Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Parenting Dilemma 3,465

I have written before on this subject of the sensitive nature of two of my boys, and I must admit, I think about it constantly. While reading one of my favorite momma bloggers today, this post struck me head on. She's a far better writer than I am, but so much of what she says resonates with my experience parenting the twins, most especially C. I ended up commenting on her post, but then wrote Emily at Wheels on the Bus a private email. I've decided to make that not-so-private by sharing some of it here:

I cannot help but see the similarities between Zach & C. C's twin, S, is also academically ahead of his peers (great at reading/Sudoku/etc) but he is less intense & more comfortable socially than his brother so I worry less about him on this front. C's the type of kid who devours books, remembers everything he reads, loves to share facts, is excited by multiplication, & has an incredibly strong sense of what is exactly right & how things should be just so. He also falls apart when things don't go his way, when he gets frustrated, when people don't comply with his wishes, etc. He cries easily & frequently, & he has a hard time letting anything go. I don't walk around talking how gifted he is or how early he was reading, etc. because I know this doesn't go over well with folks, but I am struggling on how to get guidance on parenting him because with these gifts come a host of issues. He has very few coping skills outside of crying & has now started muttering when he is especially upset, "It is a very bad day, a very bad day" which is heartbreaking beyond belief.

I worry tremendously about his 'likability factor' even though my husband keeps explaining to me that we can't make C likable. I worry that he will be that weird smart kid in the class, that he'll piss people off by correcting them frequently, that peers will label him a 'cry baby.' I am having a hard time finding the line between trying to smooth the way for him all the time & recognizing that I can't smooth it all away, that some of his frustration is necessary, that if he doesn't' experience some of these painful things, he will never learn the necessary coping skills. But just where is that line?

Take, for instance, our newest challenge. Our city has a wonderful preK/K soccer program. In the fall, the boys were not interested in participating & that was just fine for P & me. This spring, they said they wanted to play so we signed them up-- our first foray into sports (outside a 'get your ya-yas out' gymnastics class last year in Maine). The program is all about having a good time with soccer & skill-building with these two lovely British coaches at the helm. They do not play on teams; they play fun, skill-building games, & the practices occur at different public parks so you can just go whenever you like, no pressure. Both boys were delighted with the first practices-- so excited & happy & bouncing along.

After a few times, C started to show some cracks. He declared he wasn't very good at dribbling the ball, sometimes it was kicked away from him during the games (the point of some of the games), etc. & tears started to fall. Then came the four on four "fun" games-- where the kids played a sort-of, actual game. This was the undoing for C. Even though the coaches didn't keep score, C kept score. Even though all the kids are running around bumping into each other, C was sure everyone was intentionally pushing him. He got extremely upset. Now, he has not wanted to go to soccer. I am not interested in forcing him to do something he does not want to do extracurricularly so we have been relatively easygoing about this. S loves soccer though, so S gets to keep playing, & since I am the only parent home at most soccer times, I must bring F & C with me to the fields. The first time C sat out, we brought him a chair & a book & he was content. But the book lost its power as the practice progressed & C then wanted to play in some of the skill-building games, but not the four-on-four.

This is when it gets tricky for me: Do I let him participate in what he likes, what is fun for him, but allow him to sit out when he doesn't like something? This is where my upbringing gets in the way of my parenting. I was from the 'you never quit anything' family, you do as you are told, you suck it up no matter what, etc. OK-- so he's five now & we are so not hyper-competitive about sports. I don't blame him for not wanting to participate in the games-games. But what happens at school when he has to do things he doesn't like, he can't sit them out (especially next year in public school). By allowing him to participate, but only in the things he enjoys at soccer, am I sending him a bad message? At what age do I draw the line: Well, if you want to play, you need to do it all, even the things you are not crazy about?

At the last practice, in which only S attended because P was home & could hang with the two other boys, I talked with the coach about C. He was quick to say that C should come to practice, play the starting games that he loves, & then when they are breaking the kids up into teams, he can just sit out over with me. I guess this is how we will approach this for now & see how it unfolds, but I feel unsettled about it all.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Big Changes A-Bed in Our Apartment

Yup, the guys are growing up. After a week of dangerous crib climbing, P and I faced the truth-- it was time to move F into a toddler bed (and say good-bye to his afternoon naps). So this weekend, we bought bunk beds, broke down the crib and one of the toddler beds, assembled the bunk beds, and redecorated the guys' room.

