Friday, January 13, 2012

Parents Just Don't Understand

Shades of vintage Will Smith!

Faced with frustrations and inequities in his young life, my son has started uttering the classic phrase, "You don't understand! You don't know what it's like to be a kid these days!"

I don't know where he got it from, but it's not a new protest by any stretch of the imagination. I bet Cave Kid used to grumble, "Ma not get it. She still living in the Paleolithic Age. Things different today in Neolithic Age."
And it's partly true. The world I grew up in was different in many ways from the one my kids know today: less technologically advanced, a little slower-paced, more private, safer and less safe at the same time. So maybe I don't have a complete handle on what it's like to be a 21st-century grade-schooler in the age of Twitter, texting and Tea Partiers, but there's a lot more I can relate to.

I understand how it feels to be young and under parental supervision and scheduling. I still remember early bedtimes, school routines and being dragged along on errands when I would have preferred to hang out in my room.

I recall the frustrations of having to share with a sibling, eat meals I wouldn't have chosen for myself and do homework before going out to play. I remember hearing "no" to requests for toys. I still feel the sting of being excluded from the cool girls' club. Late at night, a little part of me still fears the shadows in the room and the mysterious thumps and squeaks (the ones that don't come from our upstairs neighbors, that is).

I also remember a time when my biggest problems were understanding long division, washing my long tangly hair and being the only kid in town whose parents drove a lime-green car with black-and-white houndstooth interior.

I remember when I didn't have bills to pay, an apartment to clean, deadlines to meet or doctors' appointments to make. I remember when my parents were young and active, not the demanding, forgetful nonagenarian and the overworked, stressed-out caregiver they are today. And I remember when a decent proportion of the day was mine, not taken up by the needs of employers and children (as loved and wanted as they are).

But I also remember that when I was their age, I couldn't imagine a time when I would be my age now. I know that for them, "the future" means next week and "the distant future" means their next birthday. I know that they can't imagine ever feeling any differently from the way they are now.

So all I can do is sympathize as best I can and let them feel the satisfaction of being misunderstood by adults who have no idea what life is like for today's youth.

One day, they'll be the ones who don't understand.

What I love about my children today:
The way they cheerfully helped pick up each other's rooms - no small feat, considering how reluctant they normally are to keep their own bedrooms neat.

My daughter saying to her brother, "I have a spot in my heart for you as big as this house."

My son saying to me with a grin, "Okay, I guess I have a little spot in my heart for her, too."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What I Loved...Jan 3

Again, a late-night quick recap - but at least I'm sticking to week 1 of the resolution. Longer post tomorrow, I promise.

What I loved about my son today: His writing style - expressive, humorous, not always perfectly accurate, but often insightful. He got a near-perfect score on a social studies test today for answers like this:

[What would happen if there were no checks and balances?] the government would go ka-bonkers! Nobody would be agreeing and nobody paying checks.

[Discuss the meaning of "the pen is mightier than the sword"]: The pen exspresses thoughts. And the sword only kills the living.

What I loved about my daughter today: Her love of math. Unlike her poor mom, who struggled mightily in elementary school (a teacher once wrote on my report card, "Shana needs to learn that math is not the enemy"), my girl already seems to have a knack for numbers. She can count small quantities by sight, catches on to new concepts and beams with pride when she finishes a page in her workbook. Hearing her say, "This is so easy!" is a daily joy for me.

I hope she continues her smooth sailing on the choppy waters of mathematics. (Okay, I'm not as good a writer as my little boy. I admit it.) Is it too early to introduce her to Danica McKellar?

My kids' first few years of school have been a good ride so far. Let me never take that for granted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What I Loved About My Kids on Jan. 2

Fine. So it's early morning on the 3rd. I made a New Year's resolution, and I'm going to keep to the spirit of it, if not to the precise letter.

What I love about my son today: His spirit in the face of an annoying medical intervention. For the last 6 years, he's been enduring twice-monthly desensitization shots to treat his numerous environmental allergies. Say what you will about medical measures, but since he began treatments, the endless coughing spells he used to suffer from October through June have stopped. Heck, he barely even gets colds anymore.

