Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parenting. Show all posts

Friday, February 17, 2012

winter whisperer.

   I'm having sort of a rough spot at school right now with classroom behavior (the Pencil Situation is the tip of the iceberg). Do not be alarmed (I'm not; just tired). It's not anything above and beyond normal for this point in the school year--the months of February and March are just rough, yo. They were rough when I was a classroom teacher, rough when I taught 1st grade ESOL, and they're rough now. If I were teaching straight A students in Tahiti they'd be rough. I think there's just a natural, circadian pattern to every school year, and February and March just so happen to be its darkest hours.

For one thing, it's cold. And outside is simply not attractive--trees are naked, grass all grungy brown. This winter for us has been unseasonably warm then cold with lots of rainy and low barometric clouds. And for someone like me, that is just a recipe for depression.

And then two, you're heading into the home stretch. The kids who have learning issues and have really struggled all year right now are starting to give up, and you can see it. And you're getting exasperated at the fact you can see them starting to give up and you know you need to throw them some kind of lifeline but dude, seriously. It's February/March, the two longest months of a school year and you're all so frickin' tired. Do you think Lowe's sells lifelines? I hope so, because my creative, hope-y juices are at a yearly low.

And then Spring hits. In all its fevered glory. Or, you know, if you're like us in the South where global warming is alive and well, you've been enjoying Spring Fever since about mid-January as the temperatures have only been truly wintery for a total 3 days.

Have you ever experienced Spring Fever at an elementary school level? It is not for the weak, let me tell you. I remain convinced Spring Fever is the entire reason teachers continue to be given 2 month summer vacations. If Wall Street experienced Spring Fever and/or its cousin Warm Spring-like Winter Spring Fever, they too would be taking long summer breaks (....actually, knowing Wall Street, they'd be taking 6 month summer breaks and charging us all for 24 months' of work).

So yes. I've been having some behavior issues at school. And I don't even have these kids all day--I deal with the issues an hour at a time. Their classroom teachers? Wow. Somebody needs to give those people a $50,000 a year raise. Or at least a 5 star all-inclusive vacation to Bora Bora. Something. Do SOMEthing, educrats. (Because your pay-for-performance ideas are less than stellar.) (As if we're trained seals, willing to do higher back flips for more fish. Fish that's not even fresh. Please.)

But I digress.

So I'm having a month. And every day when I pick up Melissa, I'm starting to get notes on her daily report that say things like:

"Melissa had a hard day today. She didn't listen to her teachers and ran in the classroom."

"Melissa did not have a good day today. She yelled at her friends."

I do not know what to do with these notes.

As a teacher, my instinct is to light into her and support my fellow educators. First of all, I think there should be ZERO light of day between your parents and your teachers. You should know this, and it should be feared. Second of all, I know how it feels to have to deal, all day long, with people who don't want to listen to you, who run in the classroom, and who spend a lot of time yelling at their friends.

So we've had a lot of sad, teary discussions on rides home that go like this:

ME: Why did you yell at your friends?
HER: I didn't!
ME: Your teachers say you did. Teachers don't make things up. Why are you yelling at your friends?
HER: I didn't!

Over and over. Is she lying? Yes. She yells at me, so I totally believe her teachers when they say she yells at her friends. She also doesn't listen to me, so I totally believe her teachers when they say she doesn't listen to them.

But she's 3. Isn't this what 3 year olds do? Yell at people, run around, and not listen? If she were, say, 7 years old and doing that in her 1st grade classroom, we'd have a big problem. But I get these reports, read them, and go: Yeah. That's what 3 year olds do. Are they supposed to be different nowadays because it's 2012 and when they start school in about two years they'll have to pass a high stakes test? Probably. (Curses on you, George W. Bush and your NCLB drafters.)

Last night  I watched the documentary BUCK. It's a movie about Buck Brannaman, the horse whisperer. The most important thing I took away from it was the part where Buck says something like, "People hire me to help them with horse problems, but usually what I end up doing is helping horses with people problems." After a tense, just-what-the-holy-hell-is-happening-here-exactly?? kind of week, I could almost audibly feel something click inside of me, internally.

I need to start thinking like a horse whisperer.

Which is why I've decided to handle the Melissa notes like this: let her know what her teachers have said about her, tell her it's not okay behavior but that I also recognize she's just being 3, and then I give her a hug and a kiss and say, "I love you. No matter what. Forever and ever. I love you."

And so I'm thinking this is the approach I should start taking with my 3rd graders as well: tell them it's not okay behavior but I recognize they're 8, 9, and we're all heading into that home stretch of school year. Then pat them on their heads and say, "I'm writing on your behavior card because what you did was so SO inappropriate--I mean, seriously? This is school. You can't do that in school. But I do still love you. This doesn't mean I don't love you and please know I know you're just being a kid. But still. Stop doing that at school. Stop it now. Seriously." Because I do. I do love them. Very, very much. (Oh, wait. Except for that one, that one kid makes it so hard to find my love. So hard!) (No, seriously. The horse whisperer's bag of tricks would be depleted in 10 seconds flat.)

Plus it could also just be "that" time of year. February/March simply aren't my favorites--if poopy crap is going to happen, it usually happens in one of these two months. And outside looks so drab and grungy. And it's been a rainy winter. And I hate those.

