Conversations We’re Having

As the girls and I got settled in the car after pickup yesterday, I started:

“Okay, Flora and Kate, we need to talk because…”
“Daddy’s out of town.” This was Flora.
“Well, yes, and I’m going to need –”
“Lots of help.”
“Yes, and you two need to –”
“Listen and do what you ask.”
“I — did Daddy talk to you before he left?”
“No, not really.”
“Is this a conversation we have a lot?”
“Yeah, when Daddy’s not around. You get stressed out.”

All righty then.

I don’t recall my mother showing any cracks. Of course, my mother was perfect. Maybe I’m sharing a little too much in front of the kids.

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There’s this, vis-a-vis the Bruce Jenner “news”.

My answer, “No. She needs surgery for that.”

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Kate’s spelling grade is atrociously bad. If you looked at the rest of her report card, you would never suspect how low it is. It has me (and her teacher) quite flummoxed. We practice every week. We read together — she is a good reader herself.

But spelling. BAD.

Also, we fight nearly every week about practicing her spelling. She hates it. She will procrastinate as long as possible on Thursday nights to avoid sitting down to do a practice test. She can’t find a pencil; she has to go to the bathroom; she has to see what Flora is doing. She throws a tantrum because she’s JUST BAD AT SPELLING, AND IT’S NEVER GONNA CHANGE, MOM!

So we went through it last night, and she finally did it, and she actually got them all right (this week’s list is all contractions). Although she made her ‘d’ backwards on ‘don’t’.

I said, “We need a trick to help you remember which way to make your ‘d’s and ‘b’s.”

“Can I show you something?”

“Sure.”

“This is how I think of it. If you draw a big b” I drew a B ” and then a little b…”

I saw where she was going and wrote this: D d B b.

“The little b is mad, and doesn’t like her mother; but the ‘d’s love each other.”

I started laughing helplessly. “Kate!” I said. “I love it! What a good way to remember.”

That girl has an interesting little mind on her.

It’s true, I don’t know what else to do to help her with spelling. I can see when words are spelled wrong — I don’t know if it’s a lifetime of reading or what. I mentioned this to Kate.

Then she said, “Sometimes I write the word, and it looks wrong, so I write it again. And it turns out I was right the first time.”

Hm. Interesting.

“Well,” I said, “maybe instead of doubting yourself, just leave it the first time you write it. I would say that your first guess is going to be the right one. That happens a lot, not just in spelling.”

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Later, as I tucked Kate in, I said, “Are you a b or a d?”
“A d,” she said.
“Yeah, me too.”

++

M's picture of him in my belly

“I drawed a picture of you. And I drew me in your belly.”

Dan has recently told M about how he was in a transverse lie when he was getting ready to be borne. M remembers EVERYTHING.

“Mommy, remember when I was sideways in your belly?”
“I do, little man.”
“So, did I come out of your mouth? Or out of your foot?”
Shades of Flora, this one.
“You came out of my vagina, Michael.”
“Okay.” Off he went to play.

++

What conversations are you having?

Lone Wolf

If I were to measure day-to-day parenting between Dan and me on a balancing scale, it would probably dip lower on my side. I don’t know how much lower — after all, three days a week, the girls are at his office after school, and he’s always there at night, in the morning, and on the weekends. I do more meal-making, to be sure, and run the children around more. I guess I do more of the logistical legwork than he does.

And that’s okay. It’s how it works in our two-working-parents household. And he is always there to step up when his schedule allows. He doesn’t shirk in his duties. Although, he does like to let the girls stay up with him a little bit. He really misses them during the week.

But now he’s going to Memphis with one of his uncles for four days.

He won’t be there tonight. Or tomorrow morning. Or the next two nights and mornings after that.

I will be 100% parent-on-duty until sometime on Sunday evening.

And we’re dog sitting.

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I think I would feel a little better about lone wolfing if I were not so very stressed at work. Dan’s the one I can cry with on the phone in the parking lot (yesterday’s joyful moment!) telling him how much I hate this job.

I would never compare myself to a single parent. I have my husband’s full financial, physical, and emotional support. He is there, and he is an active participant in our household, from parenting to housework.

So: pray for me and the children. The in-laws are close by, although I don’t have very ambitious plans for the weekend. Putz around; clean what I can when I can; make sure everyone eats; maybe a little food shopping. Make sure the dog is fed, watered, and walked (this is the girls’ job — dollars are on the line!). I’ve gotten Flora a ride to her soccer game Sunday; M, Kate, and I will be attending a communion lunch for Kate’s BFF.

