Friday, December 10, 2010

"Mom, I'm bored!"

Summer in Seattle is absolutely glorious. The sun is shining, everything is lush and green, there's the beach nearby and the mountains, and the lakes. Each day we breath in the endless possibilities, run out to greet the limitless world, holding hands and smiling.
Then there is fall and winter, which are basically one long, dark rain storm. It can get a person down. It can make a kid cranky and bored. Which is why, after a couple weeks of whining by a certain six-year-old, I resorted to this:

The events calendar.
Each month I print out a blank one, along with a sheet of clip art, and have the kids decide what we will do and when. I can cater the clip art to things that are available that month. For example, this month we are going ice skating, making Christmas cookies, and having a bonfire on the beach. Then there are our regular monthly activities: game night, pizza night, movie night, library day. The kids get to decide when we do things, which they love, but I get to limit how many things we do and what kind. Win-win.
That six-year-old loves going over to the calendar and counting how many days until our next special event. Since we started doing it she rarely complains about boredom! Ye-haw!
What ideas do you have for fighting the winter doldrums?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


After my complaint last month about how toys enter my house, I thought I'd give you a peek at one of our favorite toys around here. It came to us as a hand-me-down (the best way to get toys) and contained the classic tinker toys, plus a compatible set of plastic parts. Here they are, if anyone knows what they are called or who makes them, please let me know.

From this sundry we make all kinds of fabulous things, from cars to space ships to flowers and flags. The wooden dowels require just a slight amount of pressure and pinching to fit into place so the kids (ages 3 and 6) can do it themselves. My daughter prefers fanciful, detailed creations

while my son prefers simple dramatic shapes.

We leave the big box out in the living room so they can access it any time. I think they have played with them every day for the last three weeks. Gradually all the pieces get spread throughout the house and we have to round them up every week but then it is like discovering them all over again.

I love that these toys leave plenty of room for the imagination and mood of the kid. The teacher in me (and my Occupational Therapist mom) knows that they are great for fine motor skill. Plus, there is no wrong way to play with them or put them together. They just feel nice in your hand. Solid, you know? Real. I like that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Melt-Down Miracle

I knew we were pushing it last night with my three-year-old. We decided to have a bonfire on the beach after dinner. He ran and played and laughed for over an hour, then started asking to go home, actually asking to go to bed. We promptly gathered up our things and got in the car, but it was too late. His fatigue had given way to a melt-down. He was asking for more hot chocolate, which we had finished off half an hour before. As he cried, "I WANT MORE HOT CHOCOLATE!" I tried to tell him it was gone but we would soon be home. He cried even louder, tears streaming down his face.

The phrase "emotional crisis" flitted through my brain. I decided to try a different approach. "I hear how much you want it!" I said, over his crying. "I wish I could make some more appear!" And that was it. He stopped crying immediately. He had been heard.

This remarkable little moment was all thanks to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk. I just taped a copy of page 27 to the bathroom mirror this week. The jist of it was to make sure the child knows his feelings, however silly they seem to us, are heard and accepted. I know this goes against instinct for a lot of us. When we hear a kid say something so ridiculous, we want to explain the real reason, "You're just tired. You need to go to bed." But this seldom does anything to stop the melt-down.

Some of you may even remember being punished for crying. The adult doesn't think hot chocolate is worth crying about, so tries to force you to stop being upset. One can only wonder at the long term consequences of this kind of parenting.

I know that for me, this little four step technique has been a wonderful tool for making our lives more happy and peaceful. Sometimes I switch to two steps, if the melt-down is already in progress. The technique can be used for kids as young as two and a half, probably up until adulthood. So here it is, page 27, reworded a bit:

Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings

1. Listen to the child quietly and attentively.

2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word or phrase.
"Oh. Yes. I see." "I hear how much you __________"

3. Help the child name the feeling.
"That sounds frustrating!"

4. Give the child his wishes in fantasy.
"I wish I could make the banana ripe for you right now!"

If you do this in public (because, of course, that is where you child has her loudest, most ridiculous melt-downs, right?) people are going to stare. They are going to look at you like you're crazy. But then it's going to work, and they will see just what an amazing parent you are! Ta-dah!