He hates getting the shots - what kid wouldn't? - but he goes to his appointments with only a minimum of fuss, and amuses his doctor with his monologues about LEGOs and Star Wars. Today, we got the good news that he's not reacting to pollen as much as he once did, which means we can start weaning him off that component of the shots after this spring. His grin was even bigger than mine.

What I love about my daughter today: Her thoughtfulness. When I mentioned hating cold weather and being glad to come into a warm house, she ran into her room, got her fluffiest throw and put it over me. So typical of her. She's the first with a hug, a sticker, a picture or a cup of water when she sees someone she loves in need. May she never lose that compassion.

Nice going, kids. Can't wait to see what I'll love about you today!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

So This Is New Year's...

...and so it's time for new beginnings, expressions of gratitude and good intentions.

We spent a happy end to '11 visiting the Bronx Zoo, followed by a pilgrimage to the annual party of good friends. The kids have been attending since they were barely old enough to toddle, and they're happy to stay up past bedtime as long as there's a TV on, M&Ms in the dining room and noisemakers at midnight.

I asked them if they had any resolutions for 2012, and the answer was a resounding "Nope." They like themselves just the way they are, thanks. And maybe I can learn a lesson from them. If they're comfortable in their own skins, and are good, decent people at heart, why should they worry about setting goals for themselves that matter mostly to parents? I might prefer that they keep their rooms neater or deal with their anger in ways other than name-calling, but those things don't really weigh heavily on the minds of elementary-school children.

But I'm a flawed adult and more concerned with such trivial matters as self-improvement and goal-setting, so I'll put out some well-meaning vows on this, the first day of '12.

This year, I'll try to live more fully in the present. I was lucky enough to get some new clients for my freelance writing this year, which has made for more work - and potentially more visibility - but it also has the potential to keep me mired in the world of deadlines and superficial pursuits. I promise to look up from the computer every so often and put my attention to a spring breeze, a meal cooked with love, a child's question.

I'll lengthen my fuse. I tend to let the little things get under my skin, and I become snappish more often than I'd like to be. I won't stand for disrespect, but I'll acknowledge that my kids are still kids, and they're sensitive to the feelings of the adults around them. I want to finish my day with memories of love and laughs, not nagging and scolding.

I'll be a better blogger. It's a blast writing for a major website, but you readers might like to see more about this mom when she's not following celebrity baby bumps. I also have some ideas for actual Momsperiments that I'm eager to test out.

I'll post daily this year about the things I love about my children. Uplifting for you, meaningful for me, perhaps helpful for them in some way. So here goes:

January 1, 2012:
What I love about my daughter today: The way she hugs and holds on to me at night, her love so open, her need for loving contact so vital to her very being.

What I love about my son today: His thirst to learn everything he can about the things that fascinate him - from trivia about the Presidents to the facts about every single Star Wars character in all six movies and the Clone Wars series.

How about you? How did you spend your New Year's? And are you making resolutions, or do you take my kids' view that it's enough just to be who you are?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Scrooge's Gay Heart and Dickens's Language Lessons

I guess it's no surprise that both my kids love to read. After all, their mom read the word "Tide" on the detergent box before she was three years old, and their dad was poring over high-school science texts in elementary school. At homework time, reading is the first thing the children want to do, and they don't consider themselves too old to have bedtime stories read to them.

So I figured this year would be a good time to introduce my son to the original "A Christmas Carol." It's got Christmas, ghosts and a classic villain - how could it miss? And though the language can get pretty dense - when you get paid by the word, conciseness isn't your primary goal - I refused to use the edited-down version created by a columnist trying to reach today's attention-span-challenged kids. An almost-9-year-old who's racing his way through the Harry Potter series should be able to handle a few run-on sentences about Saint Dunstan nipping the Evil Spirit's nose and low-browed, beetling shops with masses of corrupted fat and sepulchres of bones.

