Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

I never thought I'd say this, but today I'm grateful for soccer. Yes, soccer. 

This weekend was G's last-ever soccer weekend: the state championship. He has decided that, after 6 years of playing, he's done. And what a way to go out.

Their team won the championship! Undefeated! State champions!

What makes it even more meaningful is that this is the first time G's team has ever won first in any tournament. They always did well, but the best they ever got was second. So it makes it an even more precious win.

Notice the lone blue ribbon.

What's more - and this is why I'm so grateful - is that in their last game today G was paired against the best player on the opposing team. G is not our team's best player, and in past seasons he's lost much of his confidence due to back-to-back injuries, but today he rose to the challenge. He got paired with that player simply because their positions coincided. And G consistently shut him down, playing harder than he has all year.

So today I'm grateful ... for successes hard won, agonizing decisions finalized, confidences rebuilt, a team bonded and then dispersed, and the knowledge of one 12-year-old boy that he made a difference in something bigger than himself.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"Pretty cool!"
--Younger sibling after the second soccer game today

G's soccer team is currently in first place in the state play-offs, being the only undefeated team so far. Tomorrow's game will decide the whole thing!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Off to State!

As much as I hate getting up at 5:00 AM on a Saturday morning and driving an hour and a half to San Antonio, tomorrow I'll be thrilled to do it. Last weekend G's soccer team one first in their district, and this weekend is the tournament to decide the state winner.

His team last year won second in district and went to state, but placed fourth. A big disappointment to the team, even though it was a privilege just to be there. We have higher hopes for this year.

No matter what the result, I'm very proud of him and everyone on the team.

It will be a bit bittersweet for me, as G has decided that this will be his last season at soccer. For the most part, I'm happy that he's chosen to let this activity go, since he isn't nearly as gung-ho about the sport as he used to be. But there's still a tiny part of me that's a wee bit sad. After all, he's played soccer since he was 6. A chapter of his life is closing, but another is surely opening. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what's written there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Mock Day: The Next Day

I love unexpected results. 

When T decided he wanted to try a mock school day yesterday, G didn't want to have a thing to do with it. His determination to homeschool has remained unwavering since we began this journey four years ago. And that mock day was a little too close to the real thing to be comfortable for him.

So today we sat outside on this hot spring day and talked. We talked about his worries about his siblings, his expectations for himself, his perceptions of what my expectations were for him, and what he wanted out of life. 

Yes, we've talked about all these things before, but today they had an immediacy to them that we hadn't experienced in quite a while. S and T were inside reading The Lightning Thief to each other, and I was hanging clothes while we talked, so we had an extended period of meaningful discussion. 

How many parents can say that they have the ability (or desire) to sit and talk at length one-to-one with their almost teen, and do so regularly ... and have it be a truly pleasant and enjoyable experience?

I must be one of the luckiest moms in the world.

Unexpected results. Unexpected pleasures. I'll take 'em.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Mock Day

Last week I heard those dreaded words that every homeschooling parent fears ... "I might want to try school." This from T, just about to turn 9. 

I can't blame him. Virtually every kid's book highlights the escapades and camaraderie of school friends, making school sound like a glorious adventure book, with a new chapter to be read and experienced every day. In addition, homeschooled children are bombarded by society's expectation that to be "normal," kids must be educated in the public school system.

Obviously, parents who homeschool don't make that decision lightly, and the vast majority are just regular folk who want what's best for their kids. They usually do tons of research about it before jumping in and put in lots of time to make it work for their kids, so for their kid to think that school might be better is ... well ... a bit distressing.

But this post isn't about why we homeschool. It's about our mock day. Interestingly, S decided to try it with her younger brother, so it made for a full day. Mind you, they spent their first few school years in a variety of private schools, so they have a good idea of what a classroom setting is like.

Here in our local school district, elementary school starts at 7:45. Usually at that time, my kids are dozing on the couch, waking up slowly, after being dragged out of their beds at 7:00. We don't really get started until well after 8:00, and sometimes closer to 9:00. But this morning, I get them up at 6:45, as I am determined to follow the school schedule rigidly. (After all, the school watches the clock, so for this to be a true representation [or as close as possible], we need to follow the school's schedule.) They had to be dressed, with shoes on, and in their seats (two desks set up in our gameroom in front of a giant whiteboard) no later than 7:44. So far so good.

We spend the Morning Announcement time (7:45-8:00) talking about how our day will go. Last night, I printed out a bunch of information from our school district - things like class schedule, curricula, worksheets, examples of science projects, book lists and reading logs, and other things like that. (If you noticed that I didn't make a blog post last night, that's why.) We talk about how the normal school day is run and how we will follow it as closely as possible. I also assure them that I am not going to skew the day to make it distasteful; that won't give any of us any real information. I want to make this day an example of our "best scenario," asking them to imagine that each other is their best friend and that I am a really nice teacher (a real stretch, I know). 

They are eager.

So the day begins with each kid sitting next to his/her best friend, cheery smiles on their cherubic faces, in the class of the nicest teacher in the school. I want them to look at this day as how good public school gets for a typical mid-year, non-testing, non-party day. (For what it's worth, our district's schools are ranked consistently in the top in the country, so a good day there is a good day anywhere, even if we are in Texas! LOL)

I remind them that this is a real school day, so they need to raise their hands to talk, ask permission to go to the bathroom, and stay in their seats unless I allow them to move about the room.

Math is the first subject, an hour and a half. T lasts 10 minutes into it before he starts complaining about how his butt hurts, how tired he is, and how long the day is going to be. But he soldiers on. After all, he realizes, this is his idea. We just finish the lesson in the time allotted (this takes each of them twice as long as normal, since one is waiting while the other is doing, just as they would in school), when it's time to move on to Language Arts. I have them do a minute or so of jumping jacks, stretches, and jogging in place just to get the blood to their brains. When they get a bit out of control, I remind them that they wouldn't be able to do that in a class of 25 kids. 

LA lasts an hour and a half. One of the books on the classroom reading list is Little House in the Big Woods, so that's what we start with. We take turns reading, have a rousing discussion about life in the 1870s in the Wisconsin winter, and then move on to LA "fun" worksheets (puzzles, word games, etc.). At the end of the LA period, they put their unfinished worksheets in their homework folders alongside their math homework and their reading logs.

It's now 10:45, and the kids are starving, restless ... and rapidly working toward cranky. By this time on a regular day, they would have done a number of individual activities and be working on their first snack of the day. Instead, T is trying to lie down at his desk, putting his head in his hands, and sighing and moaning under his breath. To take their minds off of food, I run them through another minute of in-place exercise.

On to "Specials." This could be art, music, or another non-academic class. I choose art, since my kids aren't natural artists so wouldn't choose that on their own and since they regularly take guitar lessons anyway. I want them to experience something different, just like they would in school.

I can see that this last 50 minutes is quickly circling the drain, so I choose something active: gesture drawings. We look at Rembrandt's gesture drawings, watch a tutorial video, read a little on the basics, and then spend about 20 minutes actually drawing. They love that. They're moving, working, creating.


Meanwhile, G sneaks partway up the stairs and softly whines, "When's lunch? I'm so loooooonely!" (He did not want any part of Mock Day!)

Finally, lunch! I have them line up, walk silently down the stairs, stop to get their meal punch cards, and then walk with them into the kitchen for their leisurely 25-minute lunch. They're so hungry that they each eat 2 sandwiches! They're scarfing down the last one, with T jamming the last bite into his mouth in the last minute of lunch.