I should mention that there is a lot more to this book than dealing with emotions. The authors also masterfully cover how to get more co-operation from your children, plus how they deal with punishment, praise, and autonomy. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Toys Coming out the Wazoo

I remember reading a statistic when my first child was a newborn that said the average American kid gets over 100 new toys a year. I remember being appalled and the sheer vulgarity of the image: pristine plastic dolls and cars lining every surface of a child's room. I know our culture was materialistic, but I was darn-sure MY kids were not going to be.

Now that I am a parent of a school-age kid and a preschooler, I see the statistic a bit differently. I think it may actually be a little on the low side for my kids. You see, what you don't realize as a non-parent or new parent is how these toys come into your possession. It is not as if you are going to Toys R Us every weekend and buying some shiny new plastic crap that little Bobby just can't live without. Most of it gets into your house without you even knowing it. Then you look around and see the floor strewn with flower erasers and Lego men and bouncy balls and wonder what the heck happened.

It starts out subtly. Your parents bring a gift when they come to visit. Sometimes your friends do, too. It is out of love and genuine interest in your child, so of course it a welcome gift. Sometimes, when you go to a store, you buy them a little something so that the shopping trip goes more smoothly. They are entertained, and you get a whine-free trip through the market. At their birthday parties, of course, they get gifts from each guest, plus ones from their families. Great!

Then you have all the other stuff.

The toy vending machines cleverly placed at the front of the restaurants, pet stores, and grocery stores you go to. You can only say "maybe next time" so many times before you actually have to let them buy something.

When your child goes to a birthday party (like, every FREAKIN' weekend!!!), there is the little party favor bag, which may contain two or three toys.

At school they get toys from friends and prizes from teachers. A girl on my daughter's bus last year gave her a little toy almost every day.

They find stuff on the playground and take it home.

I have had complete strangers meet my kids and five seconds later produce a toy from their pocket or house.

Or they go on a playdate and like a certain toy so much the other parents say they can keep it. (Try saying no to your kid after that!)

It seems like everywhere we go there are little things for the kids to keep. One of my friends' daughter is now so used to this she will actually ask, "What do you have for me?" when she meets someone.

All this "stuff", as you can imagine, really piles up. I feel like we're up to our eyebrows in toys nobody actually wants or needs. But then, throwing any of it away is a heinous crime. The kids see the pea-sized ball of play-dough in the garbage and shout, "Who put this in here? I NEED this!"

All toy culling must therefore be done under cover of darkness, preferably less than an hour before the garbage truck comes. One can also donate things to charity, which I do regularly. I also have the rule about not buying any new toys unless the kids give something else away. It actually works. That is, until they go back to school, a playground, or another birthday party.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Girl with Her Head in the Clouds

It's three days before the end of summer and my husband and I can't wait for school to start. Our lovely six year old is driving us completely crazy. Her creative energy is about to peak, resulting in turning our entire house into an elaborate game of make-believe, where everything is something else and must therefore be moved from where it usually resides. Cleaning up is impossible because the game never ends, you see. While we beg for her to do simple tasks like removing her shoes from the maple tree in the yard, she floats around in her own little world.

I was exactly the same at her age. I procrastinated and meandered about any job I was given. I could make raking the grass take three hours. Putting away my clothes, toys, dishes, or anything else I would start with determination but soon get side-tracked into an art project or story-telling session with my dolls.

I craved creative outlets so badly I could turn the most mundane task into a long, rambling adventure, much to my parents' chagrin. So while I am as frustrated with my daughter's behavior as my husband is, I understand it a little bit more. I can't really reassure him that things will change, though. Right now I'm sitting her blogging while the dishes sit, half-done in the sink. I was afraid that if I waited until I finished, the idea would be gone. I literally stopped mid-wash to run over here and start typing.