S and C had negotiated top-bunk-bottom-bunk sleeping arrangements months ago and they happily stuck to their plan. P and I were most thankful for their easy acceptance of their decided placements as we've seen such 'discussions' over other things--clothes, seats in the car, soccer balls, etc.-- quickly resemble a current debate for the Democratic presidential nomination, complete with name calling, and the boys' own inclusion of slaps and the such. (You know that Senators Clinton and Obama are a bit tempted themselves these days...).

The older boys were delighted to pick out their own sheets at the store so now transportation vehicles adorn the bunk below, roosters on top. Cock-a-doodle-do!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lessons Learned by a Curious 2 1/2 Year Old (& His Stunned Parents) Before 9AM

1. If you bend the arm on a set of non-flexible (expensive, prescription) eyeglasses just enough, it will break off.

2. Washable ink on a stamp pad is not really washable if you splay your palms across the pad, covering them entirely, leaving you a nice purplish shade for some time.

3. Trikes should not be ridden off the front steps of a porch.*

*and if they are, it hurts A LOT and leaves you with a large rash of road burn across your forehead and your parents wondering if you've sustained a serious head injury.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Call of the Water

On Saturday, while P was furiously writing a history paper, I took the fellows to Lighthouse Point Park here in New Haven. When the boys saw the water gently hitting the small rocky beach, they immediately kicked off their Crocs and headed straight to dip their toes in the sea. It was a true spring day with buds peeking out and the sun shining down in full-force, but a breeze kicked up from the water, chilling me a bit. However, the boys didn't seem to notice the cool air as they were ready to strip down and fully immerse their pale, thin bodies in the harbor waters.

First, the boys flirted with the slight waves, allowing the water to kiss their toes quickly before backing up. Then S, C and F walked in a bit further, their feet now fully covered, and began jumping to the rhythm of the sea. Suddenly their ankles were wet and their long shorts were in danger of a soaking so I called them back. " Just your toes, just your toes," I repeated over and over. However, their delight in the weather and the water far outweighed their mother's commands, and I found myself nagging at them for the next 20 minutes. "Back up. It's cold. Don't get your shorts wet. You can't go in further. I don't have a change of clothes. We're not swimming today. Just your toes. Just your toes!" Suddenly I heard myself as an outsider walking along the coast might. Yes, I should keep them safe, but look what fun they were having. Look how joyous it is to dip one's toes in chilly water after a winter spent indoors. It was time for me to loosen up and let go a little.

I thought back to a time nearly three years before. We had gone down to the Jersey Shore to visit my dad right after school ended in Maine. It was a bright evening and C and S were excited by being so close to the beach so I took them for an after-dinner walk on the boardwalk. Soon shoes were propped up against the railing and little feet hit the steps leading down to the sand. The boys, nearly three years old, ran ahead to the calling ocean as I, heavily pregnant with F, lumbered behind. I saw the boys get closer to the water but was so caught up in their delight and excitement, I was far less cautious than I found myself on the shores of New Haven. Steps behind, I heard one of the guy's giggle as his toes touched the ocean water. The other happily screeched as the waves licked his feet. I laughed along.

Then suddenly another screech--not happy now and not sure if it was one of the boys or mine-- as I watched one of the guys topple over and be pulled out in the salty water. I grabbed his arm, yanking, as his head dipped below the ocean. Stumbling, I tried to hoist him up, only to glance to my side and see his brother similarly swept up and pulled under. Holding the one boy around his middle to my side, I reached frantically for his twin. He, too, was immersed and scared when I managed to catch his arm and pull him up. Their wails told me that that they were actually OK-- cold and wet and frightened, but they were OK. I, too, was feeling incredibly frantic but I tried to soothe them by downplaying the incident, "Silly ocean. Those silly waves. We're all OK now. Yup, we're OK. That silly ocean." I can picture myself in that moment: wearing an orange maternity t-shirt stretched over my burgeoning belly, trying desperately to carry both boys, wailing and wet, on my nearly non-existent hips across the sand, up the stairs, over the boardwalk, across the street to my dad's front porch. All the while, my heart beating more loudly than their sobs.

And so there is one of the great paradoxes of parenthood-- letting your kids explore, discover, and delight, all the while keeping them safe with heads above water. But sometimes they should get wet, and sometimes they will get scared, and no matter how close I walk behind or nag at them to immerse just their toes, the call of the water is powerful and their need to jump the waves great.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Checking In With You, Mate

The bishop of our home diocese visited this week to check in on P and the other seminarian from the diocese. It was a big deal that she came and we felt, once again, how lucky we were to have her at the helm.

When we told our boys that the bishop was coming, it prompted a few queries:

Is the bishop a man or a woman?

Well, our bishop is a woman.