Now. Having typed all that, let me off-track myself a bit and also admit that I'm chuckling my little teacher/mommy butt off right now, thinking of an article I just read the other day about bigwig education reformers,wanting teachers to compete for a paltry $20,000 extra a year for good test scores. Those guys need to see BUCK, too. Because if they really understood how teachers work, they'd approach us much more gently, with pure love. They'd put daily chocolate in teacher lounges, every Friday we'd have $100 gift cards to the grocery store and on Mondays there'd be a $50 restaurant gift card. Once a month there'd be free massages and pedicures, and every summer there'd be a paid vacation to anywhere in the world we'd like to go. On top of all that, every five years we'd get a year long paid sabbatical. WITH benefits.

Or, you know, at the very least, reduce our class sizes by 10 kids. If we can't have gift cards, massages, free flowing chocolate, all-inclusive vacations, and sabbatical packages, we'll take 12 kids per class per year, please and thanks. Teacher satisfaction and stress relief would be so huge our test scores would shoot up in ways that made the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians all nervous enough they'd start holding secret "what the heck do we do NOW??" meetings. I feel certain Mr. Buck Brannaman would agree with my gentle version of education reform.

Except that won't happen because nobody in government thinks like a horse whisperer. And plus it's February/March. Poop.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

boobies and breast feeding (aka: this whole blog is an overshare)

My child is obsessed with boobs. I don't know why; I suspect it's my fault (when she's sitting in a therapist's office in 15 years most everything will be). But she's obsessed with them...actually just mine. (Overshare #1 begins here) She likes to talk about drinking milk from them, and I constantly have to ask her to stop attempting to manhandle them. I'm sure her daycare teachers wonder (out loud, possibly in staff meetings) why Melissa is so obsessed with her mommy's boobs, but mostly why hasn't Melissa's mommy told her not to talk about it in public? (Because I haven't found a way to properly frame it yet: I find using the words "can't," "don't," and "stop" make Melissa more determined than ever to be the very opposite of what I envision for her.)

Here's why I'm sure the booby obsession is my fault: In Psychology 101 in college, I learned about the Oral Fixation phenomenon. Apparently, people who don't get breast fed (like myself and everyone else born when formula was considered best) wind up with oral fixations--chewing on pencils (I do it), overeating (yup), constantly needing a cup of tea/coffee/water/soda/adult beverage close at hand (guilty), biting nails (only stopped when I slapped on acrylic fake ones, still occasionally find myself biting on those)...etc and so forth. Have I mentioned I was addicted, nay, psychotically attached to, my pacifier when I was tiny? I called it my "Binky," and I was simply not myself without it.

Melissa didn't do pacifiers (her father, a former orthodontia specialist, thinks they're of the devil), but she's well on her way to all those other things. I wasn't able to breast feed...or maybe I was and just didn't try hard enough. Breastfeeding wasn't a fun experience for me, either way; I was fairly miserable about the entire process--the latching on hurt (I was told it shouldn't if I was doing it properly and when I showed hospital nursing experts how I was doing it they all said I was doing it properly...yet my child and I managed to find a way to make it still hurt), and the milk production just wasn't forthcoming.

True story*: I called my doctor office's Official Breast Feeding Advocate/Lactation Consultant for help. I knew I was doing the latching on properly, as at least 5 separate nurses in the hospital all watched my technique and gave me thumbs up on it. I just got a body that wasn't really into producing milk. (Which is so ironic, because while pregnant all I craved was dairy; if I could have tethered a cow in my backyard and drunk straight from the teet, I'd have been in pure pregnancy heaven.)

And meanwhile, I was doing all of these exhausting things to supplement that really had me questioning what the point of breast feeding in the 21st century actually was. (Overshare #2 begins now) Like, to simulate breast feeding but provide nourishment while my body worked on making milk, I had this extremely thin little tube. I'd tape it right on top of a nipple, run it through to a bottle of formula that was rigged up to some type of drip drop contraption. Then the formula would run down through the tube into M's mouth--she wasn't getting actual breast milk, but she was getting the simulation of breast feeding.

I'd do this 8,9, 50 times a day and think: seriously?? Did the cave women do this? Because if Melissa and I had been cave people, she'd have totally been dead of malnourishment by her 3rd day on earth. (Actually, I would be dead, too, from childbirth, as she refused to come out during natural labor.) Which, I feel, is the whole point of being a 21st century mom: You have some options available to you, and the feminist power to flip people off if they decide to be judgmental d-bags about it.

But here's the thing: breast is best. I got it, everyone on planet Earth gets it at this point. We've all been exposed to the research studies' findings, we read articles about it every month in Parenting magazine, our ob/gyns give us long lectures on why we should really try to breast feed if we even wonder out loud about formula. We hear you, breast feeding militants: breast is best breast is best breast is best. Women who give their kids their breast milk end up with Nobel Peace Prize winners; women who use formula spend a lot of time at the wailing wall, praying over their sons and daughters doing hard time for bank robberies. We got it, for the love of God.

So, for months I'd been bombarded with the breast is best/if you don't do this your kid is going to suffer message, and there was a lot of guilt on my part about the fact I should be breast feeding but (a) was miserable doing it because it hurt so much and so I wasn't really bonding and top of that I was having to do this ridiculous contraption set up 100 times a day while I waited for my own milk to come in because (b) I was painfully aware my body was unable to properly nourish my own child and I was just stuck in this vicious circle. And the post-pregnancy hormones were no help: I could literally feel a funky funk of a depression setting in.

By the end of week 3 really, I just wanted to stop...I was utterly exhausted from lack of sleep, flattened psychically from the hormones, and if the whole point of breast milk feedings was better nutrition, then Melissa was already screwed--she'd been chowing down on formula for the better part of her first few weeks on Earth.