And so I know that my daughter's seemingly ever-changing focus is really extreme focus on one idea. An idea whose shape and outcome is still evolving. Although I can't visualize it, I still try to manage and direct it as best I can. Away from the TV and china, toward to muddy yard and wooden fence. I wish I could give her more tools to help her finish her idea. She keeps asking for hammers, nails, and wood. She'd also like a stage built in the yard (which is 20' x 20'). She would like a chemistry set with a real microscope and she would like a guitar. Yes, my dear, I say, I would, too.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Homes Like This

This is how you live in a townhome: downstairs, make breakfast, upstairs, get dressed, downstairs, work on your stuff, upstairs, do laundry, downstairs, make lunch, upstairs, play with kids, downstairs, do dishes, upstairs, more laundry, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, on and on until even though the book you're dying to read is right upstairs (or downstairs, as the case may be) you just can't bear to go up (or down) one more time and you sit and stare at the wall instead, wondering what will happen next.
But that is not the worst part. The worst part is when you get ready to go out, get everything you need and go downstairs (two flights), only to discover you're not wearing socks, or the kids aren't, or someone has a diaper so full you really can't go out in public. Then those two flights of stairs back up seem like the most annoying 24 steps you've ever taken.
Yet there's this: no one lives above us. Or underneath us. We can run around and jump and scream and our neighbors can barely hear it. Our kids can act like kids. And that is the one consideration I can't do without. So if I stare longingly at your one-floor house, your kitchen that looks onto the yard, or your first floor bedroom, you now know why.
So what are the pros and cons of your type of home?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Art Space

I realized recently that the way to not go crazy was to make new spaces for all the activities we like to do at home. So instead of trying to use the dining table for card-making, painting, sculpting, scrapbooking, crafting, and-- oh yeah-- eating, I'm making art nooks.

First, a craft desk for myself. It meant buying a new dresser and selling the old (all on Craigslist, and I made $10!) so it would fit in the hallway. Then I bought a desk ($20) and stuck it in the corner of my bedroom. There was just enough space. That room also gets a lot of light so it's not working out too badly. And I can CLOSE the DOOR and block out all the screaming and shouting of the little ones. Hallelujah.

I got the kids an easel ($20 on Craigslist) which is currently standing in the little space between the table and the deck door. One side has a chalk board and the other a white board, though we just clip paper to it and paint pictures. A little IKEA side table we've had kicking around fits perfectly under it so we can pull it out when they need it and tuck it back in when they don't.

I took some beautiful pictures of the kids using it but they have totally disappeared off my computer so you will just have to imagine it. There they are, painting away, while I sit at my clean and tidy kitchen table, contemplating tonight's project. Ahh. I feel better already.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Sundry

Can you tell that school is out? I've had just enough time to sit down and breath a bit each day. The rest of the time is taken up with children and their many needs. I also took a trip to Kansas for a few days to attend my grandmother's funeral. It was a poignant visit, celebrating her long, rich life, and missing her greatly.

The garden needs tending and we have been enjoying fresh peas, green onions, and some cilantro. Digging in the dirt is wonderfully therapeutic.

I've also been reading through Shona Cole's lovely book The Artistic Mother and taking to heart her contention that doing art for myself will make me a better mom. My first task is to create a work space. I'm carving out a corner of the bedroom and already finding projects there. All the sewing, painting, making I've laid aside because I didn't have a work space are promising many hours of contentment.

I love how summer's long hours of daylight call me away from my usual activities and into the tidying, creating, and organizing that makes me feel ready when the fall arrives.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Losing It, Part II. Your Own Children

If you are a parent you've probably noticed all the TV shows and self-help books out there to help you with disciplining your child. Most of them are similarly anti-freak out. They suggest that you quell your anger and deal with the child in a calm, rational tone. I, however, firmly believe that a good explosion every once in a while helps mom or dad stay sane and the kids stay good. I'm not talking about hitting or threatening your child. That is wrong. All I mean is a few seconds of completely irrational screaming and hollering about the injustice of it all. You don't call them names, you don't swear at them, you just say what is wrong in the loudest way possible. I mean, you can still feel guilty afterward if you like. In fact, that is probably a good deterrent. But don't beat yourself up about it. You are only human.

From a sociological point of view (hey, that minor is finally paying off!) our rage at children who repeatedly break the rules helps reinforce social norms. They learn that some things are sacred to adults-- getting to spend time alone, choosing when and how you are touched, being heard and acknowledged. Something that seems like such a small act to them is huge to you. And without the drama, they'll never know that.

