Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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Hovering is Relative–Some Questions for You

Setting: The cafeteria in a big public school

Event:  Kindergarten welcome breakfast

Characters: More squealing 5 year olds than you can imagine with the occasional frazzled grown-up thrown in for contrast

****

It was time for the parents to go.

Squeezed between a cafeteria table and attached bench, I was planning my exit.  Assuming that I could still physically extract myself from the table (there was some question here), the bigger question remained.  How should I leave my daughter, my youngest daughter, on her first day of kindergarten?

Should I act casual, like it was all no big deal?  “Have a great day, honey!  See you later!”  Should I acknowledge that this was a big moment, and make the break slowly?  “We love you so much, sweetie, and we’re so proud of you.  You’re going to have a great day, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.”

And while I was composing my speech, I overheard a conversation across the table.

A mother was saying her goodbye.  She stood up.  “Well, this is Kindergarten,” she said, “You’re on your own now.  Do you hear me?”  The little girl stared solemnly.  “You behave.  I don’t want to get called,” she continued, and then repeated, “You’re on your own now.  Do you hear me?”  And without another word, or even a hug, she walked away.

And the little girl?  She returned to her breakfast, and then to her puzzle, seemingly unfazed.  The teacher called her named and she smiled broadly, “I’m here, teacher!”

I looked down at my daughter, who was clinging to me.  She was trying so hard to be brave.  The teacher called and she slowly dis-attached herself.  “Bye Mama,” she whispered.  I blew her a kiss, and she joined her class.

She was on her own now.

****

While the words of the mother-across-the-table were harsh, there is truth in them.  We are constantly preparing our kids to be on their own–and it makes me wonder…

How can we prepare our children, and ourselves, for moments of letting go?  This may be the million dollar question of parenting–not just what kind of parents will we be when we are with them, but what kind of children (and soon, adults) will they be when we are not with them?

Because I know that kindergarten is just the beginning.

****

What are your thoughts about preparing your kids to be increasingly on their own?  What do you remember about this from your own childhood?  What have you learned by watching other people parent their kids?  And if you have ’em, what have you learned from parenting your own?   

 

 

 

 

 

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Give Us this Day our Daily Marshmallows

It was like quicksand.  The more I tried to pull her out, the more I was pulled under.

There was no tragedy, just the end of another very long day in late January.  Kindergarten.  She hated kindergarten, pancakes, and having a sister.  Housemates made the house too loud, and why couldn’t she have a pet (the cats and chickens don’t count because they’re boring).  School was too hard, and why couldn’t she be homeschooled like _________, and she didn’t have any friends at all.  She hated church and ballet lessons and all of our games and books.

Am I leaving anything out?  She didn’t.

As I sat there, trying to listen, trying to pull out some positive speck of something from her (What about recess?  Recess is boring.), I wished I could erase the words hate and boring from her brain.  When did my six-year old turn into a sullen preteen?  Is this the beginning of a very long decade?  And as I sat there, I sank, right along with her.  Everything was horrible.  I hated that moment and myself in it.  And I almost said (key word: almost), “Do you know how much we pay for you to go to that school you hate?” 

****

There is this song that I find myself in sometimes.  It’s a U2 song from the All that you Can’t Leave Behind album.  Track two.  The chorus:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

I understand what it means to be stuck in a moment.  It doesn’t take much–how about a slight headache set to the soundtrack of screaming children?  How about a deadline and a computer program that is Not Behaving as it Should?  How about a change of plans that I didn’t plan, or 4-7 p.m. on just about any given day?

Stuck in a moment.  Look.  See, there I am. Scowling, glaring, sulking, sinking.  And I can’t get out of it.

****

One of the worst moments as a parent is when you realize you’ve passed along some undesirable trait to your children.  You have this thing that you don’t like about yourself, and then one day they do it.  Right in from of you.  Nature and nurture, working together to corrupt the next generation.  This is what I realized as I sat there listening to my daughter’s hate and boring litany.  Oh no.  That’s just like me.

Well, that was just like me.  You see, I’m working on it.  And I’m being worked on.  Lists of little things that I’m thankful for sit beside my bed, are tucked into the bookshelf downstairs, and grow as virtual post-its on my computer desktop.  Little thankfulness lists chipping away at me:

Cat, curled up on the towels; Warm tea received in warm hands; Sun!  We are tilting back toward it now; Four squeaky voices full of life; Getting to check my e-mail; Christmas present slippers; Yellow rubber duck (why is it on my desk?); Insulated walls; Husband obsessed with insulation; Winter doesn’t last forever; Pain reliever for my headache; Clean water from the tap; Pink mittens and polka dot pajamas

Etc.

