Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What You See Isn't Always What You Get

My mother is a difficult blood draw. She has veins that "roll," meaning that most times she gets an IV she ends up getting poked several times. And every time she gets out of the hospital, she's covered in bruises, so black and blue she looks like she was in a bar brawl.

Enter Ed. 

Ed is a medical professional (nurse, nurse's aid, tech? not sure) at the Austin Heart Hospital, and one of his jobs is to draw blood. Ed is the only person that my mom has ever had - and that's saying a lot - who can not only stick her successfully the first time, but also do it so that she can't even feel it. He was, by far, my mom's favorite person to draw blood. Ever.

So what's the big deal?

Ed has (what one nurse told me) Tourette's Syndrome. He jerks and moves violently, constantly. He lunges, stretches, touches, and lurches. When some patients see him approach them with a needle for a blood draw, they refuse to let him near them. Understandable, some might say.

But those people would be missing out. When he's focused, Ed's a master.

Just a reminder ... don't judge too quickly; you may miss something amazing.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What We Give Our Kids

So what's our biggest goal as parents?

Tough question. Obviously, the answer will be different for every parent, but one answer that sticks out for me is to raise my kids so that they don't need me anymore. That's what we're all striving for, isn't it? To raise our kids so that they'll be capable, happy adults?

To that end, here are some of the things I want to give my kids:

--the strength to do the right thing, even when it's hard

--the ability to know what the right thing is

--the stamina to be respectful, contributing members of society

--the courage to pursue that which fulfills them

--enough experience in life to learn what their passions are

--enough knowledge to be able to pursue those passions

--the respect to figure these things out for themselves

--and lastly, (and most importantly?) the ability to think for themselves

There are surely others, which I'm sure I'll think of five minutes after I post this.

You'll notice that there are some glaring omissions from this list, that many of you will be surprised to see, especially since we homeschool.

Here are some things that I'm not overly concerned with (but if they happen, that'll be okay too):

--my kids' being the "best" at something, whether it's winning first place in a national competition or beating their friends in a neighborhood game of soccer (having them be pleased with their performance is good enough for me)

--my kids' entering a career that's financially lucrative (I'd love them to be financially prosperous throughout their lives, but not at the expense of their happiness - I'd rather them be poor and fulfilled than rich and miserable)

--my kids' getting into the "best college" (yes, they'll all go to college and hopefully graduate school, but the more research I do the more I realize that the particular undergrad school has little to do with success throughout life)

--my kids' being formally recognized as academically "gifted," whether through such a program as Duke's Talent Identification Program or as a National Merit Scholar (sure, those would be great, but they're not necessary - who will recognize my youngest child's giftedness in humor, my daughter's giftedness in connecting with young children and elderly adults, or my oldest son's giftedness at memorizing vast amounts of trivia? Do those gifts merit any less admiration?)

--my kids' following the normal path (whatever path is the one that will take them where they want to go ... that's the one they should follow)

--my kids' "fitting in" (I'd rather they be comfortable in their own skin, value their unique characteristics, and laugh every day)

More than anything, I want my children to approach every day with joy, live a life of fulfillment, and have a packed house at their funerals.

image of purple passion by PinkMookse from here, image of "think go live be" by southerntabitha from here

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

Tonight I'm grateful for leftovers. Much maligned, rarely appreciated, often discarded ... tonight we ate 'em. We tossed them into a big pot, stirred them together, and called it "soup." 

After running errands this afternoon, I was too late and too tired to manage anything remotely resembling dinner, so my mom and I improvised. 

Ah, how delightful to have enough crap in the fridge to throw together - literally, from across the kitchen - and feed a family of seven (grandparents are still here after recovering from the heart escapade). 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Love and Sadness: A Two-Sided Coin

Hours in a hospital room provide ample time to think. I sit, again, watching my mother sleeping. The sounds of the Heart Hospital softly surround me - monitors chiming, nurses quietly talking, doctors rushing past - and I'm sad.

Not for my mother. She's going to be fine - better than she's been in a long time - because her new pacemaker is functioning beautifully and we no longer have to worry about her heart losing its regular rhythm.

Instead, I'm sad for all those people who never experience the inconvenience of love. There are so many people in the world today who never know the connection of true love, and I think their lives must be thin, like the skin on the top of heated milk, instead of rich cream that floats. From the outside, those lives look similar; but the rich texture of cream, thick and almost chewy, is only superficially similar to the thin, sticky film that covers milk.

Until you experience the connection to siblings who pull together to take care of a parent, or an understanding, compassionate spouse who takes up the slack when your attention is focused elsewhere, or a parent who's scared that he might lose his love of over half a century ... you can't know the depths, the complexity of life.