The arguments against parent rage usually fall back on the argument that we would never treat strangers the way we treat our kids at times. True, we don't tell the clerk at the video store, "Don't you DARE answer that phone when I'm talking to you!" (even if we want to) but the clerk hasn't ignored everything you said all day long, laughed in your face when you were mad, or rolled his eyes at your very helpful suggestions.

In short, it is the incessant violation of social norms that finally drives parents to the edge. After six days of gentle redirection, "We ROLL the ball in the house. We don't throw it" and being ignored, we finally shout, "I don't EVER want to see you throw that ball AGAIN!" And guess what? Your little darling throws it again. KABOOM! You lose it. Fire shoots from your eyes and your arms reach out seven feet to crush the ball and send them, crying, to their rooms.

Is throwing the ball in the house the worst thing your child has ever done? You reacted less violently the being bitten on the leg. But it is the constant, never-ending need for social normalization that sends any sane person temporarily over the edge. Hopefully there will be someone there to pull you back up. Or you just do it yourself. You breath deeply. You close your eyes. You start again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Losing It, Part I. Other People's Children

People always tell me how calm or mellow I seem. I do have a pretty long range of patience, which makes child care a nice fit for me. So when I shouted in the face of the six-year-old girl I was watching last week, I did everything but blame myself. If I lost it, I must have been really provoked.

The notion that adults must be icy-cool in even the most infuriating situation is, to me, unfathomable. Getting angry is a gut reaction, a primal instinct probably stemming from a need for self-preservation or protecting one's kin. This was certainly how I felt. You see, this girl (I'll call her Katie) decided to lock me in the garage when I went to get something from the car. At that same moment, I heard my two-year-old crying on the other side of the door. Then I heard Katie walking upstairs. From deep within me, came a shout, "KATIE GET DOWN HERE AND OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW!" When she did, I shouted at her, asking if she thought it was funny to lock me out when my little boy was crying. Her eyes were the size of baseballs. She turned completely white and ran up the stairs. She wouldn't speak to me the rest of the time she was at my house. Of course, I told her mom what happened and we talked about it. I wasn't really worried about it. I felt justified.

At the same time, I would never condone violence against a child, no matter what they have done. That includes spanking. I tried it on my daughter once and always regretted it. (For a discussion of spanking, click here). I do think a little ten-second shout of frustration can be just the wake-up call the child needs. In this particular case, Katie had been testing my boundaries for days, seeing if she could just ignore me and my rules. I gently guided her, so she thought I was a pushover. People have made this mistake before. Sometimes I get the opportunity to correct that assumption and sometimes I don't.

In my experience, school-age children will often test the limits of a care-giver or authority, especially at around two weeks into the relationship. They do something they know they shouldn't, something that any other caregiver or teacher would punish, to see what will happen. When I recognize this situation, I let loose, just for a few seconds, to let the kid know they've crossed the line. It always works. To see a normally calm, nice person flip out at you is a shock. Like a pacemaker to the heart, it gets everything back in line, where it should be, especially when it is followed with reconciliation.

The reconciliation is key. After I calm down, I talk to the child about what happened, why I was upset, and what they should have done. We hug or high-five, and go on about our day. I can say, Yep, I lost it, and they can see why. And we go forward from there.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wiggle Your Waggles Away

After reading Teacher Tom's post about movement in preschool I started thinking about how much movement kids are do at home. I'm thinking that kids with bigger houses than mine have playrooms where they can move. Or a yard on the same level as the rest of the house. They don't need to do most of their moving inside, in the main living space, but mine do. After all, I live in Seattle, where it is often too cold and rainy to venture out (for me, not for them). So we play on the furniture.
I know many parents have rules about the furniture and enforce them well, but I am not one of those parents. The only rule I can consistently enforce is "No feet on the table". Everything else is up for grabs. My kids jump on every piece of furniture I own. When they want a snack out of the cupboards they get a stool and climb up on the counter. Yep. Icky dirty feet on the counter.