The half hour of recess (I remind S that she wouldn't get recess next year in middle school) is a godsend. We all need it. They go wild, chasing each other around the house and outside, laughing like banshees. I remind them that in lots of schools these days kids aren't allowed to run on the playground, since someone might get hurt. I hole up in the office, breathing a bit of non-kid air for my precious 30 minutes. I quickly see why the Teachers' Lounge is such a popular place in schools.

It's now 12:30 and up we go to Social Studies. One of the items on the curriculum list is Government, so we talk together about the Constitution, the Articles, and the 3 branches of government for an hour. During this time, I'm looking at the kids, asking questions and expecting answers. S is still chiming in, but my ADD-type kid is completely glazed at this point, with no glimmer of life left behind his eyes. He's completely checked out, his face like paste.

1:30 and time to move on to Science. This is T's favorite subject, so I'm sure he'll perk up. As I put away the Social Studies materials, I hear S say, "What?" to T. He replies a bit more loudly, "I give up." She says, "You can't give up. You're in school."

T shifts from his chair to the floor, plops down cross-legged, and says sternly, "I give up!"

I say, "You wanted to have a mock day. We need to finish the entire day so you can have a good idea of what school is like."

But he is done. I get him to agree to sit on the floor with me where we can all talk about what 3rd-graders are expected to accomplish in Science, instead of actually doing a lesson. That doesn't last long, however, and he's soon standing on his desk, jumping up and down, and chanting, "I GIVE UP! I GIVE UP!"

And gee, he didn't even raise his hand.

But I am determined to finish out the day, just so that he can have that experience. We spend the time after Science, called "Flex Time" (whatever that is), playing a dictionary game with G.  

At 2:45 school is dismissed, to the delight of all.

Before they scamper away, I remind them - being the helpful, nice teacher that I am - that, if this were a real school day, they would go home (possibly after ballet lesson, piano lesson, or Cub Scouts), have a half an hour or so to relax, then do their homework, which looked at that point like at least an hour of work, then have dinner, and last collapse into bed. And tomorrow start the whole process again. The blood drained from their faces in horror.

All in all, it was a successful day in many ways. The kids got what they wanted. I felt like I gave them as real an experience as possible without having the benefit of the school. I gained a much greater appreciation for teachers. I have always appreciated teachers, but this experience has taught me just how tiring the day is and how much work is involved. 

What's more, the kids seem to have gained a greater appreciation of their educational situation. They saw how confining desks, regimented schedules, and strict curriculum guidelines can be. They saw just how much freedom they have to learn what they want, when they want to, and to the depth they desire.

All in all, a good day.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Running the Numbers"

If you haven't seen Chris Jordan's art, you're in for a powerful experience. If you've seen it, you no doubt remember it. Jordan puts American statistics into a visual form - one that enables us to "see" the actual numbers. For instance, what does 60,000 plastic bags - the amount Jordan says is used every five seconds in 2007 - look like? What does 2,000,000 plastic drink bottles - the number used every five minutes in 2007 - look like? Jordan shows us.

From Jordan's website:
Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month. 

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming. 

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2008 

I'm not sure I believe every statistic (the cell phone and plastic bag numbers seem way off to me), but whether or not you believe his statistics, it's a fascinating way of looking at large numbers. 

Thanks, Era, for reminding me of this artist. (She posted about this on her blog, Today's Thought.) I had been planning on digging up this website so that I could put some pictures to numbers for my kids. We had been putting together a proposal for a grant for eco-solutions, and I wanted to make a visual impact about our topic. (Perhaps, Era, you should have named it "Camille's Thought" that day, since you read my mind!)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

Today I'm grateful for three-day weekends. H and G are driving home right now from being down in the Valley for a soccer tournament (district champions! Yay!), and last night T spent the night at his best friend's house. 

S and I had a bunch of girl time. We window shopped, bought and ate fudge (did you know that at Lammes you get a free half pound with every pound you buy?!), went fabric shopping, started her on a sewing project, and tried on about fifty pairs of 4+ inch-heeled shoes at Nordstrom (S, not me).


Last night the house felt very strange with just the two of us sleeping here. We curled up together in our big king-size bed.

I'm grateful for three days of weekend, so that we'll have one day tomorrow when we can all regroup after being spread across the state. I love doing things with only one kid, but I love just as much coming together again as a family.

Image from Nordstrom

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

Actually a short dialogue between T and his best friend (BF), which I've condensed a little ...

BF: "You should meet my cousin, she's awesome." (Pause.) "But sometimes she goes off and does all sorts of GIRLY stuff."

T: "Ewww, girly! You're gonna have to marry one, you know?"

BF: "I don't really have to, but yeah, I know, I'm gonna have to, because I want to have kids."

T: "You have to have kids with a girl, you know."

BF, sighing: "Yeah. I know."

(Thanks, Hannah, for sharing!)

Friday, May 22, 2009

If You Give a Kid a Pancake ...

If you give a kid a pancake ...

She'll want some syrup to go with it. You'll give her some of her favorite maple syrup.

She'll probably ask you if it's organic. When you say you're not sure, she'll check the label to make sure you're being kind to the environment and notice that it was made in Quebec.

She begin to tell you that the Quebec maple syrup supply suffered a massive drop in 2008, so she'll probably drag you to the computer to find out why.

She'll google "Quebec maple syrup supply" and find a link to "honey bee population decline." About that time, her older brother will come in and probably want to know what we're doing.

He'll probably remind us of a recent Mythbusters episode where they tested the myth that you can swim just as fast in syrup as you can in water. The kids will decide to try it, so they'll charge out to the backyard to see if they can re-create the myth.

As they run screaming toward the hose, their younger brother will probably ask, "What are they doing?" I'll answer, "seeing if they can swim as fast in syrup as in water." He'll ask, "Where's the syrup?" to which I'll answer, "We're out." (which, fortunately, we are).

He'll probably run to the back door, yelling, "Mom says we're out of syrup." One of the kids will probably  shout, "Okay, then let's see if we can swim faster in Jello!" and charge off toward the pantry, and the other will yell, "Mom, how much Jello will it take to fill up the pool?"

I'll answer, "I don't know, but we don't have any anyway," to which one of the kids will probably reply, "Hmph." About that time, one of the kids will notice a bee land on the flower of a weed in the backyard. He'll probably say, "Look! I thought the bee population was in decline!" One of the other kids will probably say, "Let's find out if it's true!"

They'll come sliding into the house, dripping, and run back to the computer. They'll google "honey bee population decline" and find out that the decline may be related to pesticide use. One of them will probably shout, "See, Mom! It's a good thing that syrup is organic!" 

One of the others will notice a link to information on Africanized bees and will get scared. One of them will probably start reading the history of how bees in Texas became Africanized, which will morph into an impromptu geography lesson about Brazil and Sao Paulo.

One of the kids will probably ask, "Isn't the samba the national dance of Brazil?" I'll then hear from across the house (since I'm trying to sneak away at this point), "MOM, can you show me how to samba?" I'll yell back, "I don't know how, but let's look at it on YouTube." We'll look up the samba, which will give us a link to Matt (Where the Hell Is Matt?) learning to dance the samba.

They'll all starting samba-ing, as I slowly backstep out of the office, which will quickly degenerate into a wrestling match. 

I'll probably hear giggles and squeals, and then shortly afterward, feet pitter-pattering toward the kitchen. One of them will sigh, "I'm so sweaty, I'm sticky!" which will remind them of their favorite maple syrup.

They'll probably ask me for some. And chances are, if they ask me for some syrup, they'll want a pancake to go with it.

(At least that's the way it is in our house.)

Based on the book If You Give a Pig a Pancake

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Natural and Logical Consequences: The Dreaded Four Year Old

I'm finally getting to the promised topic of consequences with the four year old. Sorry for the delay!