I have a relative who was never close to his parents (an abusive father and a mother who allowed it), whose first wife died suddenly when his son was an early teen, and who can't understand why his current wife feels compelled to help out her parents when they need help. He gets angry at her that it takes away from her career, her "me time," their "couple time." He simply can't understand why she wants to be needed and why she wants to help. To him, taking care of "number one" is the ultimate goal.

How sad for him, I think, not to have to sacrifice a day of pleasure, not to lie awake occasionally worrying about a loved one, not to choose to give up a relaxing dinner at a trendy restaurant for cold hospital food, and not to give up achieving yet another career goal because an ailing family member simply wants to hold his hand.

Can you have joy without knowing sadness? Can you experience success without failure? Can you know love without heartache? How can you judge the height of a peak unless you experience the depth of a valley?

I just walked past a large group in the waiting room. They were obviously all members of the same family, at least eight people closely collected, waiting for a good word about a loved one. I can bet that each of those people had someplace else they need to be, but here they are, gathered together on a Thursday afternoon. While their faces showed anxiety, worry, and fear, there were other emotions there as well: love, joy at being together, closeness from sharing a common ordeal. Whatever their outcome today, they'll always have that connection, knowing that they all cared enough to come together to share the burden of overcoming an obstacle. They'll have that memory.

A couple of years ago, my aunt passed away, and I decided to go to her funeral. My cousins and my sister and I had been close as kids, but I hadn't seen them in decades. While the funeral was a somber occasion, the meal afterward was a time of joy. We celebrated my aunt's life, we caught up on each others' lives, and we reconnected in a way we hadn't in thirty years. Without that family attachment, I would have missed out on getting to re-know some remarkable people.

Sadness ... love ... two sides of a coin. I'm glad I have a bunch of those in my pocket, and I'm fortunate that most of them land heads up.

If you liked this post, you might like The Inconvenience of Love

Photo by ICMA Photos from here

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Bit of a Setback

My mom's cardioversion didn't work. They'll give it one more shot tomorrow. Don't know yet what the other options are at this point if that doesn't work. I guess the cardiologist will let us know.

I sometimes wonder what people without families, without children do in times of crisis. Life must be infinitely harder. I'm glad I won't have to find out.

Photo of tree heart by Angi Unruh from here

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Inconvenience of Love

I sit in my mother's room at the Heart Hospital tonight, watching her sleep. Tomorrow morning she'll undergo yet another cardioversion to get her heart pumping regularly, and later she'll discuss with her cardiologist her options: more procedures or a pacemaker?

I'm struck by how inconvenient love is. This attachment we have to our families, whether the families we're born into or the families we birth. 

As I watch my mother sleeping, I think of how my day - and the next few days or week to follow - has been unexpectedly uprooted, subject to change at a moment's notice. How my plans and my family's schedule have been thrown into chaos. I think of how inconvenienced was my mother, who was ready to harvest her large, bountiful garden. I think of my sister from Phoenix, who happened to arrive for a visit just the day before my mother went to the emergency room - how she now will spend her week caring for my dad, carting him back and forth to the hospital - rather than enjoy her time talking, laughing, and enjoying my parents' company in the country. I think of my husband, who must take up the slack at home while I care for my parents.

Yes, inconvenient. 

I look at my mother sleeping.

Inconvenient, yet oh so worthwhile.

Photo of heart-shaped leaf by David Paul Ohmer from here

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

A true father ...

A man who

  places his family before all else - his friends, his work, his hobbies
  is always around, and always approachable
  is dependable, who can be counted on no matter what
  considers his children's feelings before his own
  cares about his family, to the extent of sacrifice if need be
  does the right thing not only because it's the right thing but also because he 
      knows he's an example for his kids
  means what he says
  expresses his love in small ways, through the day-to-day routines of life
  is much, much more than words can express. 

To have such a father, a person is lucky. To have two such fathers in her life ... well, that person is extraordinarily blessed. 

My father, a man who has never let me down. My rock, my security through my childhood and well into my adult years.

My father with my sister

My husband, who assumed that weighty job when we married. A father to my children that I wished for in my dreams. For me, my dreams became reality. 

My husband with T

How lucky that I would find a man equal to my father? Was it a good choice based on a good role model? Maybe. Was it some fundamental wisdom on my part? Doubtful. Was it chance, fate, destiny? Who knows? I'm just glad I was so fortunate.

Happy Father's Day to you both.

And thank you.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me.
Shine on 'til tomorrow. Let it be."

    --"Let It Be," The Beatles

One of the songs performed tonight by by my kids. More tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Sure-Fire Way to Stop the Bickering

I've found a sure-fire way to stop my kids from bickering, which seems to happen all too often. I'm a wizard. A magician. A sorceress.

What is this magical recipe for success?

I sing.

Perhaps you're thinking of melodious, soothing lullabies or uplifting songs to diffuse the mood and raise the spirit. 

Uh uh.

