Saturday, August 30, 2008

lament of the ages

I cannot be the only mom singing this song right now. It must be a common refrain among us moms who are watching our kids grow up so unbelievably fast. I know this is nothing new to think about, but my little Pudge will be celebrating his first birthday in just about two months from now (inconceivable!), Red has conversations with us like she's five years old already, and it seems like every other post I write about JAM runs along this theme. But here we go again.

This weekend marks our town's annual Labor Day Festival, complete with those travel-carnival-rides that always make me question their actual safety level, midway games that offer prizes ranging from framed Scarface posters to knock-off-Tiffany lamps to more unnecessary stuffed animals, and all the transfats-filled-foods that you can stuff your face with over the course of four days. Grab a funnel cake from the local Democratic Club's booth, then shoot some water in a clown's mouth and snag a stuffed penguin, then ride around in circles in one of the many ride-around-in-circles-rides and want to puke your guts out. That marks the way we celebrate Labor Day in these parts.

This year brought a new twist to the festivities. We planned to spend the entire day today roaming around the fair, since we bought the kids the ride-all-day-bracelets and we're so cheap we want them to get every penny's worth of use out of the damn things. JAM's school runs a huge used book sale at the festival every year-- we're talking over 20,000 books this year-- and I had signed up for a volunteer shift in the early afternoon. The plan was for lovely hubby to take the babies home for nap during that time, but we just weren't sure what that meant for JAM.

Thankfully it all came together, but it brought a bittersweet moment with it. Upon getting to the festival, JAM was given his ride bracelet, $10 of his birthday money and Mom's cell phone, and he was set free to roam the carnival with two friends. Three 8-year-olds off on their own. Three 8-year-olds trusted to stay in the area, to make good decisions about how to spend their cash, to simply not get into trouble. JAM was instructed to check in via cell phone every half hour or so, and with pretty much everyone we know in town walking around the festival today, we were pretty confident that if they got into any trouble, there would be someone familiar around in the moment to help during the few minutes that it would take to meet back up.

I was somewhat worried, as the two other children had already made the plans to 'hang out' together at the fair, and JAM's inclusion was somewhat of a last-minute addition. But as the three of them walked away from us, I watched as JAM's friend of 5 years, the daughter of dear friends of ours, turn to him and cheerfully include him in their conversation, and the three began to skip toward the games and rides, determining what they would venture to first.

I began to cry.

Yeah, and to tell the complete truth, I'm tearing up a tiny bit even as I type these words. JAM is growing up, simple as that. He responsibly checked in just like we asked, he spread out his cash spending over the several hours he had to play, and he had no major (or even minor!) issues with his friends. When he did get separated from them, he had the good sense to come find me at the book sale for help instead of wandering around all alone. (He had good sense. I'm so incredibly proud to type those words. You just have no idea.)

This was clearly one of those moments that was a fork in the road. We opted for the path that granted a bigger portion of freedom and called for a larger show of responsibility, fully realizing that by the end of the day, we could possibly have a more nuanced vision of our first-born, and that it just might bring with it an opportunity to reassess the norm in our family.

While we're planning to take a break from the festivities tomorrow, we'll definitely be back down there on Monday for the town parade (who misses the opportunity to have handfuls of candy thrown at them as they sit on the curb??), so there just may be a repeat of JAM's taste of freedom, for at least a short time. I think it's pretty safe to say that I just may see another tear or two pop up, yet again.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


For once, I am almost at a loss for words.

I can usually go on and on (and on and on) about my emotional reactions to everything from the large-scale events of my life to the very mundane. (Admittedly, this place is usually filled with the mundane.)

But tonight, I'm seriously at a loss for the words to describe the swirling thoughts, emotions, fears and hopes that are all worked up after Barack Obama's speech tonight. I'm not a worldly person, and I'm not all that well-versed in politics, but my gut tells me that I'm living in a particular time period that will be documented for years and years to come. And I'm so damn hopeful that the outcome on 11/4 will mark a turning point in our country that will lead to a better country for JAM, Red and Pudge.

For all the quotes that will come out of tonight's seamless speech, there was one point that truly struck me as dead-on-right. Obama spoke of the need for the presence of both individual responsibility and mutual responsibility. This oh-so-basic, yet unheard of attitude in the last political cycle, needs to be the guiding light for individuals and our government.