Hmmm. So that means women can be knights too, right?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Developmental Milestones I Could Have Done Without My Son Reaching

Every parent of a young child or a child who was once young has at least one excrement story. Some of us have loads of stories full of sh**. C'mon~ you know it's true. If you happen to be reading this blog and do not fit into this category-- or were not a Peace Corps volunteer who regularly sat at lunch with other PCVs talking about one's funky digestive system while living abroad--here is your warning. Stop reading. Stop reading now.

OK, for the rest of you, I have two especially ugly tales, one involving one of my twins and the mesh of a Pack n' Play that causes me full-body shuddering just remembering. The second incident occurred just last Thursday with my friend F. I guess a few days have gone by now that I can write about it without crying--or gagging--or at least, handing in my resignation (I just can't do this gig any longer).

F has recently discovered that he can climb out of his crib. We tried to keep this a secret from him for the past months, hoping to make it until the summer, well contained behind bars at naptime and bedtime. No longer. It goes without saying that naptimes have changed or I guess I could just say that naps are no longer. I tried for a week. I put him down, made sure both his (mangy) bears were with him and threw in a favorite I Spy book for extra incentive to stay put. Within moments, however, escape plans were hatched and executed and suddenly, a creaking of the bedroom door and, through the glass French doors, that tell-tale, sticky-up, reddish hair would appear. I would pick him up and plop him back in his crib. Up and out he would climb-- again and again--no matter how many times I would put him back down. Finally, an hour or so of this, it would become clear (to me anyway; F knew all along) that no napping was going to occur.

After four days of this back and forth, a twist in the plot. A stuck bedroom door. I put him down, could hear the escape, pulling at the bedroom door, and then murmurings of "Mama, door. Mama, door." I hadn't barred the door. It doesn't have a lock. I guess it was just sticky and hard to open that day. "Ah," I thought though, "this could work to my advantage" and chose not to open his bedroom door. No, it wouldn't cause him to climb back into his crib, but he could play around in his room. He would be safe. There would be some enforced quiet-playtime. Sure, the room would be a mess, but that's no different from most days.

So I left him in there.

I heard him playing. I heard him calling out. I left him in there.

I left him in there for a good hour. What I had not anticipated, however, while becoming quite a crib climber, he, too, hit the I-can-take-off-all-my-clothes-and-diaper-as-well milestone.

Yup. Think healing mud that folks pay money to have spread over their arms, legs, torso and face.

Except this wasn't mud.

And it sure was not healing.

He didn't seem traumatized in the least. I, however, am still having nightmares.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bring on the Top Chef Competition

I really like to get to bed before 10PM. I guess I should say that I really like the idea of getting into bed before 10PM, but the truth is that somehow, this rarely seems to happen. While I am not anti-television, I have been trying to keep the TV off at night to help my getting-into-bed plans. Last night, however, I stayed up until 11PM to watch the one show I like most, Top Chef. Even though I love that show, it truly isn't necessary to stay up to view the first airing of the episode since the channel replays it a good 23 times throughout the week. Clearly, I could always catch it at another time. But no, I got sucked in last night so stayed up late.

This morning while C complained that his mini-bagel didn't taste right, not like the other mini-bagels he has eaten, all I could think was 'bring on the Top Chef competition!' No, my sons aren't awesome cooks, yet, although they can mix a mean batch of box brownies. No, they aren't open to interesting combinations of food (think wasabi and white chocolate together, like one of last week's T.C. creations) or exotic ingredients. It's just that last night's contest centered around having a good palate, being able to discern fine ingredients through taste. They blindfolded each of the competing chefs and gave them two of the same ingredients, soy sauce, cheddar cheese, etc., one of high quality and one of lesser quality. The contestants had to discern the better quality product through taste, smell, and touch only. Normally, they say that seeing the product is often the give-away to quality, but having a good palate is so important to being a good chef, these folks had to rely solely on their other senses for this challenge.

SO hearing this morning's bagel protest made me think of my boys' palate. It is quite limited, yes, as those of you who read this blog know since I seem to write about their picky eating incredibly often. Yet, I do realize-- why, they have a most discerning palate. They immediately bite into a hot dog and know if it is their preferred brand (and will immediately gag and spit if it is not); they shun the cheese that isn't their cheese--right, J?; Stonyfield banilla yogurt must never be substituted for Stoneyfield straight banana or vanilla yogurt. Oh yes, blindfold those boys and they know, by taste, exactly what they are looking for. Gotta be Oscar Meier Wieners-- that's the turkey, pork and chicken mix (nitrates, surely, as well). No substitutions, please.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Thumbs Up

Thumbs up to the New Haven Fire Department.

