuitry, constructing batteris out of lemons, and making candy. Then, he felt like he hadn't done any "school" so he found someone (Heron or Hero of Hellenistic Greece) and studied this mechanical/mathematical genius for awhile. We struggled over his one real "assignment" - writing - but, he got there by adding to paltry sentences to his story from the previous day. When asked what school he did, he said "none". But when asked what he learned, he talked our ears off. Interesting that he didn't equate any of his reading or discussion to "school".

Tuesday, B was home sick from school. So, I had to work from home with two boys - one sick and out-of-sorts, and one that is supposed to be homeschooling. First, I gave them pliers, wire strippers/clippers, a battery, and a lightbulb to work out some of the experiments he'd read about. They bickered and moaned (too may chiefs, not enough indians). I tried to help for awhile... I put on my black-and-white stripes for awhile and got terribly frustrated trying to simultaneously work and referee... finally, I went to J's office downstairs, shut the door, and told them only to bother me if the house was on fire or someone was bleeding. Now, it is basically bedtime and Z is finally at the table supposed to be writing, but is completely distracted by a costume catalog that came in the mail today - I shall take it in a moment if he can't get it together on his own.

So, the sum of our experiences, I was pleased to see Z engaged with real people and nonfiction for brief bits. I saw a lot more completely distracted crazy behavior today while jockeying with his brother. But, without the stress of a traditional school, I see a lot more of the Z that I have always known and loved. I have to stay patient with Z's relentless questions (if only to point out that I am busy and will look later) in that he is schooling where I work - and I really have to work. On the other hand, even putting him off, I probably give him more attention than any teacher has been able to. We are kind of "de-schooling" now - figuring out the difference between School (capital S) and learning (which is what homeschool, to me, is all about). Finally, this child clearly loves the learning part dearly. He hates writing and has to learn to start projects like that that he hates (hence, my one requirement - write something, anything, every day).

While some day it will be possible, if only the kid could voice to paper somehow - he can talk through the most amazing ideas, but is completely stymied about putting them on paper. I can relate and went through the same thing until I learned to touch-type (another goal this year for Z). One small segment of our discussion was a verbal "essay" on how the printed book is dying and how sad it is for books that are out-of-press and what electronic books may mean to changing the style of how people read and hence, perhaps, changes in the complexity or degree of challenge that we might expect in our reading in the future. How sad, my nine-year-old thinks if the type of complex, braided storylines that he so loves won't be cherished by a less-patient electronic readership. What a cool nine-year-old to worry about such things. I sure do love this kid.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Free range, but supervised.

Other parents often look at our free range parenting aghast at the freedoms and responsibilities we give our three sons. They have been at liberty to be home alone (for short periods of time) starting at age seven. They are allowed to walk to and from the park alone. We allow them out of our sight on hiking and biking trails. Our seven-year-old cooked us a lovely breakfast on Sunday morning. Our youngest has been kayaking solo since age three. We are pleased of the responsibility that they are learning and at their pride in their own achievement.

The one seeming exception to our free range philosophy is how we supervise children around water. We live on a pond. Ponds do not come with pool safety features such as fences or alarms. In our case, there is a big wall that drops into deep water just off of our lawn. We vacation at a lake and at the ocean. We go to the pool at least once a week. We are avid boaters, fishermen, and snorkelers. Finally, my work as a biology professor regularly takes us to boats and the ocean for marine biology and coral reef biology. We are always around water.

We supervise them more carefully at the water than in any other circumstance. It isn't that they are uncomfortable in the water. They have been taken into the pool regularly since twelve weeks of age, and have had formal lessons as long as they've been old enough to participate. All three of our children are strong swimmers for their ages. However, even when they play in shallow water, we watch them.

We formally pass responsibility, "I am going inside, you are watching them now". Too many children have drowned in front of adults that didn't realize that they were responsible for counting heads at that moment. This is what famously (and tragically) happened at a children's party hosted by the rock star Tommy Lee. At least a dozen adults were standing around the pool as the child drowned, and an adult trained in rescue breathing (which I also recommend) might have changed the outcome in that situation. We watch while we hear them playing, but when they get quiet - we immediately count heads.