And, of course, plenty of this and SOA to get me through my lonely evenings!

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How do you survive lone wolfing?

Toys Will Be Toys

I came across this piece at Slate — and I end up feeling a little bad for that little girl.

Her dad, the author of the article, is WAY over thinking her toy interaction and play.

My approach to play has always been… like, way less fraught with this. Did I want to have girls who were obsessed with princesses, or dresses, or pink? No, not necessarily. But I also did not completely shield them from any of these things. Furthermore, as much as I feel STEM fields are where the future jobs lie (STEM and healthcare), I am not inculcating my girls to love math.

Because that would not end well.

Tell a child what to do. Let me know how that goes.

This was my favorite sentence: “I think the onus, unfortunately, remains on individual parents to make sure their boys and girls question every instance of groupthink, whether it’s which toys girls should have or whether Frozen is actually all that female-empowering.”

His daughter is 4. She doesn’t care if Frozen is empowering, she just wants to pretend to freeze stuff and sing “Let It Go”.

Additionally, by attempting to steer a girl away from princesses and dress up, these parents are simply reinforcing that idea that girlie things are worthless! “No, you can’t be a princess because you’re smarter than that.” “No, stay away from pink; it means you’re a weak girl.”

Guys, you’re doing it wrong.

++

On a recent Family Movie Night, we all watched Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I didn’t like it. And, part of the reason I didn’t like it was that the two main female characters were mean girls — mean, bossy, bully girls (okay, one girl and one woman).

You know what I did? I said that out loud. “I don’t like that these female characters are bullies and mean girls. I just want you to know portraying girls and women like that in a children’s movie offends me. I don’t like the message.” (I also didn’t like Mr. Peabody. He was a smug, pretentious know-it-all. But, ya know, he was a dog. So.)

Girls can like pink and math. Smart girls can also be pretty girls (and vice versa). Girls can play with Legos, and Barbies, and LPS, and do science experiments at the kitchen table.

Having an attitude like the author’s sets our girls up for a false dichotomy. Limiting their choices to STEM-only is just as limiting as saying, “You’re a girl so you can’t play with cars.”

And instead of fretting, talk to your children. I do it all the time. Teach them to think critically about the shows they watch and the toys they play with and the school work they like (or don’t like).

Flora HATES math homework. She loves science and social studies, and reading books. So I focus on math with her because that’s what she needs to work on. But she’s not bad at math because she’s a girl. She doesn’t want to practice; practicing math takes focus, which Flora is famously lacking.

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I asked my girls what they wanted to be when they grew up on the ride to work this morning. Flora wants to be an ornithologist. Kate went into goofy mode; she wants to be a turtle. She also did a word problem about selling turtles.

Children can do anything. It’s up to us as parents to show them the options, and then stand back and let them be themselves. Instead of worrying about them playing with dolls.

What do your children want to be when they grow up?

Kate and Flora, future ornithologist and pet store owner
Flora and Kate, future ornithologist and pet store owner

Sex, Death, and Ebola

Children are sponges. Curious, curious sponges that ask a lot of questions.

Remember, children don’t realize that their curiosity could put you in an awkward position. They have questions, and they trust you, an adult-type person in their life, to have answers. Whether it be about sex, death, or the latest news, sometimes a question is going to pop out of a child’s mouth that you wish you could ignore. You can always try distracting them with ice cream, but I guarantee you: they will happily get ice cream with you. Then they are going to circle back to that question, probably until they get an answer.

Here are some guidelines for dealing with those pesky questions, from “Where do babies come from?” to “Do I have to worry about catching Ebola?”

1. Don’t panic. Children, like most other animals, can smell fear. If you panic, you are inviting them to attack you (with more questions) or you will inspire fear and panic in them too.

Stay calm. Take a deep breath, and think about what you want to say. If the child chooses to ask more questions in that pause, raise a finger and say something like, “Just a minute. I’m going to answer your question, but I want to think of the best answer for you.”

2. Try not to get defensive. Don’t fire questions back: “Where did you hear that??” “Who told you that?” “Why would you say something like that?” This will shut off communication. If they think they are going to get someone in trouble, they will shut down. Children don’t like getting people in trouble (unless it is one of their siblings). The secondary effect is that they will either seek out another adult, and the message will be out of your hands, and/or they will seek out their friends, and the message will not only be out of your hands, but also possibly incorrect.