Any time the subject of natural or logical consequences comes up, I hear a lot of comments like this:

"I tried it, and it didn't work for my kids."
"My kids are so argumentative. It's just easier to lay down the law."
"My daughter just talked and negotiated too much. She just needs to do what I say because I'm the mother."
"All my kids understand is authority."
"I agree in theory, but I can't pull it off in practice."
"Every time my child and I begin discussing choices, the conversation derails and quickly devolves into 'Do it my way or else!'" 

The. Four. Year. Old.


The age of endless questions. This age seems to be really tough to get through for attachment parents and for parents trying to follow natural and logical consequences. Let's take a quick look at some of the reasons that parents give up, shall we?:

"But I don't want to ..." 
"But what about ...?"
"But I like this better!"
"Why not?"
"But that's not the way to do it!"
"But my teacher/Janie/the dog does it this way!"
"Why can't I ...?"

Endless questions. Endless negotiations. Endless talking. Endless discussion. On and on and on. The four year old seems to want to negotiate everything

Obviously, I'm no expert, and my kids aren't perfect. But I've been through the formidable fours three times, and I've spent my share of time at the mediation table.

Let's just take a look at a few real-life examples of situations where four year olds seem to get the upper hand with a few (or maybe a bunch of) well-placed whines.

--Getting ready to leave the house for school or some event.
Four year olds have amazing stamina. They can seemingly negotiate for hours on end while dancing from foot to foot and rolling around on their heads. Some of the most, ahem, amusing times is when they're delaying to get out of the house - sometimes even when they're going to places they want to go to. 

I got so tired of nagging and nagging them to be ready to leave the house on time. My solution was to pick some event they wanted to go to but that I didn't care about (say, yet another birthday party) and choose for that one to be the "learning experience." I'd say something like, "We need to leave at 4:00 to be at the birthday party on time. It's 2:00 now. I'll give you a thirty-minute warning, but I won't be bugging you over and over to get ready. In order for us to go to the party, these things have to be done [wrap present, get dressed, etc.]. Do you think you'll be able to be ready?" Sure, Mom, I'll be ready. Yeah, right. At 3:30 (after watching said kid goof off and completely forget about the time ticking by), I'd say, "It's 3:30. We need to leave in thirty minutes to be at the party on time. Will you be ready?" This either causes a mind state of panic or an apathetic "Sure, Mom" - and sometimes panic followed by lethargy if said kid gets distracted. At 4:00 I'd say, "It's 4:00. We need to leave now in order to be at the party on time." Then I'd step back as said kid goes into Tasmanian Devil mode, swirling around trying to get everything done that needed to be done. Being late to a party he was really looking forward to was consequence enough. It didn't take any extra punishment from me.

If it was an event where we needed to be on time or else we'd miss it entirely (e.g., seeing a movie), then, hey, we'd miss it. 

With my older kids, I'd take it a step further. After all, no one is reminding me every five minutes of my own appointments, and I have to remember all of theirs as well. So I'd put all the responsibility on them. I'd give them half-hour reminders and maybe fifteen-minutes reminders if they're busy doing schoolwork or are otherwise occupied, but I don't lay out every little thing that needs to be done. Giving them the responsibility for their own successes has created some, say, learning opportunities (see, for instance, my post on procrastination). 

Of course, I wasn't okay with letting one kid drag out getting out of the house, making a sibling late to his/her event. That shows total disrespect, even if it is a cry for attention or a ploy for power. I would state it just like that, "I know it must feel powerful for you to make G late for his soccer game by not being ready, but that's not fair to him, and he has a responsibility to his team. In our family, we do our best to respect each other. If you're still in your underwear when it's time to leave, then you'll have to go in your underwear." (And yes, this type of thing has happened on occasion.)

--Brushing teeth. (Egad. The dreaded toothbrush.)
This seems to be a problem for lots of kids. Some parents don't seem to care that much, but H and I did. I grew up in a time when kids simply didn't brush their teeth, at least not until their permanent teeth came in. I have the fillings to prove that that strategy wasn't the best one.

There are lots of techniques to get kids to brush their teeth (or allow their parents to do it for them), but here we're talking about the natural/logical consequences approach. What worked for me recently - and I wish I'd thought of this when my kids were younger - was simply to open my mouth and show them my fillings. Somehow kids seem to acquire the fear of getting fillings through the ether; maybe it's all those board books intending to "help" get through the dentist's visit. T took one look at the inside of my mouth, silently walked into the bathroom, eyes wide, and began brushing.

--Leaving toys scattered on the floor.
This is a toughie, because the natural consequences can be excruciating for a young child. That consequence, obviously, is that the toy gets stepped on and broken. And since the toys that are usually strewn about are the favorite ones, having a much-loved toy get smashed can be devastating (albeit a powerful lesson).

However, this is sporadic at best and in no way a dependable outcome. Instead, I'd start with explaining that toys can get stepped on and broken (fat lot of good that discussion will do ya', if your kids are anything like mine). If you want to push the concept of the natural consequence, you could accidentally-on-purpose step on a less-than-favorite-but-somewhat-desired toy, thereby showing the natural consequence without having your child scarred and explaining to his therapist in twenty years that "Mom murdered my Freddie the Fire Truck." (My oldest sister still has vivid recollections [waking nightmares?] of my mom burning her stick horse - my mom had no idea that my sis even cared about it since she hadn't used it in years, and it was in tatters.)

If that doesn't work, you can always move to other, more extreme measures ... the logical consequence. This might take several forms:
"I'm afraid I'm going to sprain my ankle if I step on your toys, so I'm going to put them away where they'll be safe and I won't have to worry about stepping on them."
"With your toys strewn about, I worry that somebody will be hurt if they trip on them. Would you like to put them away, or would you like me to find a safer home for them?"
A bit harsher: "If you don't wish to take care of your toys, maybe we should give them to a child who doesn't have any who can take care of them."
And the kicker ... "I get really angry when I trip over your toys again and again. I don't like being angry, so we need to come up with a solution on how to keep them off of the floor."

One thing I can say that is important with logical consequences is to include your kid in the process as much as possible. Because logical consequences are contrived rather than natural, it just makes sense for the child to be involved. Besides, I've found that things work out so much better if the kid is invested in some way.

Four year olds really want to be heard. They need to be included in the decisions and the discussions. Get your kid to give you all her ideas on what might happen in a given situation. Maybe the natural consequence is something she can live with (missing the first half hour of the birthday party). If not, then have her come up with a solution. If she can't, then offer some.

One of the key components to this type of parenting is not to make the consequence a punishment. I once knew a guy who had been in hard-core jail for a period of months. When he came out, he said that the other inmates weren't learning anything from their incarceration except how to be better criminals. That really hit home with me. I don't want my kids to use their punishment as a way to think of ways to get back at me or to figure out how better to get away with the "crime." 

No matter what consequence you end up with, it needs to make sense. It has to make sense to you and the child. Also, what another mom said to me is right on target: the key is not to get caught up in all the debate - state the expectation and then let it be up to them to follow through or not. If they choose a certain behavior, knowing what that consequence is, then so be it. They will only learn by failures, not by successes.

Do all of these ideas work every time? Of course not, just like the fact that I'm not always able to pass up that extra piece of chocolate cake, even though I know the natural consequence is that I'll be cursing it in 12 hours - and if I do it often enough I won't be able to fit into even my fat clothes. And we adults don't always learn from natural consequences, do we? (Just ask anyone who's gotten two tickets for speeding.) And sometimes it takes a number of times to finally "get it." (Just ask anyone who's gotten a bunch of tickets for speeding.)

For more of my ideas on natural and logical consequences, you can see this post, or you can see this post for a specific example when S was six years old.