We demand that they wear vests (PFDs or personal flotation devices). We model that behavior as well. They wear life vests when in a boat (even in our rowboat, on our little pond, with us in the boat). This has paid off as at least three separate times we've had to pluck a chilly, wet child from the pond. Before any child takes out a boat; they have to repeat after us that if anything happens - they are more important than stuff - if the boat capsizes, save yourself and we will worry about the boat and gear later. They wear vests when swimming in deep water when we aren't swimming with them. Our weaker swimmers still wear them in deeper water when we are present. When we snorkel, they wear inflatable snorkeling vests. We have over a dozen life vests of various sizes so any visitor can play safely.

I am not only cautious with young children. I pay just as much attention to water safety with my college students. I ascertain people's water skills early. I have adult snorkeling vests available for all students that need them. I demand that my students use the buddy system and stay with and watch their buddies. I count heads so often that literally, after the last trip, I woke up for three days after the trip trying to count my students in my sleep. I have had to rescue one student and am tremendously grateful that she only had a brief scare.

So, why is this free range mama so paranoid about water? First, as explained by a Coast Guard Search and Rescue diver, drowning doesn't look like drowning ( Second, tragedy can happen in an instant. Third, water currents are deceptively strong and unpredictable and once a swimmer is in a current - he or she can easily lose control and in worst cases be held by an underwater obstacle (kayakers call these deadly obstacles "strainers"). Finally, even strong swimmers can easily panic when the unexpected occurs (rip currents, jellyfish, surprise dunking by a wave or a friend, a tangle with seaweed or other wildlife, illness, or fatigue). Not relevant to children (I hope), but it is worth remembering that these dangers are exacerbated when alcohol is involved.

I love water. I love fishing in it, boating on it, swimming in it, watching it, and listening to it. But I also respect it. So have free range water bugs like we do. Go ahead, have your children learn to swim in pools, lakes, rivers, and oceans for fun and fitness. Let them play with wildlife and go fishing at the shore - this is gee-whiz biology at its best. Have them learn to handle boats of all kinds (ours use sailboats, rowboats, canoes, and kayaks) - it is terrific exercise in using judgement, physical skills, navigation, and physics.

But, as you do enjoy the water, be ever mindful of water safety and keep current in your CPR skills. Drowning is the number two cause of death by unintentional injury in children under 15 (after vehicular accidents). It doesn't take much water to be dangerous, many of the child drowning victims succombed to the water in a bucket or bathtub. No alarm or fence can replace good old-fashioned supervision.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


The New York Times had an article a few days ago on how schools are actively dissuading children from having "best friends". It is far better, according to the schools, to have bunches of people that you play with equally.

Isn't that just a grand idea for extroverts that like to interact with lots of kids at once?

Is this just another way that they are actively discriminating against the 25% of the population that is introverted?

Introverts, generally, prefer one-on-one interactions with a few close friends and can be overwhelmed by large group interactions. Ask me how I know.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Body Image

Is anyone else shocked when they see photos of themselves?

I don't notice it as much in mirrors, but when I see a photo of my family... I am always caught off-guard. I gaze at the kids and how cute they are, then I am struck - "Who is the chunky middle-aged woman with my kids? - OH MY GOSH!!"

While on the outside, I am middle-aged and a bit overweight... on the inside, I still imagine the thirty-year-old image of a thin, athletic woman. It is just so incongruous.

I just covered the gray for the first time yesterday. I am still feeling out what I think of resorting to such extremes.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

and, that would be check-mate

As I've already bragged, B is quite the young chess player. So, in the interest of keeping everyone intellectually alive around here - I have taken up the game.

Z won't play with me (he likes the idea of playing, but not the implementation).

I won't play with J - I am a bit too old to feel comfortable with my husband spotting me pieces at the start of the game, and he is simply too good at spatial relations for me to take. That said, he isn't fond of playing scrabble with me either (I clean his clock there).

But, I'll play with B. The sad thing is that we play about even right now. While I will improve as I can visualize how the pieces move more effectively, I may only get a year of chess play in before I am completely outclassed by him.

We've played about eight games now. He's beaten me in seven. I took him by check-mate once.