I sing loud, off key, bad 70s hits, songs from musicals and old TV shows, and annoying commercials. Really loud. I sing so loud that my kids' ears ring and they beg me to stop. They get so distracted by my disharmonious, braying cacophony that their ears burn, their cochleae melt, and all memory of the previous five minutes is burned from their brains.

Works every time. (Well, almost.)

Photo by braska23 from here

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"The Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List"

You've more than likely seen this gem, but just in case you haven't, I wanted to pass it along. I sorely wish I could take credit for writing what has since become a classic, but I can't. It was written by Deborah Markus, the editor, publisher, and mother of Secular Homeschooling magazine. It appeared in the magazine's first issue, the same issue that my "How Do I Get Started Homeschooling?" article appeared. 

Secular Homeschooling is a breath of fresh air to those of us who aren't homeschooling for religious reasons (yes, we do exist!). Thank you, Deborah, for giving "the rest of us" a resource and bringing a smile to homeschoolers' lips everywhere! (And just for the record, this is a humor piece!)

The Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List

by Deborah Markus, from Secular Homeschooling, Issue #1, Fall 2007

1 Please stop asking us if it's legal. If it is — and it is — it's insulting to imply that we're criminals. And if we were criminals, would we admit it?

2 Learn what the words "socialize" and "socialization" mean, and use the one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now. Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and pleasantly. If you're talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the planet, and you can safely assume that we've got a decent grasp of both concepts.

3 Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir practice, baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to socialize.

4 Don't assume that every homeschooler you meet is homeschooling for the same reasons and in the same way as that one homeschooler you know.

5 If that homeschooler you know is actually someone you saw on TV, either on the news or on a "reality" show, the above goes double.

6 Please stop telling us horror stories about the homeschoolers you know, know of, or think you might know who ruined their lives by homeschooling. You're probably the same little bluebird of happiness whose hobby is running up to pregnant women and inducing premature labor by telling them every ghastly birth story you've ever heard. We all hate you, so please go away.

7 We don't look horrified and start quizzing your kids when we hear they're in public school. Please stop drilling our children like potential oil fields to see if we're doing what you consider an adequate job of homeschooling.

8 Stop assuming all homeschoolers are religious.

9 Stop assuming that if we're religious, we must be homeschooling for religious reasons.

10 We didn't go through all the reading, learning, thinking, weighing of options, experimenting, and worrying that goes into homeschooling just to annoy you. Really. This was a deeply personal decision, tailored to the specifics of our family. Stop taking the bare fact of our being homeschoolers as either an affront or a judgment about your own educational decisions.

11 Please stop questioning my competency and demanding to see my credentials. I didn't have to complete a course in catering to successfully cook dinner for my family; I don't need a degree in teaching to educate my children. If spending at least twelve years in the kind of chew-it-up-and-spit-it-out educational facility we call public school left me with so little information in my memory banks that I can't teach the basics of an elementary education to my nearest and dearest, maybe there's a reason I'm so reluctant to send my child to school.

12 If my kid's only six and you ask me with a straight face how I can possibly teach him what he'd learn in school, please understand that you're calling me an idiot. Don't act shocked if I decide to respond in kind.

13 Stop assuming that because the word "home" is right there in "homeschool," we never leave the house. We're the ones who go to the amusement parks, museums, and zoos in the middle of the week and in the off-season and laugh at you because you have to go on weekends and holidays when it's crowded and icky.

14 Stop assuming that because the word "school" is right there in homeschool, we must sit around at a desk for six or eight hours every day, just like your kid does. Even if we're into the "school" side of education — and many of us prefer a more organic approach — we can burn through a lot of material a lot more efficiently, because we don't have to gear our lessons to the lowest common denominator.

15 Stop asking, "But what about the Prom?" Even if the idea that my kid might not be able to indulge in a night of over-hyped, over-priced revelry was enough to break my heart, plenty of kids who do go to school don't get to go to the Prom. For all you know, I'm one of them. I might still be bitter about it. So go be shallow somewhere else.

16 Don't ask my kid if she wouldn't rather go to school unless you don't mind if I ask your kid if he wouldn't rather stay home and get some sleep now and then.

17 Stop saying, "Oh, I could never homeschool!" Even if you think it's some kind of compliment, it sounds more like you're horrified. One of these days, I won't bother disagreeing with you any more.

18 If you can remember anything from chemistry or calculus class, you're allowed to ask how we'll teach these subjects to our kids. If you can't, thank you for the reassurance that we couldn't possibly do a worse job than your teachers did, and might even do a better one.

19 Stop asking about how hard it must be to be my child's teacher as well as her parent. I don't see much difference between bossing my kid around academically and bossing him around the way I do about everything else.

20 Stop saying that my kid is shy, outgoing, aggressive, anxious, quiet, boisterous, argumentative, pouty, fidgety, chatty, whiny, or loud because he's homeschooled. It's not fair that all the kids who go to school can be as annoying as they want to without being branded as representative of anything but childhood.

