Thoughts for the kids II

Don’t be afraid to be eclectic in your tastes. Sample widely, consider the structure of the things, of the gestalt as well as the parts. Then decide if you like it- in food, music, art, and opinions of all sorts. Know how to listen, then how to express yourself with grace, authenticity, and directness.
Try not to put things into your head that will only make that space darker. Feasting on violence, horror, (in films, books, etc. even if “just” fiction) or the often overwhelmingly bad world news, is an indulgence that decays your heart and mind. Know what to not watch or read- what will only add to a sense of powerlessness, distress, or imaginary possibilities of destruction. Think about what will truly make you bigger in spirit as a human being, and more capable of empathy and what is just destructive mental trash. It’s not always obvious either.
Know the difference between being bold, taking a calculated risk, and being risky or reckless.
Dance with abandon regularly, and sing open throated.
Don’t ignore personal hygiene. Brush those teeth well, floss, and gently scrub all your nooks and crannies every day with a mild soap and water. Keep your hair and beards trimmed, even if to appear shaggy- make it a plan, not an accident. Know your body so if you get a truly odd mole, or something hurts, you know where, for how long, and can describe it to a good doctor. Never settle for a mediocre general physician, and make sure they have all your information.
Clean your messes.  Know how to use tools, often and correctly.  Drills as well as spell check.  Know the difference between tools and toys.
Be careful what you consume. While you may have access to many different ingestibles, many of them are not worth consuming. Read labels. Drink lots of water. Stay physically active in body and mind.
Moderation is usually a good idea in all things. An old adage that is still useful.
Learn to do a couple of things that make you feel flow. That focused intensity of purpose, and the subsequent satisfaction it can bring.
Always appreciate the people who are crafts persons about what they do- the cooks, the wait staff, the post people, the plumbers, electricians, teachers, mentors, accountants, etc. Your life will suffer from the bad ones, and be considerably better for the really good ones. Even if you don’t always notice. Learn how to tell the difference, and appreciate explicitly.
Don’t be afraid to give people compliments. But know when personal boundaries are appropriate.
Make a few good friends, and know when a friendship is no longer tenable. Be direct about it too. Know how to trust and love, and have fair self protective strategies as well.
It is never out of style to be generous of spirit, or to look out for those weaker or more in need than you. You choose your character every day from the small to the large in thought and actions. Save civil disobedience for really important moments. You should not be breaking the law but for an accident, or intent. Intentional reasons should be really, really good and be prepared for what consequences may exist. Authority should be earned (not conferred, or handed over by privilege) and not all rules are good. Question, and calculate your actions.
Cut yourself some slack- everyone makes mistakes. Perfection is impossible and sometimes the best surprises come from our mistakes. As Bill Watterson said, “Art is knowing what mistakes to keep and what to throw away.” Don’t let mistakes not worth keeping in your head rot there.
You will get hurt. It will make me miserable to not know how to help you sometimes. Learning how to bounce back, how to think about what happened without ignoring it, is a big part of living. Be good to yourself, and don’t forget that you matter.

Curse you tooth fairy!

I knew Primo would need braces at some point.  His teeth were coming in at such strange angles, behind other teeth; it seemed like the tooth fairy had visited him drunk every time.  But really- top level of severity on three dimensions?  Three?  Bottom jaw juts out in an under bite like a bulldog, side to side is way off, and the top and bottom are tilted off one another in some strange axis.  Oy.   Our kind, gentle dentist told us as sweetly as possible Primo needed a consult with an orthodontist soon, that at this age they can plan and begin a process to help him.  She handed me the referral, saying at some point they may even need to pull some teeth if his jaw does not grow significantly in the next several years.  But, she added, on the bright side, Segundo just has a slight under bite, and they both seem to have strong, healthy teeth and gums!  Thanks Doc.

Growing up, braces were like saying you wanted a pony; so far outside the margin of possibility that they were not even worth thinking about.  They were simply too expensive.   While prices have come down and the technology involved has become more sophisticated, it is still a sting to the pocket when considering the years and degree of difficulty involved with Primo.  But I have seen the problems Husband has had with chewing, sleeping, all sorts of functions I take for granted and if we can alleviate those issues for our kids, then I would like to try.