I am filled with hope. And I can't wait to vote.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

flagrant self-promotion*

A few weeks back, I was excited to find out about a nifty site, 5minutesforbooks, and I quite eagerly took part in my first ever book carnival, writing about my experience reading Henry Huggins with JAM. I had a blast blog-hopping (oh so different than bar-hopping, but much more my speed in this time of my life...) and reading about others' experiences with books for 'middle' readers. I love the concept of book carnivals-- this big sharing community of people all talking about particular types of books they enjoy. Can you feel the love?

Well, I was even more thrilled to get an email from the managing editor of the site, Jennifer Donovan, asking me to write a guest post for the 5minutesforbooks site. Say again?! You want me to write something and then you'll willingly post it on your established site? She obviously didn't peruse my little space on the web here very thoroughly, or she would never ask someone who has the word poop as a tag on her blog to be a guest poster. (In my defense, there are only 4 posts with that tag... it seemed to have been a significant topic in my life a few months back...)

So here's where the flagrant self-promotion comes into play. If you just aren't satisfied with reading my blather here on mte, you can hop over to 5minutesforbooks and read more of my inane blather over there! My little piece (okay, not little of course, since I wrote it... but what you see there is even edited to be a bit shorter than what I originally wrote... I simply cannot shut up.) on the book and movie versions of The Water Horse will post on Thursday (in approximately 1 hour, 44 minutes as of this writing). If you're reading these silly little self-inflated words right now and it is past midnight on Thursday, you are officially requested (begged, pleaded) to head over and read my first ever guest post anywhere. If it's not quite midnight yet, you are expected to follow these directions upon your first logging on to the Internet tomorrow. Thanks for your support. (Wasn't that a tagline in an old commercial for wine coolers?)

And it wouldn't hurt if you left a comment. A nice one, if you can even manage.

*I believe in full disclosure in a post title. I'm just saying.

Monday, August 25, 2008

how to tick off a baby

Simple. Just spill his favorite morning snack all over the place right in front of him, effectively taunting him with a million and one Cheerios that are no longer safe for consumption. Like this:

Hmm... I'm so glad I vacuumed already this morning.

Good excuse to get the pantry cleaned out.

Then, look over to see if your diabolical plan has succeeded. If you are greeted by a face like this, then you are almost there.

This look says, "I am confused by your actions. What is your plan here, lady?!"

Lastly, begin to laugh, quite heartily, at the never-to-be-eaten-round-goodies scattered all over the floor. If your baby reacts with a similar expression to the one below, you can rest assured that you have indeed just ticked off your baby.

I am not amused.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

this week's guffaws- back to school edition!

Tonight signifies the official end of summer break. Tomorrow ushers in the loveliness of the first day of school: alarm going off at 5:30 am, slamming my fist on the alarm clock while grumbling foul words under my breath, stumbling into the shower at 6:00 am, followed by a mad rush to wake the suddenly-I'm-not-a-fan-of-waking-up-early JAM, dress Red and Pudge, get breakfast on the table for everyone, nurse and then feed breakfast to Pudge, pack JAM's lunch, quadruple-check the school supplies (you never know who has been playing around in the bag!), load everything into the stroller including the littlest ones, bring at least one of those two back in to change the suddenly poopy diaper, reload the stroller, and then get walking by 8:00 am for Bring Your Child to School Day. (Which is shortened from it's full name of Bring Your Child to School Because We've Directed You to Purchase Way More School Supplies Than Your Child Can Carry Day.)

Yeah, I'm tired already. (Thankfully, he'll take the school bus most mornings and that will eliminate the need to be fully through with the morning routine for the younger ones by the time he has to leave! Breakfast can always be put on hold and returned to after the bus comes.)

So, in honor of the monumental day tomorrow, tonight's TWG's features school-related humor, starting with some very simple and very kid-accessible jokes.

TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find America.
MARIA: Here it is!
TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered America?
CLASS: Maria!

TEACHER: Why are you late, Frank?
FRANK: Because of the sign.
TEACHER: What sign?
FRANK: The one that says, “School Ahead, Go Slow.”

TEACHER: John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?
JOHN: You told me to do it without using tables!