Remember, nothing works for every person or every kid or every family. Each one needs to find his or her own way. By giving examples of what we've done in our family, I might come across like I think I'm some kind of expert, and nothing could be farther from the truth [even if I end up sounding like it sometimes]. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Three Days to Live

Want to know if you're truly happy? Ask yourself this question:

If you were told you had three days to live, what would you change?

Tonight as I was driving home and listening to a novel on my iPod, the main character said that this is the question to ask to learn if you're truly happy. "The correct answer," he said, "is nothing."

It got me to thinking ... what would I want to do in those three days? It's not enough time to see the wonders of the world. It's too long to give your family one last heartfelt goodbye hug. It's even too short to "put your affairs in order." Of course, there's no way to know what I'd do, since I foresee a long, healthy life ahead of me (fingers crossed) and I don't expect to be faced with that question anytime soon.

This question is coupled with the experience this past weekend of having my parents visit. They are facing the end of their lives. They've been married for fifty-five years - an astounding number in itself, but made even more astounding by the fact that they've been in love for all those years. Now that my father is losing much of who he is to dementia as my mother watches helplessly from the sidelines, I am a witness to seeing two people face the beginning of the end. A stark contrast to being confronted with three days of life left.

What would each of them change? Without a doubt, each of them would say, "Nothing."

So what would I do? What would I change? I'd hold my kids closer, spend more time cuddling and wrestling, eat a pizza and a cheeseburger, and get H to take the days off. I'd call my family and have long talks. What else is there? Family, love, and the knowledge that you've loved and been loved.

As my children find careers and have families of their own, and as they go through their lives, this is what I want for them. The ability to be able to answer, "Nothing."

What would I change? Not a damn thing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Parents gone

Little dogs gone

House quiet

Bed back

Sanity back (um, not quite)

Tomorrow back on track (I hope)

Monday, May 18, 2009

No Post Today


Aging parents in town ... staying two days longer than expected (and counting) ... with their little un-housebroken Chihuahua dogs.

'Nuff said.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

Life comes full circle. We start as innocents with few experiences and memories, and we sometimes end up that way too.

My father doesn't remember much these days. He sometimes doesn't remember my sisters or me, unless we're standing in front of him. He's past the point of remembering his grandchildren or his daughters' husbands, but he does a great job of faking it - always the cheerful diplomat. He doesn't recall his home if he's away from it, and he doesn't remember the pets he has had for 8 years, even when they're sitting next to his side.

Today he teared up as he recalled the day that T was born. He remembered that his birth was the only birth he'd ever witnessed - including those of his own children, as fathers weren't admitted in the delivery rooms in those days. 

One of the few precious memories that linger in his mind is that of the birth of his last grandchild, the only birth he's ever seen ... my last child.

I'm grateful.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me."
--Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy

Friday, May 15, 2009

Latest from "Playing for Change"

Playing for Change has just added a new song. "War, No More Trouble" by Bob Marley and the Wailers features "musicians who have seen and overcome conflict and hatred with love and perseverance." 

Bob is now S's favorite musician, and she's learning his songs, because he always has cool bass rhythms. In his songs, the bass is the song. I love it because he always (well, almost always) has a great message.

The first album where "War" was recorded was Rastaman Vibration

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Revealing Interlude

My plan was to post more today on consequences, but I think instead that I need to take a brief interlude - possibly highly overdue. (I promise to get back to the discussion of consequences tomorrow.)

I think the most illuminating way to start is to tell a short story:

Back when my kids were much younger, I was really struggling with how to improve my parenting skills. Perhaps the specifics of how bad things were are best discussed in another post, but I really needed to improve. I started attending parenting classes like "taming your child's dragon" and "dealing with the spirited child." I ended up going to a number of these classes, convinced that they were helping me along the the path to perfect parenthood. (Just one more class, and I'll finally get it!) 

This was a big deal for me to be gone for entire evenings, because I was definitely an attached parent, and our kids were all closely spaced and needed lots of parent assistance for the evening routine. I felt a lot of guilt leaving H to deal with them alone, but I knew that I was working for the greater good. 

One night, a couple of weeks after I'd gone to yet another parenting workshop, I was standing in the kitchen. We were having our usual bickering back-and-forth, when G looked at me and said, "Mama, remember when you went to school to be a better parent?" Yes, I remembered. He looked at me with his big, round, honest, innocent eyes and said, "I'm sorry it didn't help."

How do you write the sound of mental glass shattering? I thought I was doing so good, and my kids saw right through me. (If you want to see what I thought I'd be when I started this journey, read this post.) 

I won't tell you about all the times all three of the kids and me were in a heap in the middle of the floor bawling our eyes out (at least we were together, right?). Or the times that I'd put G in our glass-door shower stall for "time out" (water off), while I sat outside so he could see me and I cried, because I didn't know what else to do. (It was the only place where he couldn't hurt himself or anyone else.) Or the times that I'd sob on DH's shoulder saying how I'd made a big mistake having kids, that I was a terrible mother, and that I was failing my children. 

Or the time that I was standing in the kitchen when, in a flash, I realized that if I died that day, my kids would only remember me as an angry mom.

For a long stretch, there were tears every day. (Oh, and the kids cried too.)

Let's just say this. I'm a better mom than I was yesterday. And yesterday I was a better mom than I was last month. And last month better than last year. And last year better than five years ago.... But before I had kids, I was the best mom of all.

Let's also say that these days I don't have a lot of BMDs ("Bad Mommy Days") or FAP Days ("Failure As a Parent") anymore. My good days significantly outnumber my bad. That's not something I could have said not too long ago. So I'm making progress!

I'm human. What that means for me is that I love for people to see my successes and hate for people to see my failures. However, I've had so many parenting failures and been so vocal about them on our local attachment parenting list that I feel like I've established a reputation for being a, well, shall we say, less than perfect mom. I forget, though, that lots of my fellow friend moms don't know me through that list, so they haven't seen my self-inflicted disemboweling over the last number of years.

What this blog is about is not what an expert parent I am. It's not about how I have all the answers or that I'm any different from any other parent in the world. 

What this blog is about is what I've learned in the trenches. From being thrown into mommyhood 14 weeks too early; to having an off-the-charts Tasmanian Devil, high-needs child (and I mean that in a good way, of course LOL); to having three kids under 4 years old all in cloth diapers at once; to having a kid who was diagnosed with a neurological disorder. 

This is about what worked ... but mostly about what didn't. I tend not to write about what didn't, though, because I've tried so many things that didn't that I'd be here for years. Besides, it's embarrassing. :)

So when I have friends who joke about having me keep their children for a month to turn them into perfect children it always give me a mighty chuckle and sometimes a serious guffaw. What goes through my head at those moments is usually, If they only knew! If they only knew!

Sometimes they think that my kids have ended up being perfect children. They are ... in the sense that all children are perfect. They're definitely not in the sense that most people think of perfect children: that they never argue, never procrastinate, never make me (or each other) crazy, never do something they shouldn't, never forget to do something they should. They're just kids. Normal, average, lovable kids. 

And me? I'm a normal, average, loving mom who has learned her lessons well. After reading stacks of parenting books dozens of feet high, and taking parenting workshops to make things all better, and venting and discussing parenting strategies with other harried moms, I've found some things that work for us. I've also found a ton of things that don't. (And I enjoy spouting off about all those things.)

My kids are they way they are because they're who they are. Not because I have some magic and not because I have all the answers (certainly not because I have all the answers).

So that's me - and that's what this blog is about. A fellow mom who figured out a few things through a lot of trial and error, who makes tons of mistakes and has had some serious disasters, and who got lucky with the kids she got because they're very forgiving. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More on Natural and Logical Consequences

Okay, so I  promised one of my favorite stories on natural consequences. Stop me if you've heard this.