I wonder at the genetics involved.  How did both my kids get my Husbands mouth?  Did they get his whole head?  Did they get his propensity (and his mother, and his grandfather) for a bad back?  Segundo certainly got his hair.  We joke that if he had been a girl she would have been a hair model, it is so thick and straight and beautiful.  Segundo hates for us to wash his hair though, it is so thick it makes it difficult to get to the scalp- yet he will not get a buzz cut again, he says it makes him look dumb.  Primo cares little about his hair and clothes most of the time, and is the easier going of the two.  He seems to have hair more like Husband, but not the carbon copy straight shot Segundo got. 

Did they get anything from me?  I worry that they may have only gotten deficits; did they get any of the scary cancer genes we suspect run in my mother’s family?  Or did they get the extreme longevity of my father’s side?  They have eyes similar to mine in color, but it is also the color of my mother-in-laws eyes.  Both boys got the wonky toenails of their father (who has had to have nail surgery for extreme in-grown nails- are they related to the teeth problem somehow?).  I hope they got his nose, not mine.  I hope they got his even-keel personality, his wit, and his creativity (whether by genes, modeling, or a combination of both).  We both have big squishy hearts, which is evident in the boys.  Whatever neuroscience and genetics has said lately about attributes of altruism, empathy and the like I would like to read.  The boys have these qualities in spades and would probably make good research participants.

I know kids grow and change.  I know Primo’s jawbones and head (which already takes an adult size M-L hat!) will grow more in the coming years.  I know they will expand their already barrel chests, wide shoulders, and long legs and the proportions will shift and exaggerate like a fun house mirror over the years.  But it would be good to see them at some point and know visibly they have something of me in those cells, something written in the DNA that is not a deficit.  Time will tell.  In the mean time I have to put a slit in an empty coffee can lid and start saving money for braces and what ever else the dental magicians have come up with for Primos mouth.  I trust the words, songs, jokes, and ideas that come of it- now I need to learn about and trust the hands and appliances that will go in.

Sleepy stories

All kids have ticks, weirdnesses, and their own idiosyncrasies.  In essence, there is no perfect kid- and sometimes those very strange things turn out to be advantages under the right conditions.  I think as parents we just hope they don’t turn out to be factors in anything like becoming sociopaths.  Anything above that baseline, and I think we learn it’s all good.  

Sometimes those things turn out to be learning disorders of one kind or another, and Number One Son (or Primo, as opposed to Segundo, or number two- no less important, just older and younger) has been dealing with his share since he was born.  For such a bright kid to try to understand why some things take so much longer, or feel impossible to accomplish, or seem easy for his little brother- has been hard for him to assimilate into his identity.  He’s the bright, funny, always cheerful kid who wakes up singing, has a big squishy heart, and kicks himself way too hard when he fails.  In honor of this wonderful, complex child I am posting his new short story (without the five illustrations on black construction paper he drew with it), and he was limited to 150-350 words:

The Sleepy Ghost 

Tick is his name and he lives in a grandfather clock.   He is a sleepy ghost who is always dozing off, and forgets his job to set the clock.  His brother Tock has to polish the clock so everyone can see it.

 The other ghosts in the old mansion get frustrated when the clock does not remind them to get up at night.  They can’t get their chores done on time without the clock running well!

 So Tick asked his mom to make him some cobweb and dust bunny ear muffs to block out the sound of the clock and maybe he could sleep.

 She zoomed around the mansion collecting her supplies.  She adjusted them so they fit just right and soon Tick fell fast asleep in his spot in the clock.

 He wakes up regularly now and grabs his tools.  He keeps the clock on schedule and makes sure it always says tick-tock!

 This was all Primo’s work.  He loves to write stories.  I wondered if the one above was influenced by the knowledge of his father’s narcolepsy, but he said no.  He has been purposefully making up stories since he could speak, and I guess I am partly to blame for that.  Instead of reading, I still tell them Primo and Segundo stories at bedtime with the lights out.  The quality can vary, depending on how tired I am, but they usually seem appreciated and I try to make the stories novel and exciting, and they always have the same five sentence introduction, which seems to be something they like to count upon hearing.