TEACHER: Glenn, how do you spell “crocodile?”
TEACHER: No, that’s wrong.
GLENN: Maybe it's wrong, but you asked me how I spell it!

TEACHER: Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?
TEACHER: What are you talking about?
DONALD: Yesterday you said it’s H to O!

TEACHER: Winnie, name one important thing we have today that we didn’t have ten years ago.

While our kids will be back in their classrooms navigating the emotions that arise when summer vacation has come to an end, there's a universal feeling shared among parents. That feeling can be best demonstrated in the following cartoon, complements of Rick over at Organized Doodles, as well as by one of my all-time favorite commercials, complements of Staples (I laugh out loud at the pencils every single time!). Enjoy!

Here's to a happy and successful school year!

what is it about 3rd graders and fart jokes?

You know you have an honest to goodness third grader on your hands when you have this darling conversation:

JAM: Mommy, you wanna hear something?

Me: Yeah, what is it?

JAM: You know the Southwest motto? ["You are now free to move about the country."] I made up my own. "You are now free to fart around the country."

Me: ...

JAM: Isn't that great? I made it up all by myself!

Me: Fantastic, buddy. Just fantastic.

***Addendum: As I was getting Red ready for her nap this afternoon, she started talking about JAM and a few of his friends. "JAM going to 3rd grade. Mama, I going to be in pink grade." What is it about two year old girls and the color pink?!?!

Monday, August 18, 2008

better introductions... 200 posts later...

You know how most mommy or daddy bloggers (ugh- I loathe the connotation that those labels usually carry with them, but it'll have to do for now) use cute and creative little nicknames for their kids instead of using their real names? You've seen that, right? Hmmm. I was a little late to the meeting when that memo was passed around, as my three wackos have been going by the oh-so-illustrative names of the baby, the toddler, and the big kid. Well, seeing as those names, as unique as they are, are also age-specific, I got to thinking that it might be time for a new roll call around these parts. So I was thinking and thinking and thinking.

I came to the conclusion that I could simply steal the names lovely hubby uses for them over on his blog. Oh yeah, I'm that bold. So, if you take a gander over to the side bar, you will see the motley crew in all their individual goofy glories. From here on out:

The Baby has become Pudge.

The Toddler will now be known as Red.

And, the 3rd grader formerly known as The Big Kid will now answer to JAM.

New playbooks are available in the lobby-- you don't want to settle for those cheap little scraps of paper inserted in the middle, do you?

at least my cakes never looked like these


(The last one is for That's some freaking funny stuff. Think it'll spread??)

There are not enough annoying-all-caps-acronyms to describe my new favorite blog. Here's the concept: each post is a highlight of one or more absolutely awful 'professional' cakes-- known as cake wrecks-- accompanied by some incredibly funny commentary. This person is hysterical. The cakes range from mildly amusing to outright I-can't-believe-someone-actually-made-that.

Now, I plan to spend every spare minute I have in the near future that doesn't involve cleaning, cooking, nursing, changing diapers, or any other Cinderelly-like-task, going chronologically backwards through this blog, until I reach the end (beginning). It was started in May and has just over 70 posts, so it shouldn't take too long, especially if I ignore my family's needs for a few hours today. I encourage, (nay, I comman!) you to head over there and join me in this slothful blog-reading activity. I've only looked at a few posts so far, but I have a feeling that this one may remain in my top 5 even after I exhaust all that this amazing blogger has to offer. Honestly, the few abdominal muscles I have left after three huge pregnancy bellies ached a bit after laughing at that one.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

this week's guffaws

Seriously friends, it's been too long. Somehow, the guffaws had up and gone away, for two entire weeks. How in the world did you survive? I imagine the loss of this major part of your lives was practically unbearable, so pick yourselves up off the floor, woe is you no more. The guffaws are making their triumphant return; commence the rejoicing.

Wow. I'm coming off this loopy and I haven't even had a drink. Sorry, I have no idea what's gotten into me. I'm not even sure that what I'm offering tonight is worth all that ballyhooing, anyway. (I'm not entirely sure that ballyhooing is a word, or if I'm using it correctly, either, but it just popped into my head. Let's go with it.)

Enough of the small talk. Let's get down to business.