21 Quit assuming that my kid must be some kind of prodigy because she's homeschooled.

22 Quit assuming that I must be some kind of prodigy because I homeschool my kids.

23 Quit assuming that I must be some kind of saint because I homeschool my kids.

24 Stop talking about all the great childhood memories my kids won't get because they don't go to school, unless you want me to start asking about all the not-so-great childhood memories you have because you went to school.

25 Here's a thought: If you can't say something nice about homeschooling, shut up!


If you enjoyed this post, you might like The Mock Day

Photo by base2wave from here

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Heart Is Smiling

Thanks so much to Era of Today's Thought, who presented me with my first-ever, gosh-darn, whadya-know-it, honest-to-goodness blog award! Yippee! Receiving the "Makes My Heart Smile" award is such an honor.

Era is a witty, delightful mom who writes a witty, delightful blog. Definitely check it out. She is a woman worth reading, for she always has great insights.

As she said in this post, one of the best things about getting a blog award is passing it along to someone else. I'm delighted to pass along this award to two blogs instead of one, simply because I couldn't decide between the two.

Hannah, who lives in A Quiet Spot, is a brilliant writer and a compassionate mom. She always makes me smile, that is, unless she makes me cry. She is so together at such a young age, that I'm constantly amazed.

Moxy Jane, who blogs on Spiral Bound, is an amazingly creative, energetic mom who always has a smile on her face. She goes through life with such joy and excitement that she makes me tired (but happy) just being around her.

Both of these extraordinary women walk through life with respect and gratitude. They make my heart smile, and I'm privileged to count them as friends. Their blogs will give you energy, insight, and fodder for thought. Read them if you want to bring light to your day.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: The First National Bank of Dad

More on allowances ...

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we really liked the book, The First National Bank of Dad by David Owen. It fits in with my philosophy of giving kids as much responsibility as possible and letting them benefit (or suffer) from the resulting outcome.

Basically, it says to give your kids a decent allowance and let them use it as they wish ... no parent-designated restrictions (within reason, of course). The parents don’t decide how much goes to charity or how much is saved - that’s all the kids’ choice.

The allowance is not tied to chores - those are part of living in a family - but the children can earn extra money through "odd jobs." However, the kids are responsible for buying all extras out of their allowance. For us, that means buying presents for any birthday party they want to attend (which is great because it cuts down on how many birthday parties they want to go to!), getting an ice-cream cone when we’re at a carnival, or buying a souvenir t-shirt.

What about donating to charity and saving, you ask? According to the book, when a child receives an allowance and is told to donate a third to charity and a third to savings, he mentally thinks of his allowance as a third of what he received, not the total amount. Say he receives $6 per week; his brain immediately says that he has $2, not $6. By allowing him to use the whole allowance as he sees fit, he takes ownership of all $6, and may end up giving more and saving more. He may not, but at least he’s seeing that money as his and is taking responsibility for it.

Owen says that the idea is to get kids to donate of their own volition, based on the example set by Mom and Dad. Giving is something you can't force someone to do. You have to model that behavior - that's the only way to make it stick. This has proven to be true for us as well. All of our kids give freely now (sometimes to a fault, LOL).

And the kids learn to save by keeping the money in the bank. That's different from the way I was raised, like lots of you probably, with my parents telling me how much to save and donate. Basically, his theory is that they will learn about money in a more realistic way than having someone else (parents) tell them how to save it and spend it.

Here’s how it works: You set up a dummy account on paper or in a program like Quicken and give the child a starting sum of $25. You then give them a large monthly interest rate to encourage them to save, and they can spend the money in any way they want. The idea is to let the kid figure out that the longer they keep their money in the bank the faster it grows. 

This has worked well for us. S, who was leaning toward being a “spender,” immediately blew through her allowance when we started giving it, and she quickly realized how long it took to make that money back. These days I never have to argue with her at all when it comes to spending money. If she sees something she likes when we're out and she wants to buy it, all I have to do is say, "How much money is in your account?" She's learned that, by leaving the money in her account, it builds up quickly so that she'll have it when she wants something special. She, like the boys, has ended up being quite thrifty.

When one of the kids wants to save up for something, they'll offer to do "odd jobs," which I pay them for: cleaning out cabinets, decluttering the garage, pulling weeds, etc. That way they can buy things that I don’t want to spend money for. For instance, some years ago, S wanted an American Girl doll (which I think is a total rip-off) because her then-best friend had one and got her turned on to it. I told her that there was no way I was buying her one, because we didn’t want to spend that much money on a doll. ($95 for a doll? You’ve GOT to be kidding!) 