They regularly watch TV upside-down on the back of the sofa. This looks like a wonderful back stretch, doesn't it? Beds are for jumping on in our house. Sleep is just for those too tired to jump.
The stairs are rolling, sliding and bumping down. Often face first. Even when they were very little.
I know. You're horrified. I am a permissive mother. Although my kids have regular bumps and bruises, they've never had broken limbs, concussions, or stitches. Not a single one. In fact, they may be less likely to get seriously injured because they have so much practice time with balancing, shifting weight, and judging their own strength. I watch them carefully, of course, but I never, ever ask them to sit still. Those wiggles are not just going to go away on their own, I figure.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wondertime, I Miss You

The March issue of Family Fun magazine just arrived so I'm sitting here ripping out all the pages that have ads on both sides. While I understand the necessity of advertising revenue, the shameless self-promotion of Disney Inc really pisses me off. The rrriiiiippp as I tear out the pages advertising the Disney channel's new family comedy or Disney Cruise Line or Disney Mobile Magic ("Put the magic of Disney Parks at your fingertips!") is so satisfying. The ads for ADHD meds (the highest grossing market for child pharmaceuticals) are another pet peeve. Rrrriiiippp. Soon I have pared it down to a few extremely ugly "craft" ideas and one or two "helpful hints" for moms.
I never signed up to receive Family Fun magazine. I had a subscription to Wondertime, another magazine owned by Disney, which met its tragic demise when the economy took a downturn last year. My subscription was automatically changed to Family Fun. The infinite superiority of Wondertime was immediately obvious. Not only were their crafts beautiful, their big, colorful photos and long, thoughtful articles always engaged me. The recipes were delicious. Their frequent contributor, the hilarious Catherine Newman, is one of my favorite mommy bloggers. I read each issue from cover to cover and laughed and cried and felt empowered.
Obviously, that is the kind of thing Disney abhors.
Otherwise my beloved Wondertime would still exist. Disney, why must you crush everything that is beautiful?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Chore Chart

This is "from the archive": my idea for how to avoid nagging your kids about what they need to do and actually make it fun.

Rewarding 3-5 Year-Olds for Good Behavior
(P.S. It’s not bribery!

Bribery is a crime. It happens when someone offers something so enticing, so desirable that saying no just isn’t possible. Ten thousand dollars to lie about someone’s whereabouts. A pony if you tell me where you put my keys. See, it’s not possible to say no, especially when the requested behavior is so easy to do. Bribery is not a policy I condone. So when I tell you to reward your preschooler for good behavior, that’s exactly what I mean—a small token of your appreciation for accomplishing something that’s a little bit hard to do. You know, those things kids are supposed to be doing by themselves every day, but sometimes don’t.
The chore chart is a simple way to create a positive interaction. After all, those preschoolers are just too busy playing, exploring and building to stop and do something as mundane as putting their toys away. Even if you remind them a million times, it may not get done.
The goal with the chore chart is to get the behavior you want without the whining and foot-dragging you don’t. After using this technique for just a week, my daughter started clearing her dishes from the table after every meal without being reminded. She even did it when we forgot to do the chore chart.
Your child, like almost every mammal, can be trained to respond to positive reinforcement. Eventually, you drop the rewards, but the good behavior continues because it is now routine.
For preschoolers, these behavioral inducements should be something fun, small, and temporary. My local toy store has a wall of trinkets for $1 to $2. I pay an average of five bucks a week for whine-free, blissful tooth-brushing, dish-clearing, and room-cleaning.
So here’s how it works:
1.Make a chart or list of jobs the child needs to do to earn the reward. The number of jobs to do is the same as the child’s age, ie. 3 jobs for a 3 year, 4 for a four-year old, etc. Write a short phrase or word and put a picture next to it, then laminate (see directions below for easy laminated wall chart). Using an erasable marker, kids get to cross out each job as it is completed. Visit for markers.
2.Always make it clear what the reward will be. It can still be a surprise, as long as the child understands the scale of the surprise: I’ve got something in this envelope for you when you finish your jobs.
3.Be positive. Praise the child for what she has accomplished toward the goal instead of nagging about what she hasn’t done.
4.Don’t sweat it. If your child forgets to do a chore or chooses not to, don’t worry about it. The opportunity to remind your child why he needs to do the chore will arise, and you can use positive language to do it. You didn’t do all your jobs today so you don’t get a surprise tonight, but I bet you will do a better job of remembering tomorrow.
Three- to five-year- olds love to be independent. By remembering to do the chart herself, your child already feels positively rewarded. You can up the ante by having her show you the completed chart (and reacting appropriately) or gathering the family around to see her get her reward. That kind of public recognition is something you never get with bribery. It’s so… secret. Your child’s good behavior, on the other hand, should be shared with everyone.