I haven't brought up my Fatty McFatterson-ness lately, because I've kind of stalled at the 10 pound loss for a while now, and because I want this to be a 'happy, happy, joy, joy' kind of place (most of the time) and not a place where I dwell on my fat rolls. But, these next two self-improvement plans can be the exceptions to that rule, in that I think I could TOTALLY follow either of these... perhaps with a few minor substitutions (chocolate rules!). Who's with me?

The Coping Diet

Only women can understand this one. This is a specially formulated diet designed to help us cope with the stress that builds during the day.

1 grapefruit
1 slice whole wheat toast
1 cup skim milk

1 small portion lean, steamed chicken
1 cup spinach
1 cup herbal tea
1 Hershey's kiss

Afternoon Snack
The rest of the Hershey kisses in the bag
1 tub of Hagen-Daaz ice cream with chocolate chips

4 glasses of wine (red or white)
2 loaves garlic bread
1 family size supreme pizza
3 Snickers Bars

Late Night Snack
1 whole Sarah Lee cheesecake (eaten directly from the freezer)

Remember: Stressed spelled backward is desserts.

If that one doesn't work, maybe this one would...

By following simple advice heard on the Dr. Phil show, you too can find inner peace.

Dr. Phil proclaimed, "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished."

So, I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn't finished, and before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some Doritos and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how freaking good I feel right now.

Leaving all diet and self-help plans in the dust, the next bit I wanted to share with you all came from a bloggy/online book club buddy, and it's even a bit interactive. Let's call it, What do you think this SHOULD have said? Her husband is a doctor, and upon reviewing an old patient file (I'm pretty sure it was in a file- Betsey, please correct me if I'm wrong!), he came upon this note:

“Patient’s phallus informed of the appointment location.”

Yeah, I couldn't come up with any logical non-Freudian replacement for that sentence. It is a good thing, though, to have informed privates.

And finally, let me leave you with another email funny from my friend L, who can always be relied upon for sending the good stuff... and for being discerning enough to know which of the 389 email forwards she gets a week to pass on my way.

New Corvette

A senior citizen drove his brand new Corvette convertible out of the dealership. Taking off down the road, he floored it to 80 mph, enjoying the wind blowing through what little hair he had left. "Amazing," he thought as he flew down I-45, pushing the pedal even more.

Looking in his rear view mirror, he saw a state trooper behind him, lights flashing and siren blaring.

He floored it to 100 mph, then 110, then 120. Suddenly he thought, "What am I doing? I'm too old for this," and he pulled over to await the trooper's arrival.

Pulling in behind him, the trooper walked up to the Corvette, looked at his watch and said, "Sir, my shift ends in 30 minutes. Today is Friday. If you can give me a reason for speeding that I've never heard before, I'll let you go."

The old gentleman paused. Then said, "Years ago, my wife ran off with a State Trooper. I thought you were bringing her back."

"Have a good day, sir," replied the trooper, and he walked off.

That's all, folks. Have a happy, laughter-filled week.

Friday, August 15, 2008

a munchy kind of moment

I love this painting. I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about the artist, what his life was like, what his experiences were, or what he was trying to convey with this image. I do know that this image has meant a lot of things to me over the years. I'm not shy about talking about my experiences with depression over the years, and this image is so precise about the feelings that can become overwhelming when things are at their worst. Depression's good buddy, anxiety, is a more prevalent player in my life, and again, this painting does a fine job of portraying those inner emotions-- those times that fear becomes all you can hear in your thoughts. Yeah, this painting can speak to me in all sorts of ways.

Now, before you go clicking off my little space on the web in search for much lighter fare, let me reassure you, this post is not all about the crazy inner workings of my wacky mind. This post is about the toddler. Oh yeah, now you're starting to get the picture. It is called The Scream, after all. Hi, my name is Dawn, and my daughter is a screamer.

She screams all day long. (Thankfully, she gives my ears a reprieve from ~8 pm to ~6:30 am. Thank God for small miracles.) She screams when she's upset. She screams when she's happy. She screams when her big brother tries to give her a kiss. She screams when her little brother tries to crawl on her. She screams when she wants a snack. She screams when she wants to watch her beloved Sesame Street. She screams with a fox. She screams in a box. She screams with a mouse. She screams in my house.

Get the picture?