Desperate, I called a Lactation Consultant (aka Militant Breast Feeding Advocate) for help, or at least some encouragement. I expressed my frustrations, described our contraption and my current milk production predicament, moaned about the very real depression I could literally feel myself sliding into about this and begged her for help. I got told it was a supply vs. demand issue. If I truly wanted to breast feed right, I'd need to do the following:

1. breast feed on one breast for an hour (/end overshare #3)
2. breast pump on the other breast for the following hour
3. take a brief 30 minute break
4. Repeat steps 1 through 3. For 24 horror movie hours at least but possibly more like 72.

"But that sounds terrible!" I cried out, "I already feel like a I'm going to actually be one of those farm factory cows. Are there any other options?"

She was was humorless and unmoved. "If you really want to help your child, this is what you need to do," was the response.

And so I re-iterated that I could really feel myself sinking into a deep depression over this--I wasn't getting the cozy, lovey dovey feelings supposedly associated with breast feeding and was worried about the bonding I wasn't feeling, and I dreaded the whole feeding thing in and of itself. Mostly I was basically feeling like a failure, and I was really scared. Would it be really terribly so bad if I just switched to formula and bottles, the end?

"Well," said Militant Breast Feeding Consultant, "I think you need to really think here. Are you switching to formula because it's easier for you? Or are you going to do what's best for your child?"

Looking back on that conversation, I think the best thing for me to do would have been to end the conversation by asking to speak to her boss and then having an emotional, psychotic breakdown over the phone with that person like I did with the one Target manager several weeks ago. Instead, I whispered &%$%#ing &itch! and hung up the phone. (/end overshare #4)

And please understand: I am the most mild mannered, nicest person ever. I only use cuss words at other drivers while driving or I stub my toe or I'm very, very afraid. I never even cuss in front of my husband, and I know a lot of women who cuss at theirs. So if you and I are ever interacting, and I launch a raunchy word directed straightly at you, please also understand: You totally deserved it. You f*&^%$ing &^^%$#. Got it?

I was beside myself. I mean, obviously, my mothering skills sucked. I couldn't even feed my own child. And now I was literally going to have a baby on one boob and a contraption on the other. In between diaper changes, screaming cries, and nights of little sleep, I was (for 24-72 hours and/or until my body finally produced enough milk) to have someone sucking on me (/end overshare #5)and then follow that up with a machine milking me. Just like a factory farmed dairy cow.

It was too much.

Fortunately, I have a good friend who, while excelling at the act of breast feeding as she does everything else (Hi, Valerie!), is also a practical, nurturing thinker who likes life to make sense. After hearing my dilemma, she reminded me that her daughter had been a voracious breast feeder and still had a few, tiny little health problems so that whole breast-fed-kids-are-superior-health-wise wasn't necessarily true all the time. And that if breast feeding was making me miserable, it was okay to stop--no one walks around with EXCLUSIVELY BREAST FED or ALL FORMULA PRODUCT stamped on their heads. And also, that Lactation Consultant was clearly a real ^&^%$$# *&^% and I was right for whispering it into the phone in a way she probably didn't even hear me before I hung up on her.

And that I was right: what babies most need, above and beyond breast milk, are mommies who aren't depressed. That's way more important than breast milk vs. formula nutrition.

And then I had an ob follow up and told my doctor what had happened. And when your ob practically says, "Wow, what a &^%%$*   B*&&^," you know you're in the right. Also, she told me that she was raised on formula and now she's a doctor. So while breast milk is undeniably, technically better and pretty much far superior to formula, your kid's not going to turn into a Quasimodo if you feed them formula. Go for it.

And so I did. And voila! I instantly began to bond with M. I loved, loved, LOVED our feeding times together. I got her on a schedule, and it was almost like instantly she could sleep a whole 3-4 hours straight (yes, because she wasn't starving). And I sent that stupid milking contraption back to whence it came. And we were happy. We were happy for ever after.

............Until we went to Target yesterday. And I needed a bra. And I entered the bra section. And Melissa said (and she might as well have used their intercom system for this since she has that Voices Carry quality to her that I suspect all 3 year olds do possess):  

Yes, honey. Yes, this is indeed the booby section. And SHHHH! Lower your friggin' voice. (Of course that makes it into a game, and so now we have to use a louder voice and repeat ourselves over and over over, especially and when a creepy-looking man walks by just as I'm debating between a striped black number and a polka dotted one.)

*This true story is why I get a little militant with the breast feeding militants. Please know: I am not advocating for one way or another in this blog, simply relating my own personal experiences with the act of breast feeding/pumping. Adjusting to a newborn is a full-time job and a nerve-wracking process. I say: do what you need to do to get yourself to the other side of that and keep yourself out of a full-fledged post-partum depression. And if any #$%#&*^ s*&^%$ m*&&^% b**&&^% wants to make you feel bad or guilty about that, cuss them out and hang up on them. And then call me. We'll go have coffee and talk about what d-bags they are and how awesome we are.

*And furthermore and finally, I remain unapologetically thankful I was not born in the Dark Ages and/or China.

*(China likes to put lead and poison in most everything; I recommend you only buy sweatshop-produced bras from that country.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

christmas tree ninja

  I have completed........a craft. Way back around Thanksgiving, I found a cute felt Christmas tree craft idea at pinterest and threw that into my ::kids are like rainbows:: board.

Fast forward to December 14th-ish. I am slowly losing my mind with each Christmas decoration that is pulled from the Christmas tree and smashed on the ground. Melissa attempts to blame the cat each time and it's driving me insane.

