Sunday, December 28, 2008

A discovery

W, at almost seven, announced a few months ago that he likes Lego. We parents were unprepared for this, because E, who is three years older, was the unorthodox little boy: no building toys, no cars, no trains, no crafts or art projects, no typical boy stuff. Ever. He liked books, maps, doing addition and subtraction with negative numbers (no kidding), and counting in five languages. Actually, this suited us as parents, because neither of us was much into the little fiddly toys with multiple easy-to-lose parts, nor did we much like painting, clay or other messy stuff.

So when W decided to pursue the Lego thing, we kind of ignored it for a while. But he persisted. And then, today, his uncle's Hanukkah present arrived: a huge Lego kit with three separate projects in it. The parents shuddered, envisioning hours of sitting on the floor supervising the snapping together of tiny plastic bars.

And then a miracle happened.

W, not yet seven years old, spent the entire day - and I do mean the entire day, from right after breakfast until just before dinner - sitting on the floor, building his own Lego project. He needed the occasional help finding the right piece or tying a tiny knot on the tiny pulley that hangs from the bottom of the big helicopter, but mostly he did the whole thing himself.

Never have I put to bed a happier boy. Singing, self-satisfied, overjoyed with a job well done. And planning to get up tomorrow morning and go straight to the third part of the kit.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Two weeks at home for the holidays with very few plans: It had the potential to be awful. E and W have not, historically, been great with unscheduled time. It has led in the past to whining, too much screen time, and general levels of uncooperativeness.

Maybe they're growing up.

So far (and it's only been a week, but still), they are getting along terrifically. Playing together quite a lot. Very engrossed in various Pokemon games and strategies and characters. Treating each other with respect. Not fighting. Really being good friends.

I am a little shocked, and very proud. It's making this holiday season so much easier for us parents. And it's also making it really nice to spend quiet family time at home. They're happy, we're happy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Smells like tween censorship

E, at almost 10, has just figured out that:
  1. I am writing blogs.
  2. He can read them.
  3. He can comment on them, both verbally and online.
  4. I'm probably not going to change what I'm writing much because of his comments.
This appears to be somewhat frustrating to him.

For example, he has a problem with curse words, both spoken and in print. I, however, am a grownup, and I will curse if I feel it is appropriate, both orally and in writing. He is having a problem dealing with this.

Now, given that most of the time I am writing about issues involving E and W, is it appropriate for me to ignore his input? Listen patiently and write anyway? Maintain some level of anonymity by not using their names? (Given that many of you reading this know me, that may not help much.)

I've explained that in general writers write about what they know, and a writer who's writing about parenting issues is going to write about her kids, period. I'm not sure how much this will help him over time. We'll see.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Child labor

Have I mentioned that E, at almost 10, has a job?

He works as a mother's helper for a family down the street. They have a five-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. The mom or nanny is always home when E goes over there, but he keeps the kids entertained for hours at a time, I'm told. The boy is a superhero nut, a stage E never went through, but somewhere along the line my guy has developed the patience to let a three-year-old push him down and chase him around for long periods of time.

Mind you, E never really exhibited said patience with his younger brother. I guess a dollar an hour is motivation enough for him.

I was a little worried that this holiday break was going to be too quiet, not enough going on. Looks like E will be saving up a small fortune. He says he's packing it away for a trip to the baseball card store. I love the idea that he's earning his own money and taking responsbility for being on time, planning his schedule, etc. He feels extremely grown up. And I guess he's getting there.

Friday, December 19, 2008

To TV or not to TV

Winter break starts today. Two weeks of not much planned. On purpose, because travel seemed unappealing at first and out of the question as of late. Other families seem to be staying home too, thus playdates, multi-family dinners, etc.

Here's the issue. How much screen time will it take to keep E and W occupied and satisfied without turning them into zombie monsters?

Our normal non-school-day limit is 90 minutes. I'm thinking that's a little thin for two weeks of non-school-days. Maybe we'll start with two hours and see how it goes. Add a little family movie time on a few afternoons. Let them have at the Wii (at least that's pseudo-exercise) at their whim. And see if we can buy ourselves some tranquility.

On the other hand, if the zombie monsters emerge, we can always cut 'em off cold. Oh yeah, that would make for a GREAT two weeks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sick mommy

I've had some health issues over the past month. Not my fault, on the mend, doing everything I can, great support from husband and family and friends, etc.

But of course I worry about the effect it's having on my kids. Mom in the hospital for a week: How does a 10-year-old deal with that? What about a seven-year-old? Will they spend the rest of their lives thinking of me as Sick Mommy? Will they remember me as the mom who couldn't, rather than the mom who always did?

E, at almost 10, and probably the most empathetic and sensitive kid his age I've ever met, came to see me in the hospital, wanted nothing but to sit next to me and rub my arm and tell me how much he loves me and missed me. Once I got home and was recovering in bed, he'd come in every day to talk, read, kiss me goodnight. Was on an even keel once I was home.

