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.