No? Then here goes.

In our house we talk a lot about choices and options. I'm a firm believer in giving kids every possible, reasonable choice. But with that freedom comes responsibility.

My kids know without a doubt that they can make their own choices, and along with them come the responsibilities - and consequences - of those choices.

Case in point. When S was about 6 years old, we all decided to go on a 3-mile hike to find a geocache in the woods. We'd be hiking over gravel and rock trails and through weeds, right along with the Texas critters. S decided she wanted to wear her favorite flip-flops. Pink, plastic flip-flops.

We talked about how long the hike was and what kind of ground we'd be walking on. We discussed how no one was going to carry her if her feet got scratched, she got blisters, or she got tired. I told her that I thought it was not a wise choice, but I also told her it was her choice. If she chose to wear them, that was her choice and her responsibility to see it through to the end of the hike.

No, I wasn't willing to carry an extra pair of shoes. I was already carrying water bottles, first aid, snacks, and other assorted mommy things. No, no one else would be willing to carry another pair of shoes for her, since it was her choice to start out with inadequate equipment. And as it turns out ... no, she wasn't willing to carry an extra pair either. 

Of course, she decided to wear the stupid pink flip-flops. (Did I mention that she's my headstrong one?) She agreed that she was on her own and seemed perfectly fine with it.

Gee, I'll give you one guess as to what happened. About a mile away from the car on the way back, she developed blisters. It was sheer torture for me to watch her hobble her way back to the car, alternating between going barefoot on sharp stones and wearing plastic on fresh blisters, heaving big, deep sobs. 

I got a lot of flak from friends for letting her suffer. Lots of people thought I was unduly harsh. Maybe I was. It was one of the toughest things I've done.

But you know what? From that point forward, she's always had adequate footwear for any situation. Even today, she'll pick practicality over fashion if there's a pressing need to do so. 

What's more, this one episode bled over into virtually every other potential power struggle. We virtually never have them, even now 5 years later.

But what if I'd relented at the last minute and carried her to the car? What would she have learned? For one, she would have learned that she doesn't really have to think for herself, because some authority figure will take care of her. For another, she wouldn't have learned how to be prepared for future excursions. And there are lots of other things she learned, not the least of which was that she was strong enough to power her way through a difficult situation and come out okay on the other side. She also learned that she has people who love her and will stand by her, even when she makes a stupid choice.

You know the really funny thing? Now, all these years later, she doesn't remember that episode. But the lessons she learned became so ingrained in her brain that they became a part of who she is.

There's another thing about natural/logical consequences that I think many people miss. By letting a child make a choice and live by the results, you're telling that child that you respect her. If you always are prepared for her choice to fail (e.g., if I'd sneaked in an extra pair of shoes into my backpack), then you're telling her that you didn't have faith in her. You didn't believe that she was smart enough to make a choice that would work. It's kind of like the mom who remakes the bed after their child has made it. What she's telling that kid is "your best isn't good enough." 

I want our kids to learn good choices and responsibility at an early age, when the consequences are minor, rather than have them wait until they're old enough that the consequences of poor choices can be deadly. When a young child gets a few blisters from a poor choice - even after being given all the pertinent information - she's uncomfortable for a few days. When a newly driving teenager makes poor choices - especially if she's never been given the opportunity to live with the true (natural) consequences - she or her friends could end up with consequences that will change their lives in devastating ways.

Information is power. With every natural consequence my child gets, she has learned a bit more about the world. She's added something to her storehouse of information, which I hope will serve her well through her life.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Natural and Logical Consequences

Natural consequences. Logical consequences. You hear about them all the time. What do they really mean, and what's the difference between them? I have lots of ideas about them, so it may take more than one post to get my thoughts across.

First, let's talk about what they don't mean. Most parents use the word "consequence" in a negative way, namely, to mean "punishment." A consequence isn't inherently negative, although most kids these days think of it that way. That's because what they hear is, "If you do that, Billy, there will be Consequences!!!" (Billy quivers as he thinks of what possible heinous punishment his mom is constructing in her mind.)

I hear this term thrown around all the time, in the grocery store, on the playground, even at friends' houses. 

But a consequence is merely something that happens as a result of something else happening. If an egg rolls off the edge of a table, it breaks (natural consequence) and you have to clean it up (logical consequence).

I have lots of ideas on punishment as well - mostly that I don't really believe in punishment per se, at least in the case of children learning to be adults. We used to do "time outs," just like we were told to do in all the parenting books (one minute per year, and all that), but what I found was that it simply didn't work for us. What I tell the kids all the time (ad nauseam, it seems) is that I want them to do the right thing because it's the right thing, not because I tell them to and not because they're afraid of getting caught doing the wrong thing. But before I traipse off down that diverging garden path, I'll postpone the discussion on punishment for a later post.

I could also talk a lot about our parenting strategies, but that would also be too long for this topic, so I'll just succinctly say that we tend not to have lots of hard and fast "rules," other than a few very basic ones: "Respect each other. Respect yourself. Respect our things." Except for some basic safety stuff, which mostly falls into one of those three respect rules, that's the extent of our rules. When we lay down the law that they can't do something ("stay out of the street") it's simply because of one of those rules and/or a safety issue. And we always have a reason for whatever that "rule" is, and we're happy to explain it to them.

So back to consequences. 

Let's look at natural consequences. These are the things that happen naturally, without mental intervention. If a child leaves her favorite toy on the floor, and the parent squashes it in the dark on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, naturally the toy will get broken: natural consequence. If a child leaves her favorite toy on the floor, and the parent squashes it while running to the ringing phone, naturally the toy will get broken with an added tasty natural consequence of the parent becoming irate. (Sometimes instinctive parental anger can be an awfully motivating natural consequence.) Toy left on floor = broken toy = no toy and mad mad mom.

Now logical consequences. Personally, I would get pretty miffed if someone gave me an arbitrary punishment for some mistake I'd made or something I'd done wrong. Say I accidentally spilled my glass of red wine on the carpet. I certainly didn't intend to do that, and it doesn't mean I'm a bad person who needs to be punished. The natural consequence is that I'll be pissed off, angry at myself, disappointed that there's now a great big ugly stain on the rug, and there's a great big ugly stain on the rug. The logical consequence is that I need to clean it up and QUICKLY! If I tended to spill my red wine on the carpet every other night, the logical consequence would be that I should either get a sippy cup (there's a whole 'nother use for all those sippy cups in the back of the cabinet, right?) or drink it in the kitchen. I'd be mighty miffed if my DH decided I needed a time out (especially if it was without the wine) or needed to go to my room.

(Besides, when most kids are sent to their room or given time out, they use that time to stew about how mad they are, how humiliated they feel, or how they'll get back at brother/sister/mother/father - not how they're going to make amends and do better next time. At least this is what my children tell me.)

The point is, if the consequence (again, just a result of something else happening) is unconnected to the "crime," then there's no mental connect between the deed and the time. So, if a kid is caught stealing and is forced to make his bed for a month as the "consequence," what does he learn from that? 

Here's the kind of thing I see all the time: Kid does something that Mom doesn't like. Let's say that Kid comes home with a D on his report card because he's not doing his homework. Mom takes one look and shouts, "I've told you a hundred times to do your homework! No iPod for a month!" Huh? Where's the connect between doing homework and no music? What the mom is doing is taking away something meaningful to the kid as punishment, not as a learning tool and not as a way to resolve the problem. In this case, the natural consequence of a bad grade may not happen soon enough to be of effect (i.e., a downward academic spiral and not getting into his college of choice may be years down the road, and thus too far to be of use to the parent). So that's when logical consequences come into play.