The only time I crashed and burned was a story I’ll never forget when I tried to use the nightly story as a teachable moment.   We were all over tired and irritated, which I should have paid attention to.  Before bed, I tried to get them to pick up something- anything- and put it away.  I felt like I had been nagging about it for days.  So I told a story about alternate universe boys, with different names, who did not pick up their things and how they disappeared.  Well, you would have thought I had threatened to burn down the house or something.  Crying and yelling ensued, much like I imagine bad plays went over in the Theater of Ephesus.  “Boo!Boo!”  “Stop it!”  “I hate this story!”  “Change it!”  rang out and there was much jumping up to grab as many stuffed animals and toys and cram them into their beds, under the covers.  Then wails of despair followed, such sadness and despair as I have ever heard.  I grabbed my two terrific kids and hugged them, promising to never tell a story like that again.  It took half an hour of hugging and promises to calm them down, and the next morning Primo told me he knew what I was trying to say with the story, and that I did not need to do that.  They still didn’t pick up their toys (or shoes, or books. . .), but we have since worked out better means of motivating and rewarding for when they do.

It’s funny how many things narrative can accomplish (intentional or not) such as reveal, instruct, and even cause fear.   There is a reason humans love the call of stories, as Robert Coles has put it.  Even in the most blighted places, they still have stories.  They still have voices.  I only hope using narrative helps Primo better find his with time.

Good

People say things like, “I am good at (fill in the blank. Playing piano, guitar, golf, typing, you name it)”.  A qualifier, such as “I worked really hard to learn it”, usually accompanies the statement; or, “I still have a lot to learn” or, “I could not have mastered it with out a mentor, a friend,” etc.  The point is most people will admit, even if just to intimate others, that they are good at something.  Yet never, never in my life in any book, media statement, casual conversation, overheard discussion, or drunken revelation have I ever heard anyone say, “I am a good parent”.  More to the point, “I am a good mother.”  Not a great mother, not a superior mother- no those would be value judgments that seem even more taboo.  Still, I have never heard anyone say that they are even just a good mom.  You think people might feel that way at some point.  But it seems they don’t.

I had to ask myself why.  Is it because we too readily conflate parenting with life, and no one would say, “I am good at life”, which is grammatically awkward at best, and conceptually infinite at worst.

Is it because we have no taught, explicit evaluation and assessment standards for parenting?  No ruler by which to explicitly judge others and ourselves?  Well, it’s true- there is no parent certification course required to have children (despite the shelves of books available claiming to instruct us).  But we do have standards. Oh, we do.  I hear people say all the time “I am a BAD parent”, or “I was a bad parent that day”, or “He/she is such a difficult/demanding/etc.=bad parent.”   So we have some type of internalized standards by which we judge ourselves and others, but it seems only to reflect a baseline and everything beneath it- very little over and above the baseline of adequacy, even though we may envy someone’s organization, another’s cleanliness, or still another’s patience with their children.

We only have our own parents and sometimes those of others who showed us what parenting is; we also have sound bite utopias from television, but that seems to enter in very little except to make us feel uneasily inadequate.

I have heard moms say “I am so glad I/we got through the diaper stage!” and they will also smile and talk about the achievements of their children, yet they do not willingly take any credit for such achievements, but will often take responsibility for the failures of their children (I/we did not work enough, did not get the right things to eat, enough sleep, read the right books, go to the right summer camps, etc.).

In the US, people usually are a little reticent to boast, or to take credit for their own accomplishments anyway.  Especially women, or so all the business-psych articles tell us.  We have precious little language for expressing our self-satisfaction, or our own goodness, much less understanding it.  Is it because pre-kids, we have only fantasies of what parenting is?  Being a mother is one of the most vilified as well as over-romanticized activities on the earth.  Reality is such a different story; there is a chasm between people we know who have kids and those who don’t and it seems so difficult to explain why.

What would happen if, as we lay down to sleep every night, as moms we reviewed our day and were willing to say to ourselves “I was a good mom today, and this is why I think so”, and be aware of the mistakes, consider them soberly, but move them to a different list?  What if we told people we know well when they were a good parent?  Told them we appreciated their example, to us and for our children?  And perhaps most difficult, what if we could accept the compliment for ourselves when someone, without manipulative intent and with sincerity, tells us the same?

I have been wrestling with a birthday that is a few years off and reviewing my life.  Right now, and I know it is partly the blues-  I can find little about which to feel good; little I can say “I was good at that” or, “I am good at that” about.  I am starting to wonder if this is what moving towards old age is about; realizing most of life if not all is in retrospect an area of gray.  The highs and lows sink and rise, but in summary fade to gray like the rest of time spent.  Not especially unique, not especially valorous, not especially successful, and sometimes completely failed, and hugely disappointing.  If this is true, I have the option of saying “Oh well” and finding things to make me happy on a smaller scale, on an everyday basis and just get on with it- or get depressed.  I think I’d rather work on trying to be a better parent, and hope I can someday feel good about it when I go to bed at night.  Oh, and tell others when I think they are good too.  Maybe someday, I can help my own children be parents and not have to fall back on the crap shoot that is the real-time learning curve they are/we are currently suffering through.