You know, you'd think I'd be better prepared for this stage, having gone through the challenges that first-time-around parenthood brought when the big kid was a wee little one. But, unless my memory has finally shut down in an effort to keep me from going completely insane, I honestly don't think the big kid was like this. Yes, he was a feisty toddler, and yes, he had tantrums that could make Nanny Jo shudder, but little did I know back then that it could have been even worse. In the midst of his tantrums, he could have regularly let loose with a shriek that was piercing enough to keep my ears ringing for half an hour after its release.

I am truly at a loss for how to handle to this increasingly irritating habit. In theory, I'm pretty confident that the best way to respond in the moment is to NOT make a huge deal about it, but say in very simple terms (she is only 2, after all) that I'll talk to her/help her/get her a snack/deal with whatever the heck is the big problem when she's all done screaming. We do this approximately 534 times a day. "You need to stop screaming" is a phrase that any casual observer in our home would quickly get sick of hearing after only a few hours. Theory being just that, it's often a greater challenge to remember that in the heat of the moment. When you find yourself yelling, "STOP SCREAMING!" at the top of your lungs, the irony can often knock you off your feet. In calm moments, we sometimes talk about the right ways to talk to each other. And in those moments, it's quite amusing to hear her use her soft, sing-songy voice to practice speaking nicely. I would bet big bucks that if you went up to her room and woke her up right now and asked her, "What's the rule at your house?" she'd respond with a very groggy "No greaming!" (remember, she's 2...close enough.).

So here I am, once again reaching out to you, my lovely bloggy readers, who bring with you a wealth of experiences as moms and teachers and other people-who've-probably-spent-time-with-young-children. Am I alone on Scream Island? What should I be doing? Does anyone have any wise words for this mom? You'll have to speak loudly though, to get heard over all the ringing remember.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

sunny days

Those two opening words have evoked happiness in me for about 30 years now. My mom tells me that she introduced Sesame Street to me when I was preschool age, as a way to teach me my ABC's and 123's. And bonus, I learned to sing "Sing, Sing a Song" in Spanish as well. (Canta, canta una cancion...) Well, I'm proud to say that the Sesame Street family tradition lives on in my family. While I may not necessarily expect it to directly teach my toddler and baby those early academic quests, I do know that it makes the concepts fun and accessible, and the songs are as catchy as ever. It's one of those rare shows that I can sit and watch with the kids and NOT want to jab my eyes out with a sharp implement. (And even if he wouldn't cop to it amongst his peers, the big kid will still sit and catch bits of it with the toddler, smiling all the while.)

Well, Sesame Street has launched its updated website (still in beta), and there is a boatload of clips, recent and classic alike, to watch, along with games, fun muppet facts, and a feature that allows you to create a customized page of your own favorite website goodies. You can watch Ben Stiller sing about the people in your neighborhood, or discover that my favorite guy Grover's birthday is October 14th (maybe the kids and I will throw a party in his honor-- a great excuse for making a blue cake!), or even sing along with those 12 ladybugs on their picnic.

The new 2008 season (Sesame Street's 39th!) started this week, and I'm so glad we just happened to watch the episode that aired here yesterday. Remember when I told you about the comedic joy I experienced with Dr. Horrible? Well, he's back. Okay, sorta. This time, Neil Patrick Harris has cracked me up in his portrayal as Fairy Shoe Person. Oh yeah, you read that right. Unfortunately, there's no embedding enabled for the clip, but if you head over to youtube here, you can see part of his appearance on Sesame Street.

Here's to sunny days, air that's sweet, and friendly neighbors!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

eight is great

Here's a total mommy-post for you- about one of my kids (a mommy-blog-kind-of-thing to do), short (gotta get those other darn kids up from a LONG nap), and including pics (gotta show off the kid, right?). So, here's my official bloggy-shout-out to my dear big kid, the first one out of the womb 8 long years ago. You, my great 8 year old boy, are one of a kind. You can make me laugh one of those deep, belly laughs that signify a truly funny experience. You love to read, and I love sharing that joy with you. (Henry Huggins is our focus right now- reading a 1950 book with you in 2008 is a trip, I tell ya.) You are stubborn and headstrong, and when you want to be focused on something, you can be incredible at it. (Star Wars are two words I hear a gazillion times a day.)