I've never enjoyed losing more, even though I am really trying to win.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Another reason

I promise I'll get to the point, but we have to meander a bit before I can get there. Sorry, it's how my brain works. I realize that this doesn't really fit with the usual "assignment" and, I'll probably lose style points for failure to be organized. Ok, but at least it isn't a late assignment (oh, it is? nevermind).

Last night J and I went to a big benefit for a local organization. We like the organization and are happy to contribute. We like loads of the people involved. I was genuinely looking forward to going. But, as we walked over, we were discussing how we were kind of tired and steeling ourselves to go. We were gathering the energy to participate and communally trying to see how it would play out. We sat, as it turns out, with two lovely couples and had a really enjoyablely time. So, why so reticent?

We are both introverts. 75% of the population might consider this too much to understand - that a night of partying in a crowd looks, from the outset, exhausting and stressful. That, hanging out with a lot of people (even people we genuinely enjoy) is tiring. Most folks would find it odd that we love a quiet evening of just chatting on our porch with no extraneous music or noise or that I can sit in a silent home (or office) for 10 hours straight and the time just slips away.

I remember coming home from school exhausted and disappearing in the woods or to my room for hours. The constant barrage of people (not all nice and not all friends) in school wore me completely out. Add to that the stress of paying attention, getting the right stuff from here to there, and dealing with being a kid - wow, did I ever hate school.

Am I surprised, then, that Z disappears to the bathroom for 45 minutes the second he steps off of the bus? Z can disappear in a book or somewhere for hours and not be heard from at all. Z is also introverted. It is readily apparent from his behavior that large groups are as confusing to him as they are to me (less so to J, who simply prefers solitude, but doesn't share my uneasiness).

Why is it, exactly, that we think putting all children (introvert and extrovert alike) in one room with twenty other loud kids (sometimes the players switching constantly throughout the day) for six hours straight and expect them to perform well there? Will any introverts select careers where they'll spend all day jostling in space with a bunch of other people? Do they need social training to deal with that barrage on the senses?

Maybe there should be little spaces that introverts can carve out as their own? They could decorate their little spaces and visit one another (in controlled amounts) to practice the kind of one-on-one friendships that they will foster as adults. They can recharge their minds and bodies with some solitude intermixed with cognitive exploration.

Hey, I have an idea - they can do that at home - ok?

We could call it homeschool. Gosh, wish I'd thought of that.

And, I really wish I'd thought of that when I was a kid.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Homeschool it is.

The "ayes" have it. We have really concluded that I can't screw things up any worse than the school already is, and at least maybe he'll feel better about himself.

The positives:
  • He can pursue things that interest him.
  • He loves to read, but will have the autonomy to choose his own readings (with the caveat that he must represent several genres).
  • No more writing repetitive chapter summaries for 30 chapter books just for the teacher to check whether he has read. (this is gifted curriculum?!)
  • He will practice writing something, anything every day (this may be our major homeschool battle). But, perhaps he will learn not to fear the "blank page".
  • His psyche can only improve if no one is beating him down about his failure to achieve constantly.
  • He will get one-on-one playdates regularly (where he is comfortable, happy, and has good friends) and spend less time in large groups of kids where he is less comfortable and less accepted.
  • He feels strongly that he wants a good education, but he will be empowered to take some responsibility there.
  • No worksheets!!! (unless he chooses them)
  • We may recover the charming son that we have lost to stress and being overwhelmed by the system.

The negatives:

  • Will he lay on the floor all day, rolling around and playing with plastic people; or is that just how he "de-stresses" at the end of a hard day at elementary school. That is, sometimes that is fine - but, will he do it all of the time?
  • Can I keep him off of the computer/Wii/tv? (Screen time is really deleterious to him).
  • Lots of time with a child kicking around my office (I so hope that he won't be disruptive, distracting, or difficult - although these characteristics would be unusual for him).
  • Will he become too reclusive? Or, will it be refreshing for my little introvert to not be forced into large groups six hours a day?
  • Not too much room for homeschool networking - I work full-time.
  • Will he be able to adjust to "real" school when he returns? Will he even want to?