We only get one shot at raising our kids.  I want to try to make the best of it, warts and all.  But I also want to be good at it, and that is a whole different matter.

 

of an age

When we speak of our children, we sometimes say, “They are of an age. . .” indicating that a level has been achieved in which they can be trusted to do something themselves, or when we expect booger and poo jokes to be in full bloom.  I have been thinking about the former this week.

It seems I have griped for so many years about feeling put upon, and when I said it immediately felt guilty, for the constant attention from my children.  The neediness, the must-keep-an-eye on, the do they need food-liquid-medicine-exercise and moment to moment care required for small children.  Now as if by magic, I have had several months of both my children in full time elementary school.  I had such grand ambitions at first.  All the lists of things I would get done, and try to do.  Much of that evaporated for one reason or another.  My fault entirely.

But there was also the unexpected loneliness.  There was no one to dance or giggle with when I played They Might Be Giants, no one to eat lunch with.  It was strange. 

This past week has been Christmas vacation.  One child has been sick (inevitable) and the other off working with Daddy.  I do not know what I expected, but it has been a let down.  This morning, for the first time in about eight years, I took a magazine into the bathroom for a sit.  I could hear the boys outside watching PBS kids and playing on the floor, being good brothers.  I knew I could trust them to answer the phone if needed, not kill each other, or destroy body level objects.  I got through much of the thin magazine.  I was both surprised and pleased, because I realize the experience would have been dramatically different if I had not had the accompanying sound on the other side of the door.  I miss the boys, and having them around is a pleasure- even if the occasional glass of juice still gets upended, toys litter the floor, and a whine for something to eat will arise.

Being a parent is a constant revelation no one ever is instructed on how to appreciate, and the experiences are so personal I am not sure adages and tips ever fully apply.  I did not want anything for Christmas that required cash, and told Husband as much.  I wanted him to help me figure out the video camera and download mechanisms, I wanted the kitchen ceiling finished, I wanted everyone healthy.  What has surprised me is the gift of time and everyday happiness I have.  The world can swirl in chaos outside, but for now, I am grateful for just this: my family and our simple stability.   They boys may be of many ages at many times, and I don’t want to miss any of it.   I think it will be all I ever really want.

Merry Christmas.

Clean

Clean is an idea, a concept.  In practice though, what is clean?  To be more specific, how can two small people make such huge messes?  I have given up on my husband.  He cleans when he gets irritated, and usually goes a little bananas on the laundry and his studio.  But in daily life, I have given up hoping the ten feet from the table to the kitchen sink would ever become a worn path from people-especially husband- getting dishes to the sink.

It’s the necessity every day, often more than once, of having to sweep under and around the table that amazes me.  There is a direct correlation between how messy the floor around the table is and how messy the top of the table appears.  Two people shorter than I am, who weigh at least half as much, but the messes they can create in very short spans of time are shocking.  Can they use utensils?  Yes they can.  Can they use napkins?  Yes, yes they can.  Then why is it after a simple cereal breakfast it looks like Tony the Tiger got in a cage match with the Natures Organics lady while trying to sell product?

After seven years of male kids, I have acclimated to the Legos- I don’t like it, I still complain, even rage when I get one into the arch of my foot.  But acceptance is the first step, right?  The Legos will never fully be cleaned up.  Ever.  Nor will they stay cleaned up, once a pick-up blitz has occurred.  Legos will always litter my house.  As long as they do not get into the sink or toilet drains, as long as they do not get lodged in a child’s throat, as long as the insinkerator does not chop them up, the dishwasher melt them, or the lawn mower make them into shrapnel, I am good.  Time teaches us things you see.

I have accepted after six years of DIY home renovation that it will not ever be completely finished.  I accept my responsibility in this- is the wallpaper fully removed from the stairwell?  No it is not.  Are the corners under each step swept?  No.  Are there continual piles of papers (and I know what is in each one of them so no one dares move them) on the piano, and on the guest bed (which is ostensibly in my “office” work space?)?  Are there piles of fabric for long ago conceived projects pushing the closet doors open in my office, calling to me?  Yes.