And you are super cute. Especially when your hair grows longer in the summer. I hope your year is filled with happiness.

And of course, since Star Wars is your hyper-focus right now, your cake had to be, too. Thank goodness you're forgiving of my minimal cake decorating skills. (You actually said, "I'll just be grateful of anything that is Star Wars, Mommy. Seriously, I will!")

And, in case you didn't know this (which I had to be educated all about), the cake represents the battle scene between Obi-Wan and Anakin on the lava-ish planet of Mustafar. J insisted that there also be some Clone Troopers there, too. At least he's happy with it!

my first carnival!

Children's Classics

A bloggy friend, Lisa, alerted me to this current book carnival going on at 5minutesforbooks, and I knew this was very well timed. Lisa's been visiting me here for a while now, and somehow she's gotten the idea that children's literature is a little bit of a passion for me. Why in the world would she think that?

Book carnivals are relatively new to me, but if I'm understanding this correctly, participants create their own blog posts about the topic, then post a link to their posts on the main site's page. Does that make sense? So, for those of you who may be seeing this as a result of me posting on the links at 5minutesforbooks, welcome fellow-book-lovers! Kids' books have always been a major part of my life, and for 10 years as a preschool teacher, they played an important role each and every school day. For the last 8 years of holding the title of Mom, reading together has been as regular a part of our routine as eating. (And we LOVE to eat, as well!) Books are in every room- on shelves, in baskets, on side tables, by the toilet, everywhere.

Now that my big kid is 8 (today!), our reading habits have been maturing for a while. Not to brag, (okay, not in a braggy way, but in a completely proud mama way!), but he's been reading, and reading well, for quite a while now. When he was four, he was reading the high level readers from the kindergarten class. Last year in 2nd grade, his reading level was in the 5th-7th grade range. And the most amazing part to me is that he simply LOVES to read. (Hopefully that didn't come off as snotty-- it's just that he can pose so many challenges on any given day, that's it's nice to have something to really speak highly of!)
Alright, all this blah-blah-blahing is just to give the context for this particular carnival topic-- to write about a children's classic for the 'middle reader,' or 8-12 year olds. From some of our most recent reads, we absolutely adored The Water Horse, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and For the Love of Winn-Dixie, and you can see some of my very-mini reviews of those in my sidebar. For this particular post, though, I wanted to focus on the book we're reading right now.

Henry Huggins was written in 1950, and reading it with my big kid now has made for some interesting moments where we put the book aside for a few minutes just to talk about the context of the story. (Golly gee, swell, and keen have been officially translated to Man, cool, and awesome.) Henry is a character that my particular big kid can relate to-- his mother seems to say, at least once in each chapter, something to the effect of, "How do you manage to get yourself into such messes?" Each chapter could really stand by itself as a mini-story, and this poor kid can't seem to catch a break much of the time. But, he perseveres- even when he has to let two city buses go by because of the dog he's carrying before he can try to get home, or even when his fish seem to be multiplying in the blink of an eye ane he needs to keep finding more containers to hold them, or even when the kids taunt him by endlessly calling him Little Boy- he keeps on keeping on. Isn't that a valuable lesson, regardless of the fact that over 50 years have passed since it was written?
I guess this book could be referred to as a classic for the simple fact that it's still in print some 58 years later, as well as because Beverly Cleary has created a slew of characters that will live on in children's and adults' minds for a long, long time. I argue that it be called a classic simply because it has a good grip on what it means to be a child. It can be a rough road, with a lot of challenges that seem huge at the time. But hopefully, children can see through the challenges to the spirit that Henry maintains even when he's feeling downtrodden. He thinks about his problems, tries to find solutions (even if they aren't always completely honorable, like his attempt at 'forging' a letter from his mom to get out of being in the school play-- poor dude just couldn't master using a typewriter to save his life!), and sometimes just accepts that things don't always work out the way you'd like. I'd call those some valuable (and classic!) lessons that any child could benefit from.
So, Henry Huggins, I offer you up for recognition as a Children's Classic, and I thank you for providing some much needed bonding time each evening for me and the big kid. It's just been swell.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