Monday, May 24, 2010


Someone in the Commonwealth of Virginia has a sense of humor. Our state educational standards are refered to as the Virginia Standards of Learning, or the SOLs.

Last week was the big week in Z's school. They spent four days of last week taking standardized, multiple-choice test to determine whether or not the school met the state standards. Poor Z was completely tied in knots over the tests. We tried to explain that these tests don't evaluate Z, but rather evaluate the school.

The school has been building up the children's anxiety over these tests for about a month. They have done practice tests. They have done practice scenarios. They've sent home study materials. They've sent home a study CD-ROM. They've sent home big, fat textbooks. While I understand the school's anxiety over their rating - I can't understand a system where it is okay to make a nine-year-old freaked out about bubbling in some circles.

We are creating a society of anxiety-ridden bubble fillers, rather than creative thinkers. If we need anything, we need a system that values creative, bright kids. Maybe its time we scrap it all, start with some innovative teachers and try again?

I'm going to do that next year. Z is the most innovative person I know. And, who knows better what lights his fire for learning? Z is (mostly) going to educate himself next year. And, I bet he does just as well as the system and with less anxiety. This isn't to say I am comfortable with the whole notion (read - petrified). But, if he comes out of it feeling good about himself, having practiced writing some, and having kept up (a little) in math and science where he is way ahead - we can't be too far off.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On the Precipice

I feel as though I am leaning precariously over a great abyss. This abyss is the emptiness that we will fill if we unschool our son next year.

Beautiful, gentle, introspective Z is having a difficult time in school. Don't get me wrong, he loves to learn, and reads constantly (I catch mysefl saying things like: "Put the book down and eat"). We have struggled for three years now trying to get him what he needs in the system. He scores exceedingly well on tests, aces work that interests him, and can't start work that he finds dull. He gets caught surrepticiously reading when he should be doing worksheets. When asked to do a little open-ended project, he imagines this great ambitious project - too complex to really complete, then gets lost in implementation.

His teachers have trouble trying to help him. His primary teacher this year clearly thinks he is being lazy. We've tried to point out that, if he had dyslexia, she'd help him read. Helping a child with attentional issues get organized and start is the same thing. She is not a believer.

The school refuses to formally identify his needs or put an IEP in place. He is gifted, does well on tests, aces the work he does hand in - what's the problem? Except, he only hands in a fraction of the work, much of that done at home with our nagging, cajoling, and surrendering positive family time to get it done.

So, while working full-time in a college, and doing everything else, I am planning to (probably?) homeschool/unschool him next year in a corner of my office.

Am I insane?

My planned curriculum is to let him do what he loves most (learn and read, about anything and everything), do some structured math stuff, write both creatively (comic book, maybe) and reflectively (a journal reflecting on his readings), and explore.

Will this work?

This great, gaping hole stands in front of us, for me to help him fill.

Teaching Good Sportsmanship.

B is participating in the chess tournament at school. While he has lagged in a few areas of academic development, the kid totally rocks at spatial reasoning. He is a first grader, and this year the chess tournament was not divided K-2 and 3-5, there is one tournament K-5. J volunteers every week of the year in the chess club, teaching all of the kids how to play and helping them out, a little extra time with our boys each week.

Winning the tournament is not our goal for B. Frankly, in first grade, it would probably be unrealistic. We want him to love the game, flex his brain muscles a bit, and have some fun. Every week, before the tournament, we review our goals: Play as smart as you can. Be kind to your opponent. Be gracious regardless of the outcome - you are there for fun.

The tournament is run by the teacher assigned to the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG). It is a somewhat ironic placement because, while she is really enthusiastic, she isn't so much "gifted". As such, the TAG program is notorious for being "more" stuff, rather than "more interesting" stuff for the TAG kids. This is what we've experienced with Z in the program and one of many reasons we are on the verge of homeschooling Z next year.

The TAG teacher was unable to figure out how to run a double elimination round-robin. So, J made a diagram for her showing how the brackets work. She thought that was too complicated and couldn't understand the winner and loser brackets, so decided on a double-elimination point system instead. Two losses and your out, but the point leader still standing at the end takes all. A reasonable alternative.