Listen--the cat is part of the problem, no doubt. She's the equivalent of 150 human years according to cat time, but it doesn't stop her from wandering all casual-like under our tree and batting at stuff hanging from the bottom. Every other morning I'm picking up the wooden toy horse ornament or the crocheted gingerbread girl and sticking them back on the tree. Sometimes I have to wipe off the cat puke first. And that's always nice.

There are three key words in that last paragraph I'd like to draw your attention to at this point: bottom, wooden, and crocheted. I don't have a great many ornaments. But the ornaments I've placed toward the bottom of the tree, right at 3 year old girl and cat eye level, are ones that (a) don't matter much to me and/or (b) are practically unbreakable. Because, I don't know if anyone knows this or not, but I do like to think of myself as pretty clever during brief moments of sheer clarity, or at the very least intensely pragmatic. So as I decorated, I said to myself: "Self, make sure you put all these wooden/crocheted/unbreakable ornaments at the bottom or this could get ugly."

Pragmatic be damned. So far, to date, I have swept up broken, shattered, jagged remnants of the following: one heart ornament a friend from long ago gave me--I've lost touch with the friend, but I'm a sentimental psycho, and so I was deeply saddened to the point of teary eyes when it shattered all over the wood floors below it (because I'm so very dramatic with symbolic messages the Universe tosses my way now and then).....two cheap ceramic snowmen holding cheap ceramic candy canes I just really, really liked, I don't know why......and one "World's Best Teacher!" ornament that simply will not glue back together no matter how frantically I try (let's all pause for a moment of silent reflection as we offer pleading prayers to the Universe that It was not sending any cosmic symbolic communiques with that one).

I don't know how Melissa gets to them--honestly, it's nothing short of a Christmas miracle. They weren't at the top of the tree, but they also weren't at 3 year old level. She's like a Christmas tree ninja. I suspect most 3 year olds are, and having wood floors only exacerbates the problem. I really prefer wood floors to carpet, 11 months out of the year. Carpet involves lugging out a vacuum cleaner and dragging it around every week, and cat puke is practically impossible to get out, and cat hair is like glued into it forever. I love having wood floors. Love, love, love. But in December? Oh man, how I long for carpet.

In addition (and more concerning), The Infamous Christmas Tree Debacle of '11 has also advanced warned me: basically I'm raising a 14 year old in a 3 year old's body.

How do I know? Because the last time Melissa got caught manhandling the tree I snapped, and I snapped really hard. Go ahead, judge me; I do not care. I'd had quite enough of the tree manhandling that had been going on that day as it had reached a zenith of really ridiculous, outrageous proportions. And so I snapped. I snapped and it was not pretty.

And here's another thing about my little Christmas tree ninja: Melissa's in a weird phase right now (and there are so many of these I hear, from the time they turn one until they're packing for college) in which she slaps when she gets mad. She slaps at objects, she slaps at walls, she slaps at herself, she slaps at thin air. I'm not concerned about the slapping or her slapping at any of the the above--you wanna hit the sofa? Go for it, kid. Here's a pillow, too. It needed reshaping anyway.

But she's also slapping at other people, and we simply can't have that. She generally doesn't slap hard, just hard enough to express her "you are not the boss of me" attitude. But we don't hit other people, and we don't hit each other in our house. I think people who go around slapping and hitting each other when they're angry have childhood wounds in desperate need of healing. That, or they need a larger vocabulary to express their feelings (which is why 1 year olds bite and 3 year olds slap, of course).

This time however, she did slap pretty hard. She slapped me, and there was a definite SMACK sound to the slap.

I put her in time out. She was all indignant about it, and now who wouldn't be? You're already so mad you're slapping and making satisfying SMACK! sounds, and suddenly someone's taken away your primal rage outlet and plopped you in, essentially,  a padded cell void of things that are satisfying to whack. So I parked her little indignant, slap happy butt in her padded cell/aka our time out step, and she sat there and cursed me out the only way a 14 year old girl trapped in a 3 year old body knows how to do:

HER: I'm! Not! Going! To! Time! Out!

ME: Yet here you are. 3 minutes, m'am. I'll be back.

HER: I'm! Putting! YOU! In! Time out! Mommy!

10 seconds pass

HER: You're in! Time out! Mommy!

1 minute later...

HER: You're JOINING me!

30 seconds....

HER: I hate! Time! Out!

and so on and so forth until 3 minutes were up.

When her 3 minutes were up I walked over and asked if she understood why I put her in time out. Here's where the 14 year old totally reared her sassy little head: "Yes," she said, "Because you used your mean voice at me. And I hit you. You don't! Use! Your mean voice at me, Mommy! And I mean it!"

So yes. You see what I'm dealing with? A 3 year old who possesses the reasoning abilities of a wayward teenager. Because I used my mean voice, she just had to slap me. Mommy made her. Because people who use their mean voices just need a good slapping.

I laughed that one off this time, because she's 3 and it's pretty cute. I did let her know in no uncertain terms was she to ever, ever slap at anyone, even if a mean voice was used. We don't hit, ever. But I did heartily chuckle at her while letting her know all of that. But I chuckled in secret, where she couldn't see, and I chuckled in a sort of nervous way. I can tell: in another 10 years, this is going to get tricky; there's an ability to process and analyze I'm almost positive I didn't even develop until my mid-20's. I could be doomed.

But I'm also very impressed at the abstract reasoning ability my offspring is utilizing. Most child development researchers will tell you it's all concrete thinking until about age 10. And I've been given a child who, clearly, could make Jean Piaget scratch his head.

