Sunday, February 24, 2008

Conventional Parenting Wisdom #2

[Caveat: I have absolutely no parenting credentials apart from parenting my own kids. I have no advanced degrees, published papers but have read many parenting books, usually late at night after a bad day or locked in the bathroom during a bad day. Those that have ever seen me in Walmart with my kids will know just how unqualified this makes me.]

The Conventional Rule: Pick Your Battles. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
My Rule: What “small stuff”?

This one sounds easy. I’ve read it a hundred times in books. When Johnny is stacking the Tupperware lids on the kitchen floor you let it be so that when Johnny is swinging from the Swarovski crystal heirloom chandelier, you’ll have the patience to redirect Johnny to a different activity.

The problem is that kids, my kids at least, don’t do calm and cute activities like stacking Tupperware lids. If they do I am too busy to notice as I’m cleaning up fishy cracker crumbs from the discovery that the fish explode when squeezed. My kids would be more likely to use Tupperware lids as Frisbees and try to knock over half empty class of juice on the kitchen table.

The fact is that the kids are constantly getting into stuff they shouldn’t. It’s not a matter of two times a day they are doing ‘big’ things. It’s two times a minute on a bad day. After a couple exhausting years of saying “no” “don’t” and “leave that alone” from morning till night in increasingly shrill tones, I decided to construct a few simple rules that most of their infractions fell into. So, instead of saying “Don’t throw your books down the stairs and it doesn’t matter if you think Daddy let you do it one time or if you’re running an experiment to see how far the books will go or if your only throwing the ‘baby’ books down the stairs” I could say “we don’t throw books – it can ruin them”.

So here were my rules:

1. Don’t do anything where someone will get hurt.
2. Don’t do anything where something will get damaged or broken.
3. Don’t do anything loud and annoying around other people.

Now some might think rule 3 is unreasonable – kids will be kids. Call me crazy but I think allowing a 4 year old to sing the ABC song in a screeching voice at Christmas in the Costco lineup is at the very least disrespectful and perhaps even life-endangering because left unchecked, said ABC song might result in nearby patrons throwing whatever is handy and which might include a 24 can flat of Alphagettios.

After a few weeks, the rules required refinement and explanation.

1. Don’t do anything that might hurt anyone, including yourself. (Swinging a golf club offends this rule, even if your sister says she didn’t mind getting whacked in the head).

2. Don’t do anything where something might get damaged or broken. (Just because you got lucky when you threw the Snow White doll at the ceiling fan so that she could fly, doesn’t mean the fan won’t break next time).
3. Don’t do anything loud and annoying around other people: Other people especially includes Mommy.

I guess at its core the convention wisdom isn’t wrong. We let our kids run around in their underwear chasing each other and yelling excited but loud tones. We let them “rearrange” the family room until it is unrecognizable. We even have a designated couch-jumping couch in the basement.

The rule just conveys a simplicity that doesn’t exist in our home.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Conventional Parenting Wisdom #1

[Caveat: I have absolutely no parenting credentials apart from parenting my own kids. I have no advanced degrees, published papers but have read many parenting books, usually late at night after a bad day or locked in the bathroom during a bad day. Those that have ever seen me in Walmart with my kids will know just how unqualified this makes me.]

The Conventional Rule: Never Wake a Sleeping Baby
My Rule: Wake a Sleeping Baby

When my husband and I were about to become parents, we were told often “enjoy all the sleep you can get now” by friends and strangers alike. Ignoring the fact that few 8 month pregnant women sleep very well (though admittedly most partners of 8 month pregnant women do), we found this scary.

My husband and I are very compatible in both interests and personality. We have one glaring incompatibility.
When my husband is tired he moves m o r e s l o w l y. He speaks slowly, he thinks slowly and he reacts slowly. When I’m tired, I get impatient. I don’t like waiting for a red light, my coffee to brew or waiting more than one nanosecond for an answer to a question. This had disaster written all over it.

So we read books, researched on the internet and talked to friends over coffee. Our friends mostly snorted coffee out their noses when we asked how to get our baby to sleep through the night. Books and the internet gave some strategies which we decided to try.

So we never let J. sleep more than 3 hours during the day. We woke him often. At night we let him sleep as long as he would. At 6 weeks (exactly) he slept through the night (7 hours) and did so every night thereafter unless sickness, teething, a bad dream, time change, change of season weather or full moon got in the way.

It was an early parenting triumph, and if I’d would have known how few there would be, I might have celebrated more.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentines Stress!