W, at almost seven, pretty much ignored the whole thing, preferred to play at his friends' houses, had a two-night sleepover, barely said hi when he got home and I was back from the hospital. Was extremely happy until one afternoon this week when, mysteriously, he came home from school, got into bed, and cried all afternoon. Said his "nerves" were making him cry, that nothing bad had happened at school, that he didn't know what was upsetting him. And this was on a day when I was markedly better: out of bed, making dinner. We tried to help him but ended up letting him cry it out for lack of any better ideas. He was okay by bedtime and fine the next day. We figure PTSD -- he'd been holding it together all that time and finally was able to relax a little, and when he did it all spilled out. Wish I could help him verbalize this stuff a bit more, like his brother. Maybe it will come with age. Maybe he's just a guy's guy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fourth-grade girls

E was very upset after school a few days ago, crabby and snapping and even crying as the day wore on. When I finally got him to talk about it, he said that two of the girls in his class were picking on him, and that this had been going on for a while.

Ah, the joys of fourth-grade girls.

I am the first to admit that it's a good thing I have boys. No way would I have wanted to relive my extremely painful preadolescence, when I felt like the ugliest, fattest, greasiest misfit alive. Those years from nine to fourteen -- well, it makes me shudder just to think of it. Everyone says boys are easier. It must be true.

But E is such a sensitive little bird. I'm fairly sure what happened is that these girls were being their normal nine-year-old Nickelodeon-inspired selves: sassy, quick-tongued, slightly condescending. And my son, true to form, melted in the glare.

I tried to console him by explaining that a) fourth-grade girls can be bitchy and b) they are usually most bitchy to the boys they actually like. Not sure it worked.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Born of desperation

Last week I instituted a new morning habit for E and W. It came out of sheer frustration -- that is, my growing intolerance for their bickering. E, in particular, talks to W in such a nasty, condescending tone sometimes, especially in the carpool, that I want to scream. And do, often.

Anyway, one morning I decided that perhaps some positive visualization might help. So, before getting ready for school (generally their most civil hour -- no, I'm not kidding, this is one of the benefit of having really early risers), I sat them down facing each other, had them hold hands, and repeat after me:

I pledge allegiance to my brother
Of the United States of [last name].
And to the fraternity for which it stands
One family, under Mommy and Daddy, indivisible,
With love and kindness for all.

And then they changed "indivisible" to "not invisible," which admittedly makes less sense, but which they thought was hysterical.

Then they hugged.

And you know what? They were nicer to each other that day.

They won't do it every day because they're laughing now when I bring it up -- okay, I know, it's a little corny. But maybe it will stick in the backs of their minds.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

As I suspected many months ago, the biggest challenge after taking E out of gymnastics is finding him enough exercise. Despite best efforts, I believe I am failing on that account.

Since he left his competitive gymnastics team last spring, E has put on about 15 pounds. He is still my gorgeous boy, and I adore him, but he is definitely fleshy. Everywhere. He is now wearing husky pants, because I gave up trying to find a regular size that fit him both in the seat and in the waist. His face is round. His arms are soft. He is soft.

I hear this happens to a lot of boys around this age -- they thicken and fatten in preparation for the famous adolescent growth spurt. I do see similar trends in some of his peers. But E's transformation of the last six months seems extreme to me.

Part of it is due, I think, to changes in E's overall desire for activity. That is, it's gone down. Instead of playing handball with the boys at recess, he plays Connect Four with his girlfriend (that's an issue for another day). Instead of asking to go to the park, he prefers to read on his bed. I wonder if sloth begets sloth?

He is still getting exercise, some, at least. P.E. twice weekly at school. Tennis class on Mondays. A less intense gymnastics class on Thursdays. Court games after school on Fridays. We try to take long walks on weekends. And baseball season starts soon -- after doing a weekly pickup coach-pitch game in the fall, both he and W decided they wanted to do Little League this spring. So we're trying. But the level of exercise is less intense.

And his appetite, always prodigious, remains the same. I am starting to sound like the Food Police -- he wants more, I say no, he begs, I say no, eat some fruit, drink your milk, eat your salad, then we'll talk about seconds. He is a healthy eater. Not hooked on sweets or chips. Likes Real Food. But, given the opportunity, I think he'd eat an entire flank steak. Or half a loaf of bread. Or three baked potatoes. In one sitting.

Of course, he's nine. This is likely a stage. He will stretch. I know all these things. But my family is full of people with lifelong, serious weight problems, men and women. M's family less so, but it's still been an issue. I do not want to set my kids up for a lifetime of health problems but, more important, self-consciousness and self-esteem issues.

I think constantly about my reaction to his weight gain: I am taking it very personally. I know that is much more about me and my own weight issues than about E. I am trying to be instructive without being judgmental. It is amazingly difficult.

Any suggestions welcome. Not about E -- I think I am doing all the right things there, healthy snacks, occasional treats, pushing exercise, modeling good eating habits. Rather, I am the one who needs help. How do I get over my discomfort at having an ever-pudgier kid?

W, so far, is a lean muscular string bean, good for him.