If she wanted to spend her money on it, I had absolutely no problem with it. She looked through all the catalogs, priced them online (don’t forget shipping and tax!), and wished and yearned and saved. Then one day we were getting some groceries at Sam’s Club, and she found a doll that looked almost identical to the American Girl dolls (except that S liked the facial expression more) that were only $20! And each doll had two outfits included. The cost savings was incredible. She saw on her own how much she could benefit by waiting, comparing, and rethinking. She was incredibly happy with that purchase, and because she bought it after a considerable delay from “want” to “get,” she cherished it even more. To this day, “Cindy” is well loved, though not played with terribly often anymore.  

This brings me to another thing. When the kids realized that they could spend their money on anything they wanted - and ended up blowing much of it at the beginning - their later purchases became much more valuable to them. Once they had to save and purchase things on their own, they appreciated them more. Even for those "crap" toys, when the kids realized quickly that they'd blown their money, the lesson learned was much more valuable than any lecture I could have given them.

One of the nice things about this system is that I never have to say "no" to something they want. My kids say, "Can I have that?" I say, "How much money is in your account?" It totally takes me out of the equation, and the decision is up to them. If they ask, or if I think it's appropriate, I can tell them if I think it's a good value or not, or I can give them tips on how to get something cheaper. But the final decision is theirs.

The only problem that we’ve encountered with the system is when an older child chooses to save over the years instead of spend. He ends up with a bunch of money! Owen talks about this, but honestly I don’t recall how he said to handle it, since our children were much younger then. What we’ll be doing instead is giving our kids an education in investing and allowing them to save and invest in real ways. That will be the best money education of all.

Photo of $5700 in a circle by AMagill from here

Photo of crumpled money by e-magic from here

Monday, June 15, 2009

APing Older Children: Allowances

Kids and money. Kids and stuff. Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee! 

People talk all the time about American kids and how materialistic they’ve become. Frankly, I haven’t seen this to be nearly so noticeable among the attachment parenting families and homeschooling families that we know. Maybe we’re in a little bubble here in Austin, but I doubt it. Instead, I think that the strategies of attachment parenting and the personality traits of homeschoolers tend to steer their children away from consumerism, rather than toward it, generally speaking. 

Yes, yes, I realize that this is totally unscientific on my part and purely anecdotal, but that’s what I’ve come to believe, right or wrong. (And since this is my blog, I can believe what I want to! haha!)

People get weird when it comes to money, no doubt about it. But if we stick to the “respect” issue regarding allowances, things tend to go smoothly, at least in the long run. What I’m about to say won’t seem like respect at first, but bear with me.

Kids need to learn how to handle money, and it’s easiest - as is many things - to have them learn and fail (and thus experience success later) at an early age. Giving a child an allowance, without designating how much they’ll donate and how much they’ll save, grants them complete control over their personal finances. Obviously they’ll need some guidance along the way, at least early on, to know how much things cost and how to calculate tax, as well as how to compound interest and what constitutes a good sale, for instance. These things all come with time.

Here’s what won’t seem like being respectful of them: letting them lose, squander, or fritter away their money. Like I said, people get weird when it comes to money. While you might not bat an eye if your child tried tackling a difficult physical task, say climbing a rope to a gymnasium ceiling, and got some bruises, and while you might not second-guess yourself if your child had his toy smashed by the car because it was left in the driveway overnight, you might freak out if she wanted to spend $20 on a cheap, plastic, light-up, gaudy, play-with-it-for-a-day, vastly overpriced tiara from the circus. (Do I sound bitter? Nah.) Or if he chose to spend $25 of his $40 (total in his allowance) on a cheap, plastic, light-up, gaudy, play-with-it-for-a-week, vastly overpriced, twirling toy thingy from the same circus. (Bitter? Me? Nah.)

Yes, my kids chose to spend their hard-saved money on those two things, while I inwardly cringed. In fact, I would have caved to my miserly upbringing (thank you, my "Depression-era baby" parents) and forbidden it if not for my incredibly wise husband, who said, “It’s their money.”

He was right. They learned so much more from spending their money - which they’d saved for a long time - on crap than from any lecture I could have given them. Of course, they've had to learn this lesson in a number of different versions, but that's okay. They're getting it now, for real.

Now, when they choose to spend their money, it’s usually wisely done. Granted, they’ll occasionally choose to splurge on something that they know is wasteful, but they do so with their eyes open, knowing full well that they’re making a frivolous choice. (After all, don’t we all do that sometimes? Except for me, of course, my spur-of-the-moment two-tiered silk skirt, library fund-raiser handmade glass earrings, and red trashy super-high heels notwithstanding. Hey, I don’t wear them together!)

When it comes to allowances, I find that what’s worked for our family is to give our kids an allowance, let them use it as they wish, and let them suffer or benefit from the consequences. This is respect: respect for their choices, respect for their intelligence, respect for their wishes ... and respect for the learning process.