now posting regularly

NPR seems to be in a summer-camp-loving kind of mood lately. First there was the 'mall camp' piece that astounded me last month, and in the last few days, I've heard several additional bits on various shows throughout the day centering on summer camps. Is it that the reporters are still trying to get used to their summer family routines of dropping off and picking up kids at camp (oh, how it makes us really appreciate the public school bus system!), or are we adults longing for a break in our regular lives, a separate 1-6 week experience that is distinctly different from the rest of the year? I'm not sure of the reasoning behind the NPR summer-camp-palooza, but here's a short round-up of the ones that made an impression on this listener at least. There was this one that analyzes what your summer camp experiences say about you, and this one that reports on a camp for kids questioning the existence of a God. Well, I tell you, I hated camp. Yup, I know you're all shocked to hear that being physically active in the outdoors when it was blazing hot and the humidity was through the roof was not my cup of tea. I was the kid who snuck books in my backpack and slunk away from the group to go read under a shade tree. And if I ever get a good solid block of time to actually sit down and think real, grown-up thoughts, I want to begin to explore, via blogging, what role I want God to play in my own life, although I don't think it will involve any stays at sleep away camp.

While those two stories were interesting to me, this is the one that I've been thinking about since I heard it three days ago. As usual, I'm directing you to take a few minutes (4 minutes, 42 seconds to be exact), and give it a listen. Then, if you'd like, you can come on back and find out just why this piece is resonating with me. (Yeah, yeah, if you're here, you probably know the drill...)

Welcome back. First of all, I'm so curious to hear what impressions other people have about the camp profiled in this piece. As the mom of a little boy a week-shy of his 8th birthday, I listened to the descriptions of Camp Tinkering as a contemporary of the other parents sending their children each day to this program. I wasn't surprised as they described the waiver that the parents must sign when registering their children-- I've signed something just like it for the last three summers of sending the big kid to a week session of a camp sponsored by the recreation department of a local university. (Each year, he's taken the opportunity offered to him to try his hand (and feet!) at the climbing wall. The other night at dinner, he so proudly exclaimed that he broke his 'personal record' of how high he climbed!) Although it's more than just a bit jarring to sign something that acknowledges your child could very possibly get hurt, or God-forbid-worse, while attending a camp, it's not shocking considering we are living in the age of litigation.

So, I was all with the story as it opened-- as the guy talked about his inspiration for starting the camp, I had to laugh. Sticks are the center of my kids' outdoors existence. The big kid uses and saves sticks as if they were a precious commodity. The toddler (although, now at 2 1/4, I'm seeing her much more as a preschooler than a toddler...) loves sticks because big brother loves sticks. If he finds one to march with, well then she certainly must have one too! I totally agree with the notion that our children are becoming overly cautioned, overly directed, and overly adultified (yeah, I just made that up...) in their play. When he talked about wanting kids to "play with real tools" and "build real things," I almost cheered. Real experiences! Real materials! Real creativity and real experimentation! This is the foundation of my feelings and philosophies and practice in early childhood education. Constructivism, John Dewey and Jean Piaget-- these ideas and people were the meat and potatoes of how I existed in my preschool classroom for 9 years. Hands-on experiences beat out teacher-directed learning, nine times out of ten, in my book. I've watched young children make discoveries based on their own actual observations of real animals or insects, or by taking something apart in their quest to figure out how it works. This is real learning, and as the NPR piece described this camp, I found myself longing for the big kid to have the opportunity to experience something like it.

Then I heard the girl thud repeatedly into the tree-- the 8 year old zooming down the zipline built (single-handedly?) by the 10 year old. She obviously didn't have the sense to alter the equipment in a way that would allow for her to not repeat the injury-of-the-day inducing aspect. And apparently, no adult was stepping in to say, "Hey, let's evaluate the safety of what you've set up here. If you keep crashing into a tree the way it's set up right now, what do you think you need to do to it to fix this problem?" I'm all for kids taking apart machines- I see incredible value in a bunch of elementary school aged children hunkering down with real tools and working together to disassemble a dishwasher. But, power tools in the hands of a 9 year old? I'm not sure I'm there. Without any video to accompany the story (you know, being a radio program and all), I found it difficult to determine the level of adult supervision or assistance involved in these activities. Yes, I'm a constructivist educator at heart, but I'm also an anxiety-riddled gal to the core, too.