Easy laminated wall chart:
1.Take a 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper or card stock and draw or paste on pictures to represent what your child needs to do.
2.Write a short phrase next to each picture, like brush teeth, comb hair, or make bed.
3.Starting at the bottom of the page, put a strip of shiny cello-tape across the paper. Firmly press the tape in place.
4.Place another strip of tape above this one, overlapping slightly, and press it firmly in place.
5.Repeat the process all the way to the top of the page.
6.Hang on the wall using a thumbtack.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Read it Again, Mommy!"

As an avid internet shopper, I try to grab good deals wherever I see them. So when I saw Children Just like Me on Amazon for one cent (plus shipping) I instantly bought it. It was used and published back in 1995, but I felt sure it would soon be a household favorite. When my five-year-old saw the cover she was less than intrigued. She said "oh" in that way you do when a package comes in the mail and doesn't contain chocolate or clothes.

Over the next couple of days I would pick up the book and sit on the couch, thumbing through it. Today, my daughter came over and sat next to me. As I felt her peer over my shoulder, I just began reading. In the book, each child from a geographically distinct part of the world has a full page profile with detailed color photos of their family, home, school, toys, food, and more. The kids talk about these things in their own words. Cora was soon hooked. We read about kids from South America, Alaska, and Eastern Europe. Tomorrow it will be Africa and Asia, Australia and Western Europe.

Although it is tempting to just buy popular TV characters and fad book series, I find that after reading those books once or twice, my kids have lost interest. The books usually lack originality and, often, substance. They teach a simple lesson or new vocabulary words. Once these things are learned, the books cease to have value. That doesn't mean I don't buy these books or appreciate them as gifts-- I do, but I know they are not going to be favorites. What I really look for now is a book that touches on something so huge, so abstract that the kids get something new out of it each time they read it. Sometimes these books are slow to catch on. If the kids don't seem interested at first, I just keep trying. (This is also why I can't get these books from the library. They can't sit around waiting for our attention for six months!)

Children Just Like Me seems to capture a certain message about childhood without preaching about it, which is why it is so addictive. In the same way, I hope my other recent purchases will help give my children some perspective. I bought James Herriot's Treasury for Children and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. I'm also awaiting the arrival of Material World: A Global Family Portrait, a series of photos of families and their belongings arranged outside their homes. I'll keep you posted on how those go. In the meantime, I will be answering the call of "Read it again, Mommy!" with glee.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Co-op Moms: The Sisterhood

Last week I got together with seven other moms from Cora's preschool. Although my daughter left the preschool eight months ago, the other moms and I still regularly communicate. We are still using the Yahoo groups listserv to send messages to all the families involved last year. Many of us are also Facebook friends. If your children go to a traditional school, this may sound strange to you. I didn't really understand how different co-op preschools were until I overheard some moms talking outside our children's kindergarten room. One asked the other who her child was. A few moments later they realized they had been in the same preschool class the previous year. For me to not recognize a parent from Cora's preschool I would have to be unconscious. In the course of one short year we became extended family. These other moms became my sisters.

How did it happen? The co-op preschool model is unique in that, in exchange for the parent's time and effort, we get some of the best preschool education around. Plus, the tuition is incredibly cheap. Parents must stay with their child at school one day each week. During that stay they man a station and help the kids in that area. They must also fulfill a "job" such a treasurer, or secretary. They attend required monthly meetings in which a parent educator paid by the sponsoring college or university teaches them about (surprise!) parenting. The school's business is also done at these meetings.