But then, will the last of the floor trim ever be fixed and put back in place?   Will the ceiling ever be complete?  Oh the drama.  Peyton Place never had such questions!  Because in TV Land, everything is clean.

I had a friend once tell me (also a mom) that there is a distinct difference between clean and unhygienic that people do not truly understand until they have children.  I was mortified when Husband recently pointed out the old crusty vomit flecks at the base of the pantry door (which is usually hidden by the bedroom door that opens in front of it), I would have cleaned it with all the rest of the incident months ago had I seen the splatter (Tiny people also have a way of producing copious projectile vomit that can not be believed until you have kids).  THAT was unhygienic, and I cleaned it after he told me.  Sweatshirts of all sizes littering the floor?  Just messy.  Par for the course.  Toys everywhere?  Standard daily life.  The compost bowl buzzing with fruit flies?  Unhygienic- why? The child responsible for the daily task slacking off, and the Husband who borrowed my stainless steel compost pot (an ingenious reworking of a salvaged food service piece and an old Pyrex lid that fit it perfectly) not returning it. 

But I have to ask, why does the first floor bathroom ALWAYS have to smell like the monkey house at the zoo?  I grew up believing that being male was such a urinary advantage- the whole standing up, no need to fully undress one’s lower half thing especially.  But as a parent, I wonder why they can’t aim properly.  And yes, the mess annoys me on many levels, especially hygiene related.

Clothes will be wrinkled; and as my children are still under 12, I will put clothes away.  But can’t they get the ones off their bodies down the steps at least NEAR the laundry room?  Smelling worn clothes thrown together with clean- that is always a risky prospect, as any parent will tell you.  Clothes left in summer camp bags, under beds, or in gym bags- that is down right haz mat territory.

So when a dear friend (who has been single all his life, and who not only has impeccable taste but feels he requires a cleaning lady at least once a week- and what for still stymies me) comes to visit and is more than a little unnerved by all the mess; he judiciously wonders about the definition of clean as it applies to us.  He admits his comfort level is somewhere, oh light years away from ours.  He also has never been married, or had children.  ‘Nuff said.

Do I get nervous when we have people over?  A little.  We laugh with self-deprecation and try to make explicit our embarrassment at the unfinished construction and daily mess.  Most people with children nod and laugh too, some share anecdotes about the height of the dirty laundry piles hidden in the basement, or the unidentified crud on a spoon from a dishwasher going on the fritz.  Most shake their heads over toys, and admit to just “closing the door” on their children’s rooms.  We all know we have battles to pick; we have check mark boards, we have reward tiles, we have poker chips as cash.  We have designated family cleaning time every week (our is Saturday AM until the boys get into weekend sports), and know what can be accomplished and what cannot in that span of time.

Are we clean?  Sometimes.  Are we dirty?  I would not say so, but that is a whole other rant I think.  Is there a continuum of clean that we have to manage and know intimately in order to function?  Yes.  Survive, even, I will say- your blood pressure and sanity depends upon it.  In sum dear reader, nothing is simple- not even the definition of clean.   Life has taught me that, and life will go on even if robot origami, a handful of Legos, spilled salt, and returned homework are still on the table tomorrow morning.  Yes, life will go on.

Burnt Toast and Black Jellybeans

Happy Zombie day, as a friend of mine puts it.  Or, as husband says, “Happy ovoid ovum spring fertility ritual day”, or “Happy Bunny day”.  I can’t do anything but laugh at what has become the most important Christian holiday, this mash up of powerful, ancient spring symbols with the death of a good man.  Why his death is so celebrated never ceases to amaze me.  This focus on death, torture, and possibly becoming a zombie (er, resurrected) and then trying to pass it off as sacrifice for the abstract evils of humanity does not wash for me.  There ARE some ideas attributed to him in the bible that make a lot of sense (By the way, the old testament ONLY makes sense if you consider food restrictions as ways not to die from food poisoning.  The rest is a crazy, contradictory non-narrative that makes little sense out of context).  But in sum, a good man bucked the system, said a lot of things that were solid common sense, may or may not have been insane, and lived his life to promote kindness, communal well being, and love.  Then he was consumed and destroyed by the very system he resisted, and has since been regurgitated again and again by every huckster and self-delusional promoter that has come around since he died.  Entire systems of social control have been built around the use and abuse of his life story.  I truly don’t think this is what he had in mind.