At six-years-old and in first grade, B is having a great run. The first week, he played a disappointed third grader that wanted to play someone older, so she would be "challenged" - B beat her. The second week, he faced a fifth-grader. This fifth-grader was cocky about facing a first grader at the start of the game - and started trash talking. B hasn't ever really heard "trash-talk" before. Then, when B started to gain the advantage, the fifth-grader (let's call him Joe) started trying to cajole B into making foolish moves: "you don't want to do that", "watch out, probably not a good idea", "oh, yeah - move that one". Finally, B was getting flustered, so J pointed out to him that he should play his own game and not let someone else manipulate him. A few moves later, B won by check-mate. J explained the circumstance to the TAG teacher, and mentioned that she really needs to talk to Joe about table talk, because it is really not allowed in chess.

Joe went to his mom (a teacher in the school) to complain that B's dad helped B win. Joe's mom went to the TAG teacher to complain. TAG teacher says "Oh, I'll talk to him about not helping his child". TAG teacher did not point out that Joe's behavior was unsportsmanlike. Then, she relented and while B kept the points for the win, she gave Joe a bye for the game that he lost. This solution is not great, but perhaps reasonable in that J did speak to B during the game. This would have been fine if accompanied by some sincere messages about fair play and honor.

But, it doesn't end there. The bitching has continued, Joe's mom has continued her relentles complaining that Joe was unfairly beaten due to J's assistance. So, this morning, the teacher announced that she has given both Joe and B wins for the game.

Since then, B has defeated a third grader and another fifth-grader, both by check-mate. B is tied for first in the tournament - with Joe.

This leaves me with so many questions:
  • Do we wonder why Americans have a reputation for bad sportsmanship and whining?
  • What kind of message does this send to children about honor and sportsmanship?
  • How can we still respect this teacher for not (at least) making a point about fair play?
  • Will B still like chess after this?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mouths of Babes

Z has been having a really rough go of it in school. That is, he is learning everything that he should for his age group... but, he is unhappy and is having a very difficult time succeeding on assignments and getting the work done. Much of the work is pretty much "busywork", with little value-added.

This amazing child that can smoke all of their achievement tests feels terrible about himself and his achievements because he can't finish their assigned worksheets. So, we are thinking of home(office)-schooling him next year. When asked how he felt about the idea, he said he wasn't sure about it.

"Why? What is the downside to home-schooling?"

"Well, mom, I think that it is really important that I get a quality education."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Carrot, Not Stick

While generally I am not a huge fan of incentive programs, we have started one. Why don't I like them? Well, they smack of manipulation sensu Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards". We want them to learn to take initiative for personal reasons, not just because of the "carrots".

Frankly, little T wouldn't do anything for a carrot -but, chocolate is a different story. It is a new deal. If T gets up, dressed, eats breakfast, gets in the car and buckles on his own in the morning... he receives one chocolate to eat on the way to school.

We are hoping that if he develops the habit - he will learn to do these things sans chocolate. The jury is still out on whether he will ever do this without the carrot chocolate - but, for now the kid is waiting, in the car and buckled twenty minutes before I am ready.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Not so cute.

T, our littlest one, is experiencing a crisis. He used to be so cute when he needed help with his socks and shoes, and help eating and getting dressed, and on and on. But, at 4 and a half - it isn't cute anymore. So, his cries for help are escalating to shrieks (less cute), and whining (less cute still) and moaning (frankly annoying).

So, he is struggling with getting dressed in the morning. He is unpleasant to be around. And, his inefficiency has reached such heights that one morning last week, after I warned that he would go to school in whatever attire he was wearing when we got there - I carried the boy into school wearing only underpants. His teachers appreciated the notion of punishment by natural consequence and helped him get dressed there.

I'd have thought that the underwear incident would have cured him, but here he is, wandering around, whining again and wearing only underpants.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Go team.

I just had guests for the weekend. Among the familial guests were a set of parents with their four-year-old daughter and 11 year-old son. For fun, let's just call them Buffy and Jodi (if you don't get the reference, you are too young). For the parents, let's just call them Carol and Mike.