For years my Valentines 'to do' list comprised of :

1. (mandatory, unless good excuse like weather warnings, illness or bad hair day) buy card for Husband.

2. (optional) try to have lunch with Husband to exchange cards (if we both remember to buy them and bring them to lunch).

As our kids got old enough to eat chocolate, I figure we’d add to the list:

3. Buy chocolate in large quantities so that I can give them a few small pieces and eat the rest myself.

When J. was in preschool at the first parent meeting (in September) we were told that the kids were to sign the Valentines for the other 19 kids in the class. And the 2 teachers. Now J. was actually TWO when he started preschool. His colourings were usually squished circles only very loosely tied to any part of the colouring page. I couldn’t imagine getting him to write his name (which has SEVEN letters) 21 times in only six months. Is two too young to get a tutor?

I was first in line to buy the Valentines at the store (in October). As Valentines Day approached (by which I mean just after New Years), I could feel the ball of stress in my stomache. I set a plan of getting J. to write “J” on the Valentines. That would have to do. There was pleading. There was begging. There was bribery. There were tears. But with a day to spare we finished our project. I couldn’t be prouder (mostly of myself as getting J. to do anything he doesn’t want is on par with negotiating peace in the middle east).

On the appointed day of the Valentines party (complete with red or pink snacks and a red or pink dress code), J. had his stash of Valentines ready to go. When I picked him up later with his heart-decorated bag of mail, I was in for a shock. First of all pretty much every kid had written their full name, even the ones I unfairly thought were destined for special ed classes. Some of their printing was more legible than mine by a significant margin.

But what really shocked me was the adorable (nauseating) scrap-booky Valentines. Some of the parents had not bought the $1.99 box of 36 Valentines as I had. They had lovingly (gloatingly) used card stock in 3 shades of red, cut in concentric hearts and decorated with rinestones or metallic ribbon that could even put Martha Stewart to shame. Who had this kind of time on their hands?

Year two of the Valentine showdown, J. was still not writing his entire name. He had mastered the J. (I was now free to admit that the J’s from the previous year were more of a line with a slight curl to it in whatever direction the pen went before he threw it across the room). Now his J’s were well formed. He could write our last name which a) is mercifully short, and b) contains no letters with any kind of curve. Again, with careful planning, lots of time and mood stablizers, we had our ziplock bag full of signed Valentines with J. and our family name.

The handwriting of his peers had improved even more. I swear a couple of them had been taking calligraphy classes. Forebodingly, I did notice J. received a few chocolate kisses in his mailbag.

Year three of Mommy vs. Valentines I had 2 kids to coerce into their John Hancocks. As happens with second children, the bar was lowered (and I had S. in a less amibitious preschool). I was happy for S. to do any kind of scribble on each card as I sealed them up with pink hearts the size of a pinhead. J. was in kindergarten and could know write his entire name (though a couple letters were backwards). He was however, defiant about the Valentines if only because it’s something I asked him to do. Still we persevered.

When both kids came home on V. Day with their brown bags I saw a lot of candy. There were Hershey’s kisses, foiled hearts, red and pink jelly beans. What is this? Halloweeen?

This year, J. not only signed his name but wrote the names of his 21 classmates and 2 teachers. Virtually no encouragement from me. Which was good, I was busy talking S. into writing her name (she can actually do it if you take a Picasso-esque view of her signature). We made the mistake of signing her up for 2 preschool classes so she had 2 parties and 2 sets of signatures to do.

I can tell you the word is out on the street. ADD STUFF TO YOUR VALENTINES. S. got enough chocolate and candy to send our dentist on an African safari with 13 of his closest friends. Plus a bracelet, three pencils, stickers, a notepad and a heart-shaped balloon.

Can you feel the love.

p.s. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Bermuda Triangle of Play Dates

I know stuff happens with five to six year olds on play dates. I really do. But what are the odds of it happening so often. To me.

Play dates are a sensitive topic with me. When my son, J, was 4, he was reserved around other kids. I saw (and his preschool teachers told me) that he needed play dates to help him along socially. For a while, he spent 10 hours a week with a sitter who had a son in the same preschool class and that was good - lots of play time and learning the social rules. When that ended after 7 months, J.’s play mates were his much younger sister and more often his parents.