When I look at real sacrifices being made, I don’t see political, business, or religious leaders.  I see a lot of mothers and fathers working grinding, often bone mashing jobs to feed their families; these mothers and fathers doing their best to keep their families clothed, housed, educated, and fed.  Oh, yeah, and in most cases the process makes those around them aware that they are loved.  Reproducing at all is amazing, the choice to give over bodies, minds and lives to support and love new people, the ultimate spring symbol. 

It is in the everyday little deaths and sacrifices parents make that I see heroic spring.  Today I do not glorify the death of an admittedly good man who has been so misunderstood for so long, I witness the parents who continue to live, as best they can, promoting kindness, communal well being, and love.  Today let’s not forget when mothers choose to eat the piece of toast that was accidentally burned; or when fathers eat the black jelly beans children reject then proffer, chewing without a grimace.  Do not forget long nights, hard work, the moment by moment sacrifices that are made for families, and the sheer luck that for thousands of generations at least two people (and a host of others who took responsibility for children from birth) had to survive wars, famine, plague, and an assortment of horrors that we might exist today.

The darkness has abated for another year, and warmer weather has come.  The flowers bloom, and crops are planted.  Rejoice in the sun, hug your families however they are structured and populated.  Humanity continues, for better or worse.  Happy spring.  

Out-of-context parent quotes

(Note:  I’ll keep adding to this blog entry as time passes)

“Boys, the chicken is not a pillow to beat each other with”

“What about don’t-stick-your-finger-in-that do you not understand?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know where his head is.  Look under the couch.”

“Why do you need an entire roll of tape to hang that up?”

“Why are there rocks in the bathtub?”

“What is that?”, “How did that get in here?”, “When did you do this?”, “Why did you do this?”

“No.  No.  No.  No. . .No.  I am not discussing Japanese theater, I said NO!”

 

Spheres of Influence

While aimlessly perusing the messy discount-discount get-rid-of-it-or-we-will aisle at a local store, my four year old and I came across six-inch Star Trek figures.  They had the Doctor (always a classic) , Mr. Sulu (smarty pants with surprise martial arts), and Mr. Checkov (the tech geek), good role models.  He asked politely if they could be his treat for being so good- adding, “One can be for my brother, and one for daddy too!”.  I had to laugh.  They had been marked down to two dollars each.  

Time out I thought.  I don’t want my kids to be random consumers, getting treats for no reason.  We have special days every once and a while when we do something fun, or get a treat (eating out, etc).  But what made this day special?  Husband recalls his mother making cakes for strange (Australia’s nationalization day) or made up days (national camping day).  My wonderful Aunt used to make baked Alaska for no particular reason than to make a day special.  Couldn’t we have a special treat day this day?  If it is spaced out by weeks from another?  January and February are good for that, weeks of cold with little celebration in them.  I dithered within myself.

The thing that got me was how well designed the toys were.  They were basically Barbies for boys.  Finely articulated, with accessories and expressive faces.  I have been greatly annoyed at the lack of male play figures in boy toys.  Ken is a joke, and GI Joe has come to resemble Rambo.  Not my idea of fun.  Even my eldest has remarked on the row upon row of neon pink isles in the Wal-Tar-K’s, stuffed with every variety of dolls imaginable; in contrast to the rag tag shelves for boys.  Finding these figures filled a niche.  I caved.

The great thing is they are still playing with these figures, long after we got them.  Like girls with their Barbies (except no hair to cut), the boys carry out scenarios with the figures.  These scenarios don’t always require guns, beating each other up, or other violence like we have come to expect from boys.  Science fiction can be good that way- lots of monsters, menacing entities, good and bad robots, and problem solving that does not necessarily involve killing something (they have become big fans of the most recent Dr. Who episodes as well, the main character of which refuses to carry a weapon- thank you Netflix).

Husband and I have been fans of the Sci-Fi genre as long as we can remember (not without discretion though).  We appreciate the late night humor of mid-century B films, the abysmal script dialogue of George Lucas, as well as the startling special effects of Avatar.  We also read the genre, and there are many well-written and prescient works from the last fifty years.  When it comes down to it, we enjoy the imaginative possibilities of science fiction to illuminate the condition of the human species, while often putting them in settings that are utterly surreal. 

I would much rather my boys explore the endless planets of Sci-Fi in their imaginations, play out their anxieties and issues using the tools of this genre than some pink hued and shopping bag dominated version of Mean Girls.   On the other hand, maybe that is just one of the worlds they choose to fly by, recognizing that they could stop and chat, but just don’t have time to do so.  Thereby making room for the Barbies (or Barberellas) in their reality, when the Barbies can’t seem to make room for them.