So we began with the first "stave." (Stave, Charles? Really? Surely they called them "chapters" even 170 years ago, didn't they?) Since it takes a few pages for the ghost-action to rev up, I did worry a bit that D would get restless. But when I finished for the night, he said - and I quote -

"That was the most powerful language I have ever heard. It's making a movie inside my head!"

Huzzah! He was hooked! My first attempt at a Get-Them-to-Love-the-Classics Momsperiment was a triumph!

And so we went for the next couple of nights. Marley arrived, yoked to his weighty cash boxes. Scrooge relived his boarding-school boyhood and Fezziwig's raucous celebration. (Now that was an office party.) The Cratchits had their modest feast of goose and plum pudding before reluctantly toasting the Founder of the feast. Then, right after the round of guessing games at cheery nephew Fred's house, we came to this sentence:

Uncle Scrooge had imperceptibly become so gay and light of heart...

"HEY!" cried my boy. "He used a BAD WORD!"

Whoa. I knew what was coming. And while I knew this discussion would come up sooner or later, I wasn't sure I was ready to tackle it right at that very minute.

Blast. Why do Important Teachable Moments always come at the most unexpected times? Couldn't this wait till, like, 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon instead of bedtime on a school night? Couldn't we just keep going and zip ahead to the part where Scrooge buys the Turkeyzilla for Tiny Tim?

Nope. I signed up for the full mom-package when I took on the job, and having deep talks about social issues is mentioned right there in the small print. So I jumped in.

" 'Gay' isn't a bad word," I said calmly. "At the time the book was written, it meant 'happy.' What do you think it means?"

"It's when guys kiss guys," D said succinctly.

"Well, yes, today it's come to be used to mean men who love other men. Is that a bad thing?"

"It's just weird," he said. "Justin Bieber's gay."

I sidestepped that part. "Okay, you think it's weird. And I understand - it's a new idea to you. But that doesn't mean it's bad. Isn't it more important to love someone and have someone love you, no matter who it is?"

"Yeah. But it's weird."

Deep breath. "Being gay is a difference, just like being black is different from being white. You're Jewish, so you're different from your friends who are Christian. It's just the way the world is, and there's nothing bad about it."

He nodded.

"But here's the thing. What's not okay is to call someone "gay" as an insult. That's wrong, and it's hurtful. You wouldn't want someone to insult your religion, would you?"

That he understood. "Uh-uh."

By now it was way past bedtime. Time to wrap this up - but not before making one final point. "You know," I said, "you actually know some people who are gay. Not your own friends, but friends of Daddy's and mine. People we care about very much - and who you like a lot, too."


"Yeah. So using "gay" to mean something bad is hurtful to them. And I know you'd feel really bad if you found out you were saying something that hurt them. Right?"

"Yeah." A pause. "Mom, can you turn on the Star Wars radio show CD?"

So much for that. Well, at least the ice was broken. Maybe he'll bring up the subject again soon, or maybe it'll just get forgotten in the crush of more important third-grade thoughts like LEGOs, Pokemon cards and winter vacation. Which wouldn't be such a bad thing; it'll give me more time to prepare for the next deep discussion.

But now we know that Dickens's language certainly is powerful.

God bless us, every one.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Update: Just in Case You Were Wondering...

For anyone who remembers my previous posts and was under the impression that my household has since metamorphosed into a Utopia of order, cleanliness, promptness and strong work ethics, let me enlighten you.

- We still have trouble leaving the house less than 5 minutes before school starts. Sometimes it's a matter of staying in bed too long; sometimes it's an argument over the necessity of brushing teeth or hair; other times it's a blissful ignorance about time, despite reminders ("It's's's EIGHT-FREAKIN'-THIRTY-NINE"). And then there are the days when they simply don't see why they should interrupt their reading/LEGO-building/sibling-chasing/coloring just to spend 6 hours in an institution of learning.

- The Set-Your-Own-Homework-Schedule Momsperiment has had its ups and downs. Sometimes the kids will get down to business on their own and at a reasonable hour; other times the work is put off for more interesting pursuits - like playing with the neighbors - and finally done a little too close to bedtime for comfort. I admit I may be contributing to the problem by letting them play in the park after school (on a sunny 65-degree day, how could I deny them a little dose of exercise and vitamin D?); once the deep freeze of winter hits, it may be easier to get work done earlier if we go directly home.