Mike is not the most attentive parent in the world. He didn't really want kids and isn't really plugged into their developmental stages. He lives more parallel to the rest of the family than in concert with them. Recently, however, he lost his job and has since felt as though he wanted to participate. So, he has started (on his own schedule) intervening with Carol's parenting. Mike is not so much pitching in as questioning Carol's strategies.

Carol is not perfect either (no one is). Carol is a driven career woman and can sometimes be a bit distracted in parenting from her job. She has trouble being consistent in rules or following through with her contingencies. That is, she might impatiently threaten to remove television all week, then later remember that she'll need them to watch tv during her teleconference later that day - so, she can't always follow through. She may even just carelessly threaten a consequence that isn't feasible. The kids can't really know when her threats for punishment are real or not - so, their responses are inconsistent.

Since Mike's been laid off, however, there's been a constant barrage of push-me pull-you parenting. Mike wants Jodie to excel in one class, and works for three hours ever day on that, but is angry that Carol can't get Jodie to satisfactorily finish all of his work in the other five subjects. Carol is angry that Jodie is so tired from one subject that he can't get through the rest when she gets home from work. Mike wants the kids available to snuggle and visit with in the evening, but doesn't want to deal with any problematic bedtime issues. He also sleeps in and has no interest in getting them to school in the morning. Carol is frustrated that the kids are too tired to move in the morning and every morning is a struggle, and that her efforts for bedtime routines are undermined (until Mike disappears into his family office leaving Carol with tired and grumpy kids). Mike cannot bear to see his four-year-old princess upset - so, he will stop at nothing to keep her from being unhappy.

This weekend, we saw the epitome of Mike undermining Carol's (inconsistent) parenting to keep this child from exploding into a tyrant worthy of Violet Beauregarde (the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka). The kids ate dinner at a separate table from the adults, so they could cut-up a little and we could have adult conversation. I had made a "Bunny Cake" for Easter dessert. Neither Mike nor Carol were completely on with this - we put out plates (appropriately cut and divvied up) for each child, set their places, gave them drinks and told them to eat their dinners. Mike hovered back and forth over Buffy to insure her safety (?). She cried that she wouldn't eat this or that. Mike tried to negotiate, "Oh, sweetie, if you eat this we'll give you lots of candy and lots of the bunny cake". Carol sporadically left our table to berate Buffy for not eating - you won't get dessert if you don't eat. We let our kids cut their own meat, get seconds, and generally be independent through the dinner (if a bit giggly). Our youngest lost it and was briefly incarcerated on the stairs (time-out) before he got to rejoin the bunch.

Finally, our children were all finished, as were the grown-ups. Jodie had eaten his dinner. But, poor Buffy was suffering with the dreaded green beans (yeck!!). Mike continued to cajole and Carol threaten. Finally, Carol stated "you need to eat these three green beans, if you do that - you can have cake". While I wasn't there, a credible witness has told me that Mike popped the three green beans into his own mouth and told Carol that Buffy ate it. So, finally, after 45 minutes of threats from Carol, cajoling from Mike, and shrieking from Buffy - she got her cake. Mike undermined all of Carol's parenting efforts, and everyone suffers the consequence of a child being rewarded for behaving like a tyrant.

If there has to be one basic rule for parenting - present a united front. Don't let the kids tear you apart. In the end, what you have is each other, and the kids will figure life out easier if there are fewer sets of rules to navigate.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Going naked.

Not me, of course.

T is determined to get all of the attention that his pudgy little cheeks have always earned him, even if he is growing up.

Lately, this has manifested itself in a complete inability to cooperate with our morning program. All the kid has to do in the morning is get dressed. His clothes are laid out with care. Once dressed and shod, he can have breakfast (a first of two as the daycare also provides breakfast).

Of late, though, we have been given an hour-long concert of moaning and whining with lyrics like "I can't get up" and "I can't SEE my clothes".

So, earlier this week, I threw him in the care dressed as far as he had progressed (pants only) and toted him into school carrying his shoes, shirt, and socks. He was a bit mortified at being in the school mostly naked. I assumed that this natural consequence would solve the problem.

I was surprised then, that this morning he was totally butt naked as I started to get him in the car. He dressed himself in about a minute on the way out the door.