3. Be honest. Don’t make stuff up. Don’t guess. If you don’t know, say, “You know what? I don’t know the answer to that. Let’s look it up.” VET YOUR SOURCE IF YOU GO THIS ROUTE ON THE INTERNET.

4. Be age-appropriate and child-appropriate. This is probably the trickiest step (after don’t panic). The information that a 5-year-old can take in is different from what a 10-year-old can absorb. And one 10-year-old may be a little more sophisticated than another 10-year-old in terms of vocabulary or causal effect. (By the teens, they probably aren’t asking you questions anymore, which is another reason you should try to answer them now.)

5. Finally, try to anticipate follow-up questions. Know where it is okay to draw the line, and say, “You need to be a little older before we discuss that.”

The upshot is that children trust adults. We serve them best when we give them honest answers and treat their concerns and curiosity as valid, and not something to be avoided or laughed at. Or, worse, scorned. If your child is afraid of contracting Ebola because it’s all the media is talking about, assure them the likelihood is extremely low. If they are old enough explain why in simple terms.

What innocent question from children usually has you running for the hills?

Don't Panic Button

School Update: The Good, The Bad, and The Flora

1. Kate has been a rock star (well, until this week*). She has consistently completed her homework in Extended Day. She comes home and does her evening chore. There are some slight issues about her behavior when she’s hungry — because she’s not just hungry, she’s starving to death, of course.

Oh, yeah, we have chores going on. Each week, the girls either have to set and clear the table, or wash the dishes. The time I gain in my evenings due to having the girls do one chore each evening — one! — has been remarkable.

Kate sometimes has to be reminded to get her chore started, but once she starts, she goes from start to finish without stopping. I help with dishwashing, making sure things are cleaned and well-rinsed, then I dry and put away most of the dishes.

Because of her exemplary behavior these past two weeks, Kate has earned a special Katie-Mom day this weekend. I really couldn’t be prouder of her.

Katie and me

(*This week, she has complained of stomach pain. She’s missed two days of school. No fever, but we are heading to the pediatrician’s office this afternoon.)

2. Ha, ha, just kidding. I just wanted a catchy headline.

Michael is *thrilled* to be in preschool. He loves just about everything about being a “big boy”: his teacher, his backpack, his folder. He actually seems to like Tuesdays and Thursdays best now — “Do I go upstairs today?” he will ask. The preschool classroom is upstairs. “Yup,” I’ll say. He’ll do a fist pump: “YESSS!”

It’s ridiculous.

He had no trouble transitioning back into the daycare setting either. Didn’t even faze him. I think he missed his little buddies.

My cheeseball

3. We may have turned the corner on this one. It remains to be seen.

My children, Kate and Flora, are responsible for doing their homework in Extended Day. This is a habit I tried last year to get started with them. Mileage, as they say, varied.

This year, I put down the law. Homework gets done at Extended Day. If they needed help with something, they could save it for home, but the majority of it has to get done before I pick them up. And, yeah, they have to motivate and monitor themselves. I am not going to put responsibility on the EDS proctor.

Flora has consistently chosen not to do her homework. I would find her playing on a computer at Extended Day, and she would turn to me and say, “Oh. Um, I didn’t do my homework.” After about a week of this, I said, “Why aren’t you doing your homework?”

“Homework is a waste of time.”
“You think homework is a waste of time.”
“Yes. Also farts.” (I took this to mean she thought homework was farts, not that farts were a waste of time.)

“Fine,” I said. “I’m taking the 3DS away.” And I did.

A day or two after this conversation, there was a note in her math book. She hadn’t done her homework for two days in a row. So she was either telling me she did it at Extended Day and didn’t, or she was telling me she was doing it at home, and didn’t. Either way I trusted her. That’s over!

(No, I don’t check my children’s homework. They do that in school. Of course, now I check to make sure they actually did it.)

Two days into this week, Flora has done her homework both days. I have checked, and helped her with a couple of problems she skipped because she didn’t understand the question (distributive property, ahoy!). She asked for the 3DS back, and I said that we had to get through the week first.

I haven’t signed her up for violin yet — that’s a matter of disorganization on my part. She has soccer practice Tuesdays and Thursdays, and chorus on Wednesdays, so getting her homework done is even more vital.