One thing that was an unexpected pleasant result from giving my kids control over their own money is that they almost always think of "voting" with their money. They choose greener options when buying and really think about where their money goes once it leaves their hands. (Does it go to the local artist, or does it go to a huge conglomerate?) This surprised me at first, but it makes sense when I think about how homeschooling gives my kids the opportunity to learn through living rather than strictly through textbooks. Since we talk about this kind of stuff all the time, it makes sense that our discussions will spill over into their daily choices.

I’ll talk more about this tomorrow, and I’ll give you my take on a book that talks about this kind of allowance. It’s called The First National Bank of Dad and it was the book that gave me the idea.

If you liked this post, you might like this one on natural consequences

Photo of Money Shirt by Rob Lee from here and photo of coins in Trevi Fountain, Rome by David Paul Ohmer from here

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday's Gratitude Post

I love birthdays. Uh, well, not so much my own, really. 

Let me rephrase that.

I love my kids' birthdays. I guess even that's not exactly right. Let me try again.

I love my kids' birthdays about 90% and hate them about 10%. Makes perfect sense, right?

I love celebrating the birth of my children, but I have a love-hate relationship with birthdays - every year I'm reminded that they're getting older and closer to being out on their own.

On Friday T turned nine. Nine! I'm no longer the parent of little kids. Of course, now that I'm a self-decreed expert (ha!) on little kids, I'm slammed into a new role. (See this post on how I'm always behind the curve.)

We spent T's birthday doing the usual stuff: reliving birth stories, revisiting small-child antics, eating homemade cake, and opening presents. Ahhhh, birthdays. They always renew my closeness to my children.

So, yes, this is a gratitude post, but only about 90% of a gratitude post. :)

Photo of multi-colored flame candles by spuballoo from here

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Quote for the Day

"Ourselves ... that was the very best birthday gift. Family harmony, loyalty, love ... that was the best of the best."
--T, on being asked what was his favorite thing about his birthday yesterday

Here's T on his new (used) birthday guitar

Friday, June 12, 2009

Curbing Creative Catastrophes

A friend of mine and I talk regularly about parenting strategies, and recently she became perplexed by what to do with her inquisitive 8-year-old boy's creative tendencies. He had recently devised a number of innocent experiments, which had resulted in a few things being damaged or ruined. The straw that broke the camel's back was when he used an entire gallon of milk to see if he could turn it into yogurt.

We had a long email discussion about this, and she thought it might be useful to someone else in cyberland if the bulk of that discussion were posted here. 

Below is the main idea of her email (her exasperated "cry for help"), with my reply following.

From the mom:

"My son is genuinely trying to see what happens when he conducts experiments; he's not trying to test his limits. I'm struggling with not extinguishing his curiosity versus not having money wasted like this. He says that if he asked me I'd say no to taking the chance of losing a gallon of milk, and I said well of course, darn it, and he started crying, saying I was using a firm voice. I said I'd have given him about a cup to experiment with - not a gallon - and he says the experiment needed a gallon. I said why? Please explain why you could not do this with one cup milk, and he says, 'I can see from your eyes that you're mad, so we'll talk later.'

"Some new found sense of extreme independence is telling him he's got as much sense as the adults now and he can make these decisions. He put the cordless phone in the water today. He was using the intercom and really needed to see if worked under water. He actually said about three times today, 'I couldn't resist it.' I think maybe we've spoiled him totally. After my parents' visit I am pretty confused about what's spoiling him versus what's just necessary for him.

"Camille, your thoughts? What're the consequences for all this? Remember, he recently told his friends it was perfectly okay to write with a pen on the back of the leather couch. The ink marks won't go away. When I mentioned this to our old neighbors, they said they'd have spanked their kids for that. I was like, god no, I wouldn't spank him for anything, but I am wondering if I just have no idea what I am doing." 

Me now:

I have a number of thoughts, which I'll just throw out there:

--He could be testing his limits, seeing how far he can go with "experimenting."

--He could be truly experimenting, albeit without any thought to how his experiments affect others.

--He could be trying to get your attention, which could be seen as "acting out" or "misbehaving."

--He could be doing all of these things. (This is my bet! LOL)

Let me see if I can sum up the situation, and be sure to correct me if I have it wrong. 

1. You have no problem with his experimenting, and you encourage him to use his mind creatively.

2. You have a big problem with his destroying family property, even if it's unintentional.

3. You don't like the fact that he experiments impulsively, without regard to how it will affect property and the people who use that property (e.g., the cordless phone).

4. You would like to have some input into what he uses for experiments.

5. He wants to have free use of everything in the house.

6. He wants to be treated like an adult when it comes to his experiments and choices.

7. He doesn't ask permission to do something because he believes that you'd say "no."

Sounds like he has a very rational mind, so why don't you approach him with rationality?