Son - there are a lot of ways to get attention... can we just get dressed?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Whose fault is it when someone dies?

Yesterday, at the grocery store, I encountered one of the most toxic people I've been around in quite awhile. She wasn't even speaking to me and I almost felt I should shower when I got home. She was speaking to the kind (if sometimes incompetent) people behind the deli counter.

While I waited (and none of the other help came around to assist me) a woman repeatedly had them get different packets of meat from the deli case, the storage refrigerator, and finally from the front of the deli case so that she could examine the ingredients. This was unusual; not in itself rude, although she might have been sheepish about taking so much time. Instead, she became increasingly angry.

She complained to one of the staff that all of the products had some ingredient in them (I was trying not to listen).

The girl said "Oh, I think they all have that".

The woman, more loudly, "Well, they didn't used to, it is terrible for you."

The girl, trying to sound patient (sounding a bit annoyed), "Oh, I think they always have had it, but I'm no doctor, I don't know if it's bad".


The girl starts to lose her patience "Well, I wish I'd known that for all the family I've lost to cancer, maybe I should send them to you".


Girl, trying to keep it together "Ok, is there anything I can get for you?"


As the girl walked away to let the boy behind the counter fill the order, the women muttered "And, you should tell her that if she ate less of this crap she wouldn't be obese and maybe she wouldn't die of diabetes or heart disease". Then, she followed up this ugly remark by berating the poor hapless guy trying to help her.

This is so wrong, and on so many levels.

What kind of physician would be so ugly and insulting to anyone and pretend that they are a healer? I can think of no other exchange in the last ten years that was so outwardly hateful.

How can a healer be so ruthless in attacking someone - did she fail Empathy 101?

While certainly it is true that some diseases are potentiated by bad behavior - on no account is it appropriate to suggest that someone "had it coming" for their personal flaws.

Ever since my mother was diagnosed, and certainly since she died - many folks have asked me about the cancer. Almost unfailingly, when someone learns that my mother died of lung cancer - I am asked whether or not she smoked. Like, it would be ok or she had it coming if she were a smoker and somehow that makes her loss less significant? As though, of course she never got to meet some of her grandchildren because she was to blame for the cancer.

My mother was not a smoker and her cancer was not the same sort of lung cancer that smokers get. But, regardless of her behavior or how deserving she was of her cancer - I lost my mother. My mother, who was always conscientous about never asking "Oh, God, why me?" while she died has a bunch of post-game quarterbacks that want to see if the cancer was her fault.

I realize why people do it... if she had smoked, they can coyly feel as though it won't happen to them because they don't. Imagine, though, how I would feel if I had to relive, all the time, that my mother's loss might have been avoided if she hadn't been foolish.

Heck, it might have been avoided if a specific doctor had read her x-ray properly, or looked for cancer when she had a chronic cough, or noticed the ongoing hoarseness with no etiology. But, second-guessing will never bring mom back.

Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise are all issues that we, as a society, need to address. The path we need to take, however, is not to blame the people we've lost - but, to try to effect positive (notice I said positive, you ugly doctor woman - yes, you) change in the people we still have.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Words of Wisdom (from a four year old)

On eating a chocolate found under the sofa (probably circa Christmas):

"It was fine, it wasn't hairy."

Is this a statement on:
a. my housekeeping
b. his genetic propensity for chocolate
c. his sweet-tooth
d. too many snow days
e. all of the above

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Travel with children.

Dad used to say that there were two ways to travel: First class and with children.

I didn't get it.

Now, I do.

Eleven nights away from home, 200 pounds of luggage, some incontinence from one four-year-old member of our party, and a good bit of WHINING and we are home and tired.

We DID have a fabulous time.

But, seriously... is there no where better to throw up than on your stuffed animal, your mother and in the bed at the hotel when there are only six possible hours to get sleep?

Actually, we answered this question on the way home, try in your only clothes, in a plane, on yourself and your father, when you will have to deplane in snowy weather mostly naked covered with puke (and many thanks to USAir that offered to sell us a 10 dollar blanket rather than give us one under the circumstances (no thanks, jerks).

Back to the old routine.