Also, she hasn’t done well with the chore. She starts and stops, starts and stops. She’ll set out dishes and wander away. I have to call her back time and again to finish. When she was not doing her homework in Extended Day, she didn’t have time to do her chore — and boy did she ever milk that.

This week, as I said, has been better. She has washed dishes (she gets frustrated rinsing all the soap off them). We really need to fix our dishwasher. The girls also help with laundry (mostly putting clean clothes away) and vacuuming.

And, we’ve only been late once, and that was due to construction. It’s a new record!

4. So, that’s where we stand in the middle of September. Flora loves to learn, but she sincerely hates homework. And chores.

Life is rough. /sarcasm

What do you think? Anything else I can do to help Flora get her work done? After she gets the 3DS back, what’s next?

The Mother of All Mommy Blogging Dilemmas

I want to give you all an update about how school is going, what the children are up to, what new changes in our routines have meant.

One of my children, though… driving me crazy. There are issues, problems, dilemmas. And I don’t want to post them here to complain about said child — I want to post them here because I NEED SUGGESTIONS.

Maybe I should just email a few of my friends who are moms or those who are in education. Although, too, let’s face it, it’s not like I have hundreds of thousands of readers that are going to see me posting about my child.

Someday, I imagine my children will see this blog. They are aware of social media, Facebook and Twitter and the like. They watch YouTube videos. They get how the Internet works. We use search engines for homework already.

I guess, for me, context is important. I don’t want my children to see one or two of my blogs posts and think, “Jeez, my mom didn’t like me very much.” It goes without saying how much I love my children — they are really great kids.

The other course of action is to brag on the child who is outstanding as of late. Although I’m not sure how that helps me help the other child.

It’s nothing of an embarrassing nature. I try not to do that. When M was born, I told myself that I was never going to post about my children’s potty habits (I think I was discreet before that as well; I’m a big believer in not talking about poop on the Interwebz). I never talked about accidents — or, even, successes. That was uber private. Anything having to do with my children’s bodies — that’s just off limits.

What say you, my readers? Shall I outline the dilemma here and ask for suggestions? Keep it to an email? Keep this place positive?

Those darn kids!
Those darn kids!

Premature Worry

Michael talks all the time.

In the evenings, M will not sit. He wanders — bounces — around the kitchen until everyone else is sitting at the table. During nighttime show, he plays with cars. Sometimes very loudly. Or jumps off the arm of the couch. Or just hurls himself into a pile of pillows. Over and over. And over again.

In other words, he is, as far as activity goes, All Boy.

I admit, the talking thing took me off guard. I thought: boy + 2 older sisters = talking by the time he was 3, maybe. Plus, with the ear infections, I figured a speech delay was a given.

Not so much.

I am starting to wonder how we are going to get through evenings. M will not go outside when I ask him to.

He really needs to run around outside.

I’m starting to worry about how we’re going to do when the cold sets in.

I’m starting to wonder how he is going to do in preschool.

What’s really a problem, I’m starting to wonder how he will do beyond preschool. Which makes no sense. There’s no way of telling. He may do fine in a group of kids who are sitting still. He does okay at dinner when we all sit at the same time.

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I’m sure I’m just spinning in my own head. I wish the children had their own space, but finishing the basement is in indefinite limbo.

I’m just looking for problems for some reason. I just think of me, and three children, in not very many rooms, for nine months.

I’m just worrying.

What are you worried about?

What, me worry?
What, me worry?

 

Listen To Your Mother

(I know. I know. I shared this on Twitter. I shared this on Facebook. I am in awe of my friend. In. Awe. Also: I have thoughts. I have feelings. I want to respond, at length.)

Kim Z. Dale, fabulous in blue
Kim Z. Dale, fabulous in blue

I have a lot of admiration for my friend Kim. She participated in the Chicago presentation of Listen to Your Mother. Along with being a professional and a mother, she is a playwright. In this verbal essay, she says a lot of things that, in my experience, work-outside-the-home moms hesitate to admit.

I have said this before, but in this context it bears repeating. I don’t just work to earn money. I work so that I leave my house. I work so that I am not at home, spending all my time with my children. I *love* my children, and I love being around them (most of the time). But I also feel like my work life makes me appreciate my home life more.

What Kim has to say is poignant and honest, and oh, when she reaches the end of her piece. Oh. My heart for her. (Aside to Kim: did you know that was going to happen?)