In this case, there might be a domino effect: Kid gets a D on his report card, Kid gets bumped out of honors class in that subject and into the regular class, Kid loses interest in subject and begins to see himself as a failure, and then Kid gives up and doesn't even want to try to get into a good college and settles for a party school. Obviously, this is a natural consequence that just won't work to keep Kid on track.

The logical consequence will take some thinking on Mom's part. What's keeping Kid from turning in the homework? She'll have to talk with Kid to see what the deal is. Is he doing the homework and not turning it in? Is he not doing it at all? If he's not doing it, why not? If it's that he's spending too much time with his friends hanging out at the mall, then there's your logical consequence (less mall time). If it's that it's too difficult, then there's your logical consequence (more study time or tutor). If he's on the phone with his girlfriend, then there's your logical consequence (restricted phone time or having the girlfriend come over and study together). 

Frequently, the kid has the answer to what logical consequence will actually make a difference in stopping an undesirable behavior. I remember a few years ago when we first got a video game console. G was obsessing over it, wanting to spend every waking moment on it. I really hate being the police about stuff like that, so I talked to him. He decided that he would play only on the weekends, because he didn't want to become addicted. Now that doesn't mean that he cheerfully put away the controller when his time was up, but when I reminded him of his decision and how it seemed to be the best option, it made all the difference.

Often, natural and logical consequences go hand in hand. I remember once a couple of years ago that S became hooked on a certain ham from the deli at our local grocery store. It wasn't cheap, but it was produced locally and wasn't pumped full of chemicals, so I was willing to buy it for her. I'd just bought a pound ($10.00) and she'd made herself lunch with it. We had to leave the house immediately after lunch, and she was responsible for cleaning up after herself. You guessed it ... she left the ham on the counter and the dog ate it. (We pride ourselves on feeding our dogs well. Yeah, right.)

So she got both a natural and logical consequence. Natural: no ham for lunch the next day or any day until I went back to the grocery store the following week. Logical: she had to pay for the ham that was lost out of her own allowance (about $8.00 worth). This amounted to about two weeks' worth of her allowance. A hard lesson for a young child, but one she didn't forget. And it was hard for me to watch.

Certainly, we didn't spring this on her suddenly. We'd all talked about what would happen if this scenario occurred again (as it already had occurred a couple of times in the recent past). She hadn't been the only one not taking care of their after-lunch detritus, and it ended up being a lesson for G as well.

I guess the difference I see between traditional discipline (i.e., punishment) and natural/logical consequences is this: is your goal to help your kids succeed in the long run by learning about what works and what doesn't - which sometimes means failing in a huge way - or is it to punish them for their "bad" behavior and expect them to do "good" as the alternative? The floggings will continue until morale improves. And - and this is an important "and" - do you want your kids to do the right thing because they know that it's the right thing (even if it's not the easy thing) or do you want them to do the right thing because you told them to do it and because they're afraid of getting caught? I'm too lazy to be the police as well as the mom.

I guess it's also the difference between parent-as-authority and parent-as-life-facilitator. It takes a lot of work to facilitate learning rather than just teaching what you think they should know - it takes a ton of thinking - but the long-term results are dramatic.

I believe in giving kids tools for success, not setting them up for failure.

For one of my favorite stories on natural consequences, check in tomorrow. (For those of you who know me, don't bother ... you've heard it all before.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Silly Putty Kids

My kids are Silly Putty. 

Today, as I reminisced about their early childhood, when they were Velcroing themselves to me at every turn, I realized that they aren't Velcro at all.

They're pink, rubbery, bouncey, and ... well ... silly. Silly Putty

They stretch without breaking, yet they "snap" when yanked quickly. At times, they bounce higher than a rubber ball. You can mold them into various forms - temporarily, anyway - and slow, gentle pressure can change their shape.

Like Silly Putty, they come in all shapes and hues, and they emerged all squishy from a little egg.

Each time I see them, they're a bit different ... different shape, different texture, just different - just a little.

They stick to me. Stick. Like. Glue.

They spread themselves out and attach themselves to me, and every time they connect with me I've imprinted a little of myself onto them. Sometimes it's exciting and colorful like the comics from the Sunday paper, and others it's simple boring words. 

Then they mix themselves all around again, and you can't tell where those tiny parts of me ended up. But they're in there somewhere.

And even though you can't see it easily, each time we connect, they leave a thin film on me. Over millions of connections, they rubbed off on me as well, becoming part of me, absorbed into my being.

Over time, as they've slowly, consistently picked up bits from me, from Dad, from each other, from their friends and relatives, and from the world around them, they've changed. Their color and texture - what makes them them - has been molded and shaped by the forces around them. But the heart of who they are was that pink, squishy, perfect blob.

One thing I know for sure ... my life has been immeasurably enhanced by three blobs of Silly Putty.

Reasons I'm Grateful to Be a Mother

dreams and nightmares
bumps and caresses
hugs and shoves
smiles and tears
quiet and clamor
excitement and disappointment
successes and failures
serenity and chaos
laughter and anguish
love and fear
birth and death

To share the joys, and shoulder the sorrows.

All reasons I'm grateful to my mother, for she shares in my joys and shoulders my sorrows.

Thanks, kids, for allowing me to be your mother.
Thanks, husband, for making it possible.
Thanks, Mom, for ... well ... everything.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary."
--Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Her Son's Wife

Friday, May 8, 2009

The 8 Principles with Older Kids ... Still Valid?

Lots of people tend to think of attachment parenting as being applicable only to infants and toddlers ... and maybe preschoolers if you stretch it. Certainly, by the time a child goes to kindergarten or 1st grade, the days of attachment are gone. 

You have to "cut the apron strings" (fine if you wear an apron or even cook - not something I worry about), "kick them out of the nest" (since they're big enough to kick back with a vengeance, that might take some thinking over), and not "make them Mama's boys" (well, I haven't succeeded at making them anything that they didn't want to be, so that one won't work for me either).

Let's take a look at API's Eight Principles of Parenting and see if they still make sense with our older kids ...

1. "Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting"
As much as we prepare for being a parent, we're still unprepared. There's simply no way to know how you'll parent until you're faced with sleep-deprivation insanity, the fate of a human's life hanging on your judgment, and copious amounts of poop, vomit, pee, and farts. That said, it's in our best interest - and that of the child - to do as much preparation as possible. There are tons of great books devoted to raising small children. (Just see the left sidebar.)

But at some point I stopped reading parenting books. Does that make me a neglectful parent? I don't think so. I find that I seek out books that agree with my viewpoint, which are the ones I don't need to read. So what's the point? I can spend my 2-minute pre-coma reading time on a book that won't give me new information, or I can spend it on something entertaining.

And what do all these parenting books say? Basically, they all say the same thing: Have respect. Respect for our children, respect for our spouses, respect for our friends, and (let's not forget) respect for ourselves. If you love and respect your children, they'll end up respecting you. (More on what I mean by respect in a later post. Hint: it does not mean "let them run all over you.")

The preparation for parenting older kids is to parent young kids with respect. The basic truth of respect carries forward from young childhood into older childhood. When kids are testing their wings they need just as much respect as we've ever given, for if they don't get that respect, they'll use their wings to fly away and find it - or what they think it is - elsewhere.

2. "Feed with Love and Respect"
Okay, I have to admit ... I draw the line at nursing my 12-year-old. I'm all for extended breastfeeding (heck, I breastfed my youngest until his 4th birthday!), but at some point you just have to say, "Enough!"

Seriously, food is one of those things essential to life, just like nurturing touch (if you don't believe that, just google "failure to thrive lack of touch").  We have to give them the information they need to keep themselves healthy and trust that they're wise enough to take care of themselves. Our responsibility is to provide them with healthy foods that will nourish their bodies and give them the information necessary, and respect (and trust) their decisions to treat themselves well. If they choose to be vegetarian, and we're carnivores, we need to respect that.