The problem I had with making the play dates happen were twofold. First, my part time work schedule, J.’s preschool schedule and S.’s nap schedule seemed to conspire against making it happen. Second, I didn’t know who to make playdates with. Most of the boys were more … boylike. Rough and tumble. J just isn’t like that. So I kept waiting to meet the perfect match for my son (I did have 20 adult years of experience looking for a mate for myself, so I felt my skills were honed). So no play dates really ever happen for my 4 year old.

A few months before he started kindergarten we moved to a new house in a new neighbourhood. A fresh start. Surely in this family-friendly places play mates would be plentiful.

In kindergarten we met a boy who, like J., was smaller than average. We arranged a play date. I ask the play mate (and his mother was there) “what is your favourite thing in the whole wide world to play with?” Answer: “guns”. Not deterred I asked again: “what is your second favourite thing in the whole wide world to play with?” Answer “knives.” We sent the boys to play.

Sometime later, J. comes running upstairs “MOMMY” he asks excitedly “do we have any more dolls?” (I’m secretly pleased that these 2 forward thinking boys can play with dolls as well as weaponry). “I think upstairs” I answer. “Great” J. says excited. “We’re lining them up on the bed and poking them in the head until they are dead.”

J. was invited back for a play date to that boys house. After he was dropped off we had to rush off to swimming lessons. He was difficult and had the biggest tantrum after swimming lessons that he has ever had (and that is saying something for our tantrum-prone boy). Later the stories came out. He pinched his fingers on a swing. He wanted to play inside while his friend wanted to play outside.

The next couple play dates were with boys we knew from church. They went well until I put any limits on J. like telling him not to play Tarzan jumping off he furniture or asking him not to make fun of his sister. He would turn on me and yell things that I hoped outsiders to the family wouldn’t hear. The excitement and well stress of the play date seemed to blow a circuit in his brain.

At J.’s request we tried play dates with two different girls in his class. We are barely in the door and I hear from our guest “Um, J. is pulling down his pants”. On the other girl-play date he tried to kiss her good bye. There was talk of marriage.

Finally, that brings me to the latest entry into the play date hall of fame. We waited weeks to find a day that would suit with a friend in his class. It was a bit of stressful day (see Amber Alert). We’re struggling with colds. S. has bathroom issues (see A Sparkle in Her Bum for further details). We’d been to the doctor on top of non-stop pee clean-up (our bathroom floor has never been so clean). The play date, by our standards, is going well. Everyone has their pants on and no weapons are being used. I take a phone call and I’m beckoned to the bathroom door. “I need help”. “I need new pants” says our latest invited guest.

You can guess why.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Democracy in Action

J., our somewhat precocious and very curious 6 year old, has something on his mind. On Monday he raised the matter of getting a dog. A dog? It was just last August when we finally broke down and got fish as a baby step into pet ownership. We adopted 2 koi, Isaac and Anna, from friends who had already upgraded to a dog. We even traded up and got Isaac and Anna a palatial 20 gallon tank. Now we are committed to feeding them twice a day and cleaning their tank every couple weeks. (In the interests of full disclosure, I have never cleaned the tank or even reminded husband to clean the tank. I have on occasion spent way too much time scraping algae off plastic tank foliage).

Now he wants a dog? While husband and I both consider ourselves “dog people” and both grew up with beloved family dogs, we are definitely not ready to be daily pooper scoopers.

In a magnanimous gesture, J. suggested, no announced that we would take a family vote. Ignoring that fact that one might predict it would end in a tie in a family of four - 2 kids and 2 people that will end up really taking care of the dog, J. began registering votes. Husband and I were pleasantly surprised when S. voted for ‘no dog’ (she may have been distracted by a cup of hot chocolate or something). We thought we were a lock. We technically voted for “a dog in the future” which was recorded a no vote for both of us. So we did some quick math while J. entered “M” “D” and “S” under the no column and figured we had the race won by a 66% margin. No need for judicial recounts.

J. took a few minutes to tabulate before bringing the bad news. Under the yes column there were 5 votes "J." "J." " D." "Z." and "I.". We hadn’t realized that Jack (his stuffed bear), Daisy (his stuffed dog) and Zeb (his stuffed Zebra) were registered voters in our house. We were even more surprised that Invisible Kid had a vote. You see Invisible Kid causes a lot of trouble in our house. He (I think it’s a he) is responsible for almost everything that goes wrong in our house. Spilled milk, marker on the couch, misplaced items and noxious smells. And now the pest had the nerve to vote against us on the dog referendum!!

No doubt this will also mean an invisible dog.