While I'm in total agreement with the creator of this camp about the need for kids to have real experiences, I'm not sure what roles the adult(s) play in the program. Are there competent adults helping children to evaluate their creations? Not to tell them, "Guess what guys? Your boat is crap and it won't float- start over and do this." But, in my humble opinion, there's an appropriate place for an adult to step in and ask the kids to think about their processes, to provide some scaffolding to help them take their experiences and knowledge and apply them to the problem at hand, i.e. how can I stop myself from crashing into the damn tree?

What do you all think? Am I just being crazy (as usual) about all this? Would you send your child to a camp like this? Am I the only one that thinks this guy took a great idea from point A to point E, missing a few stops in between? (Am I too being too obnoxious in my fishing for comments??)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

a new starting point

I'm not an inherently patient person. I probably get angry faster than your typical person. I hold grudges. I spend my days trying to be the exact opposite-- I try to be patient while the toddler screams at me, I try to be calm and talk the big kid through an emotional meltdown, I try to just deal with the baby's incessant nursing issues. But, as best as I try to keep these ugly characteristics at bay, as much as I try to take a deep breath and be calm, I can't be successful all the time. There just has to come a point where it boils over and I hit my limit. That point came tonight, while we were having a 'night out with the nation' at our local community center, and I became that oh-my-god-is-she-yelling-at-her-kid-in-public person. I became that mom that people shake their heads at, the one who looks like she's going to go postal any second now, the one who is doling out consequences that are so big that all they do is fuel the fire of the meltdown. Yeah, everything I try not to be-- that's who I was tonight.

If there is anyone out there reading this who has ever, even once, questioned the authenticity of ADHD, it must be nice to live without these experiences. With the inattentiveness, the distractibility, the irrational loss of emotional self-control, the forgetfulness, and the general nasty attitude that comes out whenever things don't go completely the way expected, it's freaking amazing that our family makes it through a typical day without making headlines on the local police blotter. I know, sounds dramatic, and most days it's not anything huge, per se, but even a whole mess of 'little' things add up. But when a day comes when it is something huge, when things go so incredibly wrong in such a short period of time, and especially when you just happen to be out in the public in a crowd, it's almost unbearable. The feelings that can come out are horrific. Disgust, embarrassment, shame, these are not things a parent wants to feel about her child. This makes a parent feel like the absolute biggest failure- not just as a parent, but as a person. When you find yourself wishing that your child just wasn't who he is, you feel as if you've hit rock bottom. You realize that you're replaying a role that has been played by others in the past- you're acting like the person you have no respect for, the person who lets her child down, the person who tells her child that he's not the child she wanted, the last person on the earth that you'd want to become.

So, what is there to do? I needed to turn inward. I say it that way, although it could very easily be seen as simply tuning out. But, in my mind, since lovely hubby was apparently in a much better mindset than I was in the moment, I simply left with the little ones and walked home faster than I've ever done before. I moved on with the evening routine, somewhat in hyper drive-- kids quickly bathed, teeth brushed and hair combed, pj's on, story read, kiss goodnight. Then I did something that I never do. I ran. Okay, the way in which my body moved could hardly be called running; I'm not even sure that jogging could apply. I moved my body down the sidewalk with my feet coming off the pavement in a regular (albeit slow) rhythm, down the road, over to another street, up a crazy hill (even slower), across another road, through a parking lot, and down a walking path back to our house. Yes, it was probably no more than 10 minutes, but come on, I live in PG County and it was about 9 pm-- I might not be 'Parent of the Year,' but I'm also not an idiot. Then I came inside and began draining these thoughts from my brain.

What comes next? Well, for one, I need to reestablish my mindset. I need to figure out what to do to keep my own self-control when the big kid loses his. I need to review 'the plan'-- the 14 weeks worth of handouts from my ADHD parenting class last spring. I need to figure out how I want to be when the huge things happen-- because, who are we kidding, there will be more. Many, many more. And, ultimately, I need to talk to the big kid. I need to let him know that I love him. I need to try to make it so that he won't walk around tomorrow with a nagging memory of me yelling at him rattling around in his head. I need to know that he won't make his way through childhood feeling like he's been nothing but a disappointment to me. I need to learn from others' experiences. I need to be a better parent.