My first approach would be to have a sit-down conversation with him to discuss the situation. I'll give you an example of how my conversation with one of my kids might go, and I'll just use the milk as an example ...

Me: "I'm sorry I got angry about the ruined milk earlier today. I'd like to talk about how we can work this out in the future so it doesn't happen again."

Him (hesitantly): "Okay ... " 

Me: "I greatly value your inquisitiveness and your curiosity, and I want to encourage you to continue to experiment with things. One of your greatest gifts is your curiosity of the world, and it will serve you well as an adult. But I get angry when I unexpectedly find things that are ruined or damaged. If I were to go in your room and take your [insert favorite toy here] and use it in an experiment that damaged it, I'd bet you'd be pretty mad at me. Well, I feel the same way when I find something of our family's that has been ruined."

Him (voice raised): "But I just wanted to see if I could turn the milk into yogurt!"

Me: "I understand that, and I'm not angry that you wanted to try an experiment on the milk. But I was planning on using the milk later for a recipe/breakfast, and now I don't have it, and I'll have to go to the store to replace it. Do you have any suggestions for how we can avoid this in the future?"

Him: "NO!"

Me: "Well, I can think of a few things. Would you like to hear them, or do you want to come up with a few ideas together?"

Him: "I don't have any ideas! All I know is that you get mad when I try to do anything!"

Me: "I bet it seems that way, but what I'm mad about is that I keep finding things that have been damaged, and it seems like you're not respecting the things that we use together as a family."

Him: "But I NEED those things!"

Me: "I realize that, and I want to encourage your experiments. But I also have a responsibility to our family to have milk to drink, and you have responsibilities to the family as well. If you use all the milk without telling me so that I can plan for it, then we as a family won't have what we need."

The conversation might continue like this for quite some time, but eventually, he would start talking, and I'd try my best to get him to give some ideas for a solution. If I'm the one to propose every solution, he won't buy into any of them, believe me.

That said, here are some ideas I'd have for solutions:

1. Give him an allowance, and everything he damages or destroys through experimenting gets paid for with that. If the cost of the item is more than his stash of money, then he has to work off the debt.

2. Give him a budget for experiments (this would be hard if he can't contain his impulses). If he wants to submerge a cordless phone, he can buy one to use, or he can experiment on yours and replace it if it ruins it.

3. Make a list together of the types of things that are always eligible for experimental use (disposable things, renewable things [like grocery bags], things that you're finished with [old cell phones], etc.).

4. Make a list together of all the things that are strictly off limits. In our house that would be anything that I consider my personal property - my jewelry, certain items in my sewing room, etc. The list would probably also include anything valuable or irreplaceable (e.g., the couch, an heirloom, etc.).

5. Make a list of all the types of experiments that are okay and aren't okay (e.g., experiments using fire or the microwave, at least without supervision, anything that permanently alters the look of something that is family property).

6. Make a note that all of his items that are his are his to use as he pleases, and you won't say a thing about it, and he doesn't have to ask you. (Make a list of what those things are, if you need to.)

As to the lists, it would be infinitely better for him to make each list (that is, he would write it out and come up with most of the ideas with as little obvious help from you as possible). That way, he can't complain to you that you made all the rules and he couldn't abide by them.

If you go to all this work to come up with a solution, and then he doesn't abide by the agreement, then all bets are off. He *has* to live up to his side of the agreement or you don't have to live up to yours (and you might end up restricting his behavior). Make sure he knows that going in. This is not a punishment. It's a simple fact that, if he can't respect you and your household, then he loses the benefits. It's back to the logical consequences thing - he wants to be treated as an adult, so fine. If he's old enough to be treated like an adult, then he's old enough to handle the consequences of adult behaviors (e.g., paying for something that gets broken or having the use of something taken away because he's misusing it - just like they do in court decisions).

Once he knows what's free use and what's off limits, then he has complete freedom, and make sure he knows exactly that.

As to the milk issue specifically, I have him pay to replace the milk (after all, someone has to replace it). That means the money would come out of his pocket, he would go with you to the store, and he would take it to the counter and pay for it himself. Not mixed in with the week's groceries. I would stand next to him in case he needed help, but he'd have to do it himself.

Me again: I have no idea if there's anything here that might be of use to someone else, but there it is.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy these posts: Natural and Logical Consequences, More on Natural and Logical Consequences, and Natural and Logical Consequences: The Dreaded Four-Year-Old

Photo of Milk Sculptures by Tambako the Jaguar from here

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tornado Preparations

Tonight we had a bit of a scare. There was severe weather here in Austin, and a couple of tornadoes touched down in the north part of town. Fortunately, they were small and caused no injuries and only minor damage. But the kids were freaked!

The tornadoes ended up staying north of us, but we heard at one point on the news that our area needed to make immediate preparations. S went into overdrive, scurrying around, stocking our master walk-in closet. G kept saying, "we need a storm shelter!" (How we could manage that with our house on the side of a rock hill, I have no idea.) 