Which brings me back to my first seasonal craft project: Obviously, little Miss M does not have enough to do. And so we went to Michael's craft store and picked up some craft glue and a whole lot of felt. I cut a tree out of green felt and some tree decorations out of other felt colors. And now? Melissa can decorate her own tree to her little 14 years-in-a-3 year old heart's content:

I'm fairly certain this is the look she aims for each time she attempts to re-decorate our family tree. It's avant garde, yes, with a touch of irreverent whimsy. But I have real Christmas tree ornaments that whimper whenever she walks by; I've sworn to protect them. And anyway, we're a pretty modern family and all, but we're just not an avant garde Christmas tree family at the moment. But we do have a tree ninja. (The Dora pj's are just her weekend ninja uniform. She has others.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

tippy toe walking through year 3.

Dear Melissa,

Today, you're three. Three! Can you believe it?? Man, this time three years ago, I was pushing. And pushing and pushing. Who knew I was such a good pusher?? We had a really sweet mid-wife, but now I can't remember her name. I remember she had blonde hair, a sweet and soft voice, and looked like she participated in beauty pageants with titles like "Southern Miss Tater Tot Queen." But she turned out to be so much stronger than that; never ever judge a book by its cover.  Because when it was time to really get serious and push you out, she was anything but sweet and pageant-ly; she was completely in command and in control. And I really, really needed that, three years ago today (and also, apparently: a seriously big oxygen were sucking the very life out of me).

Anyway, I needed cool, calm, collected people around me as I had no idea what I was doing. (Confession #1: I still have no idea what I'm doing, with this parenting gig; but it's cool. I like flying by the seat of my pants...unless we're in the car and well, I know you know how mommy feels about that. I can see you're already walking around, nursing a healthy amount of pre-school road rage toward strange drivers on the road, and so I know driving lessons in 13 years are going to go absolutely smoothly...other drivers are crazy, and that's pretty much all you need to know before venturing forth onto Atlanta's freeways).

You've grown so much over the last three years. Some times I think about how you were when we first brought you home, which, if I had to use a summarizing, over all, very generalizing word? Overwhelming. Sorry, m'am, but you were. You were absolutely, completely overwhelming. You made all these little drunk guy faces (highly amusing), you were unpredictable (not as amusing), and your need for breast milk was constant and unrelentless (absolutely,  completely the opposite of amusing).

When we left the hospital, I remember the nurse wheeled us downstairs, into the beautifully sunny, chilly October Sunday afternoon air, and said, "Congratulations, good luck!" And I was all: "Holy moly! They're just letting us take this completely helpless little thing home with us? Like we're baby raising experts? Geez, I hope nobody gets hurt." And then, later, sometimes, late at night, I wondered: what the holy heck have I just done to myself?? And then other times, we'd lay together on the sofa and I'd watch you sleep, and I'd think: "Wow. I kind of made you and stuff. That's so frickin' amazing."

Confession #2: Sometimes I watch you sleep at night, 3 years later, and still can't believe you and I were once one; that you were once a part of me and I was a part of you. And that I, you know, kind of made you and stuff. So frickin' amazing.

And now here you are! You've mastered crawling, you're exiting Phase Toddler, you're walking and running and skipping (like a ballerina, mostly, insisting on getting around the world on your tippy toes, almost exclusively). Hopefully, we won't have to, like, slit your achilles tendon to stretch out those heel muscles like the one physical therapist lady your dad bumped into several months ago said we'd have to do if you didn't start walking flat on your feet...what was up with that chick anyway?? Why the heck would some stranger think it was okay to send your dad into fits of neurotic fear thoughts about the slitting of feet when everyone in the Universe knows how he is about that body area? Plus, now that woman has both of us and all your teachers constantly saying things like: "Walk on your feet, honey." and "Flat feet, remember: Flat feet."

Which is just so flippin' silly because I can so see this from your viewpoint: Uh, hello, mommy and daddy, I AM walking on my feet. Yes, Ms. B, I'm ON my feet. My silly tippy toe feet!) (Though I do think you may end up with some awe-inspiring calf muscles in a few years) (and please know: I often consider tippy toe walking through life right with you--awesome calf muscles are nothing to turn one's nose up at).

Oh, and you are absolutely, without a doubt potty trained more mortifying, unhygienic moments at McDonald's playlands now. (Though I do sincerely wish you would stop being afraid of empty bathrooms in our house and learn to go by yourself...while I'm thankful I can finally do my own business solo, now it's flip flopped, and I'm sitting on the bathroom floor while you do your business. And I'm doing bizarre things like talking to your tummy, begging your pee pee to stop hiding and I say goofball things like come out come out, come out wherever you are, Melissa's silly pee pee) (Though I must say you appear to have amazing Kegel muscles).

What else are you doing now as a big, grown up three year old big girl? Oh yes. You're a critic. A natural-born, argumentative critic who gets indignant about quite a lot. If I say the sky is up, you insist it's down. If I note out loud what a happy girl you are, you yell "NO Mommy! I'm a MAD girl!" And you get so ticked off if someone looks at you at just the wrong moment, and no one can tell when or where or why that moment will be. For some reason only you know, you think being a mad girl is going to get you places. And you know what? You go, mad girl. Because sometimes I wish I had more mad girl in me, too. Saying "No" is not a fear for you, being a people pleaser is simply not part of your repetoire right now, and I like that about you.