Please go watch it before you finish reading this.

Back? Okay.

I, too, like being good at what I do. It’s one of the (many many) reasons I work. I haven’t been called the nanny’s name (my children are a little older than Kim’s, though), but there have been moments, often in the evening or on a Saturday, where I get a look from them. A mumbled comment when I tell them to clean their room, or that we won’t make it to the pool today because we have to do XYZ. “I wish Miss Nanny were here.” The implication being because Miss Nanny is more fun.

Miss Nanny is, sometimes, often, more fun. I get that, and I envy her that time that she has to be more fun with my children.

But. And but. I, too, am fun. And a parent. I have to do hard things. Set limits. Enforce consequences. Teach responsibility. Give baths and enforce bedtimes. Make sure homework gets done and soccer practice is attended.

Miss Nanny, for all the fabulous work she does do (she has to enforce chores every day, which ain’t easy) isn’t raising my children. She’s taking care of them during the hours that I go earn a paycheck. It’s definitely a trade-off. One that works well for my family.

I’m really happy that Kim got the laughs she got.

Anyway, I also have to say here that I would love to find a way to bring Listen To Your Mother to Pittsburgh. Stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out the other Chicago performances.

Bring tissues.

Coming Independence Days

On Saturday, M and I had our first Mommy & Me swim class (my first one ever, actually). He did not enjoy it. It was an overcast day, and on the chilly side for June, and M was too cold. He cried nearly the whole time in the water, and didn’t want to do any of the exercises. After about 25 minutes, I let him out of the pool. He went to sulk by our stuff.

We’re going back next week, regardless.

Also on Saturday, I dropped Flora off at a birthday party. She walked in, and I had to call her back for a hug and a kiss. She came back, and gave me a quick smooch without complaint, and then she was off to swim for the next two hours.

On my way home, I stopped off at the library, where I stumbled on Bink & Gollie on DVD (we are big fans of the books), and I grabbed it for Kate.

For the first time, I keenly felt the double-edged sword of parenting. We bring these little people into the world, love them, teach them. They are our hearts walking around outside of our bodies.

And if we do our job well, they leave us.

What kind of deal is that?

I am working so hard to make my children independent. Teaching them that their actions have consequences. Letting them experience the world without me watching over their shoulder issuing warnings. Asking for their opinions. And I don’t think until Saturday, until Flora hurried to join her friends without a backward glance, that I realized WHY I was doing it. Or how teaching them to be confident and responsible people had the potential to make me so SAD.

What if I do it so well, they don’t trot back to me for that hug and kiss? What if we do such a good job, they move a thousand miles away? What if we’re so good at it, they decide they want to raise children too? (Fat chance, if discussions with my 9-year-old are any indication.)

Gosh, I wonder if this is how MY parents feel. I mean, they did a great job as parents. Sincerely. And their three children, we have lives of our own now — our own families, and houses, and businesses, and careers. Which was the whole point, yeah?

When I got home, I showed Kate the DVD I had picked up for her at the library. She was so excited. She had been upset because I didn’t let her come for the ride to drop Flora off. When I handed to her, I chucked her lightly under the chin and said, “I want you to know something. That even when I’m not here, or when I say no, I am thinking of you all the time.”

I wonder what I will do when I don’t have to think of them all the time.

momentous

Chore Crafty

One of the things we are trying to instill in our children is the idea that our family is a team. We all have to work together toward common and beneficial goals.

Like having a clean house.

So this summer I decided chores were in order. I had stumbled onto this site earlier in the year, and put that in my brain to return to. I did things a little differently, but same basic idea.

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Instead of dried beans or coffee beans (what a waste of coffee beans!), I decided I wanted to color rice. This way each child could have her and his own color.

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That’s about a cup of rice to 1 teaspoon of rubbing alcohol.

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Mix in food coloring.

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Spread out to dry on wax paper. It needs about an hour.

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Write out chores on popsicle sticks.

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And, voila!

They pick 2 chores a day; M picks one. If I have a home project for them (like, organize arts & crafts drawers), then they only pick one. There are sticks that say, “Trade with Sib” and “Free Day.”

We are in our first week. It’s going okay. M usually needs help. Some chores are more popular than others. And one of my girls complains about having to do chores, and the other is super helpful. You may be surprised by which is which.

How do you encourage children to help out?