But my daughter doesn’t write, and it’s a little much to ask a six-year old to keep a list.  Isn’t it?  Besides, why would she do it?  I suspect, sometimes, that she enjoys getting a little pity, complaining a bit, wallowing in her discontent when things didn’t go the way she wanted them to…

(Or is that me?)

But wait.  Suddenly, inspiration.  Small, cubical, gelatinous inspiration, filled to the brim with corn syrup.  Disgusting.

Perfect.

“Honey,” I announced as on the way to the bus, “today we’re going to play a game.  It’s called the marshmallow challenge.”

The rules (I was making them up as I went along):  pay attention and try to remember good things that happen to you today.  They have to be specific (Mama, what’s specific?).  You have to remember them.  Then when you get home, we’ll sit down for snack, and for each good thing you can remember, you get one mini-marshmallow, up to ten.  No more than ten.  I’ll do it too.  We’ll see if we can each remember ten.  Got it?

At 3:30, she came home with this:

023

 (Clockwise from upper left, her words, my writing:  Made a paper airplane, A Spanish reader came, My teacher read a book about penguins, Played at kitchen, I tried to fly, Played at pipes, Colored my paper airplane, and Played freeze dance)

Eight marshmallows isn’t bad for the first day.  I got six.  Maybe tomorrow I should try to fly.


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Stop Growing Already

Not to brag, but…

Our kids eat kale.  Straight up, plain kale, in all its wrinkled green glory.  Kale, which is not just a commoner vegetable like carrots, but Superhero nutrition, somewhere on the order of brussel sprouts.  Or turnip greens.  Or something else I don’t like to eat.

All of this is thanks to a simple psychological trick, um… careful methodology… called reverse psychology.

It came about in this way:  One evening my housemates made dinner.  It was a grown-up favorite–sausage and kale over pasta, sprinkled with olive oil and feta cheese.  Yum.  The cooks were wise (experienced) and kept the ingredients separate for the kiddos.  Sausage in one section, pasta in the next, and a little bit of kale in one corner.

The sausage disappeared first, followed closely by the pasta, until four kids were left with lonely bits of green and the irresistible urge to leave the table.  “I don’t care for the yucky stuff,” our youngest cherub intoned.  “Kale, it’s called kale, and you need to at least take a thank you bite,” an exhausted grown-up replied, “We’re out of carrots.”

Rebellion was brewing.  The kids looked at one another.  Four of them and four of us, and though they were smaller, they were perhaps faster and definitely more agile.  They looked at us, and then…

Brilliance.  I think that it was housemate-dad who spoke first.  “You’re right kids,” he said with an exaggerated sigh, “Do not eat that kale.  It’ll make you grow, and we like you just the way you are.”  The kids were confused, but the grown-ups caught on quickly.  “Oh, of course!”  “Why would we give you such a thing?”  “If you eat too much of that, you’ll grow up.  And you are so cute right now.”  “Don’t you dare touch that kale!”  “Candy.  Nothing but candy for these kids from now on.”  “What were we thinking?”

And the kids shoved kale into their cute little mouths.  Did they know it was a joke?  I still don’t know–they were laughing, but they were eating.  They ate the kale, and asked for more.

“No, you don’t want more of that stuff.  Don’t you want marshmallows with  sugar sprinkled on top?  Ah, come on.”

In classic grown-up fashion, we milked our little trick for all that it was worth.  For weeks.  Kale was just the beginning.  It became a nightly routine–a well-balanced meal on their plate eaten amid our feigned protests.  The drama and the laughter increased, but they ate anything we gave them.  “Please.  Please stop growing!  Please!”

Can you blame us?  It was working so well.

And then.  One night, right after dinner, I took my eldest out to buy Christmas presents.  As we were driving, she spoke from her booster seat.  “Mama, I need to have a talk with you.”  “Yes honey?”  “Mama,” she asked, “do the grown-ups really want us to stop growing?”  “Oh no, of course not.”  I laughed lightly, but she was completely serious.

And she wasn’t done.  “Mama, did you like me when I was four?”  “Yes.”  “Do you like me now that I’m five?”  “Yes, of course.”  “Then, Mama, you will probably like me when I’m six or seven too.  Mama, you have to let us grow.”

Ouch.  I took a deep breath, trying not to smile, but now also fighting back a few tears.  This was serious.

“Okay, honey.  From now on, I’ll let you grow.  I promise.”

“Thanks Mama.”  I could hear her smile from the back seat.  Satisfied, she went back to watching Christmas lights out the window, but I swallowed hard.