You are afraid of Tasha, for some odd reason. You know: Tasha, our gentle, ancient, aging black cat who sleeps 15 out 24 hours per day and is afraid of bugs. The one who walks through the house at 3 am mourning her life and occasionally throwing up on everything. I suppose she's the closest thing you'll ever have to a sibling. Tasha is basically just your big, dorky, annoying, little sister. And sometimes you'll sit on our couch, look over and see Tasha licking herself, and you'll let out a blood curdling scream. And when we ask you, "Melissa, why are you screaming at Tasha?" you usually respond with, "Because I scared of Tasha. Tasha is the big bad wolf." (Okay, fine. She is kind of spooky--especially when all the lights are off and she jumps out of a corner at you and you had no idea that was coming...or when all the lights are on, but she's lying in a dark corner of the hallway and all you can see are her ghostly yellow I think the next time I see Tasha I'll scream in her general direction, too.)

Man, Melissa. The Big Bad Wolf...this is a running theme for you right now, and you have a love/hate relationship with this scary guy. You love to act out the 3 Little Pigs story, and you're getting so awesome at the re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood. But you're reluctant to go anywhere there's even the remotest chance of bumping into the Big Bad Wolf in a dark corner. And apparently, the Big Bad Wolf runs our house once the sun sets.

Or even after the sun rises: this morning the sun was shining brilliantly but the bathroom simply wasn't quite bright enough; you were sure the Big Bad Wolf (aka Tasha) was waiting in the depths to pounce on you.

But please know: I so totally get you! Because honestly, I can't go into that bathroom either without  flicking on a light. What is up with that room? And YES! The upstairs part of our house IS totally creepy! I don't know what that is. It could be some weird vibes from your dad's office area. Or maybe on one of my ghost hunting adventures I inadvertantly brought something home. We'll never know, and your dad says we can't move right now, the timing's wrong and the housing market bubble bursting has made our house worth cat poop. So we'll do some spiritual cleansing rituals up there when it's time for us to kick you out of our bed; I'm not sure these actually work, but at this point, anything will help. I'm tired of waking up with your feet in my face.

Also, some nights, when your dad is out of town on a business trip, you know: we sleep with almost all the lights on in the house. I'm sorry, sweet girl. I've totally passed on my irrational fear of ghosts and bumps in the night on to you. Plus, I watch way too many episodes of Ghosthunters and Ghosthunters International. Though I do stay away from that over the top stuff, like Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures. One day, after you've conquered all your irrational fears, we'll watch it together and talk about scientific ghost hunting vs. travel channel crap ghost hunting. There's a huge difference.

Today, I'm taking you to the Fox Theatre to see Brobee, Foofa, Tootie, Plex, Muno, and DJ Lance of Yo Gabba Gabba. You love these bizarre monsters and I have no frickin' idea why. I mean, I get DJ Lance--he's kinda funky, a coolio hipster kind of guy. But that one eyed red monster-y guy? And the green unibrow dude? Who you're absolutely in love with? Oh dear.

Also, you're obsessed with Dora, Diego, Elmo, and several Disney Princesses and Fairies. I'm currently most concerned about your fascination with the Princesses. The red phallic-like and unibrow monsters I can deal with; even the fairies I get. Fairies are sort of cool, with their magical powers and sparkly wings. But pink tiaras, Melissa?? Seriously. And princesses??? I'm worried we're only 3 years in and I've already failed you...who frickin' introduced you to Disney's version of a princess??? Don't say it! Do not say it. I totally have that daycare kid's name and face in my head right now. You are SO not going to her next birthday party, I don't care if she has 10 pinatas, free pony rides, and a real train. Wrong-headed peer pressure: it starts so early for 21st century kids.

But I'm glad you're a 21st century kid! You're going to have an amazing life. And what I want most for you, what I imagine for you at this point, is really just a life filled with curiosity, being unafraid to ask questions and take risks, make mistakes and learn from them, take stuff apart and learn how it works. And I want you to try anything you want to try--even if you want to wear pink tutus and dance ballet. And don't even worry if the genetic pool you got has you ending up with the opposite of a ballerina's body (because who the heck is really happy in a ballerina's body anyway...I'm sure you could poll any ballerina and they'd be really sad about how many cupcakes they consistently miss out on). And! Tippy toe walking could be our sign you are actually headed to the New York City Ballet (just please: not as a princess).

You're smart. You're sure of yourself. You're independent and--other than bathroom trips--fairly self-reliant. You're going places, and I'm so glad the Universe picked me to be your mommy to guide you through it all. Oh, and you're an obsessive milk drinker (it's the only thing you want to drink right now), so I know you'll grow up with really calcium-fortified bones. And that's good.

I love you, sweet Melissa. And I'm so proud of you and all you've learned and accomplished over the last 3 years. I know you're proud of you, too. You're growing up into a really awesome kid who's going to do great things, and I'm really happy I get to go along for the ride.

Happy birthday and love,

Monday, July 11, 2011

why that tiger mom hoo ha is a bunch of bee poop.

This weekend I read a most wonderfully fabulous book called Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay. Several teachers at work are using these authors' teaching edition (Teaching with Love and Logic) and have said it's decreased their stress/behavior management load by only about 10,000%. So I picked up the parenting version and immediately deployed strategy #1: Let the kid make choices (based on the adult's preferences). It works like a beautiful, beautiful charm with a stubborn and opinionated 2 year old. An example from yesterday:

ME: Do you want me to put your shoes on or do you want to do it?
MELISSA: I do it. minute goes by and no shoes have been put on feet....
ME: Okay. It's been 1 minute and you haven't put your shoes on. You just chose for me to do it.

There was much screaming and angry toddler flailing about and the phrase "No I do it! No I do it!" being thrown at me. But I just wrestled her into a submissive floor lock and did it for her. Much crying and pouting and Woe is me! ensued. And trying to take off shoes.