She and G were really frightened (T was reading with DH), but they went into action instead of panicking. I was so proud of them.

We ended up getting nothing out of the storm except a lot of rain and a few trembling kids (and dogs). So when I went to get ready for bed, I walked in the closet to change clothes. There I found pillows, a radio, a number of flashlights, blankets, water bottles, food, and Monopoly and SET. She apparently thought that we'd be stuck in there for weeks.

I've found the career for my daughter. Is FEMA hiring?

Photos of tonight's storm by alamosbasement from here

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

APing Older Children: I'm Always behind the Curve

When I had my first baby, I had a tough time transitioning from being a non-mom to being a mom. Thrust into a role that I had no idea how to play, I had to wing it. I was given a grace period of sorts because G was 14 weeks premature and was in the NICU for 8 weeks. Those two months gave me time to get my bearings.

Then, just as I was getting used to having one boy, baby #2 showed up (a girl!), so my world shifted again. I remember sitting on the couch with a tiny infant latched onto a breast, while my year-and-a-half-old sat by me sucking on his pacifier. I looked forlornly at my mom, who had come to help out until I got my feet back under me. She was getting ready to go back home, after staying with us for a much longer time than any of us expected. We'd been through extensive nursing problems coupled with toddler tantrums, and she'd helped me get through it. Now she needed to leave. With tears streaming down my face, I told her how afraid I was with being left with two babies all alone. I cried, "You always told me that two kids were as easy as one!" (a refrain I'd heard her mention on more than one occasion). She looked at me with helplessness and said, "I had GIRLS!"

But I figured it out, little by little, making lots of mistakes along the way. So when baby #3 showed up, I thought I had it all under control. NOT! Again, my mom came to my rescue and stayed with us for more weeks, until the nursing shields were done and the sleep routine - such as it was - settled out (not solved, mind you ... just settled a bit).

So three babies, all in cloth diapers, all with pacifiers. The oldest had just started talking a few months before the last one arrived. Whew! I could relax.

But then, just about the time I had become comfortable with babies, my kids suddenly turned into toddlers. Once again, it took me a while to think of myself of a mom of toddlers instead of infants. Instead of taking naps and being nursed to sleep, they stayed up all day until the witching hour - that time when toddlers turn into monsters, too late for naps but too early for dinner. Instead of nursing or eating what was put in front of them, they demanded certain types of food and drink. Instead of cooing while I dressed them in a onesie, they wanted to know where "the red shirt is, not the blue one" or wanted to wear their pink plastic princess high heels with the marabou fluff on the toes to (and during) gymnastics class.

Then the preschooler years happened, and I was again slammed into a new role. The endless questions of "why" and "why not" echoed through our rooms daily. But I answered those questions and got pretty good at it.

Next was school-aged children. They started asking their teachers the "why" questions instead of me, and I adjusted to that too, but it took a while. Seeing those eager round faces look to other adults for inspiration was difficult to swallow. But I got used to it, and just as I did ...

My kids became tweens and pre-teens. What the heck do I do now? Ask me when they're in the middle of their teen years, and I'll have all the tween and pre-teen stuff figured out. Oh, wait - I won't have any more pre-teens by that time. 

Dang it. Foiled again.
If you liked this post, you might enjoy Great Expectations.

Photo of Baby Cup by Andrew Mason from here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Perfect Children

Because I write about children, parenting, and homeschooling, people seem to think that I have perfect children. Well, let me set the record straight. I do have perfect children.

On any given day, my children are ...

Perfectly angelic
Perfectly demonic
Perfectly calm
Perfectly frantic
Perfectly happy
Perfectly angry
Perfectly cooperative
Perfectly unmanageable
Perfectly low-key
Perfectly hyperactive
Perfectly studious
Perfectly frivolous
Perfectly cheery
Perfectly grumpy
Perfectly sleepy
Perfectly wired
Perfectly helpful
Perfectly chaotic
Perfectly organized
Perfectly jumbled
Perfectly witty
Perfectly snippy
Perfectly well spoken
Perfectly argumentative
Perfectly playful
Perfectly hurtful
Perfectly clever
Perfectly dim-witted
Perfectly creative
Perfectly dull
Perfectly energizing
Perfectly draining
Perfectly altruistic
Perfectly self-serving
Perfectly accepting
Perfectly rejecting
Perfectly focussed
Perfectly scattered
Perfectly driven
Perfectly apathetic
Perfectly clean
Perfectly slovenly
Perfectly energetic
Perfectly weary
Perfectly motivated
Perfectly discouraged
Perfectly loving
Perfectly loved
Perfectly ... kidlike

Sometimes all within an afternoon. How about yours?

Photo of Hula Hoop Lightshow by Digital Sophia from here