After all, I can't be with them every minute of every day at this age, and they eat without my input a lot. It was important that I laid the groundwork early so that they'll make healthy decisions when they're away from home.

3. "Respond with Sensitivity"
I think this is a no-brainer for dealing with people of any age. I certainly wouldn't want my DH to treat me without sensitivity, and I expect my kids don't want me to do so either. However, I see it all the time with parents of older kids ...

"Buck up! Don't act like a baby!" 
"You're fine. It can't hurt that much." 
"It's okay. Go ahead. You don't need me."
"There's nothing to be scared of."

If I bang my shin on the corner of the dishwasher, it hurts! I do not want my husband saying, "Stop crying. You're okay." That's just not an example of sensitivity that would make me want to cuddle up to him at night. And if I was scared to walk into the garage in the dark, I'd feel pretty angry if he just flippantly said, "Oh go on. There's nothing scary in there. Stop being such a baby." That would pretty much seal the deal on the cuddling up thing.

4. "Use Nurturing Touch"
True, the nature of the touch changes over time. What was nurturing touch for an infant is different for a teen. We get set in thinking that nurturing touch means stroking, holding, and caressing, but for older kids it might be a warm hand on a shoulder, a short one-armed hug, or high five. 

When kids start to explore their independence, they still need that physical contact to know that you're there, in body and mind. Just a wink, a touch on the cheek, or a thumbs-up may be all they need to feel safe and secure. Still, it warms my heart when my 12-year-old holds my hand; I know those days are numbered.

5. "Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally"
This means different things to different people. I must admit that I'm glad that the days of having 2 adults, 3 kids, and 1 cat in bed together are over. (Frankly, I'm a bit wider than the 12" I was allotted, and my fingers tend to lose their grip on the edge of the mattress when I drift off.)

However, from time to time we still find ourselves joined in the middle of the night by a warm body and, on the rare occasion, two. I just remind myself that these days, too, are numbered and to cherish that closeness while I still have it.

6. "Provide Consistent and Loving Care"
Not much discussion needed here. No self-respecting parent could argue with this one, no matter how old their kids are (just ask my parents).

7. "Practice Positive Discipline"
This is what I see as the trickiest principle with older kids. I see so many parents relying on bribes, rewards, punishments, and "consequences" and they're just making more work for themselves. Once kids reach a certain age, when they're testing their limits and stretching their independence, many parents will decide that the trust/respect aspect of attachment parenting needs to be amended. They decide that, since Junior's testing the limits, the limits need to be stricter. 

Maybe this works for some families, but it didn't for ours. S was so headstrong that no matter what I told her she had to do, she'd do the opposite just because I'd told her. When instead, she and I sat down and talked about why she was so resistant, it turned out that she was reaching for independence. The more I tried to crack down, the more she rebelled because she was grasping independence wherever she could get it. I could see a long, hard road ahead of us, when the consequences of poor choices at an older age can be devastating, even life threatening. Something had to change.

I began to give her complete freedom over her choices. When she made poor choices, she had to live with the natural consequences. (Occasionally, I had to come up with logical consequences, if the natural ones would have been too long in the making. BTW, my use of the word "consequences" is different from the way most parents use the word - they actually mean "punishment.") When she chose to wear shorts and a t-shirt in 40 degree weather, she had to live with the fact that she was going to be cold all day. We'd talked about it, and I'd made suggestions on what to wear and even to bring extra clothes "just in case," but she wouldn't have any of it. Instead of laying down the law, I let her make her own decisions. Let's just say that now she always has a jacket nearby if it's chilly.

Is it hard to stand by and watch your child suffer? Absolutely. But I wouldn't insist that my husband bring a jacket because I respect his ability to take care of himself. I just try to give her the same respect. We rarely butt heads anymore, which is such a relief.

8. "Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life"
Ooh, a toughie at any age. I haven't figured this one out. Okay, I guess the key word here is strive, right? Good thing. I do that on a daily basis.

On some days, that striving for balance is kinda like striving to lose 10 pounds by the weekend when I know I'm going to have to be in a bathing suit. I can eat celery sticks until I'm green and exercise until my feet fall off, but it just ain't happenin'.

On other days, I can actually achieve something close to balance. I must admit, as my kids get older, those days come more and more often. In all honesty, I never thought we'd get here. But all the talking, all the cosleeping, all the nipple pain, all the listening to long, drawn-out stories of angst and woe, all the interminable discussions on conflict resolution, and all the days of being Velcro Mom and Dad established the strong foundation of our family. 

Now we're just reaping the rewards. 

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tutoring for Success?

Emma sits at a desk and stares at the work in front of her. Across the table sits her tutor, with whom Emma meets twice a week after school. Emma's parents are concerned that, without tutoring, she won't be ready for the next school year. They see a line of dominos falling, with Emma ultimately not being able to get a into a prestigious college and have a successful career.

Her parents have heard great things about this tutoring facility ... that in just six months they can improve a student's abilities a full year's worth. That, they believe, will give Emma just the boost she needs to succeed. After all, she'll have lots of competition in the exclusive private school that her parents have given a hefty check to in the hopes that she'll be accepted.

Emma stares blankly, twirling her dark hair, clearly not interested in the work put before her. She doesn't see the point of all this. College and career? They're way too distant in the future. She doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. 

Emma's mind wanders and she picks her nose. She'd rather be riding her tricycle.

You see, Emma is 3. 

She's in one of the fastest-growing demographics for tutoring. Her parents have bought into the hype that their kids have to be smarter, start earlier, and know more than everyone else in order to succeed. How sad for those kids ... those preschoolers.

Research has shown time and time again that play-based learning at an early age is all that kids need. Indeed, cramming reading and math down the throats of toddlers can cause a host of problems: stress, decreased creativity, lower self-esteem, and a thin wallet. (Some tutoring sessions can be as high as $45 per half hour.) Recent brain-imaging data have revealed that most children's brains aren't developmentally ready to read until around age 5. So why the rush?

And speaking of rushing our kids, what's the deal with kindergarten? What happened to kindergarten as a time for play, with sandboxes, songs, and corny dances? Too often our kindergarteners are taking assessments and doing homework. When I was 5 (and yes, I'm all too aware of just how long ago that was - my kids seriously asked me if television had been invented when I was their age), we played outside and banged around on percussion instruments. Heck, most of us didn't even attend kindergarten - we dug in the dirt and ran around outside and went with our mothers to the grocery store and took naps (something I think should be instituted for all adults over 45).

If early reading and math proficiency is supposed to pave the way to success for our children, and if more and more parents are forcing this down the throats of their babies, why oh why isn't the United States at the top of the list educationally compared to other countries? Year after year, the United States lags behind other developed countries in math and science. But if our early-push efforts and our stress on early learning aren't paying off in the long term, why do we subject our children to this?

It doesn't stop at kindergarten. When my oldest was in 2nd grade, many of his peers were in the accelerated math class at the local elementary school. The idea was that in 2nd grade, the information in 2nd and 3rd would be "compacted" so that they kids would be ahead one full year in math, thus finishing algebra before high school so that they could finish calculus before graduation. I talked with some moms during this year (2nd grade), and they were all so proud that their kids had tested into the program. (They tested at the end of the 1st grade.)

I was curious about the flip side ... what did the kids think about it? Well, the moms said, they had tons of homework that they weren't always crazy about. And of course, with all the extracurricular things that kids do today (soccer, ballet, etc.), they had to drop something. You want to know what each and every one of the kids had to drop to take the compacted math? Playdates. Yup, at age 7, kids were having to focus on math so much that they had to cut back on - or cut out - their play time.