ME: You can leave your shoes on so we can go to the water fountains or you can take them off and we'll stay home. What do you want to do?
MELISSA (pathetic, drama queen voice): Go to the fountains.
ME: Then leave your shoes on so we can go.

And she did.

Here's the beauty part: the next time I needed her to get her shoes on and she chose, as toddlers all invariably do, to do it herself? No dawdling. No arguing. Did it in record time, shoes stayed on.

High five, Foster Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay. High stinkin' five.

Next Strategy that works with Toddlers #2: The Uh-Oh song. (Which is not really a song as much as it's turning yourself into a sing-songy broken record.)

ME: You can't have a popsicle right now. We're eating dinner in 30 minutes.
MELISSA: No! I don't WANT to eat dinner. I want a popsicle. NOW!
ME: I said no.
ME: No m'am. Go watch your show. Dinner will be ready soon.
(2 1/2 year old tantrum begins here. This is where The Uh-Oh song comes in.)
ME: Uh oh! Looks like someone needs some time to calm down. Do you want to sit on the stairs by yourself or do you want me to take you there?
MELISSA: You take me.
We proceed to stairs.
ME: Okay, you sit here and calm down. Come back whenever you're ready to use a nice voice again.
Five seconds later: Melissa appears in kitchen.
ME: Hi, sweet girl! Are you ready to be nice again?
MELISSA shakes head.
ME: Uh oh. Guess it's time to go up to your bedroom and calm down.

This continued for several minutes and ended with me letting her have a tantrum in her bedroom while I stood outside holding the door shut. After that, she was okay. Now all I have to do when tantrums loom on the horizon is say: "Uh oh! Looks like you might need to calm down. Do you want to do that on the stairs or in your bedroom?" So far, she's been choosing stairs and calms down.

This is frickin' magic, people. Magic!

Although, not to brag or anything, but I did get a kid with a genius I.Q. Obviously, she recognizes the correct and wiser choices to make when confronted with daunting Life disasters. (Start 'em young, I say.)

This book (and its magic) plus one trip to McDonald's Playland over the weekend got me to thinking about the Tiger Mom drama. Have you heard about this? "Tiger Mom" is actually a lady named Amy Chua, who is all kinds of professorial smart and degreed. She's raised two very lovely and accomplished daughters, and she says she did it the old-fashioned, Asian (specifically: Chinese)-style way.

If you don't read the whole story or really do some investigating, on the surface the Asian style of child rearing appears to be: drive your children like work horses, beat them if they disobey, yell at them, cuss them out, and tell them they're garbage until they cry "Uncle! Uncle!"or, "JiuJiu! JiuJiu!" {if you'd prefer to get really exact and old-fashioned}).

Did Amy Chua do this to her daughters? Did she drive them like work horses, scream and cuss at them, call them garbage? Yes. Yes, she did drive them like work horses, scream at them, and she called one of her daughters a piece of garbage. And she threw away a hand made card from another daughter because it just wasn't up to what she felt that girl's standards could have been (her daughter was in 1st grade at the time, by the way).

Amy says this type of parenting is way better than the American type, which involves coddling and way too many trips to Chuck E. Cheese. (And I really agree on that Chuck E. Cheese part--one trip there is one too many.) But I would like to note to Ms. Chua and those who think this is it, THIS is the way all parents need to be with kids: you can see this type of parenting in action on any Jerry Springer episode, and we're all painfully aware of what kind of adults appear on Jerry Springer.

I'm also not sure why we need to go and make this a cultural and parenting war between China and the U.S. as it appears we're doing just fine on the outsourcing of jobs vs. world financial domination power struggles. In fact, if I were in charge of US foreign policy (something I highly doubt anyone wants, because I'd be in Tahiti 90% of the time), my state department's motto would be: When throwing ego-ic a-hole boasts around that could start international conflicts, pick one theme only.

Do I agree with any of this Tiger Mom type of parenting? Abso-frickin'-lutely not. Would Foster Cline, M.D. or Jim Fay agree with it? Heck to the NO. In fact, I'm sure those two guys would looooove to have about 8 hours alone in a room with Amy and any other parent who thinks child raising with the running theme of "You're still not good enough" is a good idea. All this will do is produce adults who look and act fine with successful careers and a family, but are actually melting, quivering masses of pain caused by constant parental rejection and resentment on the inside. And/or they may appear on Jerry Springer. More than once. Naked.

However. When you listen to Chua actually go into more detail about her book and parenting experiences, she recognizes that calling her daughter a piece of garbage was probably one of her Bad Parenting Decisions. Ditto the hand made card stuff. In addition, when her young kittens got big enough and grew their full-sized claws, they began using them against her and she openly admits this and understands why. Good for them. And her.

So what she says she's really trying to communicate (in a highly controversial, book-selling, bad-publicity-is-good-publicity-too kind of way) is that American (and our world counterparts outside of the Asian continent, I've noticed--I know the world likes to pick on Americans because we make it so easy, but you houses are pretty breakable) 21st century parents have become way too soft on their children. She thinks there's way too much helicoptering going on in America.

Because I teach, I do see this, she's right. And because I'm now a parent, I do feel the need to do this at some times. (Okay fine, 98% of the time I really have to consciously stop myself from rescuing my child from the world at large.) This is where I agree with her: in the 21st century, it's obnoxiously easy to consistently rescue our children from themselves, from others, from necessary Life Experience in general, 100% of the time.