- The forgetfulness issue?  I just flushed a toiletful of waste that's been marinating nicely for at least six hours. Homework sheets and school memos are often stuffed in my son's backpack, while the folder designated for those papers lies idly in his classroom desk. Books, pencils, crayons and little rubber toys get abandoned on floors, tables, chairs and sinks, picked up only after repeated requests (or until I get tired enough to pick them up myself).

- Nagging? Still do it, even though I hate it as much as the kids do, and it doesn't accomplish much other than resentment and halfhearted efforts. I want to stop it even as the words come out, but it's like a default setting that switches on when requests and reminders are ignored or blown off. What was that about insanity being defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results each time?

So rest easy. The Perfect Mom Award is still up for grabs, and I'm not getting anywhere near the finalist list yet.

Oh, yes. We're still waiting for that Hogwarts LEGO set to materialize. Even Linus gave up on waiting for the Great Pumpkin after 24 hours.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Unexpected Perks of Motherhood

When women talk about how great it is to be a mom, they usually mention things like first steps, sticky kisses, crayoned pictures, piano recitals and misty-eyed graduations. But there are other terrific benefits that aren't acknowledged as often, so here's a nod to some of the ones you might not have realized. Thanks, kids - we owe you one!

You get an automatic excuse for everything. Nodding off at your desk? You can't help it - you were up with a fussy baby all night. In a bitchy mood? Who wouldn't be, after an hour of nagging the kids to pick up their rooms? Spaghetti for dinner two nights in a row? Sorry, but what with the parent-teacher conferences, shopping for the special jazz shoes your daughter needs for her 3:30 dance class, collecting your son from his playdate and getting homework done, there was no time to get to the market. If our politicians played the parenting card more often, they'd get a lot more sympathy for their political missteps. "I can't believe I couldn't remember the third cabinet department I said I was going to cut as president - but you try doing a televised debate an hour after your kid gets stomach flu and barfs on your shoes!"

You get parking lot privileges. More stores and malls are adding designated "parent parking spaces" close to their entrances for the benefit of moms and dads who have their hands full juggling kids, strollers and shopping bags. Granted, drivers without kids can try to get away with parking there too, but you're fully entitled to shoot your best glare at the college student sans car seat who pulls into the spot and offer your best wishes that one day she, too, finds herself trying to drag two tired toddlers half a mile to her car.

You can duck your civic duty. In many counties, being the primary or sole caregiver of young children makes you eligible for a one- or two-year deferment of jury duty. So don't freak out if you get a jury summons in the mail; you may not have to scramble for a sitter after all. And if you do have to serve and get put on a case? Just say that since becoming a parent, you assume everyone's guilty because you don't want to take the chance that any creepy criminals might be roaming the streets where your kid plays. You won't get past voir dire.

You get more stuff.  From the blingy push presents moms now claim as their due to the extra birthday and Christmas gifts that come "from the kids," motherhood can really pay off sometimes. Coupons fill your mailbox; contests offering sweet mom swag fill the parenting websites. And let's not forget that second Sunday in May. Presents, cards, brunch, maybe even an afternoon to yourself - all because you're a veteran of potty-training, mac 'n'cheese and SpongeBob. Not too shabby.

You meet some great people. By far, the best perk of all. The pediatrician who takes you seriously when your baby "just isn't acting like himself" and offers reassurance even when you call her service at 1 AM. The science teacher who sparks your child's curiosity about the way the world works. The moms on Twitter who host virtual "wine parties" every Wednesday night and share laughs and tips. The children's librarian who always recommends the best books and lets you know ahead of time when the new Mo Willems is going to arrive. They're a vital part of your world now, but you'd never have given them the time of day if the pregnancy test hadn't come back positive.

These five only scrape the surface. Let me hear from you - what unusual perks have you claimed since becoming a mom?