As we all know, parenting is a difficult business. The support I received from the co-op families last year was better than therapy. Seeing other moms and dads going through the exact same issues was so comforting. Over the course of the year, many struggles brought us closer. One mom went through a nasty divorce. Another lost her father. Triumphs like the births of two babies gave us cause to celebrate. Because we all depend on each other to make the co-op work, any issue like this always meant we had to pull together to bridge the gap. We gave rides, babysat, covered each-other's school duties and cooked meals. We supported our fantastic teacher, Lauren, and in return she gave our children a loving, nurturing environment.

Even though our children are at nine different schools this year, our history with the kids makes us still feel close. At drinks last week we laughed and laughed, commiserating over the new year's struggles, celebrating each child's latest triumph. Looking back, I couldn't imagine a better way to take my children (or myself) through the preschool years.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Telling the Truth

Like many parents, I try to tell the truth to my kids when they ask a question. Sometimes that means explaining something I'm not mentally prepared to explain. Like when my daughter pointed to the condom machine in the truck stop restroom and asked, "What's that?" Thank goodness I got to practice (and observe) some of the more important conversations in the parent education courses I take.

As part of the co-operative preschool model, all the families enrolled in the system take monthly classes led by experts in child development and parenting. Unlike, oh, I don't know, Jo Frost (Supernanny) they all have children themselves. Whatever situation you ask them about, they've usually been there. From these great educators, and special guests like Amy Lang, I'm learning how to answer questions like the one my daughter posed. First, I gave simple, short answers that related to things she already knew. I tried to stay calm and listen to what she was really asking. Here's how it went:

Cora: Mom, what's that?
Me: A condom machine. It sells condoms.
Cora: What's a condom?
Me: A piece of plastic that stops someone from getting pregnant.
Cora: Where does it go?
Me: Over the penis.
Cora: Oh.
Me: Did that answer your question?
Cora: Yeah.

Whew. We made it. She could have asked me lots of other questions. But she didn't. At five years old she just wasn't making the connections that we do. Since we already talked about how babies are made, I wasn't leaving her hanging there, I hope. Of course, this was just a small piece of the ongoing conversation about sex. Just like our conversations about war, religion, race, and hundred other topics. As of now, I still vow to tell the truth about those things too. Just not Santa or the tooth fairy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Such a Person

"He's such a boy." Every time I hear these words I am filled with anger. Since my son first began to move around on his own, people have said this to me, usually when he is being aggressive or destructive. I never know how to respond. A dozen biting remarks leap to my tongue, but I don't utter them. I know it is more important that I never think that way about him.

Now that he is two and a half, he picks up on most things people say to him. Before long, I think, he'll be wondering what this little phrase means. And that is the most agonizing of all. He shouldn't have to wonder what it means to be a boy. He should just get to Be.

My son has always been a sweet, loving person. He hugs and kisses without restraint, he says "I love you" "You're my best friend," to everyone he is enjoying playing with. He says sorry with genuine remorse and is brought to tears when his sister is in pain.

This kid is also obsessed with anything that has wheels. In the stroller he leans over the side to watch the wheels go around. He does the same to his play cars, and with such seriousness you would think he were an engineer. He also likes to dress up in his sister's princess dress and serve tea. His dad and I encourage him in all these things, because they seem to be good for him. He is a happy child, and that's all that matters to us.

Parent Map recently published an article citing two doctors (and their extensive research) who seem to agree. They say nurture, more than nature, determines gender-specific behavior. According to the article's author,
Boys and girls are different at birth – but those
differences are much smaller than you may think.
It’s how babies are treated that sets them on the
path toward more gender-typical behavior, magni-
fying those small differences until we become the
monster-truck/chick-flick stereotypes of adulthood.

My concern for my son is that he not feel forced into a self-image that doesn't suit him. We see the long-term psychological effects of poor self-image all around us-- in eating disorders, depression, and self-destructive behavior, to name just a few. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I think the less my son has to think about whether he is behaving like a boy or not, the better.

So anyone with a great idea of how to politely but effectively respond to the comment, "he's such a boy," I'd love to hear it. Or any other thoughts you have on the subject of gender, let me know.