Did I really say that?  Yes honey, I’ll let you grow.  I’ll let you grow, I promise.

And how many times will I have to say these words again?


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Why Preschool is my Friend

“Mama, can we paint?”

The correct answer to this question is no.  I said yes.

About an hour later, I was recovering.  Diego was conducting my children’s daily Spanish lessons.  And then, from the very depths of my maternal soul, came a thought so true and so obvious that I spoke it into an empty room.

“This is why I send my children to preschool.”

*****

Yes, I am a bad mother.  I am also a good one.  And I am better with preschool at my side.

And so, with all respect for the homeschooling parents (and hoping that the feeling is mutual), I present a short list of reasons why I am grateful to drop my children off at a small brick building for a few hours each day.  Only one is specific to our very own preschool, and so I will get it out of the way first.

1.  Mr. Rogers once worked with children there, and his child development mentor was the original director.  Really.  Mr. Fred Rogers.  He is my hero.

2.  The teachers are more well-rested than myself and my husband.  This makes them much nicer to our children.

3.  Educational toys galore that I don’t have to buy.  Or store.  Or trip over and threaten to hide in a bin for a month if they don’t Put Them Away Right Now.

4.  Other parents in the same young child boat to commiserate with.  Groaning about the effects of daylight savings time (non-sleepy kids at night who can’t get up in the morning) or a pink-eye epidemic or kindergarten lotteries with people who understand them for the tragedies that they are.

5.  A flat area for tricycles, bookshelves full of colorful and appropriate books,and potties that are just their size.  It’s like someone designed the room just for, well, preschoolers.

6.  Relationships with child development professionals who know my particular kids, and who don’t mind lots of questions.

7.  Supervised small group interactions that I don’t have to supervise.  Good for them, good for me.

8.  Driving away in the car without first strapping someone into the car seat.  Going to the bathroom by my stinkin self.  Drinking the entire cup of coffee without having to heat it again in the microwave.  Freedom!

9.  Paint, glue and even GLITTER that I don’t have to find, get out, become stressed out by, or clean up.

10.  Two lovely little girls who run down the sidewalk towards preschool and then greet their teachers with hugs.  Most days.  And even when I deliver them kicking and screaming, the teachers don’t seem to mind.


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Why You Need to Do a Triathlon. Yes, you.

Recruiting?  Yes, I am.

Once upon a time there was a little girl who believed that she was not an athlete.  She went to a very big high school where the naturally athletic, the coordinated, and those-who-had-been-playing-their-sport-since-age-three rose to the top and stayed there.  They were the athletes.  She was good at algebra.

The little girl grew up and had two little girls.  For the sake of her mental sanity, she started going to the gym.  She ran a mile on the treadmill and it wasn’t horrible.  She hurt her back (while picking up the little girls who were getting bigger) and had to start swimming.  She got bored easily, and so she started running and then swimming in one work-out.  Sometimes she read books on the stationary bike because running was too bumpy for reading.  One day she was so bored that she ran a mile, biked for 10 minutes, and then swam some laps.

“Oh”, she thought, “I just did a triathlon.”

Something rung in her mind.  Didn’t Pittsburgh have a triathlon?  Hmm… she had done a few short running races by this point, and knew that she was motivated by a date and a goal.  She also knew that she liked to get free t-shirts.  She looked it up on the internet.

(I’ll save you some time here:  http://www.piranha-sports.com/Race266.aspx )

And then she learned about the greatest thing of all: Sprint Triathlons.  Ignoring the implications of the word ‘sprint’, she checked the distances.  600 meter swim.  That’s about a third of a mile.  20K bike.  That seemed long, but half of it was joyously downhill.  5K run.  She had run 5Ks.

And…

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The little grown-up girl finished the race!  Here I am running toward my own personal paparazzi.

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This picture was followed by one of the greatest moments of my life in which my daughter ran out into the course, and hugged me just before I crossed the finish line.IMG_5817

It still makes me tear up a little.

****

But enough about me.  Back to you.  Why do you need to do this?  Five reasons:

1) Training for a triathlon provides automatic cross-training.  Cross-training=good (especially when you’re in your thirties or older).

2) Training for a triathlon is less boring than training for a really long running race.  Well, unless you really like running.  I don’t particularly.

3)  If you do it in Pittsburgh, you get to fly down the 279 HOV lane on a bike.  This is really really cool.  And swimming in the Allegheny River isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

4)  You don’t really have to sprint a ‘sprint triathlon.’  I prefer to call it a ‘beginner triathlon.’  I’m not the only one.

5)  Aforementioned free t-shirt

Are you convinced?