Play on little guys, and let me fly the space ship sometimes too, ok?

Milestones

I dropped off my big boy at school today.  He has been in pre-school since he was two (two mornings a week, then three, then last year four afternoons).  I mean pre-school, not daycare.  University settings, educated staff, a curriculum, rich environment, that sort of thing.  This sweet, courageous, verbal little boy had his kindergarten doctor’s visit in late May, complete with eye and hearing exams and four monster shots.  The following day he had his introduction (along with all the other neighborhood rising kindergarteners) to the school he will be attending this fall.  But today was the start of “science camp”, a week long enrichment program that runs all day.  There are seven other kids in his class, all older than he is.  This boy who has always been big for his age, looked so small.  I made sure his teacher knew he was only a kindergartener, despite his size.  My child heard me and said “Yes, I am little that way.”  His teacher smiled and laughed.  She seemed to be a warm and fun, experienced woman.  I hope she is good to the kids.

When we arrived on time this morning, we entered the wrong door and were ushered into a separate cafeteria.  There were lots of kids in it, most of them minority children and several with obvious challenges.  I was most disturbed by the three little boys wearing large gold chains, flashing various hand signals to each other and laughing.  They were not deaf or mute, and I did not want to think what the signs meant.  A woman approached us and asked who we were, as it seemed obvious that we stuck out.  One, because my boy was the only one carrying a lunch box- a new, bright yellow cool-box.  Two, because he didn’t look like or dress like the other kids in the room (he in his green striped tee and khaki cargo shorts).  I asked if this was where the enrichment programs were meeting.  She laughed with what seemed like relief and hurriedly ushered us out the door, pointing to another building where other children and parents were streaming in.  We had mistakenly entered, I found out, the “summer school” for kids who needed “more preparation for this fall”. 

We found our way to the gymnasium and were greeted by another nice woman who pointed to the area where the K-2nd Science children were sitting.  My boy got his name tag and looked anxiously around.  He was not used to such a large crowd, and so many older children.  Teachers milled about collecting paperwork, parents were saying good byes and checking pick up times.  I looked down at my beautiful child, and told him it would be OK.  He asked if I was coming as his group stood up and formed a small line behind his teacher.  I told him no, that I could not come, but that I would pick him up later.  I watched him walk down the hall, as he turned to look back at me.  I waved.  Then they all filed into a classroom and were gone.

I walked out into the sunshine, feeling very alone.  I worried that he would be tired, that an all day program was new to him.  I worried that he would feel intimidated by the older kids.  I worried that he would feel dumb because he did not have the skills the older kids did.  I hoped I packed his lunch box correctly.  At my core, I felt like I had abandoned him.  It felt very similar to the day we left the hospital after he was born.  As we stood on the threshold of the doors, watching Husband drive up, I cried and whispered to him that this was the big world.  My little guy was once again joining the big world, in a new way.  I don’t believe for a minute that we have prepared him enough and I feel guilty.  I wonder if I will feel this way the rest of my life.

We visited private schools this spring, and ran the numbers.  We realized we could not afford private school and heck, no school was going to do the job we needed it to, and it would probably be better to channel the money into supplemental experiences and throw our luck in with the neighborhood, over-crowded, under-funded public school.  So we bite our nails, beat our chests at night after the kids are asleep, and try to be better parents.  My children truly are such amazing gifts to me.  They are kind, loving, funny boys and I live in fear of all the bad things that could happen to them, knowing how little control I have over life.  As a former educator, I also know that so much of learning is about the application of skills, determination, self-discipline, and opportunity.  Talent has little or nothing to do with learning.  After spending too many years mired in creativity and learning research, I came to the conclusion that R. Sternberg had it mostly right when he writes about practical intelligence, the social and cultural dimensions of achievement, and the role of self-discipline.  As a parent, the best I can do is help my kids learn everyday in small ways how to be a learner, and hope they cross apply those skills.

When I sent my little boy off today, I hoped he would have some coping and learning skills on board.  I also hoped he had a good teacher, and friendly co-students.

It’s a long road ahead, this school thing.  I don’t agree with all the rules, organization, or limits of the system here- and I’ll have to be creative in helping my kids find their way as they go.  Today was a new stage for all of us, and my little boy is one more step on his way to independence.  I miss him already.