I see so much wrong with this approach. I know, I know ... the intent is honest and even honorable. They want their kids to achieve, to remain interested, to learn along with like-minded peers, and to have every opportunity. But they're sacrificing their children's childhood in the process.

Are administrators wising up to the fact that this could be hurting instead of helping our kids? Maybe. I was heartened to find this article when I went to do a little research on compacted math. It turns out that our school district has rethought this practice and will be changing it for the 2010-11 school year. They'll be testing kids in 6th grade, when new material comprises only 30% of the math curriculum, instead of 1st, when it's 60%. As they say in the article, it also catches kids that might have been missed in 1st grade and gives them advanced material when they're developmentally ready. One elementary teacher said that "the sense of failure resulting from the situation can turn capable students off math and away from advanced learning" (quoted from the article that quotes her).

But what's the biggest benefit to not pushing our kids? That little nugget is missing in the article. It's this: the kids get to be kids again.

"But wait!" you shout with alarm. (I can hear you from here.) "My kid is ahead of the curve and bored in class!" The school district plans to handle that with Gifted classes, they say. (Personally, I'm a bit skeptical.)

Unfortunately, there's no one solution that meets everyone's needs. By the very nature of classrooms, there will always be some kids struggling to keep up and others bored waiting for the rest to catch up. People have been trying for ages to figure out how to make our current schooling strategy work for every child, and there's simply no way. (Besides, my opinions of what's wrong and right with our schools is far too long for this post.)

But one thing is clear. Pushing kids academically before they're ready is no solution. Taking away their play time is no way to make them happy learners. The years of imagination are so short; let's not hurry them into adulthood.

And what about Emma? Is she doomed to a life of worksheets and tutors instead of dolls and bugs? Fortunately, she and her parents exist only in my mind and are simply composites of people I found described in internet articles. But there are plenty of real-life versions just like her. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beyond Babies

It's easy to practice attachment parenting with a baby. And it's next to impossible to practice attachment parenting with a baby. And it's somewhere in between. 

As we all know, any of these statements could be true, depending on a bunch of things: the temperament of your baby (which can change from day to day, hour to hour, or minute to minute), your own personality (which may also turn on a dime), and whatever's going on in your life (is there anything going on in your life other than diapers, poop, and breastmilk?).

But what about older kids? I'm talking about the age where kids naturally start to disconnect a bit from Mom and Dad. You know, that age where they start to say, "No! I wanna do it myself!" or "No, Mama. I can go into the bathroom by myself!" (which is okay unless you're in Target or a movie theater and some creepy-looking dude just walked in). 

For some that means kindergarten, for others it means preschool, and for yet others it means elementary school.

Lots of parents find it difficult to get a handle on attachment parenting when their kid begins to develop his or her own personality and want the independence that starts coming with maturity. So how much do we let go, and how much do we hang on?

It turns out that there's no easy answer to that. The answer will depend (again) on the child and on the situation. 

So what do we do? For some parents, the answer seems to be to give up attachment parenting and go along with society's flow. After all, in kindergarten the kids are dealing with earning tokens, getting a "red light" or a "green light," and working toward earning the coveted gold star. Ah, the gold star.

When they're anxious about their cavernous, new classroom with lots of unfamiliar kids, sights, and sounds, they're told to "be a big girl and smile! You have such a pretty face when you smile!" Mom is asked gently and politely to leave, since sometimes "kids act out when Mom is around."

Even in the very best of schools, with the most caring and sensitive of teachers and the friendliest, accepting kids, the fact of the matter is that your child is depending on others to take care of his needs. He's away from you for a huge part of the day and looking to others to guide him, help him, and soothe him.

Yes, some kids want, need, and beg to go to school. That doesn't mean that they want to be separate from Mom and Dad; it simply means that they're ready to test their wings a bit. My kids were these: they really, really wanted to go to preschool. So we did, and it was great. Most of the time. But there were days that they wanted to wrap themselves in Mama's lap and curl up like a puppy. That was okay too.

So let's say your child has decided she wants to test her limits a bit, try out a little independence, and stretch her comfort level. For some parents, this is the sign that they interpret to mean that it's time to unattach. All that attachment up to this point has laid a good foundation, right? Absolutely. Thus, they've done their work and can watch their little one venture out on her own. Right?

And let's face it, sometimes it's just easier to follow in society's path and do what the mainstream parents are doing: not worry that your child's lower lip was trembling when you walked him to the door ("he'll get over it") ... sneak out of the classroom when his back is turned ("I don't want to create a scene") ... force him to face those other boys in class who are giving everybody else wedgies ("he needs to learn how to survive in the real world").

But hold it! For me, this was a time that required at least as much - and sometimes even more - active attachment! Look at the world through your kids' eyes. Up to this moment, they've been secure in their knowledge that you were always no more than an arms' length away, that you would respond when they cried, and that you would listen to their feelings. 

Now suddenly, they're being thrust into this new world of lunchboxes, circle time, and forced friends. Of playgrounds and homework and carpools. Of after-school playdates and school carnivals and class celebrations.

It's exciting! (... and scary). It's grown up! (... and intimidating). It's independent! (... and paralyzing). 

There is never a time when a child is ready to be completely separate from their parents. This age of new beginnings is a time to strengthen that bond ... to make sure your child is completely secure in knowing that you'll be there for him. You may question what you're doing when you pick him up from school and he totally breaks down in the back seat and cries for ten minutes. But try to remember that this is a good thing: he's been holding his emotions back all day and can finally let them go in the comfort and security of his mother's presence. He knows he's safe and can totally be himself, without judgment, with someone who will accept him for who he is. And he knows that he can talk about anything with her, be it easy or hard.

So what specifically can you do to stay connected to that child who is first venturing out on his or her own? Here are a few ideas ...

--Put sweet notes in her lunchbox so she'll have a reminder in the middle of the day that you're thinking of her.

--Have a special item waiting for her in her carseat that shows that you thought of her, maybe an apple or her special lovey.

--When you go somewhere fun while he's at school, especially if you do it with a younger sibling, save something from the experience to share, maybe a balloon or an extra piece of birthday cake from the party that little brother attended.

--Talk about your day with him and ask his opinions on what you did. "I went to the grocery store today, and I couldn't decide what to have for dinner tonight. I settled on lasagna. How do you feel about that?"

--Ask for his suggestions and then take them. "I went to the grocery store today, and I couldn't decide whether to have lasagna or tacos for dinner tonight, so I bought ingredients for both. Which do you think we should have?"

--Wait on making decisions regarding anything that has to do with the family until she's home. If you're trying to decide on a color to paint the living room, make sure she gets her say.

--Wait until she's around to do some of the family work. I know this sounds crazy, but kids need to feel valuable. Don't tackle all the big projects when she's at school, even though it would go faster. :) It's important for her to know that her help is needed at home.

--Ask him about his day. Listen. Ask him more. Listen. Some kids need time to decompress after school, so don't bombard that child with questions right away. Other kids need to talk to process what went on at school, so expect to spend some extra time with that child every day right after school.

--Continue to love, hug, sleep with, talk to, cuddle, wrestle, debate, and appreciate your child. This time of expression and expansion is thrilling and frightening. If you stick together, you'll come out the other side just fine.

--Most of all, respect your child. This is can be a difficult time, even after the routine is established. Listen to what your child tells you instead of what you think he's saying. Sometimes that extra word or turn of phrase can make all the difference in really connecting.

This is a time that's scary for both parent and child. Treat your child the way that you want to be treated, maintain the respect that you've established throughout his childhood, and trust that your bond will continue. After all, you're attached at the heart.