This morning while walking back from school drop-off, F and I were passed by three fire trucks who had been responding to what seemed to be a false alarm. As the trucks were returning to their station at various intervals, firefighters in each of the trucks waved and shouted to F, much to his delight and mine. When stopped at a red light, one fellow even opened his door to greet F, who declared that 'cool,' clearly picking up vocabulary from his older brothers.

It made me wonder~ as part of their firefighter entrance exams, in addition to aptitude, strength, etc., do the examiners look for kind folks who like children? I gotta say it's not so much the men* in uniform that get me going; it's the men in uniform who are nice to my children that really heat me up.

*I am totally supportive of female firefighters, though, I just don't get that tingle in the same way...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Role Modeling

While the boys were bathing a few nights ago, we got into yet another discussion about gender roles. Since they've begun full-time school, this has been a much-talked about topic. P and I find we have had to follow up on comments that they've heard, and sometimes repeated, about what boys 'cannot do' or what is 'just for girls' or vice versa.

A few months ago, my fellows became enamored with a chapter books series about fairies that is clearly marketed to girls with one set even coming with a sparkly pink star pendant-- which F particularly loves to wear and looks quite smashing in, I must say. I've been somewhat annoyed that this relatively benign beginning fantasy/magic series couldn't just be gender neutral, although not enough to stop the guys from reading them. It does bug me a bit that all the characters are female (although I am for strong women and girl characters) with the exception of a dad in the periphery and the 'bad guys': goblins and Jack Frost. However, S and C were so excited by the series and it was their first real foray into chapter books that we've supported their habit as each new fairy book appears. However, when they took their love for these stories to the playground, hoping to act them out, they had certain peers tell them that playing fairies is only for girls. S tried to make sense of this, saying to me, "Well, it's OK for boys to read about fairies, just not to play fairies." No, no, no-- P and I both insisted-- anyone can play fairies.

So during this bathtub conversation, I found myself sounding, yet again, like Marlo Thomas, circa 1972, as we talked about what boys and girls both can do. As P prepared supper in the kitchen, one of the guys looked up and said, "Girls can sometimes cook, too. Right?"

Words can be powerful, yes, but you can't argue with that role modeling.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


As a middle and high school English teacher, I can't help but see the metaphor in this snap. Here the boys are playing with their Cyclone Tube watching a 'tornado in a bottle.' The fellow holding the bottle seems to be having his own sort of internal cyclone-thing happening lately...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Would you like some ketchup for your words?

Timing is a funny thing. Today, I feel compelled to eat my words. Well, not all my words-- just a few parts of yesterday's post where I described feeling disappointed that my children and I were not truly a part of my husband's school community. Last night turned the tide on that feeling. We had a magical time at the Easter celebration and I am so glad that we didn't allow ourselves to be intimidated by the late hour of the service.

When C and S got home from school yesterday afternoon, we talked with them about the celebration and they immediately got excited-- a good sign. We managed to eat dinner and get out of the house on time with good cheer, no snapping or meltdowns, itself some sort of Easter miracle. As we walked up to the gathering place on the second floor of the school, we began to hear the beating of the African drums. As soon as we entered the room, the boys were transfixed. The rhythms from the drums immediately took over and in a wonderfully natural and primal way, they began to bob, then jump to the rhythms. The gathered students clapped, smiled and then laughed, watching F, S, and C unselfconsciously move and march and shake. The leader of the drumming group strode over to them, beating a complex rhythm as he handed each of them a shaker of some sort so they could fully be involved. S hoisted the large gourd over his shoulder, passing his hands over the attached beads. C shook his tambourine as he took large steps, lifting his legs and feet in his own version of an African dance. F bobbed up and down as his red double maracas danced in his pudgy hands.

After a long jam session, all the children gathered for instruction about their parts in the celebration. Throughout the service, they got to lead the community through the rooms and halls and finally into the chapel as they shook their shakers and called out a refrain that the rest of the service goers repeated. We sang and listened to a variety of different music and laughed with the others there. In the end, the kids got to climb to the balcony, overlooking the chapel floor, crouch on either side of the large pipe organ, and proclaim, "Go in peace!" as they threw rose petals through the slots of the railing. A fun time was had by all.

Climbing into bed last night, S proclaimed that it was a great celebration and shared his favorite part of the night: "When the drummers were drumming and we all said, 'heart beat, heart beat, heart beat' over and over, you know I could feel it in my heart. The vibration ran up my arm, right into my heart and I could feel the drumming right in my heart."

And I can feel the rhythm of my boys right in my heart.