The authors of the new book I'm in love with say this bad. This is very, very bad. By helicopter-rescuing kids, we're teaching them (a) they're not smart enough to figure it out for themselves, (b) because WE think they're not smart enough, and (c) we don't trust them and they shouldn't trust themselves either. This sets them up for all kinds of disasters as adults. And self-centered entitlement attitudes and such. And not knowing how to cook an egg. Sometimes they also might almost burn down their house by sticking a big cardboard pizza box in their ovens which have been turned up to 300 degrees which is hot enough to cause a cardboard fire.

But drill sargeanting (see Tiger Mom Style, above) them is no better. This teaches kids (a) they're not smart enough to figure it out for themselves, (b) we don't trust them to do much of anything, and (c) be afraid, be very afraid (of all authority figures, even the grocery store clerk who's incredibly condescending for no good reason whatsoever.{ cough.}).

I was the product of a combination of helicoptering and drill sargeanting, with a dash of what Cline and Fay encourage...and that dash was only because it was the 80's and 90's, and the Internet Grim Reaper had yet to appear (I believe).

I'm okay with how I was raised. My parents did the best they knew how to do with the skill sets they were given, and I was raised knowing that--no matter how much my dad yelled at us or whatever--we were loved deeply and unconditionally. That alone created a very large well of trust within me for both my parents. I also know for a fact they made conscious choices to do certain things very differently from what their parents had done to them (no name-calling, as one example, not even in teasing jest).

Which is why I'm looking for "how to raise a confident, independent child" kind of parenting tips/guides/books/gurus/etc. I was a late bloomer to the Self-Confidence Circus, and I still struggle with it under certain circumstances. I can be wishy washy with decision-making. I worry way too much about what others' think or may think or are thinking. I don't always trust my gut instincts (which are only wrong 0.2% on average). When not struggling with weak boundaries, I'm erecting Fort Knox-like walls at inappropriate times. These are things I'm self-aware of now at the ripe old age of 39, but it's taken me a long (looooong) time and many side-splitting prat falls to get to where I am today.

I expect it to be much of the same for Melissa, but I want to make the pavement less bumpy for her. I guess?

Anyway, here's where I finally get to the reason behind this blog's title:

Yesterday, I took Melissa to a local park that has water fountains kids can splash around in. It was a humid, 98 degrees, so we stopped that after about 40 minutes and went to a McDonald's for ice cream and their indoor playground. There was a large group of Korean families in the playland area having fun. This was good, because I like the opportunities for Melissa to interact with other kids outside of school, and to interact with other kids of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In fact, I get quite nervous when I'm in a place that's too much of one culture/ethnicity; I think it's an unnatural state for humans to exist in.

So we sit down and one very cute, way-too-old-to-be-acting-this-way little boy comes right up to our table.

"Hi!" I said to him. "Watcha doing?"

And he proceeds to stick his fingers into Melissa's hot fudge sundae.

I had no idea what to do. The teacher in me is screaming to get out and write his name on the board (with a check beside it, just so his inappropriateness is driven home good and hard). But I'm not there to teacher, or to parent someone else's kid. I look around and say, "Honey, where are your mommy and daddy?" (Here, I'm hoping at this point it's a case of ESOL...he doesn't speak English...he's newly arrived to America and doesn't know that, in America, we don't stick our fingers into strangers' food.)

He points to a large group of adults in a corner laughing away, totally ignoring all of their children (who are now running around like uncaged tigers at a farm). Great, nice. Stay classy other parents not watching their kids at all.

So I gently removed Melissa's sundae from his reach and waited for him to wander off, which he did when he realized his need for other people's ice cream would not be serviced.

Later, when Melissa went to play, I watched another little boy: block her from going up the inside of the climbing tree...prevent her from looking up the slide...stop her from using the baby-sized slide which he was much too big for to stop her from using any part of the playland area.

My helicopter mom poked her head up and started fuming and pawing at the ground, but I'd just finished reading Parenting with Love and Logic literally 2 hours prior, and so I reigned that 'Copter Mom in and just watched--was this a situation Melissa could handle herself? Or was she too young? After 3 minutes of watching that little butthead hog the equipment and refuse to let anyone else play, I decided: nope, she couldn't handle it herself because, yup, she was too young. So I wandered over and said, "Hey there, Melissa. You want to use the slide?" And then to the boy: "She can use this baby slide, can't she? I bet you're way too big for it anyway, right?"

And then he was nice to her. Weird.

Then I sat down and little ice cream finger boy came back over, saw my car keys and immediately stole them. I had to wrangle them out of his sticky little hands. Meanwhile, the large group of adults who'd brought him were all still sitting off in the corner, laughing loudly, enjoying coffee, and totally oblivious to the fact their kids were running around sticking their fingers in other people's food and stealing car keys.

That's when I realized: that Tiger Mom Parenting Style? Total bee. fricking. poop. Cat o' nine tails may have worked on Chua's kids, but it was clearly failing miserably with these kids. They were Korean, not Chinese, and maybe the Koreans are more indulgent with their kids. But I also think a lot of people suffer from the misconception that any given Asian kid works harder, studies harder, and is better behaved than all other kids from other cultures but especially American. Which is why stereotyping can be so misleading, unfair, and damaging: Those kids are in for a world of trouble with a capital T when school starts. And they were clearly being raised by Laissez Faire Tiger Moms, and Amy Chua would have been horrified and aghast. Ditto Cline and Fay. And most teachers I know.

As we left, I thought: Man. Am I going to have start carrying around extra copies of this Love and Logic book so I can hand them out to people in a most condescending, a-hole kind of way? (Actually, no. I think we're just going to find a new